LEADING ARTICLE:On the edge of sanity

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The Independent Online
Forget the idealistic stuff about the new Europe. Ignore the babble about the loss of British identity. Shove the whole creaking superstructure of assertion and claim about destiny to one side. There is only one truly important question about Europe: is further integration in the interests of Britain, or not?

With the possible exception of Germany, no single European nation is in a position to compete unaided in the international marketplace. That is why the Common Market was established in the first place and why Mrs Thatcher championed the single European market. The global competitive environment is becoming more not less intense. By the end of the century it may make sense to increase the collective power of European nations by adopting a single currency.

Meanwhile, the argument for co-operation in other areas has become steadily more persuasive. The latest example is defence and foreign policy. Unilateral acts on the part of individual states are unlikely to succeed, and we can't rely any longer on the US identifying its interests with ours - as Bosnia shows. It is becoming necessary to band together.

Of course there are problems - for example, in finding the right balance between European institutions and national governments, and in establishing the appropriate relationship between European integration on the one hand and the outside world on the other. But the underlying imperative of European integration has not altered. Yet today we find half the Conservative Party and one of the pillars of the British establishment, the Times, now given over to a self-defeating and historically doomed war on our relationship with Europe.

In Monday's edition of the Thunderer an editorial called for the resignation of Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd. Regretting that Michael Portillo might not be quite consensual enough to take over (he can be Chancellor instead), it was suggested that a Euro-chastened Malcolm Rifkind would fit the bill.

Yesterday, as Mr Major prepared for a meeting with the "Fresh Start" group of anti-Europe Tory backbenchers (so named presumably because they subliminally favour a Labour government), the Times was calling for Britain to move to the "edge of Europe". "Britain has not managed to check the federalist impulses amongst member states", it warned. And then bizarrely (and optimistically) went on to list all Britain's allies against federalism and the single currency, including Mr Chirac's France, Spain, Denmark and Italy. Nevertheless, despite all these friends, the Wapping warriors concluded "the heart of Europe is no longer a friendly cliche; it is a trap".

So the edge - not the heart - is the place for us. And if on the edge, why not outside? Why not Britain alone, bucking the trend, self-reliant and powerful, joining hands in equality with our free cousins across the Atlantic? Remember the nursery atlases and the spread of red denoting what can be achieved by British ingenuity and willpower? If today's realities are too difficult, try yesterday's. This Boy's Own politics for the era of globalisation. At the edge of Europe? At the edge of sanity, more like.

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