Archive for the ‘CGE Brexit meeting report 22 Nov. 2016’ Category

Memoires of a Life Long Eurosceptic - Gillian Bardinet

Mardi, janvier 31st, 2017

Very instructive and thought provoking as a contribution to the debate that should have taken place before the Referendum but could do well to help shape the final form of Brexit, here are the thoughts of former BCiP member Gillian Bardinet, who confesses herself a romantic historian, starting with the signing of the original treaty which took the UK into the then European Economic Community (EEC):

“Qu’allait-il faire dans cette galère?”
This was my question on January 22nd 1972 when the Conservative P.M. Edward Heath signed the treaty that took Britain into the EEC the European Economic Community, then more often called “The Common Market.”

What was the United Kingdom thinking of? Had no-one in government read the speeches of Europe’s founding father Jean Monnet? In his speeches his determination to create a single European country was explicit. “ Europe has never existed; one must genuinely create Europe.” And how was this to be done?

“Nothing is lasting without institutions” he said. Had no-one among British politicians understood that Robert Schuman’s Coal and Steel pact with Germany was a clear move towards that same goal?

Who had taken notice of the Cassandra warnings issued by the respected Oxford historian, A.J.P. Taylor who had written, 3 years earlier, “Politicians of all parties, seek to turn Great Britain into a purely European Country”?

How many people fully understood this? In January 1972, the answer, one must conclude, was very few.

By June 1975 the numbers had swollen: doubts, even fears were emerging. There was a call for Harold Wilsons’s Labour government to renegotiate the terms of British entry: these calls were as futile and fruitless as those which heralded David Cameron’s doomed quest for reform of the E.U. in 2016. Faced with this situation, the preferred answer, to assuage doubts and fears, was to call a referendum posing the bald question.

“Yes or No to continued membership of the E.E.C.” The popular arguments on both sides were marginally, only marginally, more succinct and better formulated than those of June 2016.

However, within Wilson’s Cabinet were a number of ambitious intellectual sophisticates, notably Roy Jenkins, and the core statement of Her Majesty’s government was one of clever dupery and deception. “The government has established that there is no agreement in the Community on what European unity means beyond a general aspiration to closer co-operation. The government’s view, which is shared by other member states, is that closer co-operation is desirable and must be pursued in a pragmatic way, but there is no support elsewhere in the Community for moves towards a centralized Federal State.”

Before the British referendum, the Belgian Prime Minister, Leo Tindemans had been asked to prepare a report on the possibility of European Union, and Willy Brandt, then Chancellor of Germany, clearly and consistently stated his desire for ultimate political union!

Nonetheless, there was no mention in the official British core statement of a European country or state with all the accompanying paraphernalia of bureaucracy. Emphasis, throughout the country was placed on the benefits of membership of a Common Market.

While this phrase may not have excited French idealists and ambitious continental Europhiles it did appeal to the British voters. From car boot sales to the Antiques Road Show, they do enjoy buying and selling, as Napoleon himself had disparagingly noted! But, they are far less enamoured of creating institutions and above all, of writing constitutions which perforce, reflect the political and intellectual climate of the time, and as seen so clearly in the U.S.A., require frequent amendments and High Court judgements.

As Theresa May so rightly pointed out in her recent speech on Jan. 17th 2017 “ the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty is the basis of our unwritten constitutional settlement”. She also noted that “ the public expect to be able to hold their governments to account very directly, and as a result, supranational institutions as strong as those created by the European Union sit very uneasily in relation to our political history and way of life”.

However, in the summer of 1975, with a resounding “Yes” to the Common Market, Britain was securely anchored to the emerging European state.

The state? SPQR – The Senate and the People of Rome – a new Roman Republic, a new American Republic? Whichever or whatever, as Jean Monnet himself had declared “nothing can exist without institutions”. And what is a state if not a collection of institutions? The task of creating a European state was one which thrilled disciples of Jean Monnet and the founding fathers. Naturally, they looked back to the ideas of the European Enlightenment, the great period which preceded and profoundly influenced both the French Revolution and the birth of the U.S.A.

Yes, there would be a European state, but would it be a truly federal state as often declared by the Europhiles, or rather, a centralized, unitary state whose nature might disturb if too openly and suddenly revealed? The word “federal” is applied to the systems of government in Germany, in Canada and in the U.S.A. But definitions of the word may vary, and abuse of it is not infrequent. Thomas Jefferson’s comments in 1810 are of great interest to those who seek to understand, and even define, the character of the nascent European state.

“ I have ever been opposed “ he wrote, “to the party so falsely called federalists, because I believe them desirous of introducing into our government, authorities ………. independent of the national will: these always consume the public contributions and oppress the people with labour and poverty. “A federal state is defined as one which marks a clear definition between central and state authority”.

Thomas Jefferson rightly feared a unitary centralized state. One of the great unanswered questions concerning the European Union is precisely this: Are the heirs of Jean Monnet seeking to entrench a unitary state? Perhaps.

Monnet himself has been accused of being “occult” or deliberately misleading in order to achieve his aims. No doubt, as both a sophisticated political scientist and an experienced negotiator, he was, but so too, were other great & successful diplomats, whose aim, like that of Jean Monnet, was the protection and nurture of their own countries: one may think back to the protracted & devious marriage negotiations which Elizabeth 1st conducted with her various suitors in order to gain time and wait for the others to declare their hands and with luck make mistakes.

I confess, I am a romantic historian, and like some others, I love to refer back to 1588, 1815 or even, on some dark days to the Witenagemot, the tragic death of Harold at Hastings and the coming of taxation with William Duke of Normany and the Domesday Book!

But, we romantic historians are in a minority among the Leavers of 2016. Less romantic Leavers, include those like Bill Cash, John Redwood and Bernard Jenkin who for years, have seen the threat to British Parliamentary Sovereignty posed by membership of the E.U.

These three are all Conservative MP’s, but there have been and still are Labour MP’s who share their fears. The most eloquent of these is without doubt, the member for Birmingham Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart. Born into a Catholic family in West Germany she had all the natural, one might almost say genetic characteristics of an ardent Europhile, but life in the Westminster Parliament & Chairmanship of a Committee looking into the relationship of Britain with the E.U. led her to consider that her adopted country should remain outside the burgeoning Eurostate.

Could she already and clearly discern the outlines of a unitary Eurostate whose features would be totally at odds with those of the U.K.? Yes, for Gisela Stuart’s strong links to two of the most important features of the Eurostate enabled her to do so. Firstly, and for many surprisingly, there is the influence of the Catholic Church. It was the former Taoisearch, Garret Fitzgerald, who opened my own eyes to this during a casual after dinner conversation in an Oxford College: in answer to my question posed more out of politeness than desire for information – “Why do you think the English are so reluctant to embrace Europe, while the Irish are happy with it?”

He replied immediately and emphatically – “450 years of divorce from Holy, Mother Church.” An interesting reply, and one which led to more investigation of the subject.

The blue flag and the 12 gold stars are one is reliably told, symbols of the Virgin Mary, and of love, harmony and peace. Yes, but the Catholic Church has also been synonymous for more than Garret Fitzgerald’s 450 years with obedience, authoritarianism and hierarchical societies. Both Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle were unswerving Catholics, when the first foundations of the quasi-mystical, overtly political Franco-German treaty was signed in 1963. Since then, its tenets have been adopted in schools, universities and most aspects of civil society in both countries. It is an article of faith.

At the end of what I had considered to be a successful year’s teaching of the political and economic significance of the E.U. my French students gave me a signed post card of the cathedral at Strasbourg and on it was written – “Thank you for an exhilarating year – but Europe is also this.” And this they believed without question.

The history of Britain, at its best has been one of flexibility, not uniformity; of questioning and reappraisal, of opposition to dogmatism.

Secondly, Gisela Stuart is a socialist and I am a life long Eurosceptic because naturally I am deeply worried by many aspects of Euro Socialism which feature of the move to political unity only became open and virtually unchallenged from 1985 with the arrival of Jacques Delors in Brussels. Previously he had been French finance minister from 1981-1984 under the premiership of Pierre Mauroy an old fashioned Socialist party activist who was appointed to this post by the newly elected President of the Republic François Mitterrand. Red Rose in hand, Mitterrand who liked to be compared to Leon Blum, pledged dramatically to bring in Socialism of the 1936 Popular Front variety. For 2 years, no efforts were spared to nationalize, to bring wages up and working hours down, with retirement up to 10 years earlier than anywhere else in Europe. Wealth was to be taxed and redistributed by the central power, the omnipresent state. To many outside the sphere of French Socialism, this experiment seemed to combine the egalitarian zeal of the Jacobins with the disregard for economic reality of the romantic socialists of the 1930’s.

Jaques Delors, a former banker, was passionately interested in labour law and rose thanks to union activity. A practising Catholic, he was revered by fellow left-wing Catholics who had helped to elect Mitterrand in 1981. Delors was a committed socialist planner and when Mitterrand’s Blum like experiment failed in France in 1983, Delors dispatched to Brussels, was delighted: far from any sense of failure, he whole-heartedly embraced the challenge of establishing socialism, under the guise of social democracy throughout Europe. There would be no re-appraisal of things past; in Europe “les acquis” however outdated and unfit for purpose were and still are, sacrosanct.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, where neither Heath nor Wilson had prevailed against “the robber barons of the system” – the trades unions who had virtually held the country hostage, Margaret Thatcher was creating the conditions in which the British people could create jobs and wealth and recover their self-esteem.

Despite the fact that a clash of opinions between Delors and Thatcher looked inevitable, this was not initially a period of Euroscepticism , but rather one of Euro optimism with British MEP’s representing their own constituencies, holding surgeries, maintaining close contact with the electorate. Such people as Henry Plumb MEP for the Cotswolds, and Diana Elles in the Thames Valley to mention two whom I met and admired personally, were having an impact on the debates within the European Parliament. Margaret Thatcher herself was to declare “ We British are as much heirs to the legacy of European culture as any other nation”.

But, when Jacques Delors addressed the T.U.C. Congress in Bournemouth, ostensibly inviting the members to join with their European brothers under European Law, the gloves were off. Was Europe really to encroach on national territory in this way and to this extent? The immediate result was Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech in Sept 1988 in which she notably declared, ”We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”. Definitions of the state clearly differed and the fear expressed by the British P.M. was exacerbated by the fact that as she said, “decisions will be taken by an appointed bureaucracy.” Where did this leave the era of the local British MEP in his cosy constituency office, talking to his electors about the impact of European projects on British agriculture or industry?

Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher also mentioned Europe’s Christian legacy “with its recognition of the unique and spiritual nature of the individual”. To many this might seem to be a definition of Protestant man and woman, with “ clear beliefs in personal liberty.” Would it be unfair to see in this part of her speech, a natural reference to the Reformation as opposed to the enforced uniformity and obedience of the Roman Catholic world?

Two visions of what was still at that time the European Community, not yet the Union: two visions which would lead to acrimony across Europe, splits within the British Conservative party and ultimately to Brexit. January 24th 2017 The British Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a Parliamentary vote on the triggering of article 50. Many “Leavers” are dismayed by this decision, but surely it should be seen as the restoration of sovereignty to the elected chamber, to the elected and accountable representatives of the people. The role of the over-mighty, unelected House of Lords will no doubt come in for some close scrutiny of its own!

As a Eurosceptic, I salute this decision. I trust that now we shall have the debate we should have had during the referendum campaign. I trust that we shall have talk of government by consent, that we shall talk of the need to have laws which are accepted because, debated and not arbitrarily imposed from above and beyond. I trust that now we shall pay more heed to those in poorer areas who, unfashionably, by voting “Leave” were seeking the comfort of a land in which social trust engenders, as it has done for centuries, a society of stability and serenity. Fear and incomprehension gave rise to too much emotion in the pre-referendum days. There is no need, no justification to hold a second referendum, falling into the Euro mode of voting and voting again until the answer suits the Euro citadel in Brussels.

To those who voted “Remain” perhaps thinking wistfully of the delights of Umbria, Courcheval or the Dordogne, may I say, that in very many ways I believe it is Great Britain which has shown itself to be the land of liberty, equality and fraternity, the land which, as with the agrarian and industrial revolutions, is in the vanguard. Time now to make the very best of the freedom & responsibility which Brexit has delivered.

Gillian Bardinet
Former Member, BCiP.

Conservative Group for Europe (CGE): Report on Brexit Meeting 22nd Nov. 2016

Dimanche, novembre 27th, 2016

With Brexit such a contentious issue, British Conservatives in Paris (BCiP) is publishing news of various kinds concerning Brexit negotiations and this report is from one of our members: Edward de Mesquita has given us permission to publish his text.

The Conservative Group for Europe (CGE): Meeting at Westminster on Tuesday evening, 22nd November 2016.
Report by Edward de Mesquita, BCiP member.

The meeting was chaired by Sir Nicolas Soames MP and the guest speaker was Alistair Burt MP, who gave us a short résumé on the current status of negotiations for Brexit.

We were informed that the EU Commissioners are resisting any UK discussions with individual countries and are putting pressure on member states not to negotiate with the UK individually but solely to handle the UK’s departure on a collective basis. (My impression was that this smacked of bullying by the Brussels Commissioners to take away the influence that any individual country may wish to exert.) We were informed that the Commission is very worried about the populism spreading around the world.

As regards our negotiations so far, the Commissioners are discouraging any such talks until Article 50 is triggered. It is becoming apparent that they wish to give the UK a very hard time in order to discourage other member states from doing likewise. However, there is a new fear that if the other member states see the UK being punished for wishing to leave the EU, then this will give the impression that the EU is an institution that, once you are in, it will be near impossible to leave. The latter argument has not really taken hold yet but it is growing.

Anna Soubry MP and former Business Minister, who was a committed ‘Remain’ campaigner before the Referendum, informed us that there is a constitutional hurdle looming whereby the devolved parliaments of Scotland and, Wales, etc. will have to pass their own respective legislation before Article 50 can be invoked. We were told that even if the Commons voted in favour of triggering Article 50, this decision is reversible. If the lawyers find the Scottish vote to be constitutionally obligatory, then when the Scottish Parliament votes against such legislation, which they clearly will, what happens next is anybody’s guess. There was also a representative from the House of Lords who informed us that the vast majority of Peers oppose Brexit.

I was in a room with around thirty people, many of whom had spoken in fringe meetings on Brexit and its consequences at the Conference, so I knew quite a few of them. The CGE are a small group but very determined. There were all sorts of small business people including a lady who ran a farm in Wales and who depended on short term foreign labour for her harvest. When I spoke, I gave a few examples of the difficulties faced by small businesses like mine who rely on the freedom to go ’shopping’ for imported European goods; I briefly cited other examples of small importers who rely on the freedoms of access to the single market. I pointed out that Jaguar-Range Rover and Nissan have attracted huge PR attention but there are literally millions of small businesses who would be devastated by import duties, delays in bonded warehouses and a mass of red tape, etc., who get no press attention whatever. These businesses represent a huge chunk of UK employers and our demise would mean the loss of millions of jobs and tax revenue.

The CGE needs funding to promote the argument that the UK desperately needs to maintain its access to the European free market to safeguard millions of small enterprises who rely on quick and easy importing and exporting to run their businesses.

Edward de Mesquita
BCiP member