William Pitt the Younger already knew the full horror of Britain’s predicament in November 1805, even as he celebrated the victory of Trafalgar in his last poignant but unyielding words to the nation.
Toasted as the “Saviour of Europe” at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, he gently sought to deflate the misguided mood of triumphalism . “Europe is not to be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example,” he replied.
Pitt had learned of Austria’s crushing defeat at Ulm three days before Admiral Nelson sank the French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar. This was soon to be followed by the allied catastrophe at Austerlitz.
The Third Coalition collapsed. Britain was left to fight alone. It took another 10 years to defeat Napoleon, and by then our public debt had spiraled above 200pc of GDP.
Michael Gove’s casual use of Pitt’s words to promote the Brexit causes leaves me dissatisfied, and I have no doubt that William Hague will feel the same way after reading his superb biography.
Nor am I persuaded by his trust in an imminent European Spring, a “democratic liberation of a whole Continent”, as repressed electorates rise up across the eurozone’s Arc of Depression and sweep aside the EU nomenklatura.
This is utopian dreaming. No such democratic “contagion” is about to occur in any of the Club Med countries that he lists, though Italy is the closest, its people watching bitterly as their industry withers away and euro membership paralyzes efforts to head off a slow-motion collapse of the banking system.
I had a glimpse of this last week watching Europe’s enfant terrible, Yanis Varoufakis, win rapturous applause from conservative Italian businessmen at the Ambrosetti forum on Lake Como, while German and EU leaders gritted their teeth on the panel beside him.
He told them that German wage compression – a disguised form of trade mercantilism – poses a lethal threat to Italy, made worse by the EU’s contractionary fiscal doctrines. They did not need persuading.
There is no flicker of eurosceptic agitation in Spain or Portugal. These countries no longer equate the EU with progress as naively as they once did, when Europe seemed to be their passage to democratic modernity after decades of Iberian isolation under the Franco and Salazar dictatorships. The long slump and the eurozone’s fatal policy errors in 2011 have taken their toll. Youth unemployment still running at 46pc in Spain even today.
Asked in the latest Eurobarometer poll whether their voice is heard in the EU, 61pc of Spaniards said they “totally disagree”. The illusions have faded. Yet there is no eurosceptic party. The political ‘levantamiento’ last year was against the Madrid elites, not Brussels.
The first order of business in the Moncloa on the day after Brexit would be how to get Gibraltar back, yet another headache for an over-worked Foreign Office.