Today we had a meeting about the Europass. This was a completely new development. I’d never even heard of it. … It seems that [it] is a new European Identity Card, to be carried by all citizens of the EEC. The FCO, according to Humphrey, is willing to go along with the idea as a quid pro quo for a settlement over the butter mountain, the wine lake, the milk ocean, the lamb war, and the cod stink.
Apparently, the PM wants me to introduce the necessary legislation.
I’m horrified by this.
Sir Humphrey was surprised by my reaction. He thought it was a good idea, as I’m known to be pro-Europe, and he thinks that a Europass will simplify administration in the long run.
Frank and I tried to explain to the officials that for me to introduce such a scheme would be political suicide. The British people don’t want to carry compulsory identification papers. I’ll be accused of trying to bring in a police state [...]
I asked Humphrey if the Foreign Office doesn’t realise how damaging this would be to the European ideal?
“I’m sure they do, minister. That’s why they support it.”
This was even more puzzling, since I’d always been under the impression that the FO is pro-Europe. “Is it, or isn’t it?” I asked Humphrey.
“Yes and no,” he replied of course, “if you’ll pardon the expression. The Foreign Office is pro-Europe because it is really anti-Europe. In fact, the Civil Service was united in its desire to make sure the Common Market didn’t work. That’s why we went into it. Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for the last five hundred years - to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought wars with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule.”
“But that’s all ancient history!”
“Yes, minister, but it is, in fact, current policy. It is necessary to break up the EEC, so we had to get inside. We had previously tried to break it up from the outside, but that didn’t work. Now that we’re in, we are able to make a complete pig’s breakfast of it. We can set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch… the Foreign Office is terribly happy. It’s just like old times.”
Yes, Minister, “The Writing on the Wall”
ID cards, lies and duplicity over Europe… the book from which I’ve taken the bulk of this quote was published in 1981. The TV series which I’ve been re-watching and inspired me to post it first aired in 1979. Both are as relevant today as they were then (another episode is about an austerity drive). They’ve aged far, far, better than the highly celebrated - and much more recent - The Thick of It, for example: it was about the Blair administration; Yes, Minister is about the delusion that these here-today-gone-tomorrow administrations make a blind bit of difference in the face of our real government, the Civil Service.
If you’ve never encountered Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey, and the Ministry of Administrative Affairs, I highly recommend you remedy the defect. The first series in particular is exceptional. Think of it as an education. Johnathan Lynn and Anthony Jay were - are - both political animals, and had contacts who were even closer to the centre of the permanent government; they weren’t making it up. Maraget Thatcher, when she met them, is reported to have said, “It’s very good. How did you know?”.