Brexit will allow the UK to develop a more fulfilling and cooperative relationship with our European neighbours

Brexit will allow the UK to develop a more fulfilling and cooperative relationship with our European neighbours

In the 1960s, after I had graduated with a first-class Oxford postgraduate law degree, I joined the British Foreign Office as the top entrant of my year. There, I worked for a couple of years on European affairs and was eventually posted to the Embassy in Brussels.

After this exposure to the realities of what was then an emerging “Europe”, I concluded that joining the Common Market would be against Britain’s interests – but when I expressed this view on entering the House of Commons in 1974, I was immediately labelled as an “anti-European”.

I had to grin and bear this ridiculous label – all the more ridiculous, so it seemed to me, when I thought of my love for European art, music, literature, architecture and food, and the enjoyable holidays I had spent in France and Italy and Portugal, and recalled that my wife and I had met, fallen in love and married in Brussels, and that our son was born there.That experience has led me to what to some may seem a surprising conclusion – that, far from being the promised land of European cooperation, the European Union is in fact the major obstacle to a fruitful and rewarding relationship between the UK and Europe.

The fact is that a full and proper recognition of what each has to offer the other – and especially what Europe has to offer us – has been obstructed by all the baggage that has come with it. To limit the possible forms our relationship could take to membership of the EU is to accept the whole unwieldy and uncompromising super-structure built by those intent on, despite early assurances to the contrary, creating a single European state.

It has meant accepting as the foundation stone of “Europe” a Franco-German deal that, from the outset, was inimical to our interests. It has meant accepting economic policies designed to serve the interests of multinational corporations and reflecting the neo-liberal convictions of German bankers. It has meant recognising the European Court of Justice as our supreme court, able to overrule our own courts and strike down laws passed by our own parliament, and thereby removing from us one of the essential powers of a sovereign state.

It has meant being unable to control and protect our own borders, and unable to restrict the inflow of foreign workers. It has meant being unable to regulate our own trade relationships, denying us access to efficiently produced food and raw materials from around the world and leaving us powerless to defend British manufacturing against powerful competition from the continent. It has meant paying a substantial annual subscription for the privilege of belonging.

Little wonder, then, that the “Europe” to which we were committed was rejected at the 2016 referendum. But there is a corollary that promises a much brighter future for UK-EU cooperation.

With Brexit achieved and behind us, the way will then be clear to build a much more beneficial relationship for both parties. We can then give proper recognition to what has always been true – that we are historically, geographically, economically, politically, culturally and militarily part of Europe – a Europe that is not narrowly defined by the EU.

With the obstacles to cooperation removed, we can then, as a sovereign state, make a fresh start and build a mutually acceptable and rewarding relationship with our friends across that narrow body of water we call the Channel.

We can, as one sovereign entity with another, negotiate in good faith a sensible trading relationship that serves both our interests. We can focus on, and extend, what I like to call “functional” cooperation – that is, working together on issues where we can both gain from sharing our expertise. In matters of developing technology, research, communications, education, foreign policy, military preparedness, there is everything to be said for working together.

We can each bring to the relationship our own particular strengths. From the British side, this would mean deploying in the common interest the expertise as a financial centre developed by the City of London – there would seem to be no point, post-Brexit, in the EU trying to set up a comparable capability of its own, when it is already available on its doorstep and has experience of working in both interests.

If we can cast aside pre-conceptions and have the breadth of vision to recognise the possibilities, in other words, a new golden age for European cooperation is possible. We can each strengthen our “European-ness” in a cultural sense, and enjoy what each can offer. Brexit should certainly not be the end of European cooperation; it may well be the launching pad for a much closer and more fulfilling partnership.