Author and freelance writer. Sometimes in London more often elsewhere




Persuasive writing


By James Maclaren, Aug 27 2016 06:27AM

Finally after a period of time exceeding the Second World War and a media and public build-up of biblical proportions, that quintessential example of the senior British mandarin Sir John Chilcott puts everyone out of their misery and publishes the Iraq Inquiry Report. The twelve volumes which analyse at the atomic level Britain’s decision, participation and consequences of going to war have long been awaited, if only to bring closure to a political process and decision which has defined British Foreign Policy for this generation and the next. However, despite the scrutiny it is arguable whether after all this time, the reports, the investigations, the recriminations not to mention the memoirs, that the conclusions could include much not already uncovered.

To many, particularly the relatives of the British service personnel who lost their lives in the invasion and the aftermath, the report had a particular purpose. It would provide the damning verdict on Tony Blair’s decision to follow unreservedly (some would say slavishly) US foreign policy and force not just the apology they got, but the retribution they think should be forthcoming

Why was the war necessary?

Certainly Saddam was on a collision course with the West and without doubt reigned over one of the most odious regimes of modern times. Yet the direction of US foreign policy framed by the national shock of 9/11 and the determination to crush Al Qaida could be suspected of a ‘shoot first and ask questions later’. The unfinished business from the previous expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait almost certainly coloured the US appetite for a kinetic solution. Containment could have continued indefinitely, but the hawks in the US administration would have none of it and the barely disguised contempt for a diplomatic solution through the UN meant that military action against Saddam would always conform to a US timetable. Blair’s strategic decision to align UK firmly alongside the US was based upon a presumption that such a relationship would provide a position of influence. It was too subtle a concept for the US who recognised the usefulness of their British ally but were not tempted to allow Blair to chart any alternative courses.

Opposition to a detestable regime was not a sufficient pretext to justify taking the UK to war, but the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction might be. Political necessity trumped the operational expediency of intelligence gathering, removing its objectivity and transforming it into political leverage. Inevitably under such circumstances the group think culture blurs what is truth and what is useful. The war was presented as necessary, but it was not

Where the military prepared?

When the Labour Government under Blair first came to power in 1997 one of their first acts was to commission a strategic defence review (SDR). At the core of the SDR was fulfilment of a government vision to retain global expeditionary capability. This level of ambition is retained by only a few nations and set the objective of being able to project power and conduct warfighting operations. Unfortunately with the Nation’s finances firmly under the control of Gordon Brown there was little sympathy for defence and the lofty plans went on progressively underfunded.

With the timetable to conflict dictated by the US enthusiasm to engage with Saddam, the UK was forced to mobilise capability rapidly and at large scale breaking most of its planning assumptions and stepping outside of the mandated decision making process to trigger critical procurement, mobilisation and organisational actions. This could only be achieved by the senior command structure of the Armed Forces accepting the risks and consequences of a short notice deployment with limited thought as to the longer term operational consequences. The UK doctrine saw highly capable UK forces deploying rapidly, successfully warfighting at large scales of effort through equipment and personnel dominance and then withdrawing allowing other nations to manage subsequent stabilisation. However, such a doctrine demanded that other nations were willing to assume responsibility for post-conflict operations and they were not.

It was clear to British military planners embedded with US forces in the US Central Command Headquarters (HQ CENTCOM) in McDill Air Force base Florida that the US had no plans for the aftermath and believed that the invasion would be seen as a liberation with any residual concern for nation building the responsibility of the US Department of State. There is no doubt that this concern was bought directly to the attention of the senior military leadership in the UK and the steady stream of political and diplomatic leaders who visited the CENTCOM HQ. That such concerns were ignored reflected the political decision that the strategic relationship with the US was more important and a misplaced belief that the US view of events post-Saddam was correct.

Although military operations went as predicted, the peace did not. The labour Government had committed to the Iraq war at the same time as undertaking a major downsizing of UK armed forces. In particular the decision had been taken to reduce the number of infantry battalions in the UK order of battle. These units were exactly the type of organisation required to conduct internal security operations as the security situation in Basra deteriorated. The resources part of Whitehall led by the Chancellor continued with its plans to cut, while the commitments and foreign policy part struggled to cope with a security crisis spiralling out of control. The aftermath of the conflict was completely unfunded with equipment and manpower deficiencies. At the height of militia insurrection there were just two infantry battalions deployed in Basra. By comparison the lowest number ever to manage a much lower level of violence in Belfast was five.

To add insult to injury already military planning was turning back towards Afghanistan, a theatre left to fester while attention was on Iraq. Al Qaida had reorganised removing all the gains achieved by the 2001 campaign. Iraq was becoming too difficult, too messy and the political call was for action in Afghanistan – a call many were ready despite the lack of resolution to Iraq. One bad situation involving a despotic dictator was replaced by a violent soup of chaos and mayhem which makes a mockery of saying Saddam’s removal was right and justified.

In the context of Chilcott’s report this narrative was already known and these words could have been written in 2006. It does beg the question did we need seven years to expose it.

And so?

Chilcott has already been criticised for being wise in hindsight. Many are rushing to defend political and military decision making which they say was made in good faith. But was it? In truth there was plenty of experienced and popular voice raised against the war at the time. Blair chose not to listen and for that he should bear the weight of responsibility. But he is not alone, the ambitious generals anxious to prove their worth and rebut expenditure cuts promised more than they could deliver and failed to organise their resources with the care and diligence they were charged with. Diplomats and intelligence chiefs also used the theatre of international crisis to advance their own goals tethering their analysis to the government’s political aims and allegiances, apparently abandoning the objectivity which they had a duty to produce. Their short termism in decision making and failure to predict and act upon the consequences of military action generates a level of culpability which must never be allowed to be repeated.

By James Maclaren, Jun 28 2016 09:19AM

So the people had their say and despite institutional arrogance which predicted otherwise, the Brexit vote to leave will take the United Kingdom and probably the rest of the EU into uncharted waters. Assuming the democractic process is respected and some institutional compromise (fudge) is not found. Certainly, the decision is a seismic one which will shape the nation for the next two generations, but it is doubtful that the decision is as cataclysmic as EU enthusiasts predicted before the vote, or die-hard commentators doggedly maintain even after the Nation has spoken. The United Kingdom, (or most parts of it), will join that global club of sovereign, economically successful countries such as Japan, Canada, Australia, South Korea to name a few who thrive effectively without membership of a supranational political organisation.

Why did the Referendum have to happen?

The relationship between Britain and Europe has never been a marriage made in heaven, more a partnership of convenience. The fractious, often emotional, but always deepening links, have been ground out with reluctance and truculence in equal measure. The European project always meant something different to the British people. A disingenuous campaign by Edward Heath took Britain into what was billed as an economic trade area and then with typical British aloofness to all matters foreign, successive governments largely ignored the relentless political integration project, which rolled remorselessly on. Only occasional flare-ups disturbed the European enthusiasm for the clawing of powers from national governments and Britain seemed powerless to halt the march of integration, its diplomatic and political feet failing to gain traction as the bureaucratic bulldozer carolled them into line.

The passive relentless production of centrally produced directives and regulations created little opposition from a number of states whose populations have been conditioned over years to the suspension of democratic processes and government by unaccountable edicts from central bureaucracies. The 2004 enlargement of the EU bought into the fold those former countries of the Soviet Union. These newly independent nations saw the EU as symbolising democracy, a view that was at odds with the British vision based upon an undisturbed millennium of parliamentary authority. The British had never bought into the political integration and in 1974, the referendum did not address the political and federal premise that underpinned the deepening union. After forty years, it was right that the British people had the opportunity to resolve a question they had never been asked.

Why did the UK Leave?

Immigration, immigration, immigration. Despite Remain politicians attempts to divert the referendum agenda back to the economy and the dire implications of departure, it was the unending tranches of cheap unskilled labour displacing working class voters from employment and then competing with them for dwindling health, education and housing resources that filled the Brexit fuel tank with votes. That this was largely unappreciated by the Westminster political classes says a great deal of the remoteness of politicians in today’s Britain. As one senior Labour politician put it, ‘…less socialism, more Labour’, may have given a clue to voting intentions in the deep heartlands of working class Britain. It is difficult to argue that freedom of movement is not a good thing – it just means different things to different people. One celebrated UK political journalist was lamenting the loss of opportunity of the young to, ‘live, work, study and love anywhere in Europe’. Such romantic tosh means nothing when you are a twenty year old fork lift driver in a manufacturing company in Sunderland, married to a similarly aged shop assistant. In those circumstances, freedom of movement means competition for your job from eastern European migrants happy to work for two thirds of their pay. The idea they have to travel across Europe to find work does not sell – why should they? In truth majority of UK migrants to EU countries were high skill, financially independent professionals. Lawyers to Brussels and bankers to Frankfurt was not the equalisation of labour that Remain politicians tried to suggest it was.

Many also found it deeply offensive that Australians, Canadians, South Africans, with whom we share long and dramatic history, often with professional skills we need and are denied access behind Romanians, Bulgarians and Hungarians with low skills we don't. The fact is that the UK was just too dam attractive to EU migrants who perfectly reasonably wanted to improve their own life chances. The ingress was too great, showed no signs of ending and could not be controlled. It was not a fair playing field and a reprisal by the British voter was inevitable.

To many the constant drip of sovereignty away from parliament was more than could be tolerated. When a country has had a democracy for a thousand years, fought to keep it, fought to return it to others who have lost it and then finds its sovereignty continually eroded by a bureaucracy that lurches from crisis to crisis, is founded on grandiose political ideals without root in fact and rational design becomes just too difficult to swallow. Having transported legal, political and administrative systems around the world, the British do not find the vanity project of European political integration appealing. You can only take so much of flag waving and Beethoven’s ninth ‘Ode to Joy’.

Who is to blame?

The list is long and the EU itself must take its share. Before the 2015 General Election when it judged the chances of a Conservative government were low, it was dismissive of David Cameron’s calls for a renegotiation of Britain’s role. Even when the Conservatives formed a government it was reluctant to be drawn into providing anything meaningful by the way of reform– an approach the voters from the second largest net contributor to the EU budget found aloof and patronising.

Cameron’s decision, based upon domestic politics, to offer the referendum must have seemed a good idea at the time. It would simultaneously dislocate UKIP from the voters, remove a cancer from his own party and land a telling right-hook on a weakened and disorganised Labour party. Only the last of these objectives (perhaps not helpfully), has been achieved. He may have been levered to the decision by a clever political screwdriver from UKIP – but the strategy and timing was Cameron’s alone. It would be odd if he does not now ruefully reflect on the poor wisdom of that decision.

The disconnect between the millions of working class voters and all of the political parties was starkly illustrated by a leave vote. The surprise on the faces of Labour politicians as they realised the vote they had been encouraged to turn out was voting against their wishes was telling. It spoke of a sanctimonious misjudgement of the population towards the EU and a self-indulgent approach to the value of their own view.

What happens now?

Less than people think. Following initial hysteria currency and markets will settle. In the short term the media will milk the journalist drama and those politicians and institutions on the losing side will continue to predict doom and maybe even attempt to frustrate or subvert the decision. There will be attention (too much) on political personalities. Getting past all of that, the UK is a large and robust economy. Europe can no more afford a poor political and trading relationship with the UK, than the UK can alienate itself completely from the EU. They need each other and it is unlikely that the UK can be bullied in the same way as Greece. Arguably, the political consequences for Europe are greater. There are a number of countries within the Union containing powerful political elements who eye the British decision with envy. They are likely to seek to replicate the process. Certainly pressure within the Union for internal reform will increase as powerful political entities coalesce around the British decision. Many in the EU may have cause to thank the British as Commission driven plans for further integration take a backseat and the EU centre of gravity (at least for a while) shifts to the Council. Political leadership led by Germany, will be forced to take control from the Commission’s bureaucracy and undertake some serious thinking on the direction of the EU project. Having lost its second largest economy, most capable military, a highly proficient diplomatic service, never mind internal administrative expertise from within its institutions, the EU now has a great deal to think about.

For the United Kingdom, the immediate challenge is for government to take charge of the agenda. The early frustration and accusations of no apparent planning does not take account of the quiet contingency planning that has been taking place, whether the government cares to admit it or not. The political face of this with new leadership will follow in due course. The hysterical critics demanding a costed, resourced blueprint immediately will have to wait until the many institutions have absorbed the decision and organised accordingly. There will be no immediate invoking of Article 50 – a decision that will frustrate many. It is right that this critical enactment takes place under a new leadership, able to bring vigour and belief to the negotiations.

Much of the disentanglement from the EU is just simply bureaucratic ‘work’ – the dry administration of repeal and drafting. It will take substantial time, certainly years. But that is what the Civil Service ‘does’ and it should not concern us greatly. Strategically a key requirement is to establish the UK-EU partnering and trade relationship (as well as trade relationships elsewhere). There will be challenges, compromises and costs to this and we can expect a relationship somewhere between Norway and Canada, depending upon the political and negotiating appetite on both sides. There is no shortcut to this process: it is a matter of negotiation that will take its course until both sides are content.

The long term outlook is bright, Europe will continue to trade with the UK whatever anyone says. Too many Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and VWs head to these shores, airbus still needs its wings and ultimately trade will always trump politics. Liberated from the EU framework the global future for the UK looks strong. A trading nation, with a common law system and mastery of the English language there is no reason to fear the challenge of creating a global economy, including Europe, just not part of the EU.

Whatever, it looks like and costs, the UK will be sovereign once more. Protected from political integration and interference and from entanglement in the Eurozone mess. This is a price the current political chaos is worth paying. When it is over, we can turn our attention to the more complex problem of solving the crisis that is English football.

By James Maclaren, May 29 2016 05:49PM

It is hardly surprising that given the stakes the EU debate and Britain’s future role or otherwise in it, the opposing sides to the question have rapidly transcended to the farce level of debate. We should not be surprised I suppose, taking the question to the country was an enormous gamble for Cameron. Now as we enter the last month with the opinion polls locked and a failure by the government to land winning blows via the economy and security, he is probably sweating slightly at the wisdom of his decision. It must have seemed like quite a clever idea to lance the boil and expunge those militant mutterings around the corridors of Parliament. Now increasingly frantic and dark predictions of what economic future awaits the country free of the EU political choke seem desperate and smack of a leader whose primary tactic is fear rather than rational analysis. It is worth considering what this says of Cameron’s judgement. After all what leader who understands the consequences with such certainty allows a population to make a momentous error of judgement. Leadership is about making the right not the popular decision.

Cameron may just get away with it. Heap enough fear onto people and they will retreat into the safety of the familiar. Most have already forgotten his much trumpeted ‘renegotiation’, even the Prime Minister must have realised it represented pretty meagre stuff as he barely mentions it amongst the apocalyptic predictions of economic meltdown. It is difficult for the average person to argue with the huge weight of economic opinion which confidently predicts the economic disaster awaiting an exit. The reasonable person who must use judgement alone to form an opinion on the capability of this country to thrive independent of the EU, its single market and the federalised bureaucracy we must succumb to in order to be a member, understandably feels nervous. But wait, is it any surprise these organisations collectively make the case for a UK ‘remain’? Of course not the relationship between institutional elites is both wide and deep. Radical thinking and transformation of an exciting type are not in their DNA. But however illustrious, prestigious and learned these organisation may be portrayed, they have over time failed to predict the consequences of ERM withdrawal, the global economic recession, collapse of the Eurozone economy, management of the Greek economic crisis and so on and so on. It can only be assumed that the brazen confident predictions they bring forward now are done so with fingers crossed behind their back and a patronisingly low regard for the public’s ability to remember their past prediction failures.

BBC’s Question Time is always a good barometer of where politics and the public stand with each other. Last night 28th May was no exception. The politicans inevitably acting like reality contestants thans persons of gravity and seriousness. Caroline Lucas irritating interruptions of other panellists with over-zealous EU enthusiasm demonstrated what it means to be in a political elite. Clearly operating in a parallel la-la land to the rest of us she scorned David Davis’ attempts to explain how market economics and the weight of UK bargaining power will offset the withdrawal of the UK from the single market. She would have us believe that having been an MEP she knows all about Europe. Those of us that have lived in in Brussels recognise that the Euro Quarter which the political and institutional elites inhabit has nothing to do with the rest of Brussels let alone Europe. Her strident view that it is the Council and the Parliament, not the Commission which is the driving force behind the EU project only showed she has drunk deep of the koolaid, swallowing the blue starred propaganda. Her blank retort to a pensioner repatriated from the Spanish health system only accentuated her ignorance to the reality of EU freedom of movement. The truth is we swop highly educated UK professionals for low skill, low wage migrants, disenfranchising our own economically challenged in the process. How many British plumbers are there in Poland? To go further how many unemployed British plumbers are there in Poland drawing benefits!

Ed Milliband clearly making an attempt on a political comeback expressed patronising support for the Union. He appeared to like the idea of Europe so much it would be easy to suspect that his intended routed from political failure is to follow Neil Kinnock into the sunny up lit gravyland of the EU Commission. Perhaps most amusing was his prolonged appeal to young people, who in his view clearly saw the benefits of travel around the Union. Well perhaps in Islington where with students from Red Brick universities and affluent families regularly heft back packs onto Ryanair in order that cappuccino can be enjoyed while appreciating the architecture of Prague or Milan. However, to most young people in the UK, thoughts of travel are distant behind the ordeal of coping with bad housing, poor education, street violence and competing with eastern Europeans for too few jobs offering depressed wages as a result of eastern European workers competition. Milliband’s idea that they can take advantage of interesting exotic education at European universities is an illusion he seems to share with Caroline Lucas.

Interestingly it was Steve Hilton who showed the most informative political insights, readily admitting to the political elitism of which he was part, which makes its case by reducing complex economic, legal and sovereignty arguments to sound-bites and generalised economics. He nailed it, but I wonder how many recognised the strength of his analysis. It is about believing in the gifts this country has, recognising the failure of Europe to progress economically or act coherently and realising that future growth and prosperity lies in the wide world beyond, not within the insular timid and static boundaries of Europe. Ed Milliband thought he was winning the argument when no one could name a country which the UK would emulate in it is trade relationship with Europe.

And that’s the point, stupid. The UK will not emulate anyone. And if Germany want to continue selling million BMWs, Audis, Mercedes and VWs to us we won’t have to! It’s for the EU to erect trade barriers, which the remain side keep referring to. When it comes down to it, the bargaining power of the UK based upon technology, education, science and finance will provide us with a solution to future EU relationships, as well as wider opportunity beyond the EU in the global market.

By James Maclaren, Feb 23 2016 06:47PM

In politics as in war the first casualty is truth – well if not in absolute terms a political version of it. Avoiding direct questions, casting scorn on an opponent’s ideas and floating opaque ideas with confidence they won’t be analysed in detail, or if they are the agenda and public attention will have moved on.

One such example of this is the Prime Minister’s passionate exhortation on how vital (note use of the world vital, a term usually reserved for matters of a life threatening nature), the EU is to the United Kingdom’s national security. Immediately upon return from his Brussel’s summit and the unveiling of the new terms (potentially) of Britain’s membership of the EU, top of the list of benefits for which we should be thankful is the safety and security that membership brings with it.

Mr Cameron’s narrative goes that within the framework of the EU we are protected through our ability to share information on potential threats and undertake coordinated timely responses. This is where the disingenuous language begins. In reality no such security framework exists – or at least exists in a way that Mr Cameron would wish us to believe. The comforting idea that all of Europe’s terrorist and criminal data bases are accessible across all the member states is simply not true - no such supranational capability exists. Apart from the fact there is no infrastructure to share such information, worse there is a lack of willingness for partners to share intelligence with their EU partners. In fact most countries do not share information between their own national agencies let alone across borders.

The UK is particularly efficient and much admired for its policing, intelligence gathering and military capabilities. No other European country comes close to this spectrum of capability. The organisations are lean, well-organised and resourced and have excellent protocols for inter-agency cooperation. It’s what we do. If only such a model could be replicated across the EU then Mr Cameron’s words could be taken more seriously.

It is true that border information with the EU as an example of low level data exchange does take place – but so what. The UK exchanges high volumes of similar data (and high level intelligence) with the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Africa and it does so more effectively with those intelligence partners than with its European partners. In Europe ridiculous rivalry, jealousy and desire to avoid exposure of inefficiency trump trans-national cooperation. Where the UK does make progress in policing and intelligence cooperation it does so on the basis of bi-lateral understanding and protocols built up through the building of enduring relationships. There is no reason why a withdrawal from the EU would threaten these arrangements.

But what of the important European security and policing institutions we hear so much about, Europol and Eurojust. In truth they contribute little and act as merely as facilitators, conducting analysis and the encouragement of cooperation. It is difficult to imagine these or any of the EU agencies declining to cooperate with a non-aligned United Kingdom, which almost certainly contributes more intelligence led information to European security than it receives. It’s a further example of a Europe that needs the UK than the UK needs Europe.

By James Maclaren, Feb 3 2016 10:58PM

I like David Cameron. I am sure as with all men he has his faults. But he does a highly demanding job and I believe he does it about as honestly as any political and government system allows anyone to do. I don’t sneer at his modestly privileged upbringing nor feel the need of the Islington Trotskyist to create a snarky narrative on how his background reflects his politics. Anyone can create wealth distribution policies, few people can create the systems upon which they depend.. I am not going to say I told you so, or that he should have asked for more (or less for that matter), or ask mischievously what happened to the manifesto pledges, never mind the table thumping speeches of a couple of years ago. And the poor man has not finished yet. Having put up with the tedium of trying to bend the institutional zealotry of the EU he now has to endure a political dogfight in his own backyard, while lesser men carp and snigger without alternative voice from the opposite benches. So when I say how sorry I am that Cameron’s mission to reform Europe has failed I genuinely mean it. In fact all things considered I have some admiration for his efforts, in a few short months he has actually made some progress.

The problem is it that it is not enough.

Europe is just beyond redemption. How many times do you hear mundane politicians say that they want to be part of a ‘strong reformed Europe’ without ever coming close to articulating what that would actually look like, never mind how to get there. The EU means different things to different people. To the big countries such as Germany and France who still have a global role it’s a way of harnessing markets for their economies and ensuring a security framework exists which prevents historical past mistakes. Federalism is ok provided they are still at the top of the pile. To the middle sized and useful countries like Spain and Italy it provides a set of ways and means to enhanced global standing where we can admire past glory. To the small countries such as the Baltic States it provides a status that they could never otherwise aspire to. It is like a grown-up version of Eurovision where they wave newly woven flags and talk about freedom and democracy, despite for the most part being less than a generation into it.

Europe is important to these countries, it took a few years to gain accession into it and now they are there they are going to exert their influence with all the might that one member state one vote allows them to do. It is like being upgraded unexpectedly and without the right clothes and means into business class; no champagne will be left on the trolley and I will have as many canapes as I can demand. OK that’s a bit ungenerous and there is nothing wrong with some social mobility, the problem is that the construct of the EU does not unify the way the way the EU project should work.

You cannot practise communism and capitalism at the same time. Yet that is what Brussels tries to do. A central unelected bureaucracy interpreting its mandate with independent action while national governments struggle to rationalise the direction of travel with their own set of (usually competing) interests. Certainly Europe has created a wonderful polished bureaucracy capable of turning the thousand mile screwdriver onto most aspects of our lives, but just like the former Soviet Union has proved incapable of turning to meet the major strategic challenges with which we wish it could successfully engage, witness mass migration or Greece and the Euro.

So where does this leave Britain? We just see Europe so differently from our neighbours across the Channel and beyond and they know it. Politically, culturally, historically for the most part we pre-date the European way of organising life. Our legal system is common law and struggles to integrate the civil thinking of Europe, our economic, diplomatic and military systems have a thousand years of global thinking and experience. We can see our language, literature and business practise operating across the globe. Our adversarial political system is actually effective in steering a country while by comparison our civil service is responsive and efficient at managing the detail of the nation’s affairs. It is doubtful whether this outlook is ever going to exist harmoniously with the enthusiastic federalists who through no wider understanding take the centralised control of events and lives for granted. In the same way as the majority of the member states see membership as an enhancement to their national status, Britain is faintly embarrassed by it. Given the diplomatic, military, economic and cultural instruments of power which the United Kingdom can deploy, Europe needs Britain more than Britain needs Europe.

And the Referendum? It will be close. It is regrettable that so much debate focusses on the economic consequences of a departure. Probably, by a whisker it would economically be better to remain, if only for the reason that the administration and reorganisation necessary to leave would be enormous. In fairness the country was asked and answered the question of economic union in 1975. However the idea that Britain could not prosper outside the EU is absurd. Trade with Europe will not stop and comparisons with non-EU countries such as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are ridiculous and scurrilous. They are small nations and economies and the bargaining power of the fifth largest economy in the world is too great for Europe to ignore and Germany does not want to wave goodbye to Mercedes and BMWs second largest external market. Do Japan, Australia, Canada and South Korea need to belong to large trade blocks to determine their economic interest? Of course not.

Sovereignty is a different question and one we were never asked. Recent accessions to the EU knew what they entering and were happy to do so. No one consulted us and this historical constitutional wrong should be put right. Asking Canadians and Australians for visas while handing out child benefit to Romanian and Bulgarian families in Bucharest and Sofia should at least be a decision of the UK Parliament. Attempting to organise collective European foreign policy always seems more PR than substance. Europe has failed to demonstrate a lead on any of the big strategic challenges which have been laid before it. Its nation’s leaders look the other way or wriggle and pronounce without noticeable effect. The danger of fragmentation always looms close; consider Syria and Ukraine. While British foreign policy is not without its critics, by European standards it looks positively sure-footed.

So Mr Cameron, thank you for your effort. But it amounts to organising the deckchairs on the Titanic. The EU is probably beyond reform even if the majority of member states would agree to it. If the vote goes ‘yes’ and the United Kingdom remains in the EU it is likely to be due to fear of change than relief at timely reform.

The author has lived in various areas of Europe including Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and the Baltic States. He regularly travels to eastern Europe and has travelled to and reported on the crisis in Ukraine and the migration into southern Europe.