The events of recent years have seen the post-mortem reputation of Enoch Powell rise considerably. One tends to expect that Nicholas Ridley’s reputation will rise over time in the eyes of the English people as well:
In the first week of July 1990, I had gone to his Oxfordshire home to conduct an interview for The Spectator, which I then edited. At some point I asked him, in quite a desultory fashion, about the drive towards European Monetary Union.
It was a light-the-blue-touch-paper moment — emphasised by the way the chain-smoking Ridley dragged hard on his cigarette between making his explosive points: ‘This is all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe.
‘It has to be thwarted. This rushed takeover by the Germans on the worst possible basis, with the French behaving like poodles to the Germans, is absolutely intolerable . . . I’m not against giving up sovereignty in principle, but not to this lot. You might just as well give it up to Adolf Hitler, frankly.’
Startled, I interjected that the then German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, was surely preferable to Hitler — he wouldn’t be dropping bombs on us, after all.
If anything, this made Ridley even more vehement: ‘I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have the shelters and the chance to fight back, than simply being taken over by economics. He’ll soon be coming here and trying to say that this is what we should do on the banking side and this is what our taxes should be. I mean, he’ll soon be trying to take over everything . . . You don’t understand the British people if you don’t understand this point about them. They can be dared. They can be moved. But being bossed by a German — it would cause absolute mayhem in this country, and rightly, I think.’
In the uproar that ensued following the publication of the interview, Margaret Thatcher immediately demanded Ridley’s resignation. Three months later, she gave the go-ahead for the pound to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), then seen as the precursor to membership of full European Monetary Union.
That made me feel less bad about Ridley losing his job over my interview with him, since I imagine he would have detested the idea of being part of a government that had joined the ERM. And when German refusal to countenance sterling devaluation within the ERM led to Britain’s humiliating exit on September 16, 1992 (Black Wednesday), he would probably have felt vindicated.
Ridley was correct about the general direction and nature of the EU, even if he was not necessarily correct on every detail. That being said, I do not understand why Ridley, or any national leader, would not vehemently oppose giving up sovereignty on principle. Everything else springs from single key aspect.
The conquest and integration of the various peoples of Europe into an empire governed by a central imperial government has long been a dream of tyrants. But the EU is learning, as Charlemagne’s heirs, Napoleon, and Hitler learned before them, that while the conquest is not terribly difficult, the integration is impossible.
To date, the EU has been more Napoleon than Hitler; it has established its own version of the Continental System. And, like the Continental System, it is doomed by virtue of its structural opposition to the laws of economics.