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That 90s Show - Tarzan Swings By and Sir Grey Keeps Wicket

By Ed Pond

Article 308 of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty reserved the right for the European Community to 'take the appropriate measures' if it found at any point the Treaty had 'not provided the necessary powers'. If it wanted to do something further down the line and found there wasn't the authority in its already vastly increased remit, the Council and Commission would simply award themselves that authority. 

Charming. The European Central Bank was founded with the view to rolling out the Euro by 2002, and the right of free movement and residence was established. This was no longer just about trading as a common market, and to many people it sounded the death knell for the national independence of the member states.

It was a time, really, for even those who had keenly supported British entry to the community to wake up and put the kibosh on this virtual land-grab; to say thanks but no thanks. Mrs T had come round to that way of thinking, and would never have signed; but Michael 'Tarzan' Heseltine had ousted her, and John Major went along with Maastricht, heavily influenced by Heseltine and others. This was perhaps in conflict with his own stance on the matter, which was thought to be less than convinced. But Tarzan was not a man to cross, as Mrs T would testify from her new seat in the Lords. Major had made the top job with a well-placed dentist appointment and a real stroke of luck. He realised a chap would cheese off the Europhilic wing of the party at his peril.

The Grey One achieved a few superficial concessions in his negotiations and used these to claim a great victory and appeal to the Eurosceptic wing as well, which really didn't work. To his credit, he did get a veto on Britain joining the Euro, though we continued to be part of the ERM (for seven doomed months only). But this was nowhere near enough to get Maastricht through Parliament without a protracted fight and continual opposition from the Eurosceptics throughout his one Parliament tenure. This opposition, from the likes of Portillo, Cash, Howard and Redwood, nearly toppled Major's government multiple times, and prevented (or saved) him from committing to the surrender of pound sterling. Tarzan, however, was always fully in favour of the Euro. In 1997 he campaigned with Tony Blair and others for us to join. He also thought the Millennium Dome was a good idea.

Five years later came the surreal sight of proud nations like France ditching their own currencies, part of their very history and national life. Heseltine, Clarke and their ilk must have been tearfully watching this marvellous opportunity sailing away, but at least we were signed on to the rest of the project for good; and eventually we would succumb to total financial union. Wishful thinking: we know what really happened. The UK endured more Eurocreep and all the Commission's tricks for a further 13 years, and watched the single currency go into meltdown. Southern Europeans suffered dearly for Germany's cheap export sins. More and more Eurozone countries - and you can't blame them - moved to the UK to try and make ends meet, weighing on services and increasing job and housing competition. Our public opposition got ever louder until the ruling party was threatened and had to concede to letting Joe and Jane Bloggs have a say. And despite the desperate self-interested warnings of Major and Heseltine in the run up to the 23rd, Joe and Jane voted Leave.

It is rich indeed for Tarzan and Sir Grey to be lecturing anyone on the dangers of leaving the EU, or on the electorate's judgement. Through their efforts - or Major's lack of effort - they opened the country up to much damage from the supranational, and nearly tethered us to its worst excesses. Major's government disastrously privatised the railways and was embroiled in sleaze and numerous corruption allegations. As Energy Minister, Heseltine presided over the privatisation of the National Coal Board and the mass closing of collieries. To Labour ears, this pair should be even less credible than to Tory ones. Between them they collapsed the most formidable (begrudgingly said) Conservative government of modern times, replaced it with listlessness and caused the largest Tory defeat. Comparing Major's speech to Heseltine's article, Major's is characteristically less militant. The renegade 'Spitting Image' always depicted in combat fatigues wants a 'fightback', to go with Blair's instruction to 'rise up'. Major uses the soft power of pessimism and a pre-emptive 'I told you so' disguised as statesman-like wisdom. Both miss the mark, and as they are allowed to their opinions, we are most definitely allowed to not listen.


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