Don't put all this at risk

I'm not anti-Europe, says Conrad Black, replying to Ian Gilmour's attack of last week
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IN THIS newspaper last week Ian Gilmour imputed to me a good many opinions and motives that I do not hold in the midst of a particularly excruciating version of the usual farrago of Euro-enthusiastic myths. I was accused of raising with Rupert Murdoch "stridently ... [a] frenzy [about] the very idea of Europe". He accused me of desiring this country to become "a satellite ... an appendage to the United States" because my views (and Mr Murdoch's, but he can respond for himself) are "essentially North American" as we seek "to push Britain out of Europe" and have little concern for "Britain's national interests" but are entirely self-interested.

Lord Gilmour wrote that I seem "to admire the recent foreign policy of the United States" and he imputed to me generally "extreme right-wing political and economic opinions", and offered the usual Americophobic condescensions of the more lobotomous Euro-fanatics. Thus he claimed that "France's GDP per capita is virtually the same as America's" and in the United States "the richest 1 per cent of American households own nearly 40 per cent of the country's wealth and the richest 20 per cent own nearly 80 per cent of it". He suggests that 40 million Americans would not receive medical care if they needed it and implied that the fact that the United States spends a greater percentage of GDP on medical care than any other Western country merely enriches the insurance companies without adequately serving the health-care needs of the nation. He dismissed the "special relationship" of the UK with the United States as "a myth" which apart from assistance during the Falklands war has brought Britain "only a certain amount of deserved contempt from other countries".

In fact, none of my political or economic views would qualify as "extreme", other than to those helplessly addicted to the European policy which Lord Gilmour so admires of subsidising indolence by paying back-breaking amounts of Danegeld to the urban welfare class and the uneconomic small farmer. Far from objecting to "the very idea of Europe", I think those European countries that have not gone through the process of Thatcherisation (in which Lord Gilmour was an early casualty) and which have, unlike this country, political institutions of little proven historic value, should federate at once and not risk the future of this noble Euro-federal experiment with a roll of the dice of monetary union.

What I seek is not "disengaging as far as possible from Europe" or subordinacy to the United States but continuation in the Common Market which the British people voted for. At the same time we should withdraw from the political and juridical aspects of the European Union, as Norway has, and associate with the North American Free Trade Area, as Norway and Switzerland are negotiating to do. They also have free access to the Common Market without the political and juridical burdens of the European Union.

Contrary to Lord Gilmour's outrageous allegation that I am motivated in these matters by the interests of the United States and Canada and by my own commercial interests, my only interest in this subject is the same one espoused by the Prime Minister: the national interest of this country. (It is not particularly relevant to the United States, Canada or my economic well-being what European policy the United Kingdom pursues.) What I propose would give Britain greater free access to the markets of the European Union and North America than any other country possesses, would liberate us from the deluge of authoritarian directives that cascade down from Brussels and would preserve all of Britain's options to associate more closely with the Europeans or the North Americans should we eventually choose to do that.

Lord Gilmour will be disappointed to learn that when taxation and purchasing power are taken into account, France has scarcely 60 per cent of the per capita income of the United States; an average effective personal income tax rate nearly 20 points above that for the average American taxpayer; nearly three times the American level of unemployment; a substantially higher rate of inflation and only about half the recent American rate of economic growth. The wealthiest 1 per cent own about 30 per cent of American wealth, the wealthiest 20 per cent own about 55 per cent of the country's wealth and the least wealthy 40 per cent of Americans have about 15 per cent of the country's wealth. Statistics can be manipulated or falsified as Lord Gilmour proved, but all but a very small percentage of Americans live at least adequately well. Rich, middle and poor are all getting richer at about the same rate. No American goes without medical care, the poor and the elderly are covered by public medical insurance plans and the 15 per cent of the population who are not covered by any medical insurance plans (who would be taken care of if they were without means) have consciously decided to take that chance and consecrate their resources to other ends.

Canada, which Lord Gilmour ignores other than to suggest it is a dishonourable place of origin, is a G7 Commonwealth country, with a higher standard of living and lower tax rates than Europe, comprehensive medical care and virtually no poor people at all.

The North American Free Trade Area is, as its name implies, a free trade area only and is now negotiating expansion into South America and Europe. Because the United States will not concede sovereignty to other countries, it does not ask other countries to embrace supra-nationalism in any but trade matters. Even Canada, where 40 per cent of the GNP is in trade with the United States and over 90 per cent of the population lives within 100 miles of the US border, does not suffer a fraction of the interference in its domestic jurisdiction from any source that Britain does from Europe.

I perfectly understand the attractions of making one great entity out of most of the states of the European Union and strongly support that objective for those countries which would be well served by a federal Europe, but I do not believe that that is where the British national interest now leads. Unique among the European powers, Britain has both an Atlantic and a European vocation and should pursue both.

At least Lord Gilmour spared us the customary dissembling to the effect that monetary union is a mere economic measure of no jurisdictional significance and reveals himself in his true colours as a Euro-integrationist. He knows that the next step after monetary union will be a common foreign and security policy for Europe. He knows that had such a policy existed over the past 20 years there would have been no liberation of the Falklands, no effective reprisals against Colonel Gaddafi, other than from American aircraft carriers, no liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.

I have been just as critical of the shortcomings of the present US administration as Lord Gilmour has. Neither the United States nor any other country benefits from constantly enlightened and effective statesmanship. But the United States is the only major power that has had a generally successful foreign policy throughout this century because it has not had to retire from an untenable empire and has only sought not to be threatened. And when it was threatened in 1917, in 1940 and 1941 and in the Cold War, it did what was necessary to remove those threats, with allies certainly but allies that played a gradually more secondary role. The reason the second half of this century has been so much more successful and less tragic than the first half has been the engagement of the United States in Europe and the Far East. Lord Gilmour and his Euro-enthusiastic friends have not made the case for abandoning Britain's unique relationship with the United States and Canada, which has been so helpful in the most critical moments of modern British history; and for consenting to be subsumed into a Europe which, apart from Britain, has shown no capacity for responsible regional, much less world, leadership since the time of Bismarck.

I wish Europe well and I wish Britain to stay as close to it in spirit as it is geographically, but unless and until the Euro-federalists develop political institutions as democratic and effective as those that have evolved over many centuries in this country, and adopt a more effective economic model than the social democracy which has created virtually no new jobs in the past 20 years in France and Germany, while 30 million jobs have been created in the United States and Canada, I am opposed to stripping Westminster further in order jurisdictionally to clothe Brussels and Strasbourg. And I am opposed to dismantling this country's relationship with its most useful and important allies, the United States and Canada, which also comprise by far the most powerful and successful region in the world, in order to plunge into a Europe still afflicted by economic stagnation and general political incoherence. And I can reassure Lord Gilmour that that is an almost entirely British perspective. The United States and Canada will prosper whatever happens in Europe, and Britain should prosper with them.