If an American were ever to wonder why the British are so lukewarm about getting any closer to the continental Europeans and their creeping political union, he should consider the case of George Blake. Mr. Blake is a convicted Russian double agent who is currently evading British justice from the comfort of a state-funded apartment in Moscow.
Mr. Blake is the least glamorous and least expensively educated of the gaggle of Soviet spies exposed in Britain in the 1950s and '60s.
The most famous trio of traitors, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby, emanated from Cambridge University and eventually spied for the Soviets. Add perhaps the most fascinating of them all, Anthony Blunt, who after Cambridge became an expert on the Baroque and the paintings of Nicolas Poussin, then an intimate of Queen Elizabeth II as a result of being appointed surveyor of the queen's pictures, and all the while spying for the Soviets. Blunt even looked a little like Ian Fleming, whose suave creation, James Bond, reflected the Cambridge spies' sense of radical chic and panache.
Mr. Blake, however, owes more to John le Carré's seedy spy circus than to Fleming. He was born George Behar in the Netherlands and educated, at the behest of his Egyptian Jewish father, in Cairo, where he fell under the spell of his uncle, a leading Egyptian communist. Returning to the Netherlands as World War II broke out, Mr. Blake, by now a convinced communist, risked his life in the anti-Nazi underground.
It doesn't say much for British checking of résumés that as soon as the war was over, Mr. Blake was recruited by MI6 and, after a spell in Korea, where he was taken prisoner by the communists and converted to full-blown Marxism, was set up as a double agent working in Berlin, the front line of the Cold War. Before long Mr. Blake became a triple agent, causing the deaths of untold numbers of British agents. His explanation? "To betray, you first have to belong," he later wrote. "I never belonged."
Mr. Blake's triple dealing was exposed in 1959, and two years later he was convicted in Britain of spying and sentenced to 42 years. However, he was to spend just five years in a British jail before he escaped and headed straight for Moscow, where he was given a home and provided with a KGB pension.
There came a time, though, when Mr. Blake thought of turning his experiences in his treacherous trade into money. Although he affected to despise the market, he became convinced that his life would be enhanced if he were to raise some hard currency by writing his memoirs, which he did, in 1990, under the deceitful title "No Other Choice."
Horrified that Mr. Blake should profit from the betrayals that had led to so many murders, the British government moved to prevent its old employee from receiving royalties. Mr. Blake, enjoying the rule of law that his Soviet employers so despised, fought the action through the British courts — though, British justice being what it is, to little avail. After nine years of legal toing and froing, the government won the case, and all $160,000 in royalties was given to a children's charity.
Then, in a move that will be unbelievable to anyone except those who have watched the European Union at work, Mr. Blake appealed against the British verdict to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that Britain had taken too long to make a decision. And, it will come as no surprise to anyone who has witnessed the European Union in operation, the European Court found in Mr. Blake's favor.
While they did not overturn the original British judgment, the European judges agreed that Mr. Blake was harmed by being made to wait nine years for justice. (The European court took 5 1/2 years to reach this decision; perhaps Mr. Blake should sue them.) British taxpayers must now pay the traitor $6,000 in damages and $2,000 in legal fees.
Sometimes the injustice and absurdity of European decisions threaten to unsettle an Englishman's even keel. Mr. Blake betrayed democracy and despised the rule of law, which is what led him to expose secret agents like himself in the sure knowledge that they would die. His escape from jail showed further contempt for British justice.
From the moment of his defection to the Soviet system, it might have been expected that his clear preference for Soviet justice would prevail. Instead, although he is no longer entitled to call himself British or a citizen of the European Union, he pressed his case in Europe from the safety of Moscow.
The European court overrode the system of justice enjoyed in Britain for 1,000 years and took the side of the traitor Mr. Blake. Is it any wonder that the British remain skeptical of the European Union and doubt its commitment to the rule of law and democracy?