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How we became subservient to the nations we rescued in war

August 1st, 1989

An article which appeared in The Field in their August 1989 edition.

A letter which followed from this article under the title “The Surrender to Europe, What We Give Away” can be found in the letters section.

Three years ago the Yorkshire town of Ripon celebrated the eleven-hundredth annivesary of its Charter, a set of rights given in 886 by Alfred the Great.  Following defeat of the Danes eight years earlier, Alfred had put together a new law code, based on custom and the code of the earliest English King 300 years before.  At a time of extreme danger and upheaval, by pragmatic good sense our greatest King laid the foundation of England with boundaries which have barely moved a mile in 11 centuries.  This continuity is unmatched in history.  Indeed, until the recent insensitive disruption, even the county boundaries had hardly changed.

Three hundred years after Alfred’s death, King John was reminded in Magna Carta that Kings of England are bound by the same law as binds their people.  A further 300 years on, Henry VIII broke with Rome over precisely the issue which faces our nation today: namely, who or what is to be the supreme source of law in this country?  For all the politicians’ talk about ‘pooling’ sovereignty, that is what the issue is about and that truth is clearly dawning.

Just as in the 1530s, so in the 1980s the inclinations of the governing establishment are divided between those whom Henry VIII called ‘Englishmen papistical’ and ‘Englishmen entire’.  Thomas More, the leader of the former, in specifically defining limits on English sovereignty declared, “I am not bound to conform to the Council of one realm against the General Council of Christendom” – words which, with the substitution of Europe for Christendom, are precisely those enjoined on our Prime Minister by the ‘Europeanists’ today.  England in the 16th century faced immense danger from the hostility of a vastly stronger Continent.  Thoms Cromwell’s robust reply, “This realm is an empire”, ultimately carried with it the support of the English people, as will the Prime Minister’s Bruges speech in due course.

From 1534 until the present, the single most significant statement of the way we are governed is the 300-year-old (this year) Bill of Rights, which reaffirmed the ancient liberties of the subject and his right to be governed by laws sanctioned only by the Parliament of this country.  Doubtless because of fear of drawing attention to the incompatibility of this most fundamental of our freedeoms and what is being proposed by the European Commission, the authorities have offered no public celebration.  The Post Office, ever subservient to passing fashion, has issued no stamp commemorating this momentous event, preferring instead to remind our people of such riveting events as the Telegraphic World Congress and the International Postal Union.

The contrast of our national continuity with the situation on the Continent could hardly be greater.  There, most states (with the exception of Denmark) are of recent creation – West Germany 1953, Italy 1870, Belgium 1831 and so on.  Whole countries have been chopped up, put under other regimes and put back again.  Even France and Spain date only from the 15th century in anything like their present boundaries.  Parliamentary government is of even more recent creation – unstable (Italy has had 40 governments since the war) and tending towards frequent lapses into tyranny and revolution.  In the last 200 years every EEC Continental country has been freed from its own or its neighbour’s tyranny at least once, and in the case of France three times, by British soldiers on their own, or in company with their English-speaking allies from the British Empire and the United States.

Because national boundaries and systems of government on the Continent have changed so frequently, there has arisen a strong tendency to rely on bureaucracy – the one permanent feature – issuing instructions on the basis of general enabling laws.  It was the civil service in France which provided the strong defence of French interests as governments came and went in the third and fourth Republics.

It is clear that the EEC Commission is a precise reflection of these tendencies, having a strong preference for issuing directives and instructions using an enabling Act – in this case the Single European Act (SEA) – as its legal cloak.  It was a deception to represent this Act, which was smuggled through the British Parliament in 1986 despite the misgivings of the Prime Minister, as merely another stage in completing the common market.  It is a device adopted by European federalists to achieve by stealth what would be rejected by the British people if they were given chance to vote on it.

The imposition on our country of rules issued by the European Commission using the majority in the Council of Ministers, allowed by the SEA, now impinges directly on every one of us.  ‘EEC threat to British farmers’, ‘EEC VAT ruling will hit hospitals and school fees’, ‘EEC will bar upland forest grants’, ‘EEC threatens village halls’, ‘Britain bows to EEC over lorries’, ‘EEC restricts bird shooting’, are but a selection of recent news headlines.

Voting techniques in EEC affairs are a travesty – many decisions in the Council of Ministers are taken now on the basis of one country, one vote, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, whose combined population is 51 millions, have seven votes to the one vote for Britain’s 57 millions. Even where weighted voting applies – as in the European Assembly in Strasbourg – the aforesaid seven countries have 134 seats to Britain’s 81.

The extraordinary thing, unbelievable if it were not happening, is that the British people pay huge sums of money to belong to this system.  Something in the order of £2 billion per annum is now pased to Brussels and this figure is achieved only after time-consuming applications for grants and rebates from a much larger gross sum initially paid.  Put in perspective, this sum is about the annual cost of the whole British university system.  Between 1973, when Britain joined the EEC, and 1988, £11 billion was paid, enough for instance to rebuild over the same period the whole of the railway network from scratch.

Why, it may be asked, are we doing this?  The reason usually offered by Europeanists is that of belonging to a large free market of some 300 million people.  The key point, which they never mention, is that this market is open to any European country whether they belong to the EEC or not. Britain’s trade with Sweden, a non-EEC member, and theirs with Germany is as free as Britain’s with Germany – freer in many cases because of smaller non-tariff barriers to trade.

Another reason often advanced is that membership of the EEC is necessary to prevent our technological domination by the USA and Japan.  The technological benefits of large units are, however, vastly overstated by politicians eager for roles to play.  With the possible exception of a moon-shot and certain nuclear missile projects, there are probably no technological goals outside the competence of an industrial nation of 60 million people.  In the USA, the world’s most powerful computers and the most advanced work-stations are made by relatively small firms staffed by gifted individuals.  In Britain, three companies produce three out of the five best-selling therapeutic drugs in the world – an astonishing achievement.  Most, if not all, European joint ventures are essentially there to guarantee sales in the participating countries, rather than for production or technology reasons, Concorde being perhaps the outstanding example.

So if free trade and technology are not the reasons for our membership, what is?  We are left with simply a word, ‘Europe’, and a sense that we must belong for fear of being left out.  It is the belonging for its own sake rather than any calculation of national advantage which motivates the main advocates of European unity in this country.  In fact, over large parts of the political establishment ‘Europe’ has become a matter of blind faith – the more disquieting the facts about it, the more we are led to think that we must believe in it.

‘Europe’, including its topical controversy, the European Monetary System, is in fact merely the latest in the futile quest for external quick fixes to Britain’s economic problems.  “I wish to dissipate, if I can, the ideal dreams of those who are always telling you that the strength of England depends on what it possesses beyond these shores.  Rely upon it, the strength of Great Britain lies here within the United Kingdom.”  So spoke Gladstone in 1879.  It is entirely apposite today.

None of the improvements in our manufacturing industry in the last few years owes anything to the EEC entanglement, any more than Germany’s industrial renaissance did.  It is the labour and capital efficiency of our industries which matter – as farming has demonstrated continuously whether inside or outside the EEC – together with access to world markets and that farsighted commitment to long-term research so clearly shown by our pharmaceuticals industry.

The political establishment, largely ignorant of the requirements for a successful modern industry, but still anxious to play a world role, gave up on Britain after Suez in 1956, taking directions first from Washington and, increasingly now, from Brussels.  Fear has been a dominant emotion in the British political establishment for a long time – fear of Germany before the Second World War, fear of Washington’s disapproval after it, and now, most absurd of all, fear of being left out.

This timidity has been accompanied by a carelessness with our national assets which no French government, for instance, would contemplate.  The Continental Shelf Act of 1964 handed to Norway large sections of the North Sea oil rights to which it was not entitled under international law, while British fishing rights in those same waters were put into a common EEC pool by Mr Heath’s Government in 1973.  Even our supreme asset, the English language, was compromised by the assurance given to France that Britain would not contest the position of French as the EEC’s official language, a language which is only the third most widely spoken mother tongue in the EEC and, in the world, less widely spoken than Portuguese.

Language is, perhaps the most fundamental point of all.  When in 1929 the French foreign minister, Briand, circulated his project of a European federal union, it was rejected by the then British Government in language which admitted of no ambiguity.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Snowden, declared that Britain would not be the ‘milch cow’ of Europe.  While in the intervening 60 years Britain has consistently opposed a federal union, signs are that powerful, probably predominant, Continental interests are determined to realise the Briand concept of European unity.  By this is meant a sovereign Government, the only meaning of the world ‘unity’ to which its Continental advocates attach any importance.

We are at a crossroads for which Alfred’s and Henry VIII’s England provide the only parallels: whether or not to continue to exist as a self-governing nation.  We have nothing of substance to fear from a separation from the EEC.  As a member of the society of English-speaking nations, we have an enormous asset.  English provides a channel to the wider world beyond Western Europe as important to the entrepreneurs of Elizabeth II as the sea was to the merchant venturers of Elizabeth I.  In freeing ourselves from this latest Continental entanglement we have everything to play for and nothing to fear but fear itself.