Bernard Ingham: 2015 – the year we begin our divorce from Europe’s Iron Lady

BEWARE the Ides of March – and the 15th, misbegotten as well as momentous.

The power of British kings was curbed at Runnymede in 1215. We triumphed at Agincourt in 1415. In 1615 a Jacobite uprising anticipated Alex Salmond’s daft Scottish (republican) romanticism. Then in 1815 Waterloo ended the French Napoleonic domination of Europe. A century later we had the Dardenelles disaster to go with the horrors of the Western Front in the effort to maintain the balance of power in Europe.

So why steel yourself for trouble in 2015, apart from the trap set for the British people at May’s general election with its invitation to leave David Cameron’s “road to recovery”?

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Well, the issue remains the balance of European power, though with a difference. We are not fighting a war – always assuming Vladimir Putin keeps his hands off the Baltic states – but for economic, financial and political sanity.

This brings me to Angela Merkel’s summit in London, starting today. The so-called Iron Lady of Europe epitomises the problem. She is the prisoner of fears that have produced the relentless drive towards a United States of Europe.

Fundamentally, she sees Germany’s absorption into a European superstate as the means of controlling its urge to dominate.

France, for all its misgivings about the economic state of the continent, is inclined to agree.

The perverse result is that Germany is now undisputed boss of the 19-member Eurozone, telling its members how to conduct their economies, regardless of the ticking timebomb of mass unemployment in southern Europe.

Whether Berlin’s financial rigour will hold after the Greek election is another matter. My guess is that the political force behind the single currency might just for now keep the faltering zone more or less together.

This means that the British government’s road will be all the harder this year. Moreover, the economic situation would not be dramatically improved if we were to leave the EU. The Eurozone would still be stagnating, affecting our trade.

In any case, every discerning Briton knows that if we were to leave the EU we would still have to trade with them on their terms. As free traders, we know that free trade, in order to be free, needs a set of rules. That means we would not put behind us pettifogging requirements, for example, for electrical goods to satisfy the bureaucrats’ politically correct approach to “global warming”.

But that is not the real issue. Instead, it lies in the classic example that the EU has become of the extent to which unelected bureaucrats can, if allowed, wield power over people.

Brussels has gone too far. It is not just the British who recognise this but it is only the British who are minded to try to do something about it.

The bureaucrats have been allowed free rein because European leaders like Merkel are so convinced of the need for a superstate to curb continental power and to protect its flagship single currency – without the integrated economic, financial and political power for it to succeed – that, they are blind to the affront to Parliamentary democracy and the national desire for self-government.

They are inflexible. No, says Merkel, there can be no relaxation of the free movement of labour, regardless of the impact of immigration on member-states. It is a founding principle and inviolate.

Jean-Claude Junker, Commission president, says much the same, while his predecessor, Jose-Manuel Barroso, has the cheek to tell us we have no clout in Europe and then how to run our country.

I cannot resist the retort that if we have no clout in EU circles – and that, as he risibly says, the USA goes first to Germany in its dealings with Europe – why bother trying to keep us in the blessed enterprise?

In practice, they are not trying very hard. They may irrationally think we need them more than they need us.

However diplomatic Merkel is in London this week, the message is clear. What counts for the European establishment is ever closer union merging into a federal superstate.

What counts for Britain is recovery of the right substantially to govern itself. It does not look as if the twain shall meet.

European leaders are making it more likely than ever that the British people will opt out in 2017 at the latest.

If so, 2015 will momentously mark the start of their release, provided they vote the right way in the general election. This year will then not be misbegotten.