Letter: Outcast from the Continent

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The Independent Online
Sir: On the eve of the Amsterdam summit it may be salutary to reflect on the last occasion when we were in Holland negotiating the terms of a closer relationship with our European neighbours.

In February 1651 the English Parliament dispatched the Chief Justice, Oliver St John, and the veteran Yorkshire MP Walter Strickland to discuss political and economic union with the United Provinces; in June, after four months of strenuously pressing their case, they returned to London dismayed and empty-handed.

The case for both economic and political union with the Netherlands had seemed overwhelming. Both countries were highly developed commercial nations; they were both Protestant; and both were republics: ideological and economic convergence were well-nigh perfect; and integrated they would enjoy superpower security and clout. There were no misgivings in the English Parliament, which had recently fought and defeated the king on the issue of sovereignty.

St John and Strickland were in fact offered commercial union; but it was political union that they sought, and this the Dutch refused. Ideological, institutional and economic convergence were not enough; what we failed to measure up to was the moral test. We were a nation of regicides, the pariahs of Europe.

In June 1997 we are, perhaps, in better moral shape. Let us not return from Holland yet again with our tail between our legs, once more the outcasts of the Continent. A strident policy of "British interests first" (short- term and narrowly defined) is not the way ahead.


Beverley, East Yorkshire