“This is the story of fifty years in which Britain struggled to reconcile the past she could not forget with the future she could not avoid.”
So opens Hugo Young’s magisterial tour of the U.K.’s troubled relationship with Europe in general and the European Union in particular over the last half of the 20th century. Young, the doyen of liberal political columnists, has chosen to take on this subject at a time when the British Right remains in angry torment over it and the Labour Party appears to have at last made its peace with the Continent and all its works. The book opens with Churchill’s putting on record for the first time an outline of a new united Europe, but it ends with Blair’s actually “preparing to align the island with its natural hinterland beyond.” In between there is a fascinating battle between wide-eyed idealism, brutal realpolitik, and treacherous conspiracy. Young has talked to everyone who matters on both sides of the Channel and elegantly produces a gripping narrative. In British terms, this is the story of half a century of wrecked political careers, ending up most recently with John Major’s cataclysmic defeat in 1997. But on the wider stage, this is the story of a great question–Is Britain a European country?–and why Britain found it so difficult to answer.
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