In 2017 the United Kingdom will face its first serious constitutional dilemma since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. A bloodless coup removing the Stuarts and once and for all installing the constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy we enjoy today. Major constitutional changes are usually accompanied by bloodshed, England is no stranger to civil war, the long civil war of King Stephen and Queen Mathilda, the Wars of the Roses and the two civil wars of the seventeenth century.
Here in Yorkshire some of the battlelefields are well known, Towton and Marston Moor to name but two. Of course I assume 2017 will be bloodless, let’s hope so. My object here is not to make any definitive yes or no case, that will come later, but to suggest the battle lines and the potential pit falls for the unwary.
A few weeks ago my MP, the redoubtable David Davis and I enjoyed a spot of lunch in our local pub and we agreed (we often do) that this referendum debate was too important to be left just to party politics, only a broad and informed debate can do justice to this complex decision. As the first shots have already been fired I offer some ideas.
After ten years as an MEP in Brussels & Strasbourg and working very closely with those from mainland Europe, particularly the French, we need to understand the difference in perception of the European Union project. In England it has always been portrayed as an economic arrangement, it is extremely rare to hear any British politician talk about the constitutional implications. On the continent it is seen as a noble cause, the centralisation and unification of Europe for the common good.
I don’t agree, naturally, but I very much respect that view because it is honest and understandable.
In England the project has been introduced by stealth. I voted in favour of it in the seventies, I bought the free trade concept, as an Austrian School economist it seemed natural, I was taken in by Edward Heath’s assertions there would be no loss of national sovereignty, read Hansard of the time if you don’t believe me. Heath nearly 30 years later admitted on television he had lied because the electorate would never have supported the project had they known it’s true goal. Founding father of the project Jean Monnet took the same view, he knew the countries of Europe would not willingly give up their sovereignty either so stealth was built into the campaign. The EU plays the long game, treaty after treaty nibbling away at the sovereign state, Rome, Nice, Maastricht, Lisbon, it is the boiled frog approach, start with tepid water and bring very slowly to the boil, the poor frog doesn’t realise what’s happening until it’s far too late. Ask any Englishman my age if what he voted for in 1976 is what he has ended up with today.
The opposing forces will line up against each other, on the staying in side the artillery will be awesome, the campaign will be one of shock and awe, all main party leaders and their front and shadow benches, no contrary opinions will be tolerated, this has already been made clear. Big business grandees will join the cause, the EU is about big business and big politics, it is its whole raison d’etre, it has already started. The in campaign will depend totally on fear of disturbing the status quo. This monolith can depend wholeheartedly on public sector broadcasting, completely committed to the project, I remember last time at the BBC any dissenting voice was sacked.
The out team has yet to form any coherent strategy or leadership. UKIP whose heart is in the right place simply doesn’t have the firepower and party politics is such a turn off for most people it wouldn’t cut the mustard anyway. Only an informed electorate can fight the out case, this is a tall order indeed.
The constitutional argument I suspect will go by the board, I have senior legal friends who have no idea what role the EU plays in their lives, the implications of Corpus Juris over the principles of English law, or how law is now made or enforced. What chance then the man on the Clapham omnibus? Children are not taught in schools about the principles of English Law or the Bill of Rights, even the Prime Minister, Eton and Oxford is clueless on Magna Carta, the fight will be based on economic terror tactics. I offer some ammunition for the defence of the out campaign. Small and medium sized businesses make up 91% of the UK economy, not big business, so don’t let them scare you. Regulation vomits out of Brussels on a monthly basis it is strangling the country, the German government have formally estimated that over 70% of EU members’law now comes from the Commision, this is not disputed. Energy, environment, agriculture, fishing and many other major aspects of your lives are ruled by the Commision, the EU Parliament is but an amending chamber. Great Britain is a member of the G10, the UN Security Council and one of the world’s largest trading nations, over 30 countries have free trade agreements with the EU trade has nothing to do with belonging to a customs union. Remember we were told the world would end if we didn’t join the euro, the City would collapse and financial services would go to Frankfurt, all those big business leaders got their knighthoods and seats in the House of Lords, where are they now?
Finally beware the fake triumph of renegotiation, the Lisbon Treaty is set in concrete, there will be no deals, if that were not so where is the list of the prime minster’s demands?