©Terry M. Boardman

This article first appeared in the German magazine Info3 in March 1996

7th February 1996: A new rightwing British think tank “Conservatism 2000″ publishes a ‘white paper’ urging rejection of a single currency for Europe. Nothing strange about that; rightwing British Conservatives are notoriously Eurosceptic. But this think tank is headed by John Redwood, former member of the Cabinet, until last July when he challenged John Major for the leadership of the Conservative Party and thus the Premiership. Although he was defeated in the subsequent leadership election, he succeeded in turning himself overnight into a leading media political star where previously, as Secretary of State for Wales, he had hardly merited attention.

After his failed leadership bid the new star visited the USA where he was apparently treated seriously as a possible future Prime Minister. The “Sunday Telegraph” (17.9.95) reported that he “went on a round of the foundations and policy institutes of Washington”, building up “links that would buttress Conservatism 2000…which he intended to launch on 27th September.” The “Washington Times” praised Redwood, one of Margaret Thatcher’s most faithful lieutenants, for trying to “reestablish “the kind of political relationship and exchange of ideas that made for such fertile cross-pollination during the Reagan-Thatcher years”. As well as promises of American financial support for his think tank nd its projected series of publications, Redwood claimed to have brought back with him “a big idea” to ‘pollinate’ British (and European?) politics. In his first major policy speech on the issue, the day his think-tank was launched, Redwood proposed an Atlantic free trade area on the NAFTA model as a radical alternative to a single European currency and ‘ever closer union in Europe’…”

How did his former political rivals in John Major’s cabinet respond? Beginning with a keynote speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) on 21st September, the new Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, succinctly preempted Redwood by calling for the revival and expansion of the transatlantic relationship as a strong British interest, declaring that “the goal should be transatlantic free trade but the new partnership must include a much closer dialogue between Congress and the parliaments of Western Europe”. The Prime Minister followed this up at the EU leaders’ conference at Majorca 22-23 September when  he too made a point of endorsing the need for new transatlantic links between the US and Europe. Rifkind has been making the same point in various ways since, most recently in his second keynote speech on the subject on 6th February 1996 to the Transatlantic Policy Network. “The Independent”, (5.2.1996) reported that he would demand “new moves for economic liberalisation across the Atlantic…echoing the style of John Redwood…the Foreign Secretary has made transatlantic cooperation an important theme of his term of office…(he) will add that the Italian Presidency of the EU should accelerate talks on free trade with Canada and Mexico…”

So what’s the problem with free trade between the EU and NAFTA, one might ask? Surely, that’s all to the good? And so it may be, if it is only a matter of free trade. But the signs are that Redwood, Rifkind, and friends may have something more in mind. What this is was quietly but clearly put before the British people by the prestigious, highly influential, and slavishly pro-American magazine “The Economist” in May 1995, one month before Redwood achieved fame with his leadership challenge. British Euro-sceptics claim that they want Europe to be merely a free trade organisation, a preeminently economic body that can serve various national self-interests; they strongly oppose the EU’s political and security/defence dimensions. But in its May 27th issue “The Economist”‘s leader, noting that “economics and security go hand in hand” and that “the European Union…shows that economic cooperation can lead on to much more elaborate and cohesive joint undertakings”, called for “not just good commercial relations but somethia shared foreign and security policy…a new NATO of tomorrow. It is towards this, not just towards TAFTA, that the allies’ eyes should be turning.” The magazine’s cover, entitled “In need of fastening” showed a map of the Atlantic being zipped up by a zipper with a hollow heart in the handle. The USA (not Canada or Mexico, its NAFTA partners) and Western Europe were shown in the same colour. The eastern European edge of the map ran through Croatia (Split), Hungary, Slovakia and Poland (Posen). These, along with the Czech Republic, are the largely Catholic countries which NATO and the EU are seeking to enrol as new members.

This picture of a divided Europe, its western and central half firmly wedded to North America and its eastern, largely Orthodox half cast off to drift, probably into the arms of Russia, has been an image for the 21st century which “The Economist” first presented in 1990 when George Bush  announced the beginning of the Age of the New World Order. Is it then just the approaching EU Intergovernmental Conference that the supposed rivals Redwood and Rifkind have their eyes on? Is it, as Rifkind claims, merely the desire that the EU should, in “the best British tradition” be more outward-looking? Or is it one of the opening moves in a grandiose global game – somewhat similar to that remarkable and cunning realignment of diplomatic forces which was effected on a smaller European scale between 1887 and 1907  – a deadly game which has as its ultimate goal the realisation of George Orwell’s threefold nightmare world from “1984″: Oceania, Eurasia, Eastasia – eternally at war with each other over the bodies of the rest of the world?

This article was first uploaded Dec 1999

Last updated 12.7.2012