Much as I would like to continue with the book review of The Great Deception and try to help our understanding of the EU, events have overtaken me and so this week we will delay part 12 and instead turn to the momentous events in Parliament over the past couple of days. The British government has just had the largest defeat in history and yet the Prime Minister refused to resign and has won a vote of confidence. How can this be? In normal times this would not happen – but these are not normal times. Some of my American friends have asked for an explanation so here is my short guide to why we are where we are. If you would like a longer version then read this Brexit for Dummies (and Hope for Visionaries)
The UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973 without a referendum and public vote. In 1975 a referendum was held to determine whether the UK would leave. Remain won by a substantial majority. Forward to 2016 and another referendum was held. Why? Because the EEC had become deeply unpopular. Through a series of treaties it had changed from an economic trading block – the European Economic Community – into a political entity – the European Union. To be fair to the EU this had always been the intention and was clearly stated. The only problem was that the British people had been lied to by its politicians. We were never asked about any of the changes and frustration increased at the anti-democratic nature of the EU and its ability to impose laws upon us, which we did not decide nor vote for.
Thatcherism in Europe
There were enormous advantages in being in the EU – not least because of the Single Market, which Margaret Thatcher called Thatcherism in Europe (I wonder how many of the socialists, liberals and nationalists who argue so vehemently for the SM know that they are passionately defending ‘Thatcherism in Europe”). But there were also great disadvantages. The free movement of ‘labour, capital, goods and services’ was of great benefit to the wealthy and the corporations – less so to the poor – many of whom saw their living standards reduced.
The EU is a technocracy rather than a democracy. It is not, as is often mistakenly assumed, a collective of sovereign national states who co-operate together, but rather a supranational body which requires states to give up much of their sovereignty. National parliaments do not get to vote on EU laws. The EU parliament is the only elected parliament in the world which does not get it propose its own laws. These are proposed by the EU Commission (an unelected body of national commissioners who swear an oath to be loyal to the Commission not their own elected parliaments). The Parliament and the Council of Ministers have a right of veto and amendment. The trouble is that the Commission are not accountable to any electorate and cannot be removed by the electorate. This is the great democratic deficit of the EU. As Tony Benn argued – if you cannot remove the people who make your laws, you do not live in a democracy.
The tension created within the UK was felt particularly within the Conservative party. In the 1970’s the tension was within the Labour party – the majority of whom were opposed to the EEC – seeing it as an anti-democratic corporate entity (a position that has been Corbyn’s all his political life – many suspect he has not changed). But the genius of the EU is that it governs the nations it rules, not directly but through the institutions and systems of those nations. So you will find that politicians, media, academic institutions (why do you think that over 90% of the UK’s highly paid University principals were so strongly pro_EU?), the arts and even major charities are funded by the EU. He who pays the piper calls the tune. The Labour party changed its view towards the EU because of two factors – firstly the rise of what are termed the ‘Islington or champagne’ socialists – whereby it became much more the party of middle class liberals concerned for ‘social’ justice rather than economic. Secondly the trade union leadership were well funded by the EU.
The Scottish Nationalists have morphed from the anti-EU, anti-UK, pro Scotland party (which is why they were so successful in the fishing constituencies who had been decimated by the Common Fisheries Policy) in the 1970’s to being the most pro-EU party in the UK (alongside the Liberal Democrats). This has happened to such an extent that the SNP would be better renamed the EUNP!
The real problem/opportunity for those who wanted to leave the EU was seen to be in the Conservative party. But as it in practice split over Mrs Thatcher’s increasing EU skepticism (which resulted in her dismissal) there was a view that the Tories would really do nothing about the EU. In effect, apart from the extreme right (the BNP) and the extreme left (the Communists) there was no political voice for those who wanted the UK to be independent from the EU; until UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) and Nigel Farage came along. Although in the 2015 election UKIP only got one seat (because of the first past the post system), they received 3.9 million votes, despite all their eccentricities. This was enormously damaging to the Tories whose leader David Cameron promised to have an EU referendum in order to deal with UKIP. The Houses of Parliament voted by a large majority to have an in/out referendum which we were solemnly promised would be a once in a life time vote, and would be acted upon. No-one expected Leave to win. All of the major political parties, the majority of the media (with notable exceptions in the print media), the CBI, the Trade Unions, the arts, academic and church establishments (almost every Church of England bishop and the Church of Scotland General Assembly made it clear that God was pro-EU!) were opposed.
And then the unthinkable happened. The British people voted to leave the EU. 16.1 million voted to remain; 17.4 to leave. It was a seismic shock to the whole political system. The Establishment struggled to cope. Most politicians said ‘we respect the result’ – although their version of ‘respect’ has meant that we now ‘respect’ them in the same way. At the 2016 General Election over 80% of the votes went to parties who promised in their manifestos to enact the result of the Referendum and take the UK out of the EU, including the Single Market and Customs Union. Many politicians just lied. The process had already begun to reverse the decision.
Project Fear kicked in – although I think it would be better named Project Armageddon! We were daily sold stories of how we would be doomed, doomed, doomed if we left our EU Nirvana. Voting for Brexit was deemed to be dumb populism – equivalent to voting for Donald Trump or fascism. The people who voted Leave were accused of being ignorant, deceived, lied to (of course those who voted Remain were intelligent enough to see through the lies!). Even the Russians were blamed. We must have another vote they cried. The EU, which has never accepted the result of any referendum which went against its wishes, played hardball and refused to concede anything. The British government, led by Mrs May, has proven to be totally inept in dealing with the EU – signing up to pre-conditions which guaranteed that it would be impossible to get a good deal.
An Agreement and a Defeat
After two and a half years of this mess – with well-financed Remainers getting increasingly emboldened, and a government led by those who voted Remain, seeking to negotiate Leave with an intransigent EU – an agreement was finally come to. This was the agreement that was so overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons this week. Why?
Although it gives the Labour party almost everything it wanted (apart from a Customs Union) they saw the opportunity in the chaos to get another general election and so they voted against. The ardent Remainers whose sole aim is to overturn the result of the Referendum see the opportunity of getting another referendum or even perhaps parliament unilaterally stopping Brexit – so they voted against. And the ardent Brexiteers voted against (including 100 conservatives) because the May deal was possibly the worst deal in British political history – it gave the EU almost everything they wanted (that’s why they agreed it in less than half an hour!) and in effect kept us in the EU, without having any say. It was BINO (Brexit In Name Only). The trouble is that the Prime Minister is obsessed with immigration and so the only thing really offered was to stop ‘freedom of movement’; she thinks that this obsession is shared by those who voted to Leave – but for most Leavers it was the question of sovereignty not immigration.
What Happens Now?
So what happens now? My view has always been that the most likely outcome was that we will not leave – except in name only. The EU is, as the Greek Foreign Minister stated, like the Hotel California “you can check out any time you want but you can never leave”. In effect this is what the most ardent Remainers argue – which makes me wonder why you would want to belong to a club you can never leave?! But just as the Remainers live in fantasy EU Nirvana, it seems to me that some of the Brexiteers live in a fantasy Brexitland. They think that Mrs May’s defeat will lead to us leaving with a No Deal – having a clean break. Whilst I personally think that this would be the best solution, it is unlikely to happen. Why? Because the UK government was so inept that it did not seriously begin to prepare for that until the last few months. And because the UK parliament, which is heavily weighted to remain will not permit it – even though they voted to make it the legal default position. The possibility of a second referendum is growing but still a long way off. If we were to have one – it would be divisive; and if won by Leave I don’t think it would be decisive and we would just be back to square one. If won by Remain (and that is likely because the subtext of the question will be ‘would you like to destroy the country and your family by leaving the EU, or would you prefer to stay in paradise’?) it will in effect be the end of democracy within the UK. The disillusionment with the political class will result in both apathy (why bother voting it only encourages them?!) and a rise in extremism.
It’s hard to see a way out of this mess. The EU could concede on the Irish border (which would probably get the May deal through) but given Donald Tusks’ latest tweet (hinting that the UK should just give up and remain in the EU) they are unlikely to do that and will just wait for the UK to come to heel. It’s possible that Mrs May could cut a deal with Labour which keeps the UK in the Customs Union (effectively staying in much of the EU – again without having a say and preventing us from making our own trade deals with other nations). But that would split the Tory party. Some think this will lead to Scotland leaving the UK and re-joining the EU. That will not happen – the SNP has killed off any hope of independence for Scotland by aligning itself so strongly with the EU. If we end up staying in the EU there will be no Scottish Indy referendum. If we leave it’s unlikely there will be, and even if there was, it would be lost badly.
The bottom line is that we are led by politicians in general who are weak, lack leadership and vision and are no match for the technocrats of the EU. It’s BMS politics- Bad, Mad and Sad. May’s deal is a bad deal. Corbyn (and the SNP’s) ‘rule out no deal’ is mad because when the EU has knows that no deal is off the table and therefore the UK will remain if there is no deal – they either won’t offer a deal or offer one that is so bad that no one would accept. The sadness comes from watching our democracy self destruct.
It is as we say in Scotland a Brexit Bourach (mess)! For me I just despair….and of course pray. Sovereignty does not lie ultimately with Brussels, or the Parliaments, or even the people. Only God is sovereign – and only He can, in his mercy, save us from ourselves.
If you want a fuller explanation I would suggest a couple of things. Firstly one of the best podcasts I have come across is the BBC’s, Brexit – A Love Story? https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p062plkt
You can also follow my series on this blog looking at the history of the EU – the Great Deception.
Also as I have written about this extensively all you need to do is type Brexit into the search facility on this blog and you will get plenty!