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Is Britain Heading For "No Man's Land?"
James Skinner




Recognise this?

Should Britain remain in the European Union? That is the question. General elections have been set for the June 7th, yet according to the opinion polls; Europe is down on the voting agenda of the electorate. This is a shame. It should be the top priority. The continuation of Britain as a member will set the path for the future of this country.

There are many European topics at stake over the next few decades: Economics, defence, sovereignty, taxation, legislation, to name but a few. These are common problems facing all European states. Britain is not alone to feel concerned on their effect on equivalent national issues. But some have already been overcome. Let us take European currencies as an example.

Some of us pay in deutchmarks, others in liras. Living in Spain, I happen to use pesetas. Most of us, however, are looking forward to the introduction of the euro as the future European currency. This will establish a common base for financial transactions that will ease business as a whole.

So what is the great problem for Britain in discarding the pound? In most of Europe, local currencies no longer play a part in national politics, let alone as an argument in an election. The transfer over to the euro will be an administrative matter as from 2002. The real question is: does Britain wish to continue in Europe?

Britain’s future is in Europe. There is no doubt about it. But it can only triumph and prosper if it becomes a full European partner. It will never succeed as a sideline spectator. Most decisions taken in Brussels, regardless of sector, affect everyday life in Britain. These are not always favourable. But if Britain were to play centre stage alongside France and Germany (greatly determined by being a member of the Euro zone) it would exert a much stronger influence at European level for the benefit of the British people.

Over the past fifty years, this country has gone through a dramatic transformation. Setting aside most great changes that have affected the world as a whole, Britain has also been influenced by the loss of an Empire, an influx of massive immigration, and membership of the European Common Market. The fourth significant impact has been that of the United States of America. ‘Americana’ has firmly set its roots in the United Kingdom. All these issues have tugged at and torn down establishments and traditions built over centuries. By doing so, they have cornered the country into ‘no man's land’. The United Kingdom of Great Britain as it enters the twenty first century is staring at a crossroad. The routes are: go it alone, side with America, or join Europe. What route should it be?

But before analysing a nation within a league of nations, that is, Britain in Europe, it is worth taking a look at the present internal situation. The national problems have hit rock bottom and need to be resolved. Curiously enough, they are so serious and far-reaching that despite party manifestos for the forthcoming elections, it makes no difference which one takes over the leadership. Food (agriculture and farming), the National Health Service (medical and pensions) Education, law and order as well as Infrastructure (roads and railways) all need to be dramatically overhauled. Most of today’s ills in these areas stem from decisions taken two decades or so ago. Some could be summed up as privatisation (following in the USA’s footsteps), and excessive corporate freedom with disregard for basic social needs. Others as sheer government neglect.

True; massive privatisation of the major industries such as railways and telecommunications brought about innovation and consumer choice. Citizens became shareholders earning and accumulating unprecedented wealth. The economy apparently flourished as never before. Yet grassroots such as ethics and morality were relegated to the past. Hire and fire, survival of the fittest and, above all, making as much money as possible were the new rules.

The mad cow (BSE) disease, followed by a devastating foot and mouth epidemic, was indicative of a long lasting neglect of food protection in lieu of supermarket profits. Cost cutting closed good hospitals whilst aggressive objectives and incentives led to the general deterioration of the medical service. Long hospital waiting lists, dissatisfaction and lack of personnel dominated tabloid headlines. Gone were the days of professional vocation. Profit margins curtailed investment in railway infrastructure whilst dot-com fever lured brains away from traditional professions such as teaching and nursing. Britain looked abroad for skilled staff. On the other hand, over zealous protection of citizen’s rights without a proper and adequately equipped police force allowed rampant delinquency to take over everywhere. The recent death of a ‘snatch and run’ victim at Euston Station was a case in point.

So where does Europe fit into the equation of Britain’s present national ills? The answer is it doesn’t, because full membership of the Union is long term. But it will definitely have a knock on effect. The future world economic map over the next century will be dominated by the USA, Japan and the European Union followed at some time by a Chinese led Far East. Long lasting macro decision-making on international issues will be dictated by agreements amongst these super powers. If Britain is left out on a limb procrastinating and acting as a passive co-ordinator for the rest of Europe it will eventually lose out. Within a generation or two it may be relegated to underdeveloped status. There should be no misapprehensions of becoming an international arbitrator – link between America and Europe - with special neutral status. This will simply not happen!

As for America, make no illusions about Uncle Sam. The United States of America looks after number one and only number one. Prosper and they love you, decline and they will pass you over. Britain should not even dream of acting as the big European partner. In the twenty-first century, that thought should be discarded completely.

My own conviction, similar to Sir Edward Heath (who took Britain into Europe in 1972), and hopefully many others is: go for Europe. Britain was, is and always will be European. Our future generations will never forgive an electorate that gives a blind eye to the most fundamental issues that are facing this nation in 2001: restoring national social standards yet within a strong European Union. This includes Britain as a full member.

© James Skinner. 2001


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