Danny Finkelstein writes more in sorrow than in anger in The Times today about the collapse of cordial relations across the Channel. The bipartite nature of this silly spat may ring a few bells – Trafalgar, Waterloo and all that – but it’s all old hat. It ain’t like that any more. Britain may have accidentally slipped into a lonely vigil of remembrance of things past, but France certainly hasn’t.
The triumph of the EU is that, as intended, old enmities have been buried. No more so, of course, than in the alliance between France and Germany. Twice in the first half of the twentieth century the former was invaded by the latter. That’s why from 1945 they decided “never again”. Encouraged, ironically in retrospect, by Winston Churchill.
The modern world requires some surrender of sovereignty to be peaceful and to work. As the Disunited Kingdom stands aside and impotently throws fuseless grenades across the channel the big boys on the other side get on with the task of building a Europe for our children, and theirs.
I’m too old, sadly, to have any expectation of seeing Britain fully back as a leading member of the European family of nations. But it will happen. Over the years our childish, sentimental, outdated, nationalist rhetoric will fade and we will remember who our friends are. The Entente Cordiale will be rebuilt and sanity restored. But it will take a leader of imagination and skill to do it. There’s a vacancy.