The people have spoken and voted incorrectly. I’m guilty of this thought crime too, all the more unforgivable since I’m middle-class, university educated and hail from an Anglo-Polish family: I voted for the UK to leave the European Union.
Yes, the tenor of the debate has been tawdry, with Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Carney over-playing short-term economic shocks; yet a consensus seems to be forming amongst right thinking people (especially the twatterati of the twitter-sphere) that the Remain campaign is on the side of the angels. A conceited conflation and confusion of those critical of the EU as being anti-European.
To vote Remain is to be modern, progressive, international in outlook. To vote Leave condemns you as a bigoted, myopic little-Englander. Given the way that elements of some who favour Brexit deliberately whipped-up public concerns with migration, I confess to feeling contaminated by the violent vitriol vomited by Farage & co.
Unlike some voters, however, such as the odious Kelvin MacKenzie, I do not suffer “Brexit buyer’s remorse”. Despite the post-Thatcher paradox that we’re all Marxists now – it’s the economy, stupid – heed the warning of former Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King that this debate should not be “reduced to a cost/benefit analysis”.
What is this abandoned new Jerusalem?
The European Commission acts as the EU’s executive. Comprised of 28 officials appointed by each of the member states for a five-year term, this body proposes EU laws and promotes the greater good of the EU – what in other contexts would be called the national interest. Majority voting has steadily encroached into areas of national competence over the years.
Legislation proposed by the European Commission is amended and adopted by the Council of the European Union, allowing national ministers a voice. Laws are finally revised by the 751-strong European Parliament. David Charter, Berlin correspondent for The Times points out :
The EU’s law-making system contains a crucial inversion of the democratic system invented by the British. In Brussels it is the unelected European Commission that devises and draws up legislation and the elected MEPs and national ministers who scrutinise and amend them. In Westminster the opposite is the case: the elected government proposes laws in its manifesto and unelected peers scrutinise them.
Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has the acid outlook: “If the EU was a country applying to join itself, it’d be turned down for being insufficiently democratic.”
Holding the executive to account is compromised by the lax lobbying regime. Left-wing journalist Owen Jones observes:
Because the EU’s lobby register is voluntary, there is a considerable lack of clarity about what companies are doing and which EU politicians and bureaucrats they are speaking to.
Such is the suasion of the business lobby, the EU has prohibited state aid, on pain of financial penalty, and encoded privatization within EU law. Polls across Britain show that most voters, including those of a Tory bent, favour renationalisation of what may be termed “public goods”. Listen once more to Owen Jones:
A very unsexy, technical-sounding treaty is a case in point. At the end of 2013 the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the US received virtually no media attention, and certainly no political condemnation. It included a so-called “investor-state dispute settlement”, a device that could allow multinationals to sue elected governments to get their own way in a process administered by corporate lawyers and bypassing local judicial systems. According to the Democracy Centre, this device “effectively operates as a privatized justice system for global corporations”. Where it had been in force elsewhere, dozens of legal actions “have been taken by corporations against governments on issues ranging from mining to water to nuclear power”.
“It is a very grave threat indeed,” says campaigning journalist George Monbiot … “It shuts down a huge number of political alternatives, and shuts out many of the policies many of the people in this country would badly like to see. For example, preventing the commercialization and privatization of the NHS becomes pretty much impossible, if the Treaty went ahead in its proposed form.”
The strength of the agricultural lobby hampers the ability of developing countries to do business with the EU and earn hard currency. Leaving the EU would allow Britain to pursue her own trade policy with these expanding markets. As journalist and Tory peer Matt Ridley explains:
Outside the EU we would immediately be free of the EU’s external tariff. Instead of charging consumers 9 per cent tariffs on Basmati rice from India to placate Italian rice growers we could charge nothing. British consumers and African and Asian farmers all suffer from the EU’s protectionism.
Outside the realm of economics, lovers of civil liberties should be wary of the EU’s reach into criminal justice policy. The European Arrest Warrant serves as a case in point. Designed to fast-track the surrender of suspects to foreign countries, the EAW is based upon “mutual recognition of criminal justice systems in the EU.” In practice, use of the EAW has raised issues of proportionality. Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of Liberty, highlights the flaws of this system:
Take the case of Andrew Symeou, a British student extradited to Greece in 2009. Serious doubts emerged about the reliability of the evidence against Symeou and he was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter, but not before spending 10 months in appalling prison conditions away from his friends and family. The case against him was fundamentally flawed, but our courts were powerless to prevent the extradition. The same is true of Garry Mann, the former fireman extradited to Portugal in 2010 following a trial described by British judges as an embarrassment and a violation of his right to a fair trial.
Deceit, duplicity, fear and hyperbole have darkened the debates on Britain’s membership of the European Union. None so great as the grand deception colouring British politics since the UK joined the EU in 1973, the grand deception of dragging Britain into a United States of Europe. Prior to the original six countries of the EU signing the Treaty of Rome in 1957, a Foreign Office memo minuted the desire:
to achieve tighter European integration through the creation of European institutions with supra-national powers, beginning in the economic field … the underlying motive of the Six is, however, essentially political.
This erosion of national sovereignty was not alluded to in the government white paper The United Kingdom and the European Communities. In the words of Christopher Booker and Richard North, a grand deception:
There was no mention of economic and monetary union. There would be no loss of national identity. Britain’s monarchy, parliament, and courts would all remain exactly as they were. The legal system would “continue as before”, apart from “certain changes under the treaties concerning economic and commercial matters.” And in one sentence often quoted later, it was stated that: “There is no question of Britain losing essential national sovereignty; what is proposed is a sharing and an enlargement of individual national sovereignties in the economic interest. … [Edward] Heath persistently misrepresented Britain’s membership of the Common Market as no more than a trading issue, when behind the scenes this was already being given the lie by … proposals for monetary and political union.
Margaret Thatcher attempted to fight the federalist turn to no avail. The head of the Cabinet Office’s European Secretariat, David Williamson, recalled to historian Peter Hennessey:
I was present at No 10 Downing Street on one occasion when Mrs Thatcher came down the stairs and said to me, “I have read every word of the Single European Act” (which passed through Parliament in the spring of 1986). She certainly knew “from the start that there were two competing visions of Europe” but at that stage she “felt that our vision of a free enterprise Europe des patries was predominant”.
No such options are on the table. Nothing, especially democracy, is to stand in the way of the federalizing juggernaut. When Denmark voted to reject the Maastricht Treaty, which formally transformed the European Community into a Union, the country was made to vote again until the “correct” result was delivered. Copenhagen witnessed the worst riots since the Second World War. When France and Holland rejected the European Constitution, the proposals were re-hashed as the Lisbon Treaty.
To the four million who are calling for Britain to hold a second referendum on EU membership, and the 64 per cent of 18-24 year-olds who couldn’t be arsed to vote in the first place yet claim their future has been ruined by old farts, I cannot advocate the UK remaining part of a moribund and sclerotic protectionist trading bloc, an undemocratic fledgling state known as the European Union.
- Christopher Booker and Richard North, The Great Deception: Can the European Union Survive? (London: Bloomsbury, 3rd edn., 2016)
- Shami Chakrabarti, “It’s Not Just Eurosceptics Who Think the European Arrest Warrant is Rotten”, Guardian, 10 November 2014 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/10/eurosceptics-think-european-arrest-warrant-rotten
- David Charter, “Decisions, Decisions: Where the Real Centre of Power Lies”, The Times, EU Referendum Special Part One: Immigration and Democracy, 14 June 2016
- Peter Hennessey, The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders since 1945 (London: Allen Lane, 2000)
- Kate Hoey, “Why Leaving the EU is a Left-Wing Move”, Independent, 9 October 2015 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/labour-mp-kate-hoey-why-leaving-the-eu-is-a-left-wing-move-a6687936.html
- Phillip Inman, “Mervyn King: Treasury’s Exaggerated Brexit Claims Backfired”, Guardian, 27 June 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jun/27/mervyn-king-brexit-treasury-claim-backfired-osborne
- Owen Jones, The Establishment and How They Get Away With It (London: Penguin, 2015)
- Karen McVeigh and Carmen Fishwick, “Kelvin MacKenzie is far from the only one suffering Brexit Buyer’s Remorse”, Guardian, 27 June 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/27/eu-referendum-kelvin-mackenzie-brexit-buyers-remorse
- Anna Rhodes, “Young People – If You’re so Upset by the Outcome of the EU Referendum, then why didn’t you Get Out and Vote?”, Independent, 27 June 2016 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/eu-referendum-brexit-young-people-upset-by-the-outcome-of-the-eu-referendum-why-didnt-you-vote-a7105396.html
- Matt Ridley, “Don’t Think of it as Leaving Europe: Think of it as Rejoining the World”, The Times, EU Referendum Special Part Two: Trade and the Economy, 15 June 2016
- “Q&A: European Arrest Warrant”, BBC News, 5 December 2014 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23239493