Brexit Referendum Part 1: Time for chemo?
This is a two part post on the upcoming Brexit Referendum Poll. Part 2 will be a clairvoyant prediction about what happens if Britain votes Leave, and believe me you don’t want to miss it, but right now we’re on the subject of why. Why now?
If you’re a member of the soft-headed emotive chattering classes then it’s likely you think you know the answer to this because you read it in an op-ed in the Guardian.
The wooly narrative goes thus.
David Cameron, fearing that UKIP were going to stick it up his bum at the last General Election, combined with infighting in the Tory Party, meant that he foolishly offered a referendum up, and now, thanks to that tactical ineptness we’re potentially all fucked - both In or Out.
Sadly, I’m afraid I’m hear to tell you that you’re wrong. I know, I know, how can you be wrong, after all it’s what all the commentators who are immensely wise are telling you, but it’s true, you are.
Whilst we’re on the subject of wrongness you might also be under the illusion that the only thing driving Leave is small-minded, petty nationalism verging on jack-boot wearing racism about ‘all the bloody foreigners’. Guess what, you’re wrong again.
You see the issue runs so much deeper than the catchy sub-editor headlines you glance over as you drink your flat white in the tremendously “raw” Stoke Newington, but it requires a little history lesson to understand it.
Once upon time there was this pesky little thing called sovereignty. It was this nebulous thing admittedly but what it meant was you got to manage your own affairs in all areas. Some people like to call it self-determination.
Then, one day, in the 1970s, when Britain was on its absolute arse due to something we quaintly called ‘The Consensus' but which was a by-word for managing Britain’s decline, we realised, quite rightly, that we needed to join a thing called the European Economic Community.
We had tried before but the French didn’t want us, so it didn’t happen.
This time the prospect of joining looked good, the only problem was we had to give up a little bit of our sovereignty. It wasn’t a lot, just a bit, but the upside was hopefully going to be some prosperity and boy did we need it. Obviously this was a big deal, so we had a referendum.
Join or Not Join. Join won.
What came next was tremendous. Coupled with the rapid economic boom of the 1980s the country got back on its feet and we were no longer seen as the “sick man of Europe”. We were up there with the rest by George. Greed is good. Etc etc.
All good things come to an end though, or at least the beginning of the end, and this where our story takes it turn on what the real issue is with “Europe” generally.
At this point any lefty readers might want to lean in closer so they can be pleased to hear, and shhhh whisper it softly, it was all a certain lady’s fault without actually playing the Thatcher’s Blame fallacy.
You see, Margaret, God rest her soul, was a market fundamentalist. This in itself is not a bad thing, markets are in fact wonderful and the ultimate expression of free individuals, but I digress. Margaret being a market fundamentalist helped secure a new treaty in 1986, it was called the Single European Act which set up the thing you hear today called the Single Market.
A glorious trading bloc free of tariff barriers, free of protectionism, basically it’s a neo-liberal wet dream.
So where, you may be wondering, did she go wrong? Well, whilst the Single Market was totally in line with her thinking, she took it upon herself to use her huge majority in Parliament to ratify it and make it law, even though it gave away possibly the largest bit of sovereignty of all the EU treaties we’ve ever signed.
Uncharacteristically wrong-headed on her part, she failed to spot that other members of the club tended to get the consent of their electorate through a popular plebiscite before handing over the family jewels. Crucially too, she failed to spot that the other members had written constitutions, which meant it was very easy to see what was and was not changing which gave their government clear cover where referenda didn’t occur.
Poor old Britain though with her unwritten constitution made up of layers of statue law, convention and the like couldn’t see the proverbial wood for the trees and thus the seed was sewn, left to germinate over the coming decades.
On we trot, still enjoying the 1980s and not really caring too much about this colossal clusterfuck of a mistake Margaret had made we found ourselves in 1992 with yet another treaty known as Maastricht with yet more sovereignty being given away although this time we had a fancy new word to protect us, subsidiarity.
What does that mean you may be asking as you wonder whether to stop reading this and head back to Huff Post, well, it’s quite simple, it meant that laws and things in the newly formed EU should occur as close to the citizen as possible. It was basically a fudge to make it possible to have a sliding scale of where responsibility for policy should lie as you went up the gravy train…. Sorry did I say gravy? I meant food.
So we had a treaty that changed the European Economic Community to the European Union. It’s was a pretty big deal. Not only did it create new institutions, and commit us to political and economic union but it had “competences”.
What are competences? Well that’s a nice treaty word for areas of policy the nation states gave up their power over. Things like agriculture, industrial regulations, food safety etc. But hey, we had the subsidiarity principle so it didn’t matter really!
In reality Maastricht was the death knell of the nation state as we knew it across Western Europe, good or bad you decide.
So off went the other members like France and Denmark to have a referendum so they could ratify it as did we. France said “oui”, Denmark said “Sod off we have bacon” and Britain’s electorate said “errr do we get a say?”
Yep kids, you guessed it, Mr Major, PM at the time, saw that he had precedence for having Parliament ratify it not the electorate. He had a slim majority but could rely on the other parties to push it through when his rebels squashed the majority and it nearly brought the Government down.
So there we are, we’re now in the EU. Other members asked their electorate and/or had written constitutions that could clearly show what they were losing. Britain yet again didn’t and the seed sewn by Thatcher had started to sprout under Major.
It’s worth noting at this point that up until the 90s the “party political” view on Europe was somewhat different to today. Largely Labour was Anti, it was a neo-liberal club after all. In fact the current leader Jeremy Corbyn was against the EU his entire political career until he became leader. Funny that. Meanwhile the Tories were Pro until Maastricht.
So we’ve reached the 90’s and that beautiful new dawn that broke in 1997 when Tony came to save us from the Hell we were in. Yes I know that we were still the 5th richest country in the world but people without Sky TV? What sort of monstrosity is this?
Tony came along and between 1997 and 1999 we had the Amsterdam Treaty. A treaty that gave yet more “competences” to the EU including immigration, foreign policy, and some elements of criminal and civil law. It also allowed for expansion and new members.
Now new members were good for the growing backlash. More members meant more people to agree. More people to agree meant more arguments. More arguments meant slowing the project down. You had to be in, in order to ensure you got what you wanted from being out.
As before after a few referendums where you were lucky enough to have them we were signed in. Tony had a mega-majority after all. Who would question it? Why ask the proles? Like a watering can on our little shoots of growing resentment Tony pissed on them happily and with the smile of a Cheshire cat.
It didn’t stop there of course. Come the early 2000’s we had the Nice Treaty. Another Treaty with more expansion clauses. Off it went for ratification but this time the Irish said no! Uhoh…. What to do? Simple answer. Have another referendum in a few months time and try again. Rinse and repeat until ratification.
You might be thinking here we had a referendum too. After all we’re on the 4th major Treaty change since our last one and what we’re In is not what we signed up for, but alas, no. Tony had a majority. Why ask? We ratified it.
Then finally we reach the Lisbon Treaty in 2007/2009. Now this is a funny one. You see there was another Treaty commonly called the EU Constitution. This failed at the French referendum and instead of having another immediately they shelved it and threw most of it into Lisbon.
We actually got a good deal with Lisbon. We got opt-out rights from certain criminal law aspects and the right to selectively opt-in. Crucially though the Treaty conferred yet more power from nations to the EU and it did so in the UK via effective Government Proclamation yrt again. We didn’t get asked, lest we answer incorrectly a cynic might say
And in a way that brings us up to now. Since Lisbon we passed a law ensuring that all further treaties that transfer power to the EU are subject to referendum like in France and Ireland amongst others. The previous 30 or so year of ratified treaties are to be wiped from the memories naturally.
It’s a bit like a serial rapist patting you on the head and letting you know that it really is the last time.
This is why the referendum is really happening.
The issue has, for want of a better term, become a cancer on the nation. Slowly but surely consecutive Prime Ministers since the 70s have taken the electorate’s view for granted.
If democracy and Parliament means ANYTHING it is that we are to be governed by consent. The electorate has had NO SAY in what has followed since the 70s until now, unlike our European counterparts.
This referendum is not about a fight in the Tory Party nor is it about some illusory fight between the Tories and Nigel Farage. It’s is about one thing and one thing only. Lancing the boil of the last thirty years of Executive contempt for the electorate’s opinion.
Vote Remain. Vote Leave. It’s up to you, but remember this.
This referendum is the chemotherapy to the cancer that has become the “UK European issue”.
Coming Next Part 2: What actually happens if we vote Leave.