Yesterday evening, BBC Newsnight screened the first of a series of programmes that they claim is to inform the public on matters surrounding the EU Referendum. It was such a shambles. A so-called impartial Evan Davis allowed Peter Mandelson to completely dominate the discussion such that the views of a panel of emminent experts with alternative ideas went pretty much unheard. The car crash was made worse by a facile attempt by the BBC to explain the principles of sovereignty with a small vignette designed to introduce the discussion. Such was the failure of the programme that I have felt compelled to produce my own article on the matter which I hope you will enjoy. For me, sovereignty and democracy issues go right t the heart of the matter and I feel very strongly about them. If we are not a country, what are we?
It’s a peculiarly human quality that we passionately seek to influence the things around us that affect the quality and conduct of our lives and the society that we live in.
If you look back at history, you can spot those critical moments when momentous events or decisions changed the shape of countries, continents or even the world. The end of slavery, universal suffrage, the end of the Second World War, the end of the Cold War. All such moments marked big changes in the way human beings decided to interact with each other and they allowed us to shape the countries that we live in today.
Often such events were the result of changes in people’s political views or they were precipitated by brave decisions taken by political leaders. In all cases, however, the ship could only change course because the people took command of the ship’s wheel and they willed it.
Our desire to exercise control and influence over our lives was the catalyst for the development of western democracies. Initially, like-minded people bound by geographical, language, cultural and ethnic ties came together in common interest, to engineer a better life and to provide mutual protection from outside threats. As countries coalesced, it was found that leaders were necessary to represent the common view.
In some cases, these leaders chose themselves and imposed their will through subjugation. However, history shows us that such regimes rarely endured because they lacked popular legitimacy. Stable and enduring leadership is only possible if there exists a solid contract between the people and those leading them. This unspoken contract allows leaders to lead but only if they command the support of the people. In return, the people allow those leaders a degree of freedom to act in the best interests of the country. In this country, we test that legitimacy every five years in a General Election and, of course, we call it democracy.
The important factor though is that this model of democratic nation states only works if the people are themselves defined by common language, geographical boundaries, culture and ethnicity. If they possess these common traits then they are more likely to be able to agree that the leadership is legitimate, and in this case, the people would be recognized as a nation state and would be described collectively by the Greek term demos. On the other hand, if the people did not share such common attributes, then there would be no hope that elected leaders could represent the people because the people themselves would not be of similar mind and would not share a common interest. In this situation, the contract would be certain to fail because the people would be unable to agree that the leadership was legitimate or that it represented the common good. It is only because we are bound to our fellow kinsmen by the glue of common bonds that we are able to accept the majority view even if we profoundly disagree with it. And I shall return to this shortly.
Now, how you view the value of the democratic nation state also depends on your view of history, and it is here that we encounter the fundamental divergence between British and European opinion. It is this schism that has distorted relations since the end of the Second World War and which infects the political debate about the EU today.
In this great country of ours, we are, by in large, proud of our achievements and history. With some exceptions, we have not fought amongst ourselves for hundreds of years. Collectively, we have spread British influence across the globe whether that be through our politics, the industrial revolution or our unique system of law. We tend to ignore the significance of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215, but it is almost revered in the United States as a founding symbol of freedom and democracy. Whilst we might occasionally take the Magna Carta slightly for granted, we nonetheless see our history as a benign influence and by in large a force for good.
The situation in Europe is quite different, however. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries were marked by terrible wars and hardship, and most of this can be traced back to a violent, iron-clad nationalism within certain European states. This is the fear that stalks the corridors in Brussels today. Whereas we see our national identity as a benign force for good, EU politicians see national identity and national interests as a destabilizing influence that has caused dark times in the past. It was the fear of a nationalistic resurgence that prompted the founders of the European Union to forge their project and it is the driving force for every closer union that exists in Brussels today. It is a project designed to batter down the nation state by drawing power away from national governments and instead to invest it in a centralized supranational political body based in Brussels.
Now, I have no doubt that the intentions of the EU blacksmiths are entirely honorable, but I don’t agree that their project is a catalyst for stability. I contend that by taking power further away from the people they are paradoxically sowing the seeds for the kind of instability that they are seeking to suppress.
First, there is currently no identifiable European demos. The EU member states are quite different culturally and ethnically and, aside from a common desire for peaceful trade, there is little else in common between a Frenchman, a Rumanian or a Turk, for example. Without that demos, there is no hope that a centralized EU could be described as a state or adequately represent a so-called European people because the people are far too different. It therefore would lack legitimacy for the reasons I have already provided.
The second difficulty is that a centralized European political and legal body not only fails to provide adequate representation for a common people, but it also takes decisions too far away from individuals. I mentioned earlier about our powerful instinct to influence those things around us that affect our lives, and that means that we not only want our government to be representative but we want to feel that our vote can actually change something. This is an argument for bringing decision-making closer to the people by decentralizing government within practical limits rather than sucking sovereign power further and further towards the centre and away from individuals such as they start to feel disenfranchised. History shows us that when people feel disempowered then instability often follows. We are already seeing this today in Europe with widespread electoral apathy, the rise of populist parties and the shadow of the extreme right. EU officials say the answer to this is more Europe but by insisting on this they are making the situation worse such that the eventual disintegration of the project will be far more painful with potential violence and disorder.
My third objection concerns the dishonest way that the EU is being shaped, and it is here that we need to consider cause and effect.
Whilst we in Britain have always wanted the EU to be a trading system as a means of liberalizing trade and opening up markets, EU politicians have always been clear that trade would be used as a lever to engineer political union and indeed a European State. Consider this astonishing statement by Jean Monnet the founding father of the EU:
“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose but which will irreversibly lead to federation.”
So rather than the EU being forged as a consequence of globalization, the EU is cleverly using the tools of globalization covertly and incrementally to undermine nation states and to bind countries together so closely that in the end full political union and a United States of Europe would become inevitable. Free trade is said to be inextricably linked to the freedom of movement of people whereas in reality such freedom is attached to trade as a precondition whose real purpose is to break down national borders and for social engineering to break down the ethnic and cultural glue of nation states in a futile attempt to form a European demos.
But it is not just trade that is a tool for closer integration and the imposition of a supranational state. Another example is the single Eurozone currency. The Euro was said to be necessary to facilitate trade but its real purpose was as a Trojan horse for the harmonization of a host of fiscal and financial policies in yet another step towards a United States of Europe. In 1997, Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt gave the following joint statement:
“One must never forget that monetary union is ultimately a political project. It aims to give a new impulse to the historic movement towards a Union of the European States. Monetary Union is a federative project that needs to be followed by other steps. “
Well those other steps have indeed occurred, and recent EU research papers suggest that there are further integrationist steps in the pipeline. Where is the referendum discussion on these future measures and the ultimate destination of the EU? We now have the European Court of Justice whose powers are ever expanding. This court takes precedence over our national laws and it not only pronounces on trade matters but continually intrudes into matters of law that cover all manner of policies that affect our life in Britain. Did you ever ask for this court to do this? I didn’t.
There are other examples, but the important thing to note is that each incremental step towards further integration is on a ratchet. You can step forward towards the unstated goal but the ratchet will never let you step back. The direction of travel is fixed which is why the referendum we are about to have is so important because we have a chance to go in a different direction. We are truly at a fork in the road. The choice is to embrace the EU project with all the implications for our democracy and way of life or to strike out and build a new home for our country in the international system. The Prime Minister seems to be suggesting that there is some kind of halfway house or fudge but in reality this really is our big moment. It is either all in or all out.
But to choose that path we first need an honest discussion, and this is where our national debate is failing miserably. During the last EU Referendum and also in this one, sovereignty concerns have been dismissed. Why can’t the Prime Minister, the media and the Remain Camp just be honest about the true purpose of the EU and its intended destination? We could then debate whether the path to an EU State is one we wish to follow? Instead, we get regurgitated dark threats about the future of trade and jobs if we don’t conform. It is a sad reflection on the EU project that proponents have to disguise its true purpose in this way. If it’s so good, why don’t Remainers just make an honest case for it rather than adding more weight to the trade lever that the government is deploying daily to scare us into staying. It is persuasion by fear but it is also dishonest because it masks the main sovereignty issue and the intended EU final destination.
So far, media discussions and public debates have focused on trade and migration but in my view these tend to obscure the bigger picture and are really two sides of the same coin. The question is who should exercise control over such matters? Should it be our nation state with its legitimate government or a centralized European Superstate without a recognizable demos and with no legitimate claim to power? In my view, matters such as immigration policy directly affect our way of life, and are therefore best controlled by the democratic nation state that has served us so well.
The power of ordinary people to use the ballot box to affect their own lives should not be pawned to a European system of government that doesn’t represent us or apply the same glue that binds each of us to our fellow Britons. In the referendum I shall vote to leave so that we can make our elected MPs accountable for all the things that affect us and regain control of our democracy. I hope after some careful reflection you will make a similar choice. In the meantime, thanks very much for making it until the end.