By Norman St. John-Stevas, M.P.
SIR ALEC DOUGLAS HOME'S speech at the weekend means that the Tories now have a great opportunity of emerging as the European party, a development which readers of this column will recall I advocated some months ago. This is good for the country because it means that one of the central political issues of our time will now become once again the subject of general public discussion and debate.
One side effect is that it will materially strengthen Sir Alec's own position as leader of the Tory party and alternative Prime Minister. It is clear that he intends to lead the party into the next election ,and his stand on Europe means that the Common Market is bound to be a major election issue.
As a leading spokesman on foreign affairs Sir Alec will he a great deal more convincing than as a leader principally concerned with domestic issues. Next time round, the efforts of Conservative Central Office should he concentrated on projecting Sir Alec as a statesman with wide experience and intimate knowledge of the foreign field backed up by a powerful team of young ministers such as Mr. Edward Heath. Mr. Macleod, Mr. Maudling and Sir Edward Boyle, specialists on economic and financial affairs.
It is not enough for the Tory party to make pro-European noises and leave it at that. The implications of a European policy will have to be worked out and hard choices faced courageously, The appointment of Mr. Soames as spokesman for European affairs in the Commons which was generally expected, would have meant that once again there would be a top level political figure within the party concentrating exclusively on European issues. This is another of the steps I put forward in the CATHOLIC HERALD some time ago.
Unfortunately, it seems to have been discovered for personal reasons that Mr. Maudling, the new Foreign Affairs spokesman, is said not to have wished to share his empire.
Meanwhile Mr. Heath's special policy committee on foreign policy and European relations is going full steam ahead. The composition of this committee is not publicly known. but without giving away any secrets I can say that it is a very strong committee with a good representation of knowledgeable pro-Europeans.
The committee will have to make up its mind on the future political relationship between Britain and Europe. At first sight General de Gaulle's non-federal ideal of a hirope des Potties made up of a loose assembly 'of nation states co-operating on an ad hoc basis would seem to suit Britain very well. This view of the future of Europe is not however likely to survive De Gaulle and as soon as he has passed hum the scene the federal impulse is likely to reassert itself.
By moving towards an acceptance of supra-national institutions in the political sphere, Britain would for once be ahead of the field. Such a policy would immensely strengthen our position with our Belgian. Italian and German friends on the Continent who arc federalist in their views.
Another key issue is defence. There is no doubt that when De Gaulle vetoed British entry into the market he was in fact casting his vote against American political and defence policies. If Britain was to move away from the United States then much of the Gaullist objection to British membership would evaporate.
In my view, however, this would be much too high a price to pay. The security of the West rests now and will rest in the forsteable future on American nuclear capacity. The British independent deterrent makes increasingly little sense and it would not be rendered any more credible by being combined with the mythical French force de frappe. It would he better to stay out of Europe rather than be carried into it on a wave of chauvinist anti-American feeling.
Co-operation between France and Britain on nuclear weapons within the framework of the Atlantic alliance is clearly desirable but any temptation to weaken NATO should be strongly resisted. There is danger of a trap in the General's recent friendly speeches about Britain. We could well end up separated from the United States and outside Europe.
hirdly the Tory party will have to get its thinking on the Commonwealth straight. Pro-Commonwealth emotional attitudes no longer reflect economic realities. The Common Market and the Commonwealth arc not alternatives and the hard reality must be faced that only within a European framework can Britain be of any effective help to the Commonwealth.
During my recent visit to Canada I was impressed by the way this fact had been grasped by our Canadian friends. Far from opposing our entry into Europe they regarded it as our only possible course. The Commonwealth Is facing facts: we in Britain must do the same if we are to sursive in the modern world.