THE legendary English newspaper headline, variously attributed and possibly apocryphal, sums up what is by now a familiar story. Fully 40 years after joining what became the European Union, Britain still remains unsure and its prime minister, David Cameron, has again aired the prospect of his country heading for the exit – sometime after 2017, if British voters decide that in a promised referendum.
And the 'Brexit' prospect again raises many issues for Ireland, which still does the bulk of its trade with its nearest neighbour, shares a de facto land border with it and with which it has the widest range of cultural, political and personal links.
There is nothing much new there either. Even before Ireland joined the EU, along with Britain and Denmark, on January 1, 1973, this country's fate was interlocked with that of our larger neighbour, remaining "an island hidden behind an island", far distant from our mainland European neighbours.
General de Gaulle's very Gallic "Non" to British membership of the then EEC in the early 1960s effectively kiboshed Ireland's hopes for more than a decade. This country's first EU presidency in 1975 was concerned with British renegotiation of membership terms ahead of a retrospective plebiscite on the issue, in which British voters said 'Yes'.
The 1980s were dominated by British rows about its EU contributions; the 1990s with rows over an expanded EU social policy, plans for a single currency and other areas of greater co-operation. In many ways, Ireland began to part company with Britain, expanding other trade options, breaking the link with sterling in 1979 and going all the way on that journey by joining the euro in 1999.
In other ways, Ireland was more than happy to hide behind, and quietly coat-tail, British belligerence on various emerging EU policies. This was notable in the late-1980s and early-1990s on social-policy initiatives, which were utterly and publicly opposed by Britain but more quietly opposed by Ireland, which did not want to scare off multinational companies' inward investment here.
Other policy areas brought different results. British insistence on maintaining systematic border passport controls, while other European states abandoned them, left Ireland with little choice. A parting of the ways with Britain raised the possibility of a return to controls along the Border with the North and the possible ending of the 'common travel area' between the two islands, which has been in place since 1922.
Over the past 40 years, only Tony Blair has managed a largely successful connection with the European Union on behalf of his government. The current prime minister, David Cameron, has, from his arrival in office, joined Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the 'EU permanent problem department'.
A combination of personal conviction and, more importantly, vehement opposition within their own party ranks have in turn led Wilson of Labour and the Tories' Thatcher, Major and Cameron to take contrary stances within the EU.
The heavily sceptical – varying to rampantly hostile – attitude adopted by most British newspapers towards the EU has often heightened tensions.
This time also, the British Conservatives' fears of the rising popularity of the UK Independence Party have intensified David Cameron's EU difficulties. The EU's prolonged failure to end the chaos surrounding the single currency, which Britain has eschewed, and its tardiness in agreeing another seven-year budget plan and other policies, looked like Cameron's opportunity.
Yesterday, he finally got to make his much-trailed and long-delayed landmark EU speech. Cameron said the British people must have their say in an 'in or out' referendum, which he promised if he wins the next general election, due in 2015 at latest, with a would-be plebiscite slated for around 2017.
Mr Cameron said he would re-negotiate Britain's relationship with the EU and that, if successful, he would strongly campaign for a 'Yes' vote. He did not cite what policy areas would be renegotiated, nor did he say what he would do if these negotiations failed.
We have been led to conclude that the current British bugbears surround items of social policy, such as those regulating working time and matters including policing and criminal justice.
But it is all very vague and raises the prospect of an emerging arm's-length British-EU relationship which might be compared with that of non-EU members like Switzerland and Norway, who avail of the single market but not much else.
Reactions within Britain were predictable, with Labour accusing Mr Cameron of creating insecurity and the UKIP smugly saying that it had obliged the prime minister to act. Abroad, there were a series of warnings in Brussels, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere that the EU is not "a pick and mix" option. In Dublin, Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore said Britain was better in than out of the EU.
Tony Blair once reputedly summed up the EU relationship by saying that when the British government "won in Europe they lost at home" and when they "won at home they lost in Europe".
By this speech, David Cameron, has most certainly lost allies, political credibility and whatever residual goodwill there was for Britain across most of the main EU capitals.
But he appears to have won some political calm within his own party ranks.
John Downing reported EU affairs from Brussels for the Irish Independent from 1989 to 1999