It’s about democracy stupid. No, more like a terrible mistake

As the polls lengthen in favour of  Brexit, Vote Leave’s morale is on the up. The Brexit phenomenon is not reactionary, a delayed  reaction to the loss of Empire or narrow English nationalism but it marks a revival of British self confidence. This I rate as a discovery to be taken with a pinch of salt. But so says Steve Hilton the one-off, wonderfully paradoxical  engaging Tory radical who as Cameron’s guru used to pad about Downing St in tee shirt, jeans and bare feet proclaiming the cause of individual freedom and undying opposition to bureaucratic rule. Being Steve when he arrived in No 10 he caused consternation by heading off to Brussels to find out how the EU actually worked…

It turned out that every few days, a pile of paperwork about a foot high was circulated in Whitehall. The paperwork gave the go-ahead for Government action and was supposedly based on written approval from the relevant ministers. But here’s the catch: ministers were given two days to respond to any proposal. If no response came, then this was taken as a ‘yes’.

It turned out that some 30 per cent of government action was relevant to what we were supposed to be doing. The rest — you’ve guessed it — was generated from within the civil service machine, the majority coming from the EU.

And my view, based on a pragmatic, non-ideological assessment of how the EU operates, is that as long as we are members, our country cannot be ‘run’. Membership of the EU makes Britain literally un-governable, in the sense that no administration elected by the people can govern the country.

But Hilton spent his short time in No 10 making exactly the same complaint about the home grown system of  government  run by the civil service.

In a long read in the Guardian Matt d’Ancona although a Remain supporter sympathetically traces the history of  Brexit.

How does an idea banished to the tundra of irrelevance make its way back to the mainstream? First, a moment of recognition – and ignition – is required. Someone must dare to make the initial leap, to retrieve the frozen thesis from its glacial prison.

In the case of Brexit, it was Norman Lamont, the former chancellor of the exchequer, who dragged the idea back from the snowy wastes…

Much of its energy was generated by Blair’s conspicuous refusal to consult the electorate on the ratification of EU agreements…

Experience of the European parliament and commission gradually convinced (Theresa) Villiers that the EU’s institutions and culture were beyond repair. “Whatever the question, whatever the problem, whatever the crisis, the answer was more Europe, more EU, more political integration,” she recalled. “For decades we’ve had people in the Foreign Office saying Europe is coming our way, we’ve changed its direction, we’ve got opt-outs. And it just became abundantly clear to me that we were never going to win that argument in Europe.”

When he became Tory leader in December 2005, David Cameron perceived the issue as entirely managerial…

The strategy was both ambitious and perilous. First, there would be a referendum lock on significant transfers of sovereignty to Brussels in the future – an objective achieved in the European Union Act 2011. Second, there would be an audit of the balance of power between Britain and the EU. Third, on the basis of that audit, the prime minister would renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership. And, fourth, there would be an in-out referendum on the deal he had struck in Brussels.

Immense thought and energy were expended upon this plan, which was announced in its entirety in January 2013 at Bloomberg’s London HQ. As the leave cause has improved its position in the polls, I have been struck by the number of people who now claim – or let it be known that they claim – that they tried to talk the prime minister out of embarking upon this rocky and potentially self-destructive path.

As so often, George Osborne was the person in the room who articulated the truth, palatable or not. “The referendum genie is out of the bottle,”

The  history partly explains the trend, which d‘Ancona deplores:

The least edifying feature of it all is the spectacle of intellectually brilliant politicians pretending that profoundly complex policy problems are, in fact, easily solved. Vote for Brexit, heat the stove to No 10, add political will in quantity – et voilà! All your immigration problems fixed.

We are 10 days away from making a terrible mistake for deplorably stupid reasons

If you’re looking for idealism for the European project you have to go back almost 20 years to the late Hugo Young’s classic “This Blessed Plot”  where he describes how a form of British patriotism took a wrong turning. His analysis of 1999 is powerfully prophetic.

To modify the nation state throughout Europe is an extraordinary ambition, full of risks and difficulties. Yet if I am ever tempted to despair of it, I need only remind myself of the alternative world summoned up by those, most ferociously in Britain, who devote passion to dismantling it.

They have had a long time to describe this non-European Britain, and the picture, where it is clear, is not persuasive. I conclude that it is not meant to be. Portillo wrote not long ago that even to ask the question was “extraordinary”. All the future has to satisfy, in the minds of many Eurosceptics, is the need not to be “European”. As long as it meets that test, the details hardly matter.

So the anti-Europe cave is claustrophobic. It is also being refilled (for we have been here before) with futile arrogance, making it obligatory not merely to criticise Brussels but abominate the Germans, laugh about the French, find nothing good to say about another European country, lest this betray our beleaguered sense of Britishness..

At the heart of this is an impenetrable contradiction in the anti-Europe British mind. It cannot decide between terror and disdain. Britain is apparently so great, as well as so different, a place that she can afford to do without her continental hinterland. But she is so puny, so endangered, so destined to lose every argument with the continentals, that she must fear for her identity if and when she makes the final commitment to belong among them. Studying the movements of sceptic thought, I see in their inability to provide a clear answer on this fundamental point a mirror of the vacillations, pro- and anti-Europe, that mark the personal histories of so many of the characters in the story. Either way, the conclusion points in the anti-Europe direction.



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  • Chingford Man

    As usual d’Ancona is talking rubbish: another man on a long journey from the right to the stupid left. When he wrote for the Telegraph and that paper still allowed readers to comment, every Saturday night readers would tear to pieces his column for the following morning’s paper as soon as the column was uploaded.

    No Brexiteer is saying that the UK recovering its independence will solve all problems. But in a self-governing Britain, we will at least have the power to solve them for ourselves, rather than sit back and (e.g.) allow our public services to collapse under the weight of further immigration.

  • hgreen

    Britexit supporters are similar to the England fans smashing up Marseille and Lille. A rabble of the poorly educated, easily manipulated and the outright xenophobic.

  • aquifer

    Britain is not as it was. Manufacturing downsized or gone and dependent on a financial sector that would shrivel outside a Europe that would insist on developing its own.

    Index linked public sector pensions for life would be likely to become unaffordable, if they are not already.

    But in the end this is about the Tory right, a clique within a party, whose sponsors would become relatively richer in a cold wet country where the people get poorer.

    Don’t worry about the extra visa queues at airports, fewer holidays are likely.

  • aquifer

    “we will at least have the power to solve (all problems) for ourselves.”

    It is not clear that this holds true for Unionists’ version of ‘me too’ little Englanderism. Brexit would create a land border that employers would want to remove, and a security sea border exactly in their wrong place.

  • Chingford Man

    “Little Englanderism” – do you really have nothing better to gobble than that?

  • aquifer

    The term seems to have upset you. Why is that?

  • Sir Rantsalot

    The power reference relates to our own parliament. Obviously a good thing to which you have no argument and resort to name calling and changing the subject.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Got a point to make? Or just name calling?

  • Sir Rantsalot

    ‘financial sector that would shrivel outside a Europe that would insist on developing its own’
    Same was said about not joining the euro. It didn’t happen. So you’re making a false scare tactic statement. Tut tut!

    How is your pension point related to in or out of EU?

    Tory point is just your opinion. Pretty dramatic pessimism. A bit over played !

    Are you saying a bit of extra paper while you get your pp checked is going to put you off a holiday? Never travelled outside the EU? been to US? Laughable!

  • hgreen

    Just throwing it up the flagpole to see who salutes it.

  • Sir Rantsalot
  • Neil

    Following a vote in the lower house, foreign minister Didier Burkhalter was quoted as saying that the government will now tell the EU to “consider [the application] as withdrawn”.

    He had earlier said that the application, that Switzerland had sent to the European Economic Community in 1992, was already invalid.

    Momentous news indeed. So much so that the Google news page has a total of 5 articles to explore, in depth, on the subject of this minor piece of housekeeping. Invalid application, long rejected by the voters in the country is withdrawn. Russia Today have made the most of it, natch.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Liar liar pants on fire !!! The first 2 pages of google search show 15+ different news sources reporting this. I didn’t go past the 2nd page.
    But never mind the truth, you desperate remainers keep throwing up lies 🙂

  • Sir Rantsalot

    I liked this quote –
    “Thomas Minder, counsellor for the state of Schaffhausen and an active promoter of the concept of “Swissness,” said he was eager to “close the topic fast and painlessly” as only “a few lunatics” may want to join the EU now, he told the newspaper.”

  • Neil

    Switzerland withdraws longstanding application to join EU

    RT-3 hours ago

    Twenty-seven members of the upper house, the Council of States, voted to cancel Switzerland’s longstanding EU application, versus just 13 …

    Now Switzerland WITHDRAWS its application to join the EU just a … hours ago

    Explore in depth (5 more articles)

    Link to results:

    Now, there’s my evidence, where’s yours? And try not to be so rude chum. In the old days it was considered man playing to bandy unsubstantiated insults at people. Anyhoo, you brexiters seemingly can’t hold a discussion without turning into an offensive caricature. See Chingford’s responses to just about anything.

    Put up, or better still, shut up.

  • chrisjones2

    Just ignore it….causal racism towards the English and Unionists is de regeur here

  • Neil

    Yes, that is an opinion of a person. He’s their Farage. Means nothing.

  • Chingford Man

    It doesn’t upset me. I just find it inaccurate, pathetic and fairly typical of the standard of debate here.

  • Ciaran74

    Chingford, when you say immigration, do you mean all all or just the EU?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Further reading on financial impacts of EU & non EU immigration to UK:
    If Brexit occurs I’m not terribly sure that we’ll have absolute power to solve all problems independently. Doesn’t increasing globalisation mean that we’re interdependent and somewhat compromised regardless? In addition, I don’t see much of a contradiction between EU social democratic legislation and UK social democratic legislation so having the ‘power to solve (problems) for ourselves’ may not feel too different in the long term particularly if we elect another PM who abuses the Royal Prerogative with the abandon of Blair.

  • Chingford Man

    I believe we need to reduce both to a level that is sustainable for the future. But first we need to reclaim control of our borders from the EU.

  • Chingford Man

    OK. So no point to make.

  • Chingford Man

    Queues at passport control these days are often caused by mismanagement. Arrive at Seattle and, thanks to automation, one can get through passport control very quickly even with the obligatory fingerprinting.

  • Chingford Man

    I think you just don’t like the leftie group think and downright bigotry expressed here by the Remainians (hgreen below being Exhibit A) to be exposed robustly. I don’t insult anyone but arguments shouldn’t be similarly protected.

  • Chingford Man

    Schaffhausen is a lovely town, well worth a day trip from Zurich. However, it has migrant issues unusual for Switzerland so Herr Minder’s views are not that surprising.

  • Enda

    No respect for other countries or other people, and only thinking of themselves is the point I took from it.

  • Ciaran74

    Two thirds of your net immigration is from outside of the EU, have lower than EU average education levels, multiple languages, looking for work, and not salvation. Halting or reversing political integration I get, reducing immigration too, but targeting your European cousins feels disingenuous. Do you think this new found confidence is because of greed – the UK was bust in the ’70’s, and now that’s it’s not, it thinks it’s good enough to go it alone?

  • Chingford Man

    “good enough to go it alone?”

    You mean to be like the 168 countries in the world (out of 196) that seem to manage without being in the EU?

  • Ciaran74

    Which one, excepting the US, do you aspire the UK to be like? Last I looked trading bloc’s were on the up. Are all trading bloc’s out as it’s usually a geographic creation or are you happy to team up with Russia, North Africa, Middle East….? Or do you think the UK is so important as to spurn a lover and she still answers your calls automatically?

  • Chingford Man

    Customs unions are so last century, which you obviously haven’t noticed. Britain is unique. I want it to be itself, not like anywhere else. Why do you think a country needs to team up with any other in a supranational legal entity anyway? The Gulf states don’t. Neither do those of south-east Asia.

    How many lovers demand a fortune from you and condescends to return some of it to you with strict instructions as to its spending?

  • Ciaran74

    The French empire, the Britsh empire… But that’s so last century, right? At least France has the maturity to recognise it’s limitations and opportunities as a partnership.

    As for the Gulf states, hardly a model of commerce or world respect. But they are good for buying lots of weapons. I note you exclude the common trade pact between several Asian states and the US last year.

    Not enough Chingford.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You are aware that the EU isn’t the only Trade Bloc in the world just the biggest aren’t you?

    Virtually every developed country in the world is a member of a Trade Block, and if we leave the EU we will need to join one in some form or other.

    In order to do so we will be required to abide by the rules and regulations of the organization.

    Countries can no longer survive in isolation imposing their wishes upon random smaller or weaker countries as and when they feel a need to, apart from the US of course.

  • Chingford Man

    Is the best you can do is to link to more than 10 years old? Besides, do you still not grasp the difference between the EU and the other organisations listed in the BBC page from 2005.

    Hannan has a great take:

    “A free trade area is a common market, within which goods, services, capital and sometimes labour can circulate without hindrance. Examples are NAFTA in North America, EFTA in Europe and ASEAN in South East Asia. A customs union [such as the EU], by contrast, surrounds itself with a common external tariff, and conducts all trade talks on behalf of its member nations.

    Why does this matter so much? Because every continent on the planet is now experiencing economic growth except Europe. Individual EU states can’t sign bilateral free-trade agreements with, say, China or India; they have to wait for Brussels to do so on their behalf. For a country as naturally inclined to open commerce as Britain, this is a real disadvantage, since we are in effect dragged into a protectionist common position by French film-makers, Italian textile manufacturers and what have you.

  • Chingford Man

    Not enough? You haven’t even answered this question.

    “Why do you think a country needs to team up with any other in a supranational legal entity anyway?”


  • Anglo-Irish

    You say that we are naturally inclined to open commerce, in which case why aren’t we doing so?

    Trading with the US and other non EU countries isn’t restricted in any way is it?

    The ROI biggest trade partner is the US, what’s the problem?

    Why can’t we do whatever we want as members of the EU?

    Once we leave we still need to establish a trade agreement with the EU they take 45% of our exports, that makes them our customer.

    We will not be able to acquire an agreement which is equal to that which we currently have.

    First of all, if we could it would mean that there was no advantage in being a member in the first instance.

    Secondly, the EU will want to make an example of us to discourage any other countries thinking of defecting.

    Thirdly, all remaining 27 members will be required to agree all trade agreements between the UK and the EU. Just one has to veto it and the agreement doesn’t happen.

    Recently 27 out of the 28 countries agreed a trade agreement with Canada and one, Romania veto’d it for purely selfish reasons and the deal was thrown out.

    There must be countries in the EU that are competitors of ours for certain products or services that are currently planning to increase their production and veto our trade agreement.

    They will have at least two years to invest and increase production.

  • Ciaran74

    Morning, co-operation even at a long term treaty level is not a sign of weakness. Outside of England’s financial hub I’m just not convinced the UK is the powerhouse it believes it is. I’m empathetic to much of the sovereignty issues expressed by the English population, but the recent European influx is not the fundamental immigrant issue or ‘problem’.

    It’s true, Brussels should not be able to overwrite national law yet I’m for the commercial and citizenry benefits given Britains poor attitude to working class people. The Toriea current and historical attitude to vulnerable people is abysmal.

    The EU does a poor PR job for itself but there clearly aren’t many govt’s out there who would say there’s another administration that is doing things for you, that we won’t or cannot. And the EU has done allot for Europe’s people.

    The near and mid term turbulence after an exit is not being clearly expressed by Leave and that makes me very wary.