REFERENDUM DAY: The Last Word

The last word

I wanted to write one last great exhortation encouraging people to vote Leave today – a grand summary bringing together all of the compelling reason to reject the miserabilist, pessimistic, soul-sickeningly unambitious case put forward by the Remain campaign and embrace instead the possibility of real democratic renewal which can only come about with a Leave vote.

But someone has already made the closing argument much better than I ever could. And they did so before I was even born, in 1975 at the time of our last referendum on whether to remain part of the European Economic Community.

If you read this blog, you already know my thoughts on the EU referendum. And if you follow the work of The Leave Alliance you know the type of Brexiteer that I am.I will not restate all of these arguments now. I will leave you instead with the words of the late Peter Shore MP, a man whose politics could hardly be more different to my own, but whose understanding of and commitment to British democracy is second to none.

Speaking at a 1975 EU referendum debate at the Oxford Union, Peter Shore MP concluded his remarks with this devastating critique of Britain’s accession negotiation – all of which can be applied to David Cameron’s failed renegotiation – followed by a stirring rejection of the EU’s antidemocratic, supranational form of government in general:

I say to you this is not a treaty which in any way is a fair and equal treaty. It was not negotiated, it was accepted. Not one word, not a comma, let alone a clause, let alone a paragraph of the Rome Treaty – not one comma has been altered in order to meet the perfectly legitimate and serious differences that exist between Britain and the Common Market.

And now the experience itself – three and a half years ago, when they were urging us to go in. Oh, what a campaign it was. “You’ve got to get in to get on” was the slogan of that day. Five or six pounds a week better off for Britain, if we could only get in to the common market. All the goodies were read out – Donald Stokes of Leyland buying one-page advertisements saying all we need is a great domestic market of 250 million, and we will sweep Europe!

[..] When you add to that the burdens I mentioned a moment ago, and we are under great threat, we are in peril at the present time, and the country must know it.

Therefore now what do they say? What is the message that comes now? No longer to tell the British people about the goodies that lie there. No longer that – that won’t wash, will it? Because the evidence will no longer support it. So the message, the message that comes up is fear, fear, fear.

Fear because you won’t have any food. Fear of unemployment. Fear that we’ve somehow been so reduced as a country that we can no longer, as it were, totter about in the world independent as a nation. And a constant attrition of our morale, a constant attempt to tell us that what we have – and what we have is not only our own achievement but what generations of Englishmen have helped us to achieve – is not worth a damn, the kind of laughter that greeted the early references that I made that what was involved was the transfer of the whole of our democratic system to others. Not a damn.

Well I tell you what we now have to face in Britain, what the whole argument is about now that the fraud and the promise has been exposed. What it’s about is basically the morale and the self-confidence of our people. We can shape our future. We are 55 million people. If you look around the world today – I listened to Gough Whitlam and his 14 million Australians, and he trades heavily with Japan, I’m very fond of the Australians – but do you think he’s going to enter into a relationship with Japan where he gives Japan the right to make the laws in Australia? Do you think Canada, 22 million of them, and to the south a great and friendly nation, yes they are, but do you think Canada is going to allow its laws to be written by the 200 million people in some union in America? No, no, of course not. The whole thing is an absurdity.

And therefore I urge you, I urge you to reject it, I urge you to say no to this motion, and I urge the whole British country to say no on Thursday in the referendum.

All of this beautiful prose – a relic from a bygone age when political speeches didn’t make one want to jump out of the window to escape the boredom – was delivered while a stony-faced Edward Heath looked on, chastened.

God willing, today we will have the opportunity to chasten our current prime minister David Cameron – a man who has conducted himself in many ways like a lame Ted Heath tribute act – by ignoring his pro-EU campaign of lies, distortions and intimidation.

I can say no better than Peter Shore. But please – if you have not already done so, go to your polling station and vote for democracy, vote for Britain, vote to leave the European Union.

 

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Britain Should Not Have To Sacrifice Our Democracy In The Name Of Franco-German Reconciliation

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No, the EU did not “keep the peace” in Europe. And Britain should not be expected to sacrifice our own democracy in the name of Franco-German reconciliation

Continuing the apocalyptic hysteria now emanating from the intellectually bankrupt pro-EU Remainers, Jonathan Freedland has a particularly offensive piece in the Guardian, comparing Brexit to the election of Donald Trump as potential calamities on a similar scale before declaring that he would sooner see a President Trump than a newly independent Britain.

Freedland phrases his question:

What if the devil came to visit you in the dead of night? What if, dressed in a fine suit, his tail and pitchfork artfully concealed, Lucifer himself offered you a deal? Knowing the anxiety that was keeping you – a good, progressive type – up at night, he promised that he would grant you one, but only one, of your two deepest current wishes: you could either be sure that Donald Trump would lose the US presidential election or you could be guaranteed that Britain would vote to stay in the European Union. You could have one or the other, but not both. Which would you choose?

Because, of course, Guardian readers are saintly and virtuous while anybody with conservative instincts is intrinsically disordered in some way.

Freedland goes on to explain why he chooses President Trump over Brexit:

But the future viability of the UK is not the reason I’d be tempted to use up my one devilish wish to prevent Brexit. Nor is it the near-certain economic gloom that will befall this country, an outcome so obvious when you take a step back and consider any country voluntarily giving up its right to trade on advantageous terms with a market of 500 million customers.

No, the spectre that would haunt me as Satan drummed his fingers, waiting for my decision, would be much more elemental. It is the fear that the European Union, already battered by the eurozone crisis, simply could not withstand the departure of one of its “big three” members. We would not be tugging at a mere thread but yanking out a guy rope: the EU would collapse – maybe not straightaway, but eventually.

[..] Why should that bother us? We’d be well out of it by then. But remember the history of this continent. The story of Europe is the story of near-constant war and bloodshed. The 100 years war, the 30 years war, the Spanish wars, the Franco-Prussian wars, the two world wars of the last century: this is what the nations of Europe do to one another – unless they are held together in an arrangement that obliges them to settle their differences around a Brussels conference table, where the most mortal danger is tedium and late-night halitosis.

This is what the European project is about. Not just goods and services and trade and jobs, important as all those things are, and crazy as we would be to jeopardise them. But about life and limb. And make no mistake: if the EU’s 27 member states become Europe’s 27 warring nations, we will not be safely detached, serenely distant across the Channel. We will be drawn in, as we always have been.

In other words, Jonathan Freedland seriously believes – or at least is willingly to publicly say – that peace in Europe has nothing to do with economic growth, nothing to do with the atomic age and Mutual Assured Destruction, nothing to do with NATO or the Marshall Plan and nothing to do with the fact that economically advanced, liberal democracies just don’t tend to declare war on one another. No, in Freedland World, the only thing preventing Europe from instantly reverting back to 1914 is the grand projet by which our troublesome nation states are slowly being dissolved once and for all.

Freedland concludes:

It takes an extraordinary confidence to look at the last millennium of European history and gamble that the 70 years of peace that have held since 1945 – an exceptional, aberrational interlude – have had nothing to do with the existence of the European project. Do we really think it’s a coincidence that no two EU member states have ever fought each other? Do we want to roll the dice to find out? Do we feel that lucky?

What piffle. Don’t seek the restoration of nation state democracy and the repatriation of powers gradually frittered away to a largely unaccountable supranational government of Europe, because to do so might unleash a time warp taking us all back to 1914. Is this really what the pro-EU die-hards are now reduced to?

Pete North is having none of it:

Oh really? You don’t think that the peace came from the desire of the peoples to create the peace? Instead it had to be enforced by a sovereignty-confiscating artificial entity? Or could it be that the second world war era was not really concluded until the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Up to that point the peace was held in place by fear of mutually assured destruction. Nobody wanted to break the uneasy stalemate because of the lethal consequences it would unleash. I think it safe to say the EEC had precisely zero influence in maintaining or building the peace.

He says “let Britain remain, to prevent the 21st century being as drenched in blood and sorrow” but this really rather ignores the reality that peaceful democracies as a rule do not go to war with each other, and it is unlikely we will be fighting over those resources which the EU pooled. I don’t see a war over coal and steel, do you?

Moreover, if the peoples of Europe are prevented from influencing the laws they must live by without the possibility of reform or repeal, what do you suppose is going to happen? Are you saying that a strong supranational authority will maintain the peace by enforcing it? How is it going to do that exactly? And what sort of peace is that when it is an authority stifling a democratic correction? Tyranny that’s what it is. Peace at the barrel of a gun.

Everywhere we look in Europe we see stresses and strains with ever more resentment as the EU is caught up in its own institutional paralysis, failing to adequately respond to the many emergencies it has a hand in creating. This leads to increasingly unilateral action and the rise of the far right everywhere. That doesn’t end well in Europe does it? And there are of course two other supranational projects in Europe in the last century. Yugoslavia and the USSR. Remind me how well that worked out.

I agree wholeheartedly.

Jonathan Freedland seems to be suggesting that regardless of the economic question, Britain should willingly sacrifice her own democracy and right to self-determination in order to help preserve an apparently fractious peace in Europe. He is arguing that the inability of the British people to exercise meaningful control over those who lead us is a small price worth paying in this effort. He is, effectively, saying that democracy has little value.

In Freedland World, Britain should sacrifice her democracy happily and willingly to reduce even by a minuscule fraction the future possibility of France and Germany going at each other again. It’s self evident, apparently.

I’m sorry, but no. Any petty grudges or historic rivalries remaining in Europe are not a sufficiently good reason for me to throw away my right to live in a democracy. I’m glad that Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel shared that special moment together at the Verdun centenary memorial where they held hands, gazed into each other’s eyes and “forgave” each other for past national sins. Good for them. Still doesn’t trump our right to help elect the people who make the key domestic, trade and foreign policy decisions impacting our lives, and to kick them out of office if we disapprove of the job they are doing.

Every day that passes reveals in a new light the sheer disdain in which the pro-EU British Left hold the very idea of democracy. If they are not warning us portentously that returning power to Westminster might result in an elected British government doing things that it was elected to do (pass the smelling salts!) they are now suggesting that democracy is a mere trifle, something with which we should be happy to part in order to prevent other third parties from behaving in a self-destructive way.

I’m not having it. And the turning opinion polls suggest that the British people as a whole aren’t having it either – that in actual fact we like the idea of democracy, value it rather more highly than our “moral superiors” in the Guardian and resent the establishment’s coordinated attempt at scaring us into dropping our demands for self-determination.

And at some point after the EU referendum, whichever way it goes, the Jonathan Freedlands of this world (and the pro-EU British Left in general) will need to explain, account and hopefully atone for coming down so unapologetically on the wrong side of democracy.

 

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The Feeble Christian Case For Remaining In The European Union

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Nobody has yet made a convincing Christian case for the EU. That should tell us something.

If nothing else, the Church of England’s Reimagining Europe blog has served to highlight – with a few very worthy exceptions – the exceedingly low quality of Christian thinking when it comes to the EU referendum question, and Britain’s place in the world more broadly.

The latest dismal example is a case in point, in which Andrew Gready (chaplain to the Anglican Church in the Hague) bemoans the fact that nobody is making a more positive case for staying in the EU:

Although there are certainly problems with the European Union (no one is seeking to gloss over these), the Dutch are at least able to see some of the positive benefits that belonging to a bigger whole has brought. It seems that they hoped that the debate in the UK would be more positive, more constructive than it has been. A number of people have said ‘Surely they can talk about the benefits of belonging, rather than just saying we are not sure what is going to happen, so let’s stay where we are!’

I think there is a real hope that the vote to Remain will actually be a positive statement of intent, rather than a negative one of fear and uncertainty. We will have to wait and see!

Newsflash, Gready – Britain is and will always remain part of a “bigger whole” whether we remain in the European Union or not. The European Union is a political construct, and a very recent and unproven one at that. It is not interchangeable with the continent of Europe, and it has no democratic legitimacy when it arrogantly claims to speak and act on behalf of the many diverse European peoples. There is a positive case for Brexit based on leaving euro-parochialism behind and engaging more fully in the world, and pro-EU Christians participating in the debate should at least acknowledge this fact rather than arguing against the two-dimensional cartoon Ukipper they hold in their minds.

But this is the very low standard of debate we have sadly come to see from those who claim to represent the Christian perspective. At its core, their argument amounts to little more than “the EU is about friendship and peace and cooperation, and Jesus was in favour of all those things, so what’s not to like?”

Or as the founder of Christians for the EU, the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, puts it:

“I think life is meant to be lived together in partnerships and collaboration. To walk away from an institution that was set up to pursue those ideals is a big mistake.

“Link that with the Genesis principle that it is not good for a man or a woman to be alone. The EU is very much not perfect, but the essential ideal and aim is still valuable. The world needs nation states to be grouped together in alliances that will be good for the human race.”

Because partnership and collaboration is only possible through political union, of course. The sheer superficiality of this thinking is mind-boggling.

Seriously – boil down most of the pro EU articles over at Reimagining Europe and they amount to little more than that. You’ll hear endless variations on the theme that because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, somehow it naturally follows that we should be united under the same supranational political umbrella – though curiously the Church of England never wastes its time clamouring for Asian countries to merge together, or for Canada, Mexico and the United States to institute a shared parliament.

Ben Ryan of Theos does a good job of summarising the many-layered complexity of Europe:

Yes, Europe is a Christian continent. But it’s not only a Christian continent, and that’s important to note. It’s a Christian continent, but it is also a ‘Greek’ continent, it is also a democratic continent; which is to say that the space that we call ‘Europe’ is not really a geographical thing. There is no border of Europe, geographically speaking. There are islands off the coast, there is no clear Eastern border.

Instead, what defines the border of the space that we call Europe is a cultural and intellectual thing. It is a space which is defined by what has come before; it is defined by Christianity, and by Greek philosophy, and by a number of other cultural and intellectual movements. So, it’s a mistake to think we are actually a real continent. There is no such thing as a ‘geographical Europe’, it can only really be seen as an intellectual space.

Sadly, many within the Church deliberately ignore these awkward facts, and have convinced themselves that pressing ahead with a uniquely 20th century vision of uniting the diverse under a single supranational government is a wise and moral thing to do – democracy be damned. And they do damn democracy through their actions, because what little organic desire and impetus for European political union there is always comes from the political elites, and not the ordinary people.

As a Catholic eurosceptic, it is frustrating to witness so many fellow Christians accepting the pro-EU, pro-Remain position almost by default, without actually engaging their brains or making considered reference to their faith. I’m no theologian myself, but I’ve read my Bible and I know that the New Testament offers little by way of clear instruction or even guidance as to how any entities larger than individuals and faith groups should organise or govern themselves, while much of the Old Testament reads as a “how not to do statecraft” manual.

If we restrict ourselves then to the teachings of Jesus, from where do Christian EU apologists draw their inspiration? The EU is not a democratic entity, nor is it likely to become one any time soon. What is so Christian about defending an organisation which insulates a continent’s leaders from the practical and political consequences of their rule? What is so Christian about sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and loudly repeating the mantra “the EU is about peace and cooperation, the EU is about peace and cooperation”, while ignoring the known history of European political union and disregarding the fact that fruitful inter-governmental cooperation could take place just as well outside the EU’s supra-national structure?

Canon Giles Fraser, founder of Christians for Britain, gets it:

“If the Tower of Babel teaches us anything, it is, when man tries to control too much and usurp the power of God then God disperses them,” he said. “Government that is centralised tends towards corruption: that is the history of human nature.

“The biblical pattern is not always for agglomeration of power. God also divides in order that powers would be controlled.”

As I say, I’m no theologian. But I’ve been on the lookout for a more substantial Christian case for the European Union which is not based on wilful ignorance or wishful thinking about the EU’s true nature, and so far I have come up short. Meanwhile, Brexit offers at least the chance of democratic renewal in Britain, potentially giving people (including the faithful) greater control over their lives and communities.

Regrettably, I have come to the conclusion that much of the Christian case for Remain rests either on a lazy “agree with the Left by default” mindset, or the desire to virtue-signal generally “progressive” values across the board. I will be happy to be proven wrong, and to be presented with a serious Christian case for the EU based on the argument that staying part of a supranational political union unreplicated in any other part of the world is 1) what Jesus would do, or 2) what is best for Christians in Europe. But I’m not holding out much hope.

And if that’s what this is really about – cheering on the EU because it signals that one holds the “correct” progressive opinions in other areas – then they picked a really lousy time to do it. Our politics is suffering a crisis of legitimacy, and yet many in the Church have taken the decision to cheer on the one entity which best represents the interests of a narrow European elite overriding the interests of ordinary people.

For the Church as a whole, the consequences of coming down on the wrong side of this issue – or at least failing to come down convincingly on the right side – could be profound. One way or another, now or twenty years down the line, Brexit is coming. And when it does, many leading authority figures within the church will have placed themselves firmly on the side of governing elites rather than the people who fill their emptying pews.

This should be provoking a great degree introspection and self-reflection from Britain’s most high profile Christian leaders. So far, one gets the distinct impression that it is not.

 

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Deal Or No Deal?

Deal.

So, to summarise our prime minister’s magisterial achievement at the European Council summit in Brussels:

  • We won’t become part of something (a European superstate) which can only come about through a new treaty which Britain already has the right not to ratify, making this renegotiation “win” utterly superfluous
  • We have supposedly won a unique exemption from “ever closer union”, though curiously the treaty which firmly commits us to this goal will go unamended
  • We won’t join the euro – an obvious extension of the status quo which any British prime minister could have achieved simply by staying home in Downing Street and binge-watching Netflix
  • Same for Schengen and “open borders”
  • There will be new restrictions on migrant benefits, now apparently a burning issue yet something which wasn’t even on most people’s list of EU grievances until David Cameron suddenly started talking about it just prior to his European shuttle diplomacy

Peace for our time.

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