Argue that Britain's foreign policy shouldn't be subordinated to European interests.

The eurosceptics strike back?

by Howard Fienberg

GV903, Week 8, U. of Essex, for Neil Robinson

At worst, Americans were country cousins... Frenchmen were always bloody foreigners... 1

As the only undefeated European power in World War II, Great Britain was able to maintain a higher degree of control over its empire, due to it's maintenance of overall order. Even the loss of most assets of the Empire since the war did not damage the home view that Britain was still a Great Power, with a global interest. Even in the face of the superpower conflict in the cold war, the UK still felt itself a major player - a seasoned, experienced power in the international realm.

Winston Churchill characterized British international interest in terms of three interconnected circles: Empire and Commonwealth, Europe, and the US. The US generally came first, Europe always last. This depiction remains in effect today for most Britons.

The loss of empire can be viewed not as a loss of status, but as a demonstration of British maturity and power. Britain generally didn't fight its colonies when they sought independence. It worked with them so that they could achieve independence on good terms, leaving a legacy of British-style parliamentary democracy scattered throughout the world.

Where Britain did resort to force against anti-imperialist forces, it did so on the justification of fighting communist expansionism, and performed admirably. The insurgency in Malaya was a case in point. Application of British military power was able to beat back the communist-inspired revolutionaries, primarily made up of Chinese, who were a strong ethnic minority there. Although it was a long and hard war, other imperial powers (including the US) would try to duplicate British strategies and tactics in anti-guerrilla warfare.

When faced with a challenge to its imperial possessions in 1982 by Argentina, Britain mobilized the necessary resources to remove Argentinan forces from the Falkland Islands. This was a mighty feat for a country on the opposite end of the globe, without any forward bases in the area, and shows how British power has yet to wane on the international scene.

The Commonwealth was originally a cohesive grouping of British Dominions, given a degree of independence, save the most important parts of sovereignty, such as foreign affairs, and still owing their allegiance to the crown. Made up mostly of emigrated Britons, there was a socio-cultural link which, above most other ties, kept the Dominions tied to Britain and to each other, but it eroded gradually over time.

The affection for the Commonwealth as a socio-cultural unit was widespread in the UK. It

gave a continued extra-European flavor to the national consciousness even when the bases of its political power had gone.... it helped obfuscate the realities... by encouraging successive administrations to assume that... cultural influence could... substitute for military power...2

Thus did the British people begin to slowly yield to the concept that the Commonwealth no longer belonged to them. Having seen it transformed from a "white man's club into a multi-racial group," a good many Tories turned away with disdain. But others took up the banner that Britain had truly come of age, taking on the role no longer as the imperial influence over an enormous empire but as the leader of a diverse grouping of nations, tied by the imperial experience and the teachings of the British nation.

In the EC, French colonies were given associate status, which was what Britain wanted for its Commonwealth. However, the French colonies encompassed a far smaller populace and area than the Commonwealth, making them more easily accepted by the EC. As well, France had a much greater political and economic clout in Europe; that was what allowed it to wring such concessions. That was an advantage the British lacked; their seemingly global clout meant little. To let the Europeans continually slight Britain's relationship with the Commonwealth is to let the Europeans destroy the Commonwealth.

Beyond the interests of Commonwealth and Empire, are the Anglo-American special relationship, which has already been discussed, and the simply differing world outlook of Britain. Cowed by World War II, the rest of Europe retreated, focusing on their relation with each other. The UK remained the only responsible European power, left holding the position of a leader in the free world. If Britain were to subordinate its foreign policy to European interests, a Common Foreign and Security Policy in particular, it would be losing not only its world voice in favor of a more sullied and useless European one, but it would also lose the influence it has within the EU from being the only global power.

To conclude, why should Britain allow European fishermen to bully Britain's fishing partners like Canada? It shouldn't, of course....


1 Mander, John. Great Britain or Little England. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1963. (31)

2 Kennedy, Paul. The Realities Behind Diplomacy. Glasgow: Fontana Press, 1981. (336)

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