Mr Selwyn Lloyd has seldom covered himself with glory. At the Foreign Office he was regarded as a frontman for Prime Minister Anthony Eden who was his own foreign Minister. As Chancellor of the Exchequer in an admittedly difficult period, Mr. Lloyd has been in an even more vulnerable position. Every section of the community from the poorly paid nurses to business magnates is aggrieved against him. He is probably the Liberal party’s single greatest asset – in the Government.
On Wednesday last Mr. Floyd published his economic survey as a prelude to the budget he presents on Monday. The Financial Times described the survey as a “flat, grey piece of work.” The Guardian said: “There have been few occasions when a survey gave so little guidance. The reader has to search for clues to policy.” These are fairly representative of the general reaction.
According to The Financial Times, the government spokesmen have been stressing the gravity of the situation so hard and so long that “consumers and business men alike have lost confidence in the future as well as in the government,” with the result that consumers do not buy durable goods and businessmen do not put up new plants. The need to break the stagnation is evident. But none expects the Chancellor to produce anything more than a “neutral” budget.
At the time of writing all the Commonwealth Prime Ministers have not replied to Mr. Macmillan’s proposal for holding the Commonwealth conference in September to discuss the question of Britain’s entry into the Common Market. But even those like the Canadian and Australian Prime Ministers who want the conference to take place earlier have no real alternative but to accept the date indicated by Mr. Macmillan. It can therefore be assumed that the conference will take place in September. It might open on September 10, as desired by Whitehall.
Mr. Macmillan is shrewd enough to know that a lot of heat will be generated at the conference. It is widely recognised here that the terms which Britain will be offered by the Six – they are expected to be known broadly by July end – will be unpalatable to many Commonwealth Premiers. There may even be a consensus against Britain joining the Common Market. Mr. Macmillan is said to desire discussion on the Common Market to be followed by one on disarmament in the hope that the latter subject will produce a wide measure of agreement and thus help restore harmony among the participants.
Mr. Macmillan must be having a fairly low opinion of other Commonwealth Prime Ministers if he really believes this kind of ruse can succeed. But what interests me is that he is desirous of at least maintaining a semblance of harmony and goodwill while planning to deliver a body blow to this multiracial, worldwide organisation which is largely Britain’s own handiwork in favour of what has been described as the rich “white man’s club.” Many others just do not care even to maintain this pretence.
Mr. Andrew Shonfield, Director of Research in the Royal Institute of International Affairs, reflected the views of this latter group when he spoke on the BBC last Monday. The Commonwealth was not just a trading bloc, he argued, thereby appearing to imply that it could survive the end of preferential tariff. But he hastened to make it clear this was not his implication. The Commonwealth was not evolving towards closer co-ordination while the European Community was. Ghana cared more for the interests of Egypt than of Britain. Britain already had closer defence arrangements with the United States than with the Commonwealth, he said. In a typically British way he left the listeners – the programme was meant for overseas – to draw their own conclusion that none need waste tears on the demise of the Commonwealth.
Canada and Australia have opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market more than other members of the Commonwealth. The general view is that they would be the worst sufferers economically. But there is something more to it than mere economic considerations. Canada has been finding it extremely difficult to retain her separate identity in the face of pressure from the mighty neighbour south of the border. Australia similarly will have to make terms with the coloured nations around her if she cannot sustain her economy on the basis of exports to the United Kingdom.
Be that as it may, this outcry has only helped to confuse issues here. Britain as a sovereign nation is entitled to and would decide whether to go into the Common Market or stay out purely on considerations of national interests. Discussion on how precisely British interests will be served by her joining the Common Market has somewhat been blurred by persistent references to the Commonwealth. Fortunately the fog is now beginning to lift.
A good deal of credit for placing the issues in proper perspective goes to Mr. William Pickles, a senior lecturer in political science at the London school of Economics. He has raised fundamental questions like the character and objectives of the European Economic Community, the drives behind it and its utter irrelevance in the world of today. The Observer, the liberal, independent weekly, endorsed some of his contentions editorially last Sunday. Mr. Pickles proves convincingly that the European Economic Community “is the fruit of an alliance between federalists and exponents of laissez faire from which there emerge a tacit agreement that laissez faire should be the method and federalism, or something approaching it, the goal.” Inevitably there is no place for national planning in such a set-up. The highest good is free competition and not full employment or other socially desirable objectives. There is hardly a reference to full employment in the Treaty of Rome.
He discusses the organisations set up under the Treaty of Rome which brought the Community into existence, to draw the conclusion that the nine-member commission is the most powerful bureaucracy which alone can exercise initiative and take decisions by simple majority. The commission can be controlled only by creating an elected European parliament. The alternative thus is between acceptance of arbitrary decisions by a bureaucracy and pushing ahead towards a federal solution.
What makes the situation truly difficult is that even a federal solution is not in sight. A mere perusal of the Treaty of Rome makes it dear how much the founder members distrust each other. President de Gaulle is already at work strangling the concept. In history there is no parallel of full-fledged nations surrendering sovereignty to a supra-national body. Confederation looks even less attainable. This form of organisation was tried in North America and Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and broke down in no time.
Finally, as The Observer points out, “European federation seems quite irrelevant to the main political needs of the next five or ten years. These needs are to persuade Russia and America to co-operate sufficiently to halt the arms race and prevent a nuclear war and to make the United Nations capable of preventing small wars from becoming big ones. In fact it would worsen the situation in view of the accent on anti-communism and lack of agreement on a constructive approach.”
Britain, if she joins the Community, loses control over her economy which also involves a loss of control over her foreign affairs and defence. She loses her influence in the Commonwealth. None can seriously believe that she can set the pace in the European Community from which the neutrals – Sweden, Austria and Switzerland – are excluded. A myth has been built that Britain has no choice if she wants to regain her economic strength. None of the established gains will be worth the sacrifice. In fact the conclusion is that for years imports might rise faster than exports.
The Times of India, 7 April 1962