Michael Meadowcroft: The danger of our island mentality

Michael Meadowcroft, The Guardian, Sunday 25 December 2011


Tim Garton Ash’s acute judgment on the consequences for us following David Cameron’s “no” to the EU deal is welcome (Cameron & co are deluded. It’s cold on Europe’s margins, December 22). Given the almost total lack of red-top media and mainstream political support for European unity – with the honourable exception of Labour’s Denis MacShane – it is remarkable that opinion poll support for EU membership remains around 40%.

Garton Ash hints at but does not state the underlying psychological problem of Britain’s island mentality that regards “Europe” as some foreign territory populated by alien hordes. Despite having air connections to every European hub airport and budget airlines flying millions of Brits to scores of mainland destinations every year, plus trains travelling direct to Belgium, France and, shortly, Germany, there is still an emotional antipathy on the part of obsolete politicians to linking with “Johnny foreigner”. It also feeds a curious inferiority complex that apparently believes that our politicians and officials are incapable of debating and negotiating successfully with their EU counterparts.

Our culture is European – not narrowly English, or Irish, or Scottish or Welsh. We welcome opera, drama, ballet, music, fine arts, literature and cuisine from all over Europe and we in turn contribute to the sum total of our European identity. Events over the coming months will show Cameron’s decision to be his nemesis. His opting out of the EU’s mainstream political grouping was no one-off aberration but represented his instinctive position. The situation is so serious that it may, at last, provoke those who see the European project as necessary, idealistic and progressive to come out and promote it.

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