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The irony is that, if the UK and the EU fail to reach a deal, the main culprit will be the backstop. The point of the backstop was to “de-risk” the process. Perversely, it is amplifying the dangers. The backstop was meant to be an insurance policy designed to prevent a hard border and preserve peace in Northern Ireland. Failure to reach agreement on it, however, may bring about a hard border in Northern Ireland, jeopardise peace there, and result in potentially irretrievable damage to the Western alliance. This is the logic of someone who burns his car because he cannot get the insurance policy he wants and then watches as the flames engulf other cars in the street.

By the time this article is in print, it may be that things will have moved on in a more positive direction, although realistically — save for a U-turn by the EU on the backstop — for reasons of British, Irish and EU politics, the possibility of a breakdown over Northern Ireland is not likely to go away any time soon.

Aside from the post-Brexit deal between the EU and the UK, could Brexit still be the trigger for much-needed change in the EU? It would be ironic if Britain ended up reshaping the EU by leaving it. Britain missed opportunities before. Luuk van Middelaar — Dutch political philosopher and former speechwriter to the president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy (who did much better in that role than his successor, Donald Tusk) — writes that “in 1945 a leadership role in Europe had been there for the taking, but the British had let the opportunity slip” (The Passage to Europe: How a Continent Became a Union, 2013). In fairness, Britain did establish the principal regional non-EU institution in that period: the Council of Europe (which has nothing to do with the European Council). Created by the Treaty of London in 1949, it soon led to the European Convention on Human Rights. But these arrangements were never going to be enough.

By 1950 the French had stepped in to fill in the vacuum of leadership. The Schuman Declaration, proposing to place French and German coal and steel production under a supranational authority, notes van Middelaar, “hit London like a small atomic bomb because France had unexpectedly opted to interweave its fortunes with those of the arch enemy Germany in a ‘supranational’ organisation without the British, rather than entering a looser organisation along with Britain”. As we know, Britain remained outside throughout the 1950s and 1960s when the project took shape, and left others, chiefly France, at the helm.

After Britain joined, its record at effecting change within the EU has been, at best, chequered. Britain may have succeeded in containing some of the worst centralising excesses of Brussels, but it failed in two respects that, with hindsight, have proven crucial. First, Britain did not prevent the Single Market from becoming an instrument of integration and centralisation. Second, it did not (and perhaps could not) stop monetary union — the most catastrophic decision in the history of the EU.
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Michael Layden
November 26th, 2018
9:11 AM
Lawrence James, your point about the cause of the 1812 and 1941 Alliances is correct, though 1914 was a different scenario. But you don't have to be a "Music-Hall Russo-phobe" to have reservations about aligning with the present gangster regime in the Kremlin. I have dearly loved relatives of both White and Red Russian origin, but I can see no possibility of any honourable accommodation between the UK and Putin's Russia.

Lawrence James
November 11th, 2018
10:11 AM
The roundabout statement that Britain 'reached out to Russia' to rescue Europe from French and German domination is incorrect. In 1812 and 1941 the Russo-British alliance was the consequence of invasions of Russia by the delinquent powers.French and German attempts to dominate the continent are and may still be the sources of all its misfortunes. An entente with Russia would be a good thing whatever the Music-Hall Russophobes may say.

November 8th, 2018
5:11 PM
The Euro is the biggest problem by far. The empire-builders have the instruction manual and are working their way through it. Imagine their surprise when they read that their own currency is an essential component. So they wished it into being, not caring that most of their statelets are enthusiastic devaluers. Fortunately that nice Sr. Draghi has been able to arrange for the ECB to accept the devaluers' worthless IOUs and as each day passes the situation deteriorates. The next page of the manual concerns the armed forces. Whatever next?

November 4th, 2018
12:11 PM
The Foreword to the Europa Diary 2010-2011: Dear students, As we begin the second decade of the 21st. century, you have been given the seventh edition of the Europa Diary. This educational tool has become much sought after and highly appreciated by three and a half million teenagers, just like you, all around Europe. We believe that education is an essential prerequisite for individual development and progress of society as a whole. Education is one of the key elements that will enable us to restore the social market economy of Europe by 2020. By then you will be preparing to take over the leadership of Europe as well as presenting your plans for a bigger and stronger European Union. Make sure you are ambitious, responsive and.responsible for your own future! José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission

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