In his famous speech to both Houses of Parliament in March 1960, General de Gaulle praised Britain: ‘Although, since 1940, you have gone through the hardest vicissitudes in your history, only four statesmen [Churchill, Attlee, Eden and Macmillan] have guided your affairs in these extraordinary years. Thus, lacking meticulously worked-out constitutional texts, but by virtue of an unchallengeable general consent, you find the means on each occasion to ensure the efficient functioning of democracy.’
De Gaulle admired us and disliked us, and concluded that we threatened France if we joined the EEC. So he blocked our entry. He was right about us, wrong about the effect of our joining. By joining, we sacrificed that ‘unchallengeable general consent’, and submitted ourselves increasingly to ‘meticulously worked-out constitutional rules’, imposed by other people, thus giving France (and Germany) the power to break us.
In 2016, our citizens understood this and voted to leave. Our leaders did not, and still don’t, so now France (and Germany) are trying to exercise that power. In 1960, our prime minister, Harold Macmillan, was begging to join. This week, Theresa May was in Paris, begging to leave. In a way, though, it is the same: both letting Europe define the terms, both supplicants.
This article is an extract from Charles Moore's Spectator Notes, available in this week's magazine.