[Ed: Today we publish a brief comment by our contributor Roger Turner who took issue with an opinion piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published in the DT on Friday 13th May 2022, contrasting it with a ‘reply’, a comment article by Professor Robert Tombs, published on Saturday 14th May. In view of the ongoing crisis regarding the NI Protocol, this is of topical interest.] 


Written by Roger Turner


Being an ex-Merchant Seaman, perhaps Friday the 13th has an extra significance for me, but after reading this headline in the Business section of this past Friday`s Daily Telegraph, written by, in my estimation, a tried and tested good correspondent, in fact a veritable “Pillar”, a certain Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, with the headline: “Emmanuel Macron`s `confederation’ may be the perfect home for Brexit Britain” (paywalled link), I was, to put it in one word, disgusted!

Let me tell you what he said.

“He has revived Francois Mitterrand`s plan at the end of the Cold War for a European Confederation “let us be clear, the EU cannot be the only means of structuring the European continent”, he told Euro-MPs this week.

Macron proposes a constellation of democratic and liberal  states that wish  to trade and  cooperate on friendly terms without having to accept the full  EU package, with its ever more powerful executive in Brussels and with a supreme court in Luxembourg acquiring hegemonic jurisdiction.

What was deemed impossible during the  Brexit talks – and before that, as the  UK was dragged  by perpetual treaty creep into a proto-superstate against its will – has suddenly become a fashionable possibility, because of  Vladimir Putin`s attempt to overthrow the European  order by force. 

The UK was told that there could be only a binary choice, either in (or almost in without voting rights, like Norway) or out, and little different from Vietnam, Brazil or Madagascar. Put crudely the Barnier line was that any form of bespoke arrangement was cakeism, a threat to the indivisible unity of the EU.

Macron`s “European political Community” is designed to tackle the conundrum of Ukraine, a disguised way to head off fast -track  EU accession of a country deemed too big and unruly to be digested.” (paywalled link)

If that wasn’t bad enough, AEP goes on – here are more of the points he made, a bit abbreviated:

“[…] Obvious questions about Brexit […] Macron did not explicitly name the UK, but said the arrangement  should be open to “those countries which have left the European Union”, which is the same thing. He did not mention Greenland.

The idea clearly has a head of steam […] Italy`s former head last month proposed a confederation of 36 states […] backing of  Mario Draghi. The centre for European Reform says the plan has support from EU`s President Charles Michel and the council secretariat, though not from Commission officials:

“The move is highly significant. There is a strong desire for a rapprochement with the UK and they might even be willing to rewrite the Protocol, if there is a different Prime Minister […] Johnson now too toxic” (paywalled link)

AEP’s article is too long to relate all his weaselly seductive reasons, e.g. why we should now get into bed with whom – he even mentions Macron’s “choice to call the UK – the enemy”. He writes:

 “Macron seems to be proposing a relationship with Europe that middle Britain has long sought […] This new European organisation would offer democratic nations, which adhere to our core values, a new space for political cooperation on security, energy, transport, infrastructure, investment and free movement of people” (paywalled link)

AEP forgot to mention ‘diversity’ and ‘net zero’! He ends his piece thus:

“For Britain it is full of seductive possibilities, the answer for millions of us who want the sort of relationship with Europe  that Canada has with the United States, it is not such a scandalous thing to ask after all.” (paywalled link)

I said at the beginning I was disgusted, perhaps particularly that the DT should print such thinly disguised “Remain leaning”, dangerous drivel, by, as I said, a journalist of such standing as AEP.

Came Saturday’s DT and relief was in sight. I don’t know if the main DT editorial staff were “aghast” at what they had found printed under their collective name in the previous day’s Business Section, but they quickly drummed up the eminent historian Robert Tombs who roundly condemned the whole sorry idea, in none less a space than the main leader on the centre page, under the title “Britain’s future is to be Europe’s only great power, not a satellite of Macron’s continental empire” (paywalled link).

I will now quote some of Mr. Tombs’ observations:

“Now President Macron has suggested a “European Confederation” which we might graciously be allowed to join. Gullible commentators have presented this as a bold new vision and even as a concession to Britain. In fact, it is France`s ideal European system, which it has been touting for the last forty years.

It means  an inner eurozone core  dominated by France and Germany  – what Macron likes to call “sovereign Europe” with rings of satellites extending to the outer reaches of Europe`s sphere (Norway, Turkey, North Africa, Britain …).

The satellites would be pulled inexorably into the orbit of core EU over which  they would have no control. This is the ultimate reiteration of the subordinate status the EU has been trying to foist on Britain since 2016. We would have to be extraordinarily naïve to fall for what would be worse  than EU membership. It would moreover smooth the path for the breakaway of Scotland and Northern Ireland.” (paywalled link)

Professor Tombs continues:

“Our security , both strategic and economic requires us to be global. This has been our trajectory since the 18th Century. De Gaulle said this when he kept us out of the Common Market: we were “sea going, bound up by trade  markets, food supplies with the most varied and distant countries”. Europe is one partner among many, and our back door, we will help to keep it bolted by aiding countries that we wish to be our allies to defend themselves. We would even in extreme circumstances, give intelligence naval and air support, but we must not be drawn  into an ineffective EU based system which has repeatedly shown itself to be, at best indifferent to our interests, most obviously in Ireland. Our front door faces West and our high road is the ocean.” (paywalled link)

Professor Tombs is also an enthusiast for the “Anglosphere” although he bewails the loss of Canada and New Zealand (‘synthetic guilt and self loathing’) and says they must be “worked upon as a matter of urgency and their own survival”. He also praises the Aukus agreement as a start, but worries why we are making such  non-entity trade agreements. He says we import 250,000 tons of meat from the EU, why make an agreement to take only a small portion from New Zealand (12,000 tons annually?) for instance. Answers please, Ms Truss …!

These two comment articles make a background to the ongoing NI negotiations. Will Johnson chose to follow AEP’s counsel and fall for Macron’s sweet-talk, or will Professor Tombs’ arguments stiffen his spine? We shall see …

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