‘I voted Leave in 1975 and, having since then read or seen nothing to bring about a change of mind, did so again 2016’
VOTES in general elections and referenda can change history – making nations and perhaps breaking empires. They are not, though, sufficiently powerful to change the convictions of those on the losing side, and neither should they be. None of those who I know voted Remain in Britain’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership have changed their minds; some of them have been out on marches, rallies and street stalls to support those in parliament who at the outset declared their respect for the plebiscite result and went on to spend three years attempting shamelessly to have it binned. Similarly, the result of the UK’s first referendum – the one back in 1975 – on its unenthusiastic involvement in the European project didn’t change my judgement, which was that joining the European Economic Community (EEC) was an error, and that the referendum result confirming that membership was likewise mistaken, as was our then prime minister Harold Wilson when, in welcoming the Remain vote, he declared: “It means that 14 years of national argument are over.”
During those 14 years I read up on the history of the European movement from its origins in 1918, when the founder of the Fiat motor company wrote a book – European Federation or League of Nations – which argued the case for the former. He was followed in 1922 by the son of an Austrian diplomat who wrote Pan Europa, in which Count Richard Coudenhove Kalergi proposed a merger of the German coal and French steel industries that would be the basis of a federal “United States of Europe”. I had taken the trouble to read the Treaty of Rome. I studied the arguments against membership set out by the Left and the Right, and thought carefully about those put up by the Sensible Centre, most of which – then as now – seemed to be about the frictionless sale and distribution of cars, kettles and cattle. I looked back at the contribution made by General de Gaulle who, as France’s president, not once but twice – in 1963 and 1967 – rejected British applications to join, citing “a number of aspects of Britain’s currency, economy, from working practices to agriculture” that made “Britain incompatible with Europe”, adding that the UK harboured a “deep-seated hostility” to the pan-European project. “England,” he summarised, momentarily overlooking the fraying union known as the United Kingdom, “is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions. In short, the nature, the structure, the very situation that are England’s differ profoundly from those of the continentals.” He knew it wouldn’t work.
That swung it for me. I voted Leave in 1975 and, having since then read or seen nothing to bring about a change of mind, did so again 2016. From Rome to Lisbon, via Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, each EU treaty has been a building block in the construction of a fantasy country called Europe, a dystopia that will sooner or later implode beneath the weight of its own insoluble economic, political, social and cultural contradictions. Which is why at 11pm tomorrow (Friday) I shall with many thousands of others be in Parliament Square, Westminster, to cheer and applaud if not the definitive termination of the UK’s European Union membership, then at least the decisive and irreversible half-way stage to that end.
Going into Europe was not seen by most of the English – as the general might have said – as anything remotely resembling an historic change. It was just about shifting those cars and kettles and for some, perhaps, the promise of better nosh here and a modest villa in Provence or Tuscany. For the political class and Her Majesty’s Commentariat, the EEC offered a world stage and a gravy train to replace those provided previously by the empire.
The Foreign Office’s deeper thinkers might have had a more strategic bent, as Sir Humphrey explained in Yes, Minister (1980):
Sir Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see … We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing.
Minister: But surely we’re all committed to the European ideal?
Sir Humphrey: Really, minister!
Well, that hasn’t worked, as evidenced by the 52,741 laws* – directives and regulations –that since 1990 have been generated by EU legislation and imported without hindrance into Britain’s statute book. The point is not that all of these laws might be rubbish; some might be judged beneficial, others damaging in one way or another. The point is that they have been laws not made by governments that can be turfed out by electors. They have been laws not made here … or in Athens, Berlin, Rome, Vienna and the rest. Leaving the EU, then, will be historic in a sense that slithering half-heartedly into the EEC on January 1, 1973 wasn’t. That’s why I’ll be in Parliament Square at 11pm tomorrow, to send up three cheers – at long last – for home rule, and for a precious European ideal that pre-dates the EU by some centuries: democracy.
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David, you raise an important point, in a humorous way. There is somewhat a paradox for those of us who campaigned for Brexit. Depending on the scenario, it may be that Brexit will bring forward the Islamisation of the UK by around a decade.
My “guesstimate” calculation is here:
However, remaining in the EU would certainly not protect us from Islamisation. The assertion of our traditional rights, freedoms, and democratic principles that Brexit unleashes, will, I hope, carry the momentum forward to also tackle Islam itself.
Good article David, thank you. I’ll be in Westminster on Friday too. You should be able to notice me 🙂 my placard will say “Boris=BRINO” on one side and “Lock Up The Traitors” on the other, with a red Hong Kong flag flying from the top, oh and for good measure dressed up in a Richard The Lionheart costume too.
David. thank you for this article. I was young at the time of the first referendum. I do remember my mother saying “we have betrayed the Commonwealth”.
Hope to meet you in Parliament Square by the Churchill statue. It was the anniversary of his death a few days ago. With very little mention in the mainstream media.
You’ve left a hanging asterisk there. This is because the number quoted is a lie and has no supporting evidence.
Oh Lord! Andrew’s ‘avin ‘imself a Lefty upset again.
As one of Momentum’s many (too many) trolls he might qualify for a mental disability benefit but anyway for those who are interested here is a bit supporting evidence from uk.reuters.com. This can be easily located with a google search (all knowledge is on the mighty google oracle):
“Analysis by Thomson Reuters says 52,741 laws have been introduced in the UK as a result of EU legislation since 1990, and research published by parliament estimates 13.2 percent of UK primary and secondary legislation enacted between 1993 and 2004 was EU-related.”
Ok, perhaps you can tell us a couple that you find so unpalatable that we need to leave the EU to avoid.
There are supposedly over 52,000 so it shouldn’t be too hard. There was a woman on the radio the other week who said it was because they stopped us wrapping fish and chips in newspaper. She was wrong of course, but I can’t wait for yours.
P.S. You do know we’re not leaving today, don’t you?
Still waiting for Andrew to tell us what is the limit to immigration.
I don’t know why. I already said I don’t think in terms of absolute limits.
What’s your limit? An exact number please, such that the next person will be refused entry regardless of circumstances.
Andrew: If you don’t think in terms of absolute limits, why are you trying to persuade our sainted editor to think in terms of absolute limits? Is it because you’re a troll?
Asking a question is not “trying to persuade” anybody. There’s no conflict in asking, if I don’t believe in absolute limits but he does, as he has said he doesn’t want unlimited immigration.
I’m still waiting for an example of an EU law that’s so awful we need to shoot ourselves in the foot to escape.