Our country columnist John Sheard rages about a dream turned sour and urges Tony Blair to go to war - in Europe
IN VIEW of what I have written in this column in the past, the following confession will surprise some readers and perhaps enrage a few more: despite all the problems involved, I have been a passionate pro-European these past 30 years.
Atomium - Brussels
In the early 1970s, I even organised a committee of fellow scribes called "Journalists for a Yes Vote" to persuade fellow Brits to vote for entry into what was then called the Common Market in this country's first ever referendum.
This week, after three decades of defending this view against largely hostile friends and colleagues, I finally changed my mind. And the cause of this reversal: I don't want the British countryside to fall under the control of invading dictators from across the English Channel.
Now this is a column devoted to rural life, not international politics, and I apologise for bringing up the latter. Trouble is, the two have become intractably inter-mixed.
This has nothing to do with France and Germany, two nations with long histories of supporting war-like dictators, undermining Anglo-American attempts to rid the world of Saddam Hussain - or even inviting the African tyrant Robert Mugabe for cosy chats in Paris.
It is to do with the fact that their two leaders met in secret a few weeks ago and this week announced that they had fixed the budget of that abortion of Euro-economics, the Common Agricultural Policy, for the next ten years - without so much as a by-or-leave from any of their 13 present partners (or another dozen due to join).
This is an act of dictatorship affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people who never voted for them. It will have the deepest impact on the way people live in the British countryside.
Louis X1V and Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Adolf Hitler, will be spinning in the graves - with jealousy. They never got to impose their evil wills on this nation by force of arms. Their successors, by joining together, have done so by subterfuge.
It means that British food prices will remain the highest in Europe and our farmers amongst the poorest rewarded - so that the French can rip off the rest of the continent to support their own peasants. The Germans will be happy to support this because, via France, they can maintain a political control they daren't grab openly because of guilt over their appalling past.
Unless something is done about this, and quickly, we might as well say goodbye to British plans to divert our troubled agricultural sector towards more environmentally friendly projects, and give financial support to non-farming ventures which give employment in rural areas.
It was our farmers, as I have said many times before, who created the British landscape. It is our villages and hamlets which are the jewels in this crown. But if people cannot make a living here, they will move to the towns - and who will look after the place then?
This, to Tony Blair, should be a long-term war which must be fought and won long after Saddam has disappeared from the international stage. We simply cannot allow Euro-dictators to rule Britain by secret agreement.
Britain should, by now, be leading the rest of the European Union against the French and Germans, as we have done so often in the past. If not - and I write this was considerable anguish - it might be time to pull our all together and join our natural allies, the Americans and Canadians, in their highly successful trading group.
I doubt very much that Tony Blair is another Henry V although he is showing some warlike tendencies. He should remember King Harry's words to his men, weary, hungry and hugely outnumbered in the dawn of Agincourt: "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more"