British EU exit will focus Irish minds
The British debate on the merits of membership of the EU is more clear-eyed than our own, says John-Paul McCarthy
The former government press secretary Sean Duignan once wrote about the first time Albert Reynolds met John Major at a meeting of European finance ministers. Major asked Reynolds what he needed to know about the mechanics of these meetings. Reynolds supposedly responded: "That you're the bad guys - bad Europeans, bad partners, bad everything. The game here is for the rest of us to gang up against the anti-EC Brits."
Something of this exasperated, even superior tone could also be detected in John Bruton's recent attempt in the Guardian to convince the British that they had misjudged the new President of the EU Commission, and in some of the commentary about the Irish implications of a possible British exit from Europe.
There is an obvious set of comparisons behind this stance. On the one hand, we are invited to consider Britain's ragged European experience, an experience that includes the original French vetoes, Heath's surprising triumph with Pompidou, Labour's cosmetic renegotiation of Heath's deal, the chaotic 1975 referendum, Mrs Thatcher's remorseless pursuit of "my money", and Major's own slow political death, even after securing major opt-outs from the Maastricht negotiations.