The Editor’s Letter
Iwasn’t going to mention the war. Like Basil Fawlty when he had a party of Germans staying at his hotel, I really wasn’t. Unfortunately, certain scenes that were enacted and certain assurances that were made during and after Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent negotiations with EU leaders reminded me so much of the prelude to, and early days of, the Second World War, I am unable to ignore it.
Most of you will have seen the famous black-and-white newsreel from September 1938 of Neville Chamberlain, having just arrived back from a meeting with “Herr Hitler” in Munich, standing in front of a crowd at Heston Aerodrome, waving a piece of paper and crowing about the assurances he had received from the German Chancellor. He repeated the statement outside 10 Downing Street, confidently proclaiming that he had secured “peace for our time”. A year later Germany invaded Poland, igniting the Second World War.
David Cameron stood in a similar position in front of Number 10 in February this year as he lauded the success of his negotiations which had seen him charming and glad-handing other EU leaders in the hope of gaining their support before going, cap in hand, to seek the permission of the European Commission to allow us to make a few minor adjustments to our relationship with the EU.
After watering down his original demands for “proper, full-on Treaty change” that would see “power flow back to the member states”, in the heat of lengthy discussions, burning midnight oil and the bright lights of the dinner table, the remaining meagre contents of the Prime Minister’s begging bowl just about evaporated. As he had already announced his decision to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU (irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations), even his robust promise to “walk away” if a satisfactory
Summer, 2016 deal was not forthcoming had itself walked, or, more accurately, limped, out of the door.
Unlike Chamberlain, the Prime Minister did not arrive back brandishing a piece of paper, but a “red card” and an “emergency brake”. Unfortunately the red card, to prevent new EU legislation that is damaging to the UK, is only one in a pack of 28: a majority of other member states have to wave their cards as well, and even then it only becomes the subject of “a comprehensive discussion”. As for the emergency brake (allowing us to bring in a temporary reduction in the level of some benefits to migrants), it appears to be something of an unwieldy Heath Robinson sort of contraption with numerous pedals which can only be operated by the members of the European Commission, not by powerless passengers such as ourselves. I have to admit that when I first heard the PM speak about it I was quite excited. It was only when I realised he meant “brake” rather than “break” (I thought he had won an emergency exit from the European Union) that my elation was doused. There were also a number of “assurances”, meaning, as far as I can ascertain, that the words “United Kingdom” and “ever closer union” will not be used in the same sentence.
Continuing the long tradition of UK Prime Ministers who talk tough, achieve nothing but then announce that they have won a great victory for the country, it all seems to have been a stage-managed charade, with no powers returned to the United Kingdom, no Treaty change and, because EU migrants come here to work (not to claim benefits) no curbs on immigration. However, listening to the Prime Minister it was as if he had been given a lot of shiny gifts and souvenirs from Brussels with “Reformed EU” stamped across them in bright letters.
Other echoes from those early days of the war can be heard as the build-up to the referendum on 23rd June gains momentum and politicians and business leaders (and a scattering of celebrities who think their opinions ought to be heard) denigrate our country and its people by saying that we are too weak to run our own affairs, make trade deals with other countries and survive as a prosperous independent nation outside the European Union. By voting to leave, they say we would be taking “a leap in the dark” and “choosing isolation”.
In early 1940, as German armies swept across Europe and country after country fell to the Nazis, there were similarly defeatist voices in England (mainly among the educated upperclasses) urging compromise or capitulation. Three years ago I saw the play Three Days in May by Ben Brown, starring the late Warren Clarke as Winston Churchill. The drama focused on the critical 72 hours when, only two weeks into his premiership, the Prime Minister was under intense pressure to enter into negotiations for a peace deal with Hitler.
Although Churchill was against any form of appeasement, and declared at a War Cabinet meeting on 26th May 1940 that he was “opposed to any negotiations which might lead to a derogation of our rights and power”, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax was not so confident in our ability to stand alone and fight on. It was gripping theatre, even though I knew that in the end Churchill (supported by Chamberlain, Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood) won the day.
“If this long island story of ours is to end at last,” proclaimed Churchill at a meeting of his 25-member Outer Cabinet on 28th May, “let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”
At some stage during the referendum campaign the “Remain” camp are bound to wheel out a piece of their heavy artillery — probably Sir Michael Heseltine, possibly Kenneth Clarke — to say, in support of their cause, that the great war leader was in favour of a United States of Europe. In the immediate aftermath of the war, he certainly was, but he did not think the United Kingdom should be part of it. I have a copy of the speech he made at Zurich on 19th September 1946 in which he spelt this out if anyone is in any doubt.
In drawing parallels between 1940 and 2016, I am not suggesting that the people of the United Kingdom are in as much peril today as they were when the countries of Europe had been occupied by the Nazis. I do think, however, that the future of our country as an independent, self-governing nation is under just as much threat as it was in 1940. In fact we are already further down the road to extinction as a sovereign state than we were when Churchill rallied the nation, and it is all thanks to our own treacherous politicians.
Ever since Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 and, two years later, the British people voted in a referendum to remain in the organisation, a succession of Prime Ministers, supported by acquiescent MPS have, little by little, by putting their signatures to Treaty after Treaty, bled more and more of our independence away. Although the EEC was sold to the British people as a “Common Market”, we now know that the founders of what developed into the European Union always intended it to be a political project which would lead to the abolition of nation states and the creation of a country called Europe.
The most shocking aspect of proceedings has been the way that our elected politicians have deceived us. Documents and copies of private correspondence from the time reveal just how, in the early 1970s, there was a deliberate policy among those who were negotiating our entry into the EEC and drafting the relevant legislation to cover-up the extent to which European law would have supremacy over British law. The perpetrators knew that, were the truth to come out, the proudly independent people of the United Kingdom would not stand for it. So, we had the infamous words of Prime Minister Edward Heath, insisting that there was “no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty” and the admission in a letter to a colleague by Europhile Geoffrey Howe that: “I remain at least plausibly exposed to the charge that less of our thinking than was appropriate was explicitly exposed to the House of Commons.” I think that’s politician-speak for: “I concealed the truth from our elected representatives.”
The sorry situation we are now in, following all those lies and surrenders, was exposed in a damning indictment by the Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, as he announced he would be campaigning to leave the EU: “As a minister, I’ve seen hundreds of new EU rules cross my desk, none of which were requested by the UK Parliament, none of which I or any other British politician could alter in any way and none of which made us freer, richer or fairer. It is hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things that we were elected to do.”
On the other side, the main tactic to persuade people to vote to remain in the EU has been called “Project Fear”, with scare stories about job losses, barriers to trade with EU countries, the weakening of our influence in the world, threats to our national security etc. One of the most bizarre reasons as to why we should remain part of the European Union was put forward by Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, on the Andrew Marr Show. He was concerned that if we leave the EU the “contagion” might spread and lead voters in other EU countries to vote to leave as well. I’ve never thought of democracy as some sort of plague or pestilence, but there you go.
After 40 years entangled in the European Union web, it will obviously take time for things to be sorted out and new arrangements and relationships to be made, but for me it promises an exciting fresh beginning. Here are a few thoughts: the United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy in the world and a member of NATO, the UN Security Council, the G8, the IMF and the Commonwealth; we buy more from the EU than they do from us; 90 per cent of the UK economy is not involved with the EU, yet still bears the burden of EU regulations; at the moment we are unable to sign bilateral free trade agreements with the countries of the Commonwealth and have to turn away workers from these countries in favour of those with no connection to the United Kingdom; net migration is at an all-time high, reaching 330,000 in the year to March.
For me, the chance to vote in the referendum is all about making the United Kingdom a self-governing nation once again; about freedom not isolation; about standing tall with confidence and determination; about being true to ourselves and to our history; about honouring all those men and women throughout the ages who have made our country the great nation it is, often sacrificing their lives in the cause of democracy and freedom.
I believe that, like a mark on an old treasure map, an X on the referendum paper to leave the European Union will lead us, in terms of our ability to run our own affairs and the future prosperity and well-being of our country, to a buried chest of gems and jewels. And when we have reclaimed our country from the pirates, let us add a new day of national celebration to our calendar, one that will become as familiar to us and future generations as those dedicated to St. George, St. Andrew, St. David and St. Patrick; a day to rank in our history alongside Trafalgar Day, VE-DAY, VJ-DAY and Battle of Britain Day; a day of joy and pride. Let’s do it. Let’s make 23rd June our nation’s Independence Day.