Whitehall may block the already severely wounded attempt of setting up the European Union’s banking union–unless its single supervisor stays at a safe distance from the City of London. And it isn’t even a threat, no matter how fundamental the integration of the financial sector has become for the uncertain survival of the euro zone.
These are bad times for advocates of Britons’ Europeanness. The atrocious oratory of the deputy prime minister, the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, on November 1 confirmed that much, when he opened his speech at the Chatham House with something of a retort to the europhobia unleashed by the traditionalist wing of the Conservative Party.
“We want to be in, we want to be out; we want to repatriate powers, use our veto, keep our pint, save our pound, protect our strongest export market… Be critical of Germany, not end up like Greece, feel proud of our role in creating peace in Europe, yet cynical about an acronym winning the Nobel Prize. And just last night, in a House of Commons debate on the European Budget, we saw Europe turned into a political football as political opportunists sought to score a political point.”
Political opportunists tallied one neat goal, then. The impact of Clegg’s words, under the Sandy-size storm that shakes the euro zone, will have nil impact either in the hard heart of the parliamentary group with which he shares the UK’s government or beyond the walls of the palace of Westminster.
The atmosphere of the island has grown more rarified. Could Banco Santander have sealed today the negotiations to revive the charred remains of any British building societies? Would Ferrovial be allowed to revamp the country’s airports? That is, will continental Europe (foreign) ownership of UK’s assets fall in an approaching witch hunt trap?
The risk for the coalition in Downing Street of embracing this British isolationist sentiment is that it does not embody a rational movement, but a spasm. The same MPs who drag the prime minister David Cameron towards the exit door of the European Union, hail the recent report on economic growth policies by Lord Heseltine.
Heseltine has presented some interesting proposals, such as a regional growth fund that would return the focus on to the imbalance north-south and the credit asphyxia that small and medium-size companies suffer. Yet, among his search for green shoots, Lord Heseltine has also appealed to state intervention, a journey back to the 1960s and 1970s, to prevent foreign companies gain an excessive presence on the island.
The Forum of Private Business, a non-mainstream support organisation for small companies and independent entrepreneurs, has been one of the few voices to warn that “We need a platform providing better access to all relevant business support bodies, giving existing small businesses and those of tomorrow real choice, but it does not follow that the government can justify interfering in a private marketplace in such a crude manner.”
There will be no proclamation in favour of the UK’s EU membership, however. The CBI forecasts point to a GDP of 0% in 2012. Unfortunately, a hollow zero these days is enough to make the British feel further away than ever from their depressed, recessionary neighbours on the continent, and to demand their representatives and corporations to protect themselves from a European Union whose currency has turned into an embryo of a killer alien.
“To all intents and purposes, the UK is already out. We stayed still. Europe galloped away without us,” has written the Daily Telegraph’s international economy editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. “This is revolutionary. We are withdrawing from 130 directives, covering everything from the European Arrest Warrant, the European Public Prosecutor, to the European justice department.”
“A whole superstate structure is coming into being. It cannot be democratic because there is no European political nation or shared political language, and all attempts to mimic the vibrant democracies of the ancient states have failed. The European Parliament has its charms but it is not a body that can hold a powerful executive to account.”
“Eurosceptics warned from the outset that EMU was unworkable as constructed. Monetary union would engender crises that forced ever more extreme solutions to keep the show on the road, acting as a powerful catalyst for full political union. They have been entirely vindicated.”
“It has a taken two decades but we can almost all see now that a free and self-governing Britain can no longer be part of the Project.”
Who would have imagined that Brussels and Strasbourg would miss so much Labour leaders now dethroned, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who always spoke of a “crisis in which all Europeans are together.”
After all, they were right. According to HSBC, 31% of UK households have less than £250 set aside as a financial safety net. “These findings highlight a lack of financial preparation among the British public that appears to have worsened slightly over the past year. In today’s uncertain economic climate, it is important that families are setting aside a realistic sum of money to be used in emergencies,” said Bruno Genovese, one of the authors of the research. The British economy has run out of steam and inflation has risen higher than expected, also said CBI’s director general John Cridland.
Where does the UK intend to escape to?