Young, award-winning British political columnist for the Guardian (The Iron Lady: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher, 1989, etc.), offers an exhaustively argued, and sometimes scathingly contemptuous, account of the misgivings, policy blunders, and deceptions that accompanied Britain's descent from imperial power to European Union member. In Britain, in rapid decline after WWII as a colonial power but with its industrial capacity and institutions intact, and the sole unambiguous European victor of the war, attitudes toward European unity were more ambivalent than on the continent. Britain settled into a pattern of vacillation that has persisted to the present day. Young traces the evolution of the "European idea" from its genesis as a half-serious daydream of Winston Churchill's to the euro-ready entity of Tony Blair's era. At all times, the author argues, British leaders were consistent in their inconstancy, publicly arguing for European unity while often privately ignoring and pointlessly resisting the seemingly inexorable British devolution into the European orbit. Britain resisted entry into the economic community until 1973, after the basic structure of the European polity had been created without her leadership. This resistance was typical, says Young: —ultimately, Britain did choose the fate her leaders long resisted or failed fully to embrace—but only after a period of time in which much opportunity was, by sheer lapse of time, wafted." While Young, an apparent Europhile, attacks Euro-ascetics like Ernest Devin and Michael Portillo as purblind, the proponents of British integration into Europe do not receive gentle treatment, either—he charges that the consent of the British people was never sought even as aspects of national sovereignty were being surrendered, a process that he calls "subterfuge most foul." In the end, Young asserts, the British political class failed its people all around, with long-range consequences for Britain and Europe itself. A provocative and contentious work, bound to be controversial but clearly essential to the reader who seeks to understand the evolving politics of the European Union.
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