Archiv für die Kategorie „Tories & Europe“

“Britain, Europe and the World” by Robin Niblett, Chatham House

Dienstag, 20. Oktober 2015

The approaching referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in or leave the European Union marks a defining moment for the country’s foreign relations, and is addressed in this research paper by Robin Niblett under the Chatham House Europe Programme October 2015:

Britain, Europe and the World: Rethinking the UK’s Circles of Influence

Why I?m pro-European…..by Robin Baker

Montag, 27. Juli 2015

……….and will vote Yes to the UK’s EU membership.

The most important reason why I am pro-Europe is peace. I lived, albeit as a very small child, through the Second World War and although I had no understanding of the war at that time, I could to some extent understand its horrors fairly early thereafter and well remember what we had to endure in the post-war recovery period. The move to a united Europe started with the Schuman declaration in May 1950 when the French Foreign Minister called for the creation of a Coal and Steel Community saying:

« Le rassemblement des nations européennes exige que l?opposition séculaire de la France et de l?Allemagne soit éliminée : l?action entreprise doit toucher au premier chef la France et l?Allemagne.

Dans ce but, le gouvernement français propose de porter immédiatement l?action sur un point limité mais décisif :

?Le gouvernement français propose de placer l?ensemble de la production franco- allemande de charbon et d?acier sous une Haute Autorité commune, dans une organisation ouverte à la participation des autres pays d?Europe.? La mise en commun des productions de charbon et d?acier assurera immédiatement l?établissement de bases communes de développement économique, première étape de la Fédération européenne, et changera le destin de ces régions longtemps vouées à la fabrication des armes de guerre dont elles ont été les plus constantes victimes.

La solidarité de production (de charbon et d?acier) qui sera ainsi nouée manifestera que toute guerre entre la France et l?Allemagne devient non seulement impensable, mais matériellement impossible. »

English Version:

?The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries.

With this aim in view, the French Government proposes that action be taken immediately on one limited but decisive point.

It proposes that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe. The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims.

The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.?

Clearly the key to his proposal was stopping any further conflict between France and Germany after the disastrous wars of 1870, 1914 and 1939. This was achieved while, at the same time, permitting the reindustrialisation of Germany which France?s history gave it so much reason to fear. And it was that which lead to the enormous improvement in the economic lot of the participants. Schuman was right, war did become impossible and this first European institution developed into the EU of today. Britain got it totally wrong, the Foreign Secretary of the time (Herbert Morrison) saying that we could not join the proposed Coal and Steel Community because ?the Durham miners wouldn?t wear it.? Unfortunately when the Conservatives came to power, we still refused to join because of Anthony Eden?s belief that Britain?s future lay with its Empire. Of course today some people say that the avoidance of war is no longer relevant, war would remain impossible even were the EU to be dissolved. I would agree with them if they could tell me when they predicted that there would be war between the armies of Russia and Ukraine when the Soviet Union broke up. I see serious risks of instability in Europe that could arise were there to be no longer an EU: look at Hungary, look at the internal problems of Italy and Spain, look at the potential conflicts that could arise over the wave of migration from Africa. So I believe the Schuman argument remains valid and I want my country to be part of this.

My second reason is the impact of Europe on material prosperity. In the period up to the UK joining the EEC in 1973 our economic growth rate was significantly less than the EEC?s. My strong impression at the time was that this gap was reduced to an important extent thereafter. But the position is complicated to assess. North Sea oil production started in the UK sector in 1975 and that clearly had an impact, although there was also oil and gas production in other EEC countries. There are two articles about this I think worth quoting. One was in the Economist?s Free Exchange column that quoted a study of the impact on GDP of EU membership using a comparison of member and non-member states? data. That reckoned that the UK GDP was over 20% higher than it would have been had we not been in the EU. The second is a research paper by the House of Commons Library that studied the economic benefits of EU membership. That points out that it is impossible to give a definitive figure because it involves estimating what would have happened had we not been a member. It does summarise a number of studies that have tried to answer this question and shows the range of different conclusions as follows:

uk-net-benefits-of-eu2

As can be seen, the estimates range from UKIP?s conclusion that membership costs us 5% of GDP to that of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills which estimates a gain of 6% of GDP p.a. The only one of these studies that I have read is the UKIP one, from which I concluded that their estimates were absolutely absurd; of course the study is readily available on-line.

But it does seem to me to be simple common sense that being a member of a major trading block with a population of over 500 million and GDP exceeding that of the USA, is of very substantial benefit. The EU takes 50% of UK exports (Nigel Farage claims that it is only 40% but that is not correct). Were we to leave, we might remain a member of the European Economic Area so still benefit from free trade with the EU but that would require us to accept all European trade regulations without any say in their development. Norway does that and it is called a fax democracy, because the EU Commission sends them a fax saying what new laws their Parliament must pass in relation to new rules, and they duly pass them. If we were outside that Economic Area, we would face the common external tariff on the half of our exports now going to other EU members. As an example, that would mean a 10% tariff on British motor vehicle exports to other EU countries, which amounted to £17 billion in 2013.

I would like to comment on some of the arguments currently used against EU membership. Nigel Farage is keen on saying that 75% of UK legislation is made in Europe. Daniel Hannan MEP has said that it is 84%. Again there is an excellent House of Commons Library research paper on that subject. That raises the interesting question as to how does one go about calculating a proportion of legislation, but finally concludes that:

?It is possible to estimate the proportion of national laws based on EU laws. In the UK, estimates suggest that over the twelve-year period from 1997 to 2009, 6.8% of primary legislation (Statutes) and 14.1% of secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments) had a role in implementing EU obligations, although the degree of involvement varied from passing reference to explicit implementation. Sectoral studies suggest that the agriculture forms the highest area of EU influence and defence the lowest. The British Government estimates that around 50% of UK legislation with a significant economic impact originates from EU legislation.?

Much of these laws related to the construction of the Single European Market, but little European law is now arising from that so the impact of Europe on UK legislation is falling.

The fact that agriculture is a high proportion is important, as a lot of EU legislation on agriculture relates to farming olives and tobacco, which does not impact on the UK.

Another much used argument is that of bureaucracy. Of course the EU is a bureaucracy; it is run by human beings. But while the number of civil servants employed by the UK Government is 479,000 (out of the 4.4 million total in the public sector costing 23% of total government expenditure) and in France, civil servants number 2 million; the Commission only has 30,000 employees, i.e. three quarters of the staff employed by the City of Paris. What is remarkable is that this is achieved despite the fact that the EU has to work in 23 official languages and provide for interpretation between them, which obviously increases staff numbers. But, despite that, it spends only about 6% of its budget on staff, administration and building maintenance.

Is often said that, when we joined the EEC in 1973, we were told that we were joining a free trade area. This, of course, is rubbish, we were already in a free trade area (EFTA) before we joined the EEC and we left it because it did not work. It did not work because it did not prevent non-tariff barriers to trade. The EEC, and now the EU, works because non-tariff barriers to trade are prohibited. They can only be prohibited by having a central authority that sets regulations to stop such barriers (a recent regulation struck down German internal market rules that effectively prevent British manufacturers selling chocolate in Germany). That this was made clear before we joined is shown by a few examples appended.

There are many positive reasons for EU membership, for example:

1. We are part of a group of countries with a common cultural and historical heritage co-operating together for the greater benefit of all.

2. Co-operation within the EU covers areas where action by individual nations within the limits of their national boundaries would be at best ineffective and at worst meaningless. An obvious example is environmental protection. Competition policy applied across the EU is another example giving wide benefits.

3. Because of the Common Agricultural Policy, we are part of an economic block that is self sufficient in food. That important to me as I remember the rationing in WWII and the post-war period.

4. As citizens of the European Union we entitled to move freely, to live and to be employed anywhere within the Union. Also we can hold and transfer funds freely within the Union.

5. There are positive impacts in other areas which most people, including the press, never consider. An example is higher education in the UK which benefits from the EU providing a common economic space within which talent can move freely. The EU enlarges our nation?s research base. Over 80% of the UK?s internationally co-authored papers are written with EU partners. The UK secures over ?6 billion of EU research, development and innovation funding; the University of Kent calculates that every ?1 of such funding increases the added value to industry by ?13.

6. Importantly for me, citizens of the European Union living in a member state other than their own, are protected against discrimination against them by their own government in relation to social benefits. For example, British state pensioners living outside the EU have their pensions frozen, despite having paid the same contribution as those living in the UK whose pensions are increased to allow for inflation. Pensions of Britons resident in the EU cannot be frozen.

Robin Baker
BCiP member

Apendix

What we were told about joining the EEC

Edward Heath

House of Commons Debate in August 1966.

The Community is so much more than a market … the phrase “Common Market” underestimates and undervalues the Community, and, for this reason, tends to mislead those who have to deal with it.’…. Those who say that the British people must realise what is involved in this are absolutely right. There is a pooling of sovereignty. Member countries of the Community have deliberately undertaken to achieve their objectives, and, because they believe that the objectives are worth that degree of surrender of sovereignty, they have done it quite deliber¬ately … When we surrender some sovereignty, we shall have a share in the sovereignty of the Community as a whole, and of other members of it. It is not just, as is sometimes thought, an abandonment of sovereignty to other countries; it is a sharing of other people’s sovereignty as well as a pooling of our own.

9th May 1967, ?There can be no doubt that the logical conclusion in a common market is to move over de facto or de jure to a common currency.

As Prime Minster 10 June 1971: ?We have said that as members of the enlarged Community we would play our full part in the progress towards economic and monetary union.?

Also in June 1971 the Foreign Secretary (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) said; ?On two counts I am in full agreement with the opponents of our entry into Europe. The first is that our application is a step of the outmost political significance, and the second is that there is a danger of its political importance being overlooked in the public debate on the economic issues.?

Third reading debate on EEC entry 13th July, 1972, Sir Geoffrey Howe (Attorney-General):

?The concept of a common system of Community law, uniformly expressed, operating and enforced throughout the Community, is integral to the community system. If this country became a Member of the European Communities it would be accepting Community Law?.The constitutional innovation would lie in the acceptance in advance as part of the law of the United Kingdom of provisions to be made in the future by instruments issued by Community institutions. … It is open to right hon. and hon. Members opposite to declare that they have changed their minds and that the concept of a uniform system of Community law is no longer acceptable to them. However, it is simply not open to them to suggest that this concept is an optional extra to the basic treaties which they once accepted.?

And, of course, the opponents of EEC entry also made the position clear, e.g. Peter Shore in the same debate: ?The area over which under the treaties European institutions will be able to make our future law is largely undefined, and is certain to grow. It already includes not only a general capacity to make laws but now a substantial capacity to raise taxes. Indeed, for the first time since the Stuarts we are to be taxed without the consent of Parliament. What is so deeply unacceptable is that we have no right to repeal, to change, to amend the laws to which we are about to become subject?no right, that is, unless we breach the treaty itself. That is the dilemma with which we are faced. So what it comes to is this: the Bill will create, from the moment it takes effect, a large “no-go” area for British democracy, an area in which Community jurisdiction will apply and Community laws will have to be obeyed. That is the truth of the matter.?

Broader Vision Needed to Reform EU?

Montag, 8. Dezember 2014

The Conservative party still needs to project a broader vision of the future of the European Union (EU), if it wants to reform it?

Katharina Klebba writing in LabourList (see article linked to below) thinks:

“A British reform agenda has to be rooted in a wider vision of the role the EU should play in the coming decade. The British public appears at the very least to be sceptical of the idea of an ?ever closer union?.
Yet the realities of monetary union are such that closer integration among the euro countries is almost inevitable ? a development that the UK appears to equally resent.
Therefore, timid proposals on restrictions to the freedom of movement of EU migrants may satisfy some public concerns but they won?t address many of the more fundamental anxieties of the British public regarding the EU.
Currently all three major parties are committed to Britain remaining an EU member if the UK?s demands for reform are met yet the terms of such a membership appear unclear.”

http://labourlist.org/2014/12/if-we-want-to-reform-the-eu-we-need-a-broader-vision-of-its-future/

Ken Clark & Prime Minister’s EU Reform Plans

Donnerstag, 27. November 2014

The intervention below from Ken Clark, complements very nicely the previous article by BCiP member Robin Baker on “Freedom of movement within the EU”.

Speaking at The Guardian on 19th November, 2014 and concerning British Prime Minister David Cameron’s EU reform plans, Ken Clark the former Conservative Chancellor said:

” fellow EU leaders would not agree to change the free movement of people on the grounds that it is a fundamental tenet of the EU and had been championed by Thatcher in the creation of the single market.”

He added:

?The idea that you are going to make Brussels give up freedom of movement of labour ? Margaret Thatcher was an advocate of this. It was a British Conservative government that gave momentum to the single market.

?The Conservative party and the Labour party have been advocates of freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour. It is one of the underpinning things of greater prosperity that we are all trying to get back to.?

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/19/ken-clarke-lets-rip-at-david-camerons-eu-reform-plans

Freedom of Movement within the EU – by Robin Baker

Donnerstag, 6. November 2014

The freedom of movement of workers within the Community and the freedom of establishment of nationals of one member state within the territory of another are, as we are frequently reminded, fundamental principles established by the then EEC in 1957 and maintained by the European Union today.

Currently they are increasingly questioned by the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party. To me that means that is has become time to go back and ask why these principles were established.

There are two key reasons. One is the question of individual liberty. Governments should not dictate to citizens where they can go and where they can live and work. The benefit of that hardly needs emphasising to UK members of British Conservatives in Paris; we take advantage of it either just to live or to both live and work here. Many French citizens do the same in Great Britain.

The second is that this liberty is an economic benefit, to individuals and to the economy of Europe as a whole. It permits workers, particularly the most motivated and the most valuable among them, to go where the contribution that they make is most valued and most appreciated. That maximises the economic benefit that they make to Europe as a whole. Many of the French who work in the UK are a good example of this. Their economic contribution is more appreciated in our country because our lower level of bureaucracy enables it to flourish and bear fruit whereas in France it could be stifled by control and regulation. That benefits the French concerned, the UK in general and in time it may benefit France itself if it eventually forces the Government here to reduce their regulatory controls.

What I do not understand is how any Conservative can oppose these principles of individual liberty and the prevention of government imposed rules leading to sub-economic decisions. Both are fundamental to the Conservative Party. In the 1960s and 70s, leaders of the Conservative Party such as Macmillan and Heath understood that. These principles need re-asserting now so that our political leaders can learn to understand them again.

Robin Baker
BCiP Member

Value of EU not just its price.

Samstag, 18. Oktober 2014

Read this interesting article below published on www.europeanpublicaffairs.eu :

“The outcome of misinformation on the one hand and total resignation of pro-EU advocates on the other has resulted in one thing ? Europeans have learnt the cost but forgot the value of the EU membership.”

Why Holding an EU Referendum May Be a Good Idea After All: Learning the value of the EU not just its price
15 October 2014 | by Frank Markovic

Blair & Merkel leave Cameron in a perilous position?

Montag, 2. Juni 2014

Benedict Brogan writing today (click on the link below) in his political blog (The Telegraph on-line, 2nd June, 2014) thinks interventions by Tony Blair and Angela Merkel leave PM David Cameron in a perilous position on Europe.

According to Mr Brogan

“Downing Street has denied German claims that David Cameron said Britain would leave the EU if Jean-Claude Juncker is chosen as president, but that hasn’t stopped them being widely reported.”
“Accompanying the headlines is a sense that Mr Cameron has gone public too early on Britain’s opposition to the Luxembourg federalist.”

[particularly as it is also reported today that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is already working to gather support for the candidacy of Mr Junker.]

In addition, Tony Blair has entered the debate with a speech to the CBI this morning in which he will try to put himself as the head of the “Save Europe” movement. According to Mr Blair:

“It has to be a debate elevated to a Europe-wide level, with Britain playing a leading role, not just a negotiation of Britain’s terms of membership. It has to be about what is good for Europe as well as what is good for Britain.”

Benedict Brogan thinks that all this makes the Prime Minister

“vulnerable to the charge that his position on Europe is not a big strategic argument based on principles, but a series of carefully judged tactical gambits designed to keep one step ahead of Nigel Farage [of UKIP] and numbers of his backbenchers.”

Mr Cameron has chosen to make his stand against Mr Junker, and perhaps has been misquoted in suggesting this as a break point for future UK membership of the EU, but will need the support of Germany to succeed. Without the support of Mrs Merkel he seems to have put himself into a perilous position.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100274299/blair-and-merkel-leave-cameron-in-a-perilous-position/

Lord Ashcroft Polls on Milliband’s EU Referendum Non-Pledge

Freitag, 21. März 2014

Lord Ashcroft thinks (see link to his article below) that the Conservative party should not be misled by Labour leader Ed. Milliband’s recent non-pledge on an EU referendum, when his polling has found that:

“Tory voters are twice as likely as Labour voters, and UKIP voters three times as likely, to say that defending Britain?s interests in Europe is one of the most important issues facing the country.”

“By putting the referendum pledge at the front and centre of its 2015 campaign the Conservative Party would not only be missing the chance to talk about the things most voters care about more, like the economy, jobs and public services. It would also, as far as these voters are concerned, be proving again the out-of-touchness (outness of touch?) of which it has for so long been accused. That is the trap Ed Miliband has set for the Tories. Surely they won?t be so daft as to fall into it?”

http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2014/03/milibands-referendum-non-pledge-will-win-votes-labour-conservatives-let/#more-2686

Cameron’s Negotiation With EU (for comment)

Freitag, 29. November 2013

It has been suggested that I write about the concessions Cameron should attempt to wrest from the European Union, as a preliminary to the holding of a referendum on EU membership.

This is a very difficult challenge. Cameron has up till now been very circumspect in revealing his intentions in this respect because, it is said, they are going to be regarded as too minimalist to satisfy his backbenchers and too minimalist to counter the threat from the UKIP in the 2015 elections. These considerations may result in his waiting till after the election to reveal his hand.

What are the areas in which he is most likely to make his demands?

1) A limitation of the strictures regarding Human Rights? The Government has probably already achieved all it can expect in this area.

2) Protection against measures limiting the freedom of the City’s financial market, on which Paris and Frankfurt cast envious eyes, by, for instance, requiring a universal vote so that Britain would have a veto to exercise.

3) Greater freedom to institute measures limiting immigration. This is probably the issue of greatest concern to the electorate and the one to which other countries would be most responsive. His first step is to make welfare measures unavailable to people immigrating with too inadequate financial prospects, aimed chiefly at Rumanians and Bulgarians.

4) Surely, restrictions of the powers of the Brussels administration to impose bureaucratic regulations in the spheres of labour laws, food standards etc. which are probably the major cause of public dissatisfaction with membership of the EU.

5) The expansion of the EU mandate to cover free exchange of services, not just goods.

Cameron is probably caught in a real dilemma. There is little sympathy with Britain’s cause among other members of the EU. Merkel has expressed some feeling of common cause and the Netherlands have evinced some desire to limit Brussels powers but they only want to limit further extension of the powers, not to carry out major revisions.

There is little sympathy among Britain?s EU partners for its demands for yet more exceptionalist treatment. And why would they want to satisfy Britain’s demands for it, knowing that she may subsequently choose to leave the Union anyway?

There is one possible area for hope. There is a desire among countries led by France to carry out greater consolidation of the Union, probably necessitating a revision of the Treaty. This would require a universal vote, which would greatly strengthen Britain’s bargaining position.

One last thought. Surely the one most vital consideration is that of trade, remembering that 50% of our trade is with Europe. It is significant that virtually all of our captains of industry are opposed to our leaving the EU. Some people claim it would be ?a gift to the French? as it would discourage foreign investment in Britain by US and Asian investors, if Britain lost assured access to the European markets.

Michael Webster

No Effective Debate on Europe in Parliament – by Gregor Dallas

Sonntag, 14. Juli 2013

Last week, 5 July, I watched on BBC Parliament TV the second reading in the House of Commons of James Wharton?s private bill on the European referendum. James Wharton is the youngest Member of Parliament and he argues that he is ?speaking for millions of people? who want a vote on British membership of the European Union that is ?long overdue?. He has the support of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, but this cannot be a government bill because the Liberal Democrat half of the Coalition is dead set against it.
When I switched on the channel I discovered a Chamber that was very empty. Over half of the House was apparently boycotting the proceedings ? surely the most significant fact of the debate. But I must admit that the debate was lively and the speakers were wonderfully articulate, which is one of the pleasures of our little parliamentary house. They were, like their leader, mostly young; they are the Eurosceptics brought in on the wake of the Great Expense Scandal Purge of 2009. If ever proof is demanded of the political motive behind that parliamentary upheaval, it is in the opinions expressed by the members here present: the purpose of the purge was to clear the waters of the flotsam caused by all those pro-Europeans floating about. Since the takeover of Conservative Party by the Eurosceptics after John Major fell from power, those pro-Europeans have been a source of considerable annoyance to the party. The purge was largely successful. We now have in Parliament a party that is young and Eurosceptic.
They demand a referendum because they want Britain out of Europe. In their view Britain never wanted anything other than a free trade area ? an extension not of the EU but of EFTA, that essentially British institution which you have probably forgotten about; but, yes, this British alternative to the Common Market created in 1960 still exists on the frontiers of the current EU, with all four of its members, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The EU is still growing, despite its economic problems. The lesson of the EFTA debacle was surely that you can?t have a free-trade zone of separate nations without a good dose of politics.
Fifty years later a young generation of Brits ? the supporters of this private bill ? still hanker after this kind of ?free-trade area?. They are in revolt against an EU that aims at an ?ever closer union?, which was in the preamble of the Treaty of Rome of 1957 that created the Common Market. It was still there at the time of Britain?s referendum of 1975. Did the British people misunderstand it? That may be the problem with referendums. At any rate, that hated phrase ?ever closer union? was quoted several times in the debate last week. These young members do not want to be ever closer to Europe. They don?t want the flag, the anthem, the parliament, the commission, the ?politics? of the EU. Just free trade. But then they don?t want the Euro either. In fact they don?t really want the ?economics? of the EU; they are convinced ? if you listened to their speeches last week ? of British economic superiority.
But the pound is once more in decline, a trend that it has followed since 1947, Britain is still in recession and European productivity has continually outperformed Britain?s for all but the last two years. Furthermore, the British state is facing what could be two imminent simultaneous catastrophes, not only the exit from the European Union but also the break-up of the United Kingdom. Will it only be a rump UK that votes to pull out of the Union?
The tendency not only in Europe but in the world as a whole is towards a greater union of peoples, what we call ?globalization?. It is likely that South East Asia and Latin America will, in time, move towards greater union. There is no doubt that the EU is setting a trend here, and that includes her currency union which, despite the current troubles, is holding up pretty well ¬? there is no more talk, for example, of the Greek disease spreading elsewhere. That currency union is going to hold, notwithstanding British jibes at a currency system that go back to the 1970s. Eurosceptics have proven to be, over the last half century, very poor prophets.
Central to last week?s Eurosceptic arguments is the issue of sovereignty. Britain, say these MPs, must ?claw back? legislation that is now going through Brussels rather than through Parliament. Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, who wasn?t there because UKIP has no MPs in Parliament, claims 70 per cent of Britain?s legislation is now made in Europe. In the last few days he has upped that figure to 75 per cent.
Sovereignty should be the concern of all of us. Now in France sovereignty, since the time of the Revolution, ?resides in the nation? (according to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen). This is why the country has periodically held national referendums. These referendums have a terrible history. Under the two Napoleons the referendums were used to enfeeble parliamentary regimes. They are essentially a Bonapartist tool. That is why the distinguished political historian, René Rémond, considered the Gaullists to be part of the French Bonapartist tradition. The Third and Fourth Republics were parliamentary regimes and they never had referendums. The Fifth Republic is a presidential regime with something of a Bonapartist allure to it. Charles de Gaulle, its inventor, deliberately included the national referendum in its constitution. Ironically, de Gaulle was destroyed by the referendum; one could even say it killed him. Since the disappearance of Mitterrand the Fifth Republic has increasingly taken on the airs of a parliamentary regime owing to the appearance of ?cohabitation? where the President belongs to one political family whilst the Prime Minister and Government belongs to another. Under de Gaulle this was not supposed to happen. But now it is almost a regular feature. Parliamentary regimes don?t live well under referendums, so in France one can expect them to be gradually abandoned. This is especially true since the catastrophic 2005 referendum under Jacques Chirac when the extreme left combined with the extreme right to get a ?No? vote on the European constitution. Governments and Parliaments do not have to accept the verdict of a popular referendum. The ?No? vote was overturned by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. So here the European political factor was used by Nicholas Sarkozy to keep the European project on track. The Eurosceptics in Britain of course screamed foul. But if Lisbon had not have been agreed, there would have been chaos, which could only have delighted the nationalists. The 2005 referendum, which had the same negative result in the Netherlands, but not in Spain, contains some important lessons for those approaching a referendum in Britain. Yes, it is a democracy of sorts, a Bonapartist democracy which enfeebles parliamentary regimes.
Germany has a parliamentary regime. Because of her Nazi past, when the country was overrun by nationalist forces, referendums are forbidden by the country?s wise constitution.
Britain is said to have an unwritten constitution although, as a matter of fact, if one were to staple together Westminster?s statutory laws, dating from the Bill of Rights of 1688 and through the Acts of Union, one would effectively have Britain?s written constitution. A number of constitutional textbooks have done just that.
Nowhere in this ?written constitution? is any mention made to national referendums. Local referendums have occurred, such as on the opening hours of pubs. The only national British referendum to occur in history was Harold Wilson?s referendum of 1975, called because the Labour Party could not make up its mind about Europe. Now it is the Conservative Party which is divided.
Britain has a parliamentary regime. Since Bagehot and Dicey British constitutionalists have emphasized that sovereignty lies not in the nation, like in revolutionary France, but in Parliament. A distinct distrust has traditionally been felt by the British for referendums, expressed sscinctly in Clement Atlee?s line, since picked up by Margaret Thatcher, that ?referendums are the tool of dictators and demagogues.? Referendums weaken the sovereignty of Parliament.
Margaret Thatcher?s ghost haunted the Chamber last week. In particular, Preti Patel for Witham cited her as a model for Eurosceptics to follow. Now Patel is somebody to watch; she has great poise and speaks with considerable gusto and conviction ? rather like Margaret Thatcher. She could well become a major leader. The trouble is, she is wrong. She began politics campaigning for Jimmy Goldsmith?s Referendum Party ? and this passion for referendums could throw her of the rails. Her father, a Ugandan Asian immigrant, stood last April ? in a very muddled campaign ? for UKIP in a Hertfordshire by-election. Unfortunately, Thatcher is the model behind this; it cannot be denied. Margaret Thatcher, though she signed the Single Act of 1986, the most radical of all European treaties, did not have a good legacy on Europe. When UKIP claims to be the only true Thatcherite party in Britain they are, on the European issue, telling the sorry truth. On Europe, Thatcher in the end relied on private consultation (that of Professor Alan Walters). She went behind Parliament?s back, and that is why she had to go.
The new breed of English nationalist, with Thatcherism as its source, preaches ?direct democracy? based on referendums. They are not scrupulous parliamentarians. That is, they are not fully convinced that Parliament is sovereign. They would probably say the nation is sovereign, like French revolutionaries. They have a distinct distrust of parliamentarians, as they showed during the Expense Scandal. This distrust was evident in last week?s speeches ¬? as in the repeated phrase, ?of course, Parliament may well overthrow this democratic bill.? And they will not stop with this one referendum, if they get it. If they had their way they would destroy the Euro and the European Union. They would ally, as they already have, with other nationalist, extra-parliamentary parties in Europe. Their policies are identical to Marine Le Pen?s Front National.
Both the FN and the British Eurosceptics believe in ?direct democracy? as opposed to parliamentary democracy. Eurosceptics, like all European nationalist parties, are against most international institutions. It has been pointed out that Britain, if she were to quit the European Union, would in all likelihood lose her permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations. These English nationalists couldn?t give a hoot: they don?t like the United Nations.
It is English nationalism that has brought Scotland to the brink of independence. As the Conservative Party lurched towards English nationalism, so support for the Party dwindled in Scotland. Significantly, the Scottish Conservative Party merged in 1960 with the Unionist Party which stood for a united UK ? now it only has one MP in Westminster! Scottish Conservatives, once the strength of Scotland, have been replaced by Scot Nats. So there is a direct correlation between the rise of Euroscepticism in England, the demise of the Scottish Conservative Party and the rise of the independence movement in Scotland. So it should be no surprise that Scottish independence and the threatened British exit from the European Union are simultaneous. They are different aspects of the same nationalist phenomenon. The nuclear question we are now facing is: would an independent Scotland, like independent Ireland, adopt the Euro. If Scotland seeks genuine financial independence from England the answer is an inescapable ?Yes?.
I think this is a catastrophic scenario. Scottish independence could come next year, in 2014. Then a rump Britain could exit from the EU. That combination would cause havoc with our parliamentary system, which has done us so well for 500 years. Contrary to what the Eurosceptics argue, the EU strengthens British sovereignty and the union of the UK because it strengthens the country. Go down the road of UK breakup and rump British exit and you face fragmentation, poverty and chaos. That is not what we want.
Nationalism works like a steamroller: it flattens all before it; it flattens out all wrinkle crevices and variants and leaves us with the flat plain of the orthodox national ideology. That has happened in the past in Germany, in Italy and, indeed, large swathes of Europe where the nationalist enthusiasms spread their poison. That is why the European Union was created. It is the danger that all Europe still faces. Its promise is one that always ends up in violence (witness the Balkans). It is the European Union which prevents it and offers continental wide stablility.
Nationalism works against Parliaments, it is extra-parliamentary and it creates terrible silences; it stifles debate. And I am afraid that is just what we were witnessing last week in Parliament, but with more than half of Parliament absent.
About thirty or forty years ago I remember writing an article arguing that the traditional political divide in Britain between left and right was gradually giving way to a divide between Nationalists and Europeans, Little Englanders and Federalists. The Guardian, I think that was the paper, did not publish it. But I still think that this is what is happening. At the time ? I was still a student ¬? I was rather pleased at the prospect. Today it worries me. I see it as a sign of parliamentary decline, and that should please no one.
Consider what really happened last week. The debate took place and then the division was taken and the members retired to the lobbies. On television all you could see was an empty House for about fifteen minutes. Finally the two tellers came before the Speaker and announced the vote: 304 votes to zero. So a unanimous vote for the referendum! But there are 650 seats in Parliament. So this unanimous vote was made up of well under half of Parliament because the majority boycotted the session.
One half of the House was not talking to the other half. Debate is what parliamentary democracy is all about. On the question of the European referendum there has been no decent parliamentary debate. Instead, there is silence. Historically, we know that that is what nationalism does to the political body: it creates a flaccid inertness.
In the past decade or so I thought this was a Conservative Party disease. Conservatives have been silent on Europe because it divides the party. European Conservatives have been so silent and thus ineffective because of a fear of dividing the party. That concern to maintain silence has even crossed frontiers. In 2006 Nicholas Sarkozy was invited to the Conservative Party Conference ?provided,? stipulated David Cameron, ?he did not speak about Europe?; Sarkozy didn?t come.
But now one sees that this disease of silence has spread across the parties. It could become a national disease ¬? as occurred in Germany and in Italy in the interwar years. The pro-Europeans chose boycott rather than debate, that is, they chose silence. The European issue and the referendum has paralysed Parliament in the same way that the European Conservatives were paralysed by the emergence of nationalist Eurosceptics.
Is it possible that the United Kingdom will break up and what is left of the UK will leave the EU ¬? under a pall of parliamentary silence? The nationalist Eurosceptic arguments for a pure free trade area, British economic superiority, the need to ?claw back? legislation to protect national sovereignty and their apparent misunderstanding of Britain?s constitution never receive an answer or a retort in Parliament. Never a word of opposition is spoken. Debate has been silenced. The prospect is sinister.

GD
Le Vieil Estrée
12 July 2013

2,604 words