All the most eloquent cases for Brexit set aside the bleating of Vote Leave and appeal to the people’s understanding of the democratic case for leaving the European Union
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s measured and eloquent justification for his decision to vote Leave on 23 June, published today in the Telegraph, is a must-read example of the noble democratic case for Brexit.
He rightly eschews all of the nonsense spewed out by the official Vote Leave campaign, recognising that this has nothing to do with saving pennies here or there, and that the real basis for any decision on how to vote must be whether one is happy with the current direction of the European Union, and whether one believes there is any realistic chance of altering that trajectory.
And Evans-Pritchard, like this blog, firmly believes that the direction is indeed one we cannot follow, and that there is no such chance of changing the EU’s course:
Stripped of distractions, it comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error.
For some of us – and we do not take our cue from the Leave campaign – it has nothing to do with payments into the EU budget. Whatever the sum, it is economically trivial, worth unfettered access to a giant market.
We are deciding whether to be guided by a Commission with quasi-executive powers that operates more like the priesthood of the 13th Century papacy than a modern civil service; and whether to submit to a European Court (ECJ) that claims sweeping supremacy, with no right of appeal.
It is whether you think the nation states of Europe are the only authentic fora of democracy, be it in this country, or Sweden, or the Netherlands, or France – where Nicholas Sarkozy has launched his presidential bid with an invocation of King Clovis and 1,500 years of Frankish unity.
The following critique of the EU’s effect on national democracy is particularly damning:
The Project bleeds the lifeblood of the national institutions, but fails to replace them with anything lovable or legitimate at a European level. It draws away charisma, and destroys it. This is how democracies die.
“They are slowly drained of what makes them democratic, by a gradual process of internal decay and mounting indifference, until one suddenly notices that they have become something different, like the republican constitutions of Athens or Rome or the Italian city-states of the Renaissance,” says Lord Sumption of our Supreme Court.
It is a quarter century since I co-wrote the leader for this newspaper on the Maastricht summit. We warned that Europe’s elites were embarking on a reckless experiment, piling Mount Pelion upon Mount Ossa with a vandal’s disregard for the cohesion of their ancient polities. We reluctantly supported John Major’s strategy of compromise, hoping that later events would “check the extremists and put the EC on a sane and realistic path.”
This did not happen, as Europe’s Donald Tusk confessed two weeks ago, rebuking the elites for seeking a “utopia without nation states” and over-reaching on every front. “Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that the citizens of Europe do not share our Euro-enthusiasm,” he said.
If there were more Tusks at the helm, one might still give the EU Project the benefit of the doubt. Hard experience – and five years at the coal face in Brussels – tells me others would seize triumphantly on a British decision to remain, deeming it submission from fear. They would pocket the vote. Besides, too much has happened that cannot be forgiven.
The EU crossed a fatal line when it smuggled through Lisbon Treaty, by executive cabal, after the text had already been rejected by French and Dutch voters in its earlier guise. It is one thing to advance the Project by stealth and the Monnet method, it is another to call a plebiscite and then to override the outcome.
The only vaguely objectionable part is when Evans-Pritchard fails to exhort others to follow his decision:
I urge nobody to follow my example. It ill behoves anyone over 50 to exhort an outcome too vehemently. Let the youth decide. It is they who must live with consequences.
On the contrary, people should be encouraged to follow the decision making process of somebody who actually recognises that the question before us is not a matter of penny-pinching, curtailing immigration, workers’ rights or any other particular outcome, but rather of determining whether the British people should make these decisions for ourselves or have them imposed upon us from a higher authority.
And “letting the youth decide” may sound magnanimous, but in fact it is only through the wisdom of age that we stand a chance of defending our liberties, as Pete North emphasises:
No. You see, the democracy we were born to was fought for and won with blood. It is not ours to give away. We are the custodians of it. And this is too important to be left to the youth, barely out of the state system, barely aware of what the EU is, how it functions or the devious tricks pulled on us to bring it about.
And when I think how dumb I was when I was twenty – and not much smarter five years later, I am inclined to trust in the wisdom of the elders. While they may not be the ones living with the consequences, we all have an obligation to ensure that which we pass on is something that will endure and sustain the peace.
Now look across the Channel and seriously ask yourselves if that political entity has the look of longevity about it. Look closely. Is that really the mess you want to hand to the next generation?
This point resonates strongly with me. As a teenager and into my first years at university I was an ardent euro-federalist, to the extent that the EU flag used to adorn the wall of my digs in Cambridge. I was not ignorant about how the EU worked, but I was ignorant about democracy – the arrogance of youth caused me to conveniently skip over the fact that the project I so admired was not the result of bottom-up desire among the European peoples for an overarching supranational government, but rather the manifestation of a very specific dream shared by a small number of European elites.
My attitude at the time: the EU is self-evidently wonderful, and too bad for those who disagree – they will come around when the project comes to full fruition and they are part of a powerful, prosperous United States of Europe. My attitude now, with fifteen more years of self-study, commercial awareness and general life experience, together with a greater respect and appreciation for democracy: quite the opposite.
The views of the young are important (at 33 I hesitate to include myself in their number), and in many cases their idealism is noble. But the fact that a seventy-year-old will not be around in thirty years to reap the benefits or negative consequences of this year’s EU referendum vote in no way means that their opinions should hold lesser weight. Wisdom, a greater sense of historical context and the desire to be a good steward to the best of our traditions and liberties are priceless attributes of older voters, and yes- sometimes parents and grandparents do know best, as those cheering eighteen-year-old europhiles will discover when they grow up and have families of their own.
Regardless – this minor point aside, this quietly eloquent case for Brexit from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is very good, and should encourage all thinking Brexiteers that they are right to focus on democracy and the supremacy of Parliament over and above all of the noise from the official Leave and Remain campaigns.
Now, if only Ambrose Evans-Pritchard could be persuaded to go on the stump with this argument…
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