‘The end of Britain as an independent nation state… the end of a thousand years of history.’
These were the words of Hugh Gaitskell at the 1962 Labour Party Conference, as he warned of the inevitability of surrendered sovereignty should the UK become a member of the EEC. He continued: ‘You may say “let it end” but, my goodness, it is a decision that needs a little care and thought.’
But with almost no care and very little thought, a decade later the UK acceded to the Treaty of Rome. The world didn’t end and British history continued. So Gaitskell’s speech must have seemed somewhat histrionic. But successive European treaties have shown that his fears clearly had foundation, and yesterday’s speech by President Herman Van Rompuy (made in Berlin, of all places) should leave us in no doubt.
As the EU’s auditors fail to approve the accounts the 16th consecutive year, our President told us that the age of nation states is over and the eurosceptism leads to war.
His Grace thought it was a lack of democracy and the lust for power and geopolitical supremacy which led to war, and that the EU was shaping up perfectly to foment precisely the sort of oppression which leads to social breakdown and civil disorder.
President Van Romupy’s speech is really quite astonishingly hubristic: not since the Jesuitical Jacques Delors called for the creation of a country called Europe has a eurocrat been so audacious. He said:
The time of the homogenous nation-state is over…Whilst accepting that extreme expressions of nationalism may indeed lead to conflict, and that our earthly survival is dependent on mutuality, cooperation and compromise, President Van Rompuy seems unable to conceive of a political model beyond his native Belgium or of spiritual virtue beyond that of his monthly monastic retreats.
The national and the European interest can no longer be separated; they coincide…
We have together to fight the danger of a new Euro-scepticism.
This is no longer the monopoly of a few countries.
In every Member State, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalised world.
It is more than an illusion: it is a lie!
Franklin Roosevelt said: 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'
The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear.
Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war (“le nationalisme, c’est la guerre” (F. Mitterrand)). Today’s nationalism is often not a positive feeling of pride of one’s own identity, but a negative feeling of apprehension of the others.
Perhaps if His Grace were an ashamed Belgian with devout Catholic monkish tendencies, he might adopt the creed and doctrine of the President.
But he is not: His Grace is an Englishman of distinctly Anglican conviction, and his doctrine and creed made the United Kingdom what it is. It is the democratic nation state that has kept the peace; not advanced the cause of war. It is national identity that has created security; not precipitated fear. It is patriotism which manifests itself in Euro-scepticism; not bigotry, xenophobia or egoism.
As 25 Conservative backbenchers defied the Whip yesterday in rebellion over ‘European Union Economic Governance’, we await another Whiggish Non-Conformist to proclaim ‘No, no, no!’ to the Delorsian divine right.
God will speak through whom He wills, even a numb-skulled, money-grabbing seer, or his ass (Num 22-24). Whether sinner or saint, a believer in the one true God or not, Balaam was inspired to declare God’s will and was given a vision of his nation’s future destiny. From time to time, Britain has raised its own 'eccentrics' who have sounded the alarm. Hugh Gaitskell did it for Labour; Enoch Powell did it for the Conservatives. The following article from The Times (4 June 1975) may have been a word of Jeremiah-like prophecy, for which the author paid the inevitable price of being dismissed as a merchant of doom and derided in perpetuity for daring to philosophise on the eternal social consequences of short-term political policy. His arguments are more relevant now that they were a generation ago:
It is the old, old worry: will the British people perceive in time what is happening to them and where they are being taken? If they do, I am not afraid for the outcome. But will they?When Enoch Powell confronted head-on the lies of the Heath government, he was dismissed as a bigoted eccentric. Those who dare may now acknowledge his dimensions of truth, but prophets are always easier to understand in retrospect. Whatever the future of the British may be, it is still God who ‘removeth kings and setteth up kings’ (Dan 2:21), and what he does for kings he doubtless also does for prime ministers. Let us pray, for the battle for the soul of Britain has never been so great, nor so subtle.
The nation is being invited to confirm the surrender, and the permanent surrender, of its most precious possession: its political independence and parliamentary self-government, the right to live under laws and to pay taxes authorised only by Parliament and to be governed by policies for which the executive is fully accountable through Parliament to the electorate. Above and beyond all the arguments about butter mountains and Brussels bureaucrats there lies a stark fact, undenied and undeniable. It is undenied because that is what the European Communities Act of 1972 says; it is undeniable because that is why the advocates of British membership commend it. The difficulty is that to most British people the thing is inconceivable - as I remember that the idea of the Second World War was inconceivable to most of them during most of the 30s. “But surely,” they often say, “the French and the Germans and the other member states have not given up their independence and self-government, and don’t intend to.” The question - and the answer to it - are typical of the mutual incomprehension between Britain and the Continent in matters political.
The answer is, “Yes, they have given up their independence and self-government; they fully intended this and that to them is what the EEC is about.”
Let us take a closer look at the founder Six. The West Germans make no secret of not merely not desiring, but actually fearing to be an independent nation: the EEC is for them an insurance against themselves. For the Low Countries - Benelux - national independence was something never more than precariously secured to them by a balance of power in Western Europe in which, with good reason from experience, they have lost faith. Their position as provinces in a West European state, or as states in a West European federation, would represent no noticeable loss. In Belgium especially the pride of independence and distinctiveness and of self-government has belonged, since the Middle Ages, to the city and not to the territory.
About the strength and reality of the national pride of the French there is no manner of doubt, but it attaches neither to independence nor still less to democratic self-government. The Fifth Republic is nearer to an elective dictatorship than to parliamentary democracy. A Frenchman in the Council of Ministers, or the will of the French executive brought to bear through the institutions of the Community, is for France the reality of national power - the wider stage on which Louis XIV, Bonaparte or General de Gaulle perform the greater glory of France. Nothing could be more remote from French experience or conception than our British inability to understand liberty and nationhood apart from the supremacy and independence of Parliament.
Italian nationality owes even less to parliamentary self-government than does that of France. A federation of European states in which Italy was absorbed would seem but a natural extension of the process by which modern Italy was so recently assembled from its diverse component parts.
The case of Italy is a reminder too that all the founder states of the Community, in sharp contrast with ourselves, are historically familiar with the idea of a larger and European imperium exercising an acknowledged, if for long a shadowy, authority which oversteps national boundaries. The rule of an external law is nothing new or strange to them, whereas for close on 500 years - the whole of our history since the Middle Ages - the very notion has been totally repugnant to the English. When kings like Henry VIII, and Edward I before him, declared that ‘this realm is an empire of itself’, they were speaking the mind of the Englishman.
Even when the Community seems to our ears to be using the language of parliamentary sovereignty, it is really talking about something quite different. The directly elected European parliament, which is integral to the Treaty of Rome and which the other members of the Community are serious in envisaging for no more than two or three years ahead, has nothing but the name in common with what we mean by Parliament and what Parliament means to us. It is another instrument for creating a new artificial state, a delegate assembly perfectly intelligible and familiar to member states whose written constitutions, which brought them into existence, prescribed just such assemblies.
To us, a parliament not representing an electorate so homogeneous as to accept the majority as binding the minority and the institution as endowing with authority the outcome of debate, is an absurdity or a monstrosity, a device in our terms essentially undemocratic. Parliament for us does not produce unity: it is the expression of a pre-existing unity.
The British people have no notion of what the rest of the Community assumes that they are meaning by accepting membership. The mutual misunderstanding would only be heightened and rendered more dangerous if British membership appeared to be confirmed by a method which the rest would mistake for the equivalent of one of their own constitutional procedures.
Before and during the referendum campaign, the supporters of British membership, with a few honourable exceptions, have not only not endeavoured to make this clear to the electors, they have gone out of their way to soothe away any suspicion that the renunciation of nationhood through Community membership is fundamental, deliberate and relatively imminent. All the more bitter and damaging would be the revulsion on both sides when the realisation eventually dawned that each had been deceived. Albion Perfide is a slander; but it is a slander we have often courted, and never more recklessly than now.