This post is dedicated to my dear friend and Remain voter, Doctor A and his wonderful, feisty partner, J. Doctor A believes from his heart that the decision of the majority of British voters – that the UK should leave the European Union – was a dreadful mistake; one that we’ll live to regret. I respect Doctor A’s affection for the European Union, but I disagree with his point of view. On the other hand, Doctor A thinks my own views are ‘wrong-headed’. I don’t seek to change the minds of people who voted Remain and who are content to hold the view that the Brexit decision was a mistake. However, I do want to make the case to the ‘Don’t Knows’; those people who are uncertain about whether it’s a good thing or not for the UK to leave the EU. I thought it might be interesting for Doctor A and J to read my pitch to the ‘Don’t Knows’, if only to confirm that I’m ‘wrong-headed’ 😀
sovereign · adjective 1 possessing supreme or ultimate power 2 (of a nation or its affairs) acting or done independently and without outside interference.
The Debating Challenge
One of the greatest challenges and frustrations about the debate concerning the UK’s membership of the European Union has been this: each side of the debate has been arguing its respective case from entirely different premises. Put simply, the Remain side has based its arguments for the UK to remain in the EU on primarily economic and social issues; the Leave side has based its arguments for the UK to leave the EU on primarily political issues, especially the issues of democracy and sovereignty. Never the twain shall meet. Hence the enormous difficulties, verging on impossibility of achieving a compromise. Hence also the visceral nature of the debate both up to and since the EU Referendum. Each side has been screaming at the other in an alien language.
The Recipe Issue
Another challenge has been what I call ‘the recipe issue’. Remain lost the EU Referendum. However, the Remain side has sought to argue that honouring the Referendum result means that the UK should not Leave the EU but should be sort of 4% out of the EU – the difference between 52% Leave and 48% Remain. According to the losing side, leaving the EU should be a recipe comprising the UK being in the EU, but a little bit out of the EU. The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) was designed to reflect exactly this recipe approach; the WA was drafted in Brussels and its purpose was to make it easy for the UK – having nominally ‘left’ the EU – to slip back into the EU with ease once it became clear that the UK could not possibly survive outside of the EU. Incidentally, 167 countries around the world – that’s 85% of the planet’s nations – are outside of the EU and seem to get along well enough without the need to be tied to the political institutions of the European Union, but that’s another discussion.
What We Believe But Cannot Prove
There’s another element of the debate which I’ve found frustrating and it reminds me of the book, ‘What We Believe But Cannot Prove’ which I read some years ago. It’s a compilation of essays written by scientists and philosophers to whom the question was posed, ‘What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?’ I’m biased, of course, in favour of the Leave side of the argument. However, I get somewhat frustrated when people who would prefer the UK to Remain in the EU state unfounded beliefs about the nature and workings of the European Union. I find myself wondering if my interlocutor has actually researched the history, culture, structure and operating procedures of the EU (as I have, saddo that I am)?
For example, the ideas that the EU is essentially a benign institution – a sort of warm and fuzzy group hug; that the EU is a force for peace and prosperity without which European civilisation would collapse; that the EU has no aspirations to become a European superstate or an empire; that the EU has no intention of forming its own armed forces and so on. Often, I hear people make these types of assertions about the EU either without any evidence to support them, or in the face of evidence to the contrary. Membership of the EU becomes more of a heart-felt belief than a rational cost-benefit analysis. Indeed, I posit that for many (but not all), the thrust of the Remain argument is essentially of a religious nature; it doesn’t really matter that the hard benefits of EU membership past, present and future can’t necessarily be proven (see some relevant facts below); what really matters is that the European Union must surely be ‘a good thing’. After all, all of the promotional literature published by the European Union states clearly that the European Union is a good thing. What is there not to like about it?
The term ‘democracy’ first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. The word comes from ‘demos’ meaning ‘common people’ and ‘kratos’ meaning ‘strength’.
The Leave Side of the Argument
To be fair, what about the Leave side of the argument? The belief – can it be proved? – that democracy and national sovereignty trump EU membership. What are the facts to suggest that living in a free, democratic, sovereign nation state is better for its citizens than living in a federation? The EU is a federation without a demos; in other words, the EU was formed and is imposed on the 500 million people of Europe from the top down; it didn’t emerge democratically from the bottom up. Furthermore, you and I can’t vote for the de facto government of the EU, the European Commission, because the EU’s government is, well, unelected. The last great federation on Earth – another federation without a demos and with an unelected government, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – lasted for just 69 years.
The Rise of Populism
History suggests that the European Union is unsustainable. Indeed, so-called ‘populism’ is on the rise across the European continent; that’s a fact. Populism is used as a pejorative term for democracy. What’s happening in the European Union is that citizens of erstwhile sovereign nation states are coming to realise that being governed by an unelected, unaccountable oligarchy in some far-flung corner of the Union (Brussels) perhaps isn’t as great as the EU propaganda would have us believe. Together, history and the facts today suggest that the European Union as we know it could well be gone within a generation, and possibly within as little as a decade or so. Some argue that the EU’s longevity is shorter than that. That said, if you believe in the EU of course, you’ll conclude that the institution will be with us until kingdom come, and that the UK will be a worse place for not being a member of it.
The Case for National Sovereignty
What’s the evidence to suggest that living in a free, sovereign, nation-state democracy beats living in a federation without a demos under an unelected government? I’m tempted to say, well, it’s self-evident, isn’t it? Now we’re back to my opening remarks about the grounds on which one is arguing for or against EU membership. In my experience, if you voted Remain, issues of EU governance, politics and national sovereignty weren’t high on your list of decision-making priorities; as a Remainer you were and are concerned with the perceived adverse economic and social consequences of having the UK leave the EU.
For me the evidence for the benefits of nationhood, democracy and sovereignty is incontrovertible. The mere fact that the majority (85%) of the nations on Earth are not clamouring to form federations like the European Union is relevant. Being able directly to vote into and out of power those who govern us and who make our laws is a precious thing; so precious that almost 2 million British people died in World Wars I and II so that you and I could indeed determine who governs us here in the United Kingdom. It galls me that unelected, unaccountable EU President Jean-Claude Juncker tells me that, ‘There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties’. For me it is strange and difficult to understand why anyone would want to be governed by men like Jean-Claude Juncker. The same man, of course, who said, ‘When it becomes serious, you have to lie’. The issue for me is not that Mr Juncker holds these views; it’s that he has absolute power over me, because he and anyone like him who holds his office is unelected and, therefore, by definition unaccountable.
Finally, it’s vital to understand the distinction between the nation-state and nationalism; there’s a tendency for critics of the Leave side of the EU/UK debate, deliberately or otherwise, to conflate the two. There’s a separate essay in here, so we won’t go there right now. I’m happy to quote the almost rabidly-Remain leaning philosopher, Professor A C Grayling who in his book, ‘The Meaning of Things’ opens a chapter on Nationalism with the words, ‘Nationalism is an evil. It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism, it is a recent phenomenon – an invention of the last few centuries – which has been of immense service to demagogues and tyrants but to no one else’.
Richard Adlington, the novelist and poet wrote, ‘Patriotism is a lively sense of collective responsibility. Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on its dunghill’. I’m not in favour of nationalism, but I am in favour of patriotism and the nation-state. There are really only two basic forms of political order: independent nation states and imperialism. Powerful people within the European Union, through what they write and what they say, make no secret of their intentions to create a European empire.
empire · noun 1 an extensive group of states ruled over by a single monarch or ruling authority 2 supreme political power
The Italian Machiavelli is generally credited with first use of the word ‘state’ in 1513 to mean a territorial, sovereign government. In 1690 the English philosopher John Locke argued that the state’s legitimacy was rooted in popular consent, and in 1762 the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed that the state owed its authority to the general will of the governed. So, the existence of the nation-state is justified so long as it enjoys the consent of its citizens, who may withdraw that consent if the state fails to fulfil its obligations. It’s a moot point whether as an artificially constructed superstate the European Union would ever enjoy the consent of its 500 million citizens, 98% of whom today don’t relate to it as such. The rise of ‘populism’ (democracy) across the EU today is an indicator that perhaps the nascent United States of Europe lacks popular consent and, therefore, lacks legitimacy.
Democratic states typically base their legitimacy on the concept of popular sovereignty. According to this view, sovereignty belongs ultimately to the people – the citizens – who voluntarily make over some of their power to the state. The EU Referendum was a powerful example of the people of the United Kingdom asserting their sovereignty over the state.
So, to conclude, I understand how frustrating it must be if you believe in the European Union but have lost the argument for the UK’s membership of that Union. I would feel the same way if our positions were reversed. Doctor A tells me that my views above are ‘wrong-headed’. In reply I would perhaps refer Doctor A to the words of pro-EU journalist Robert Peston. Mr Peston is on record as observing that Brexit voters were ‘on the right side of history. I basically take my hat off to [Brexit voters] because they have thrown all the cards up in the air, they don’t know yet how they’re going to land – but it was the right thing to do’. Well, for me certainly, voting for democracy and the recovery of the UK’s sovereignty was indeed the right thing to do, as ‘wrong-headed’ as it seems to at least one of my best friends.
If your mind is made up about the benefits of the UK leaving the EU, or you are implacably in favour of the institution that is the European Union, please skip to the Comments section below. However, if you’re in the ‘Don’t Know’ brigade, please have a look at this selection of facts about the European Union.
THE EUROPEAN UNION | SOME FACTS
Demos. The EU’s own polls show that just 2% of EU citizens describe themselves as ‘only European’ – consistent with the EU lacking any sort of identifiable demos. The overwhelming majority (98%) of the EU’s 500 million citizens identify primarily with their own nation-states.
Getting Rich Quick. Becoming an MEP means that, owing to the EU’s attendance and expenses’ policies, you can become a euro-millionaire within the space of 5 years or less; get re-elected and, obviously, you quickly become a multi-millionaire. I invite you to investigate the remuneration policies of MEPs and EU bureaucrats; I guarantee that your jaw will drop. Lord Kinnock is a multi-millionaire due in large part to his years working in the European Union and the pension benefits he accrued as a result.
Fraud. The European Commission admits that the levels of fraud in the EU are probably around 5% of EU funding – that’s about €7 billion per year. Independent studies suggest that EU fraud is likely to be nearer 10% – 20%, ie around €13 billion to €26 billion per year. In the period 1994 to 2015 the EU’s Court of Auditors declared year-on-year that the EU’s ‘payments are not free from material errors’. Some argue that this means the EU’s financial probity is questionable. There are no external EU auditors. For comparison, the UK National Audit Office says fraud across UK government is equivalent to 0.02% of total expenditure ranging from £27.5 million to £72.9 million per year, depending on the source, from a total annual expenditure of £306 billion. Personally, I like the story of the EU project where a team tasked with repaving a one kilometre footpath in Italy ended up buying a €4,000 mountain bike, a €3,500 panoramic spyglass and donating €10,000 to a local church from their budget.
Law-making 1. Since its inception the EU has made some 125,000 or so decisions, laws and regulations – about 10 laws or para-laws per day for the last 50 years. In the last 20 years alone, the number of EU officials has almost trebled – from 20,000 to over 55,000, most (33,000) of whom work for the de facto EU government, the European Commission. Now, the EU generates about 12 new laws every working day. Every time an EU law is passed it becomes part of the acquis communautaire (a body of laws with which all member states must comply) and which is all but impossible to change; the acquis communautaire is generally deemed to be irreversible.
Law-making 2. The majority of EU laws emanate from 247 advisory committees and over 1,000 EU-sponsored expert groups. These committees and groups are targeted by 15,000 or so lobbyists who crawl all over the EU like a rash and seek to have laws made by what’s known in Brussels as the ‘Trojan Horse’. ‘Trojan Horse’ lobbying involves getting your own people on to the relevant committees and expert groups so that they can work from the inside, ensuring the legislative proposals suit your particular interests.
European Court of Justice. Of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Erstwhile German President Roman Herzog observed in 2008 that the ECJ, ‘blithely ignores national law, pulls judgements out of a hat, acts as legislator, systematically ignores fundamental principles of the Western interpretation of law [and] invents legal principles serving as grounds for later judgements’. He accused the ECJ of ‘arrogance’ and of giving ‘increasingly astonishing justifications for depriving member states of their very own fundamental competences and interfering heavily in their legal systems’. Herzog went on to argue that the ECJ was not fit for purpose because it made judgements based not on EU or national legal merit or precedent, but on the political principle of ‘ever-closer union’. Bear in mind that EU law has supremacy over member nation states’ laws, the ECJ is the supreme court and there is no right of appeal against ECJ judgements.
Six Steps to Heaven. There are 6 treaties which have been designed to build one on the other towards the creation of a European superstate: the Treaty of Rome 1957; the Single European Act 1986; the Maastricht Treaty 1991/92; the Treaty of Amsterdam 1997; the Treaty of Nice 2001 and the Treaty of Lisbon (the ‘Constitutional Treaty’) 2004. The Treaty of Rome declares that the signatory states are, ‘determined to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe’ (but see the Demos paragraph above). Erstwhile German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said, ‘[the Lisbon Treaty] will lead to the creation of what the founding fathers of modern Europe dreamed of after the war, the United States of Europe’. Erstwhile German President Roman Herzog said, ‘The day of the nation state is over’. Erstwhile President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors said, ‘We’re not just here to make a single market, but a political union’.
Economics. During 2019, the Italian government must roll over €400 billion of debt, equivalent to 25% of GDP. The IMF now warns Italy risks a crisis that could ‘push global markets into uncharted territory’. Average per capita incomes among southern eurozone members are now just 75% of their northern counterparts, down from almost 90% in the early 2000s – reflecting how the euro currency has boosted competitive nations, while hammering the southern states in particular. Youth unemployment in Spain: over 30%. Youth unemployment in Italy: over 30%. Youth unemployment in Greece: over 40%. The economist Liam Halligan notes that, ‘the eurozone is an unsustainable construct – just one bad election, one geopolitical event, one sovereign downgrade, one eurozone bond crisis away from a “hell” of its own’. Another economist, Andrea Hossó notes that, ‘the next crisis will find the eurozone with deep structural problems, record indebtedness, banks still burdened with legacy bad loans, the ECB short of tools to mitigate the effect, and a political viper’s nest of clashing interests and rebelling [interior regions of the EU]’. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (the UK), we’re experiencing record high levels of employment; youth unemployment is 11% and overall unemployment is 4%; inflation is exceptionally low; GDP growth in 2019 will exceed 2018 growth; government borrowing is down to the lowest in 17 years; retail sales have just hit a 4-month high – I could go on. So much for economic Armageddon if ever the British people had been stupid enough to vote for Brexit. Oh, hang on a minute …
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