Monday 23 January 2017

Britain's emotional distance from Europe runs deep

Published 24/06/2016 | 02:30

Chelsea pensioners arrive at a polling station near to the Royal Chelsea Hospital, London. Photo: PA Wire
Chelsea pensioners arrive at a polling station near to the Royal Chelsea Hospital, London. Photo: PA Wire

'It is necessary to say goodbye to Europe.' So said British foreign secretary (and Irishman) Lord Castlereagh in his last conversation with King George IV in August 1822. He committed suicide by cutting his own throat four days later.

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Castlereagh was referring to the European model of co-operation that was emerging following the final defeat of Napoleon a few years earlier (the Battle of Waterloo, as it happens, was fought 201 years ago this very week). Although that model was very different from today's European co-operation arrangements - in the shape of the EU - it did involve major summits of the kind Enda Kenny, David Cameron, Angela Merkel et al have been attending for years.

But even joining in those summits two centuries ago was too much for Britain. It kept at arm's length from the 19th century's 'Concert of Europe'. As the brilliant, if controversial, historian and statesman Henry Kissinger has written of the emerging order of the time: "Britain was not comfortable with a system of European government…(harbouring) the twin fears of 'continental entanglements' and a unified Europe."

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