So the UK will be leaving the EU. That, at any rate, is my reading of David Cameron’s speech. Yeah I know that a week is a long time in politics, that the Tories might not win the next election, etc. etc. But if it comes to an In/Out referendum then I’m pretty sure a majority of the Great British Public will want out.
To an Irishman, the way the EU issue tears British politicians apart is slightly comical. Why is it that the Tory Right has such a visceral hatred of Europe, or at any rate of the EU? But actually it isn’t just the Tories. Most of the working-class people I know are also hostile to Europe. UKIP seems quite popular in the less well-heeled areas of the UK, for example.
There are some good reasons for being sceptical about the EU. It is, for example, an elitist, undemocratic project. It’s wasteful and sometimes corrupt. And the anti-EU forces in the UK make these points ad nauseam. But actually I suspect that what really underpins British dislike of the Union is a kind of imperial afterglow. The British have never been wholeheartedly European for the simple reason that being so would be tantamount to acknowledging that Britain is ‘just’ another country — the same as states like France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark: countries which were conquered by invaders and which Britain helped to liberate in the Second World War.
The reason this is interesting from an Irish perspective is that my countrymen saw Europe in exactly the opposite light: it enabled us to escape from the shadow of our former coloniser and become just another country. So — at least until the bailout after the banking meltdown — we gloried in being part of the Union.