I am an historian and so tend to rationalise and understand the present through the prism of the past.
The study of history at its most exciting enables us to see how we are where we are and can so clearly help to chart choices which effect the future.
So it is through the prism of the past that I currently view the discussions about the future of the United Kingdom in the European community.
Before the great voyages of discovery and the growth of empire we were a small insignificant island of no great import other than to ourselves.
Through trade and the development of a navy to protect the sea lanes we came to world prominence. In two world wars we lost much treasure; material, human and spiritual and are thus diminished, though some still cannot admit that.
England’s relationship with Europe has always been rather disconnected. Involvement was about balance of power and alliances were short term and convenient.
Europe itself was torn apart again and again over the centuries by politics and religion, most dreadfully in the struggle for dominance between France and Germany from 1870 to 1945.
That’s why the decision to tie together the strategic industries of coal and iron in France and Germany in 1956, the basis of the then EEC, was key. It guaranteed peace.
And peace we have had for more than half a century in Western Europe and it is due to the closer ties of once warring nations.
We live in an unstable world in which the threats of globalisation and climate change are paramount. The US have made it clear that our ‘special relationship’ depends on our being at the table in Europe, not being some disconnected ‘friend’ with little influence.
Siren voices which hark to a supposed golden age so often don’t comprehend just how much the world has changed and is changing. Time moves forward and clocks can’t be put back. History tells us that.