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The absent are always in the wrong

by David Hannay | 16.02.2017

The confirmation by a government source that the Prime Minister will not be attending the 60th anniversary celebration in Rome on 25 March of the signature of the EU’s founding treaty in 1957, despite being invited to do so, marks another error of judgment as the government moves towards the opening of the most problematic and risky negotiations in Britain’s recent diplomatic history. As a means of generating goodwill among our future negotiating partners this scores “nul points”.

How does this decision fit with the government’s frequently reiterated assurances that we remain a fully participating member of the EU until the day we leave, on the government’s own target, in March 2019? It does not; any more than absence from the Bratislava summit last September did so.

How too does it fit with the government’s proclaimed desire to see the EU, even without the UK, prosper and succeed? Again, it effectively contradicts those sentiments. Do we really believe that the decision taken 60 years ago by our closest neighbours, allies and partners to put behind them definitively the internecine warfare which had led to two world wars, on the explicit advice of Winston Churchill in his famous Zurich speech of 1946, is not an event which we should be celebrating too?

So how did the government come to take such a narrow-minded and dog in the manger decision? No doubt we will be told that the government did not want to embarrass our EU partners by being a spectre at the feast. That is not a sensitivity for their feelings which is always apparent in what the government does and says.

Or is it because the Prime Minister did not want to face the criticism from her own benches for attending a celebratory gathering of an organisation which many of them sincerely hate and would be happy to see broken up, irrespective of the negative consequences for our own prosperity and security? Far-fetched? I doubt it.

It really cannot be repeated too often that the Brexit negotiations will succeed only if a spirit of mutual benefit to both sides can be engendered. A “them and us” approach, of which this decision is symptomatic, is more likely to lead to a train-wreck. It is not difficult to identify those, from Moscow to Washington, who will raise a glass of prosecco to that outcome.

Edited by Bill Emmott

Tags: Categories: Post-Brexit

8 Responses to “The absent are always in the wrong”

  • Disastrous decision by Mrs May after stating that it is in the overwhelming national interests of the UK that the EU succeeds in its mission. This is the work of the Brexiteers who hate every aspect of the move for integration i n Europe.
    The White Paper, in the terms in which it is expressed , was already hurtful enough to the EU in spite of the ” sweet words ” about establishing a new partnership with the EU after Brexit. This latest decision just adds insult to injury and demonstrates just how little the present UK government understands continental Europe.

  • David Hannay’s piece is so right. I believe the Brexiteers in the Cabinet are dictating the terms. The absence of Mrs May from the Rome commemoration is an insult to everyone and everything, that so many tried so hard and so long to achieve. The Founding Fathers of the European Dream – Alcide de Gasperi, Altiero Spinelli, Jean Monnet, Johan Willem Beyen, Joseph Bech, Konrad Adenauer, Paul-Henri Spaak, Robert Schumann, Sicco Mansholt, Walter Hallstein, and Winston Churchill, are to be revered and not reviled as so many of the so-called Eurosceptics would prefer. That is because in truth the Eurosceptics of the Conservative Party are Euro-Haters, little Englanders of the worst possible kind.

  • So May is proud to present to us the unedifying and embarrassing spectacle of her grovelling at the feet of the unpleasant Donald J. Trump, but she can’t even act with good manners towards our European friends and neighbours. I really do despair.

      • Explain! What is fatuous and childish about expecting one’s government, especially its leading figure, to act in a mature and respectful way by attending? Theresa May keeps stressing that we remain Europeans so what better way to show that we respect the commemoration of the Union’s key foundation stone?

  • This article is making a mountain out of a molehill. On balance not attending seems to be a perfectly sensible decision under current circumstances.

  • A lamentable lack of political nous marks Theresa May as the most clumsy negotiator imaginable. She insults the EU concept as a whole by staying away from the celebration of a remarkable and unprecedented cooperative European initiative. What arrogance to expect friendly co-operation in return for slights such as this.