Richard North, 13/06/2016  
 


One of the highlights of my tenure in the European Parliament was what became a monthly ritual in Strasbourg, meeting Ambrose Evans-Pritchard – then Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph - for a boozy dinner on the banks of the little Rhine (pictured). 

As we ate fine food and gazed at the splendid architecture on warm summer evenings, we discussed the affairs of the world, and especially the European Union.

What was especially enjoyable was that, although we shared views on many things, we had some fundamental disagreements. Ambrose, in particular, had a view on the powers of the Council of Ministers and the permanent representatives. They did not entirely accord with mine. I thought the Commission was the more powerful institution.

The ability to disagree with someone on a point and to argue it through in a friendly manner, while being able to agree in principle with most of the rest, marked out our relationship. And I find myself in a similar position when I read his superb article on why we should vote to leave the EU – one accorded the highest accolade by fellow-journalist Mary Ellen Synon.

Getting the disagreement out of the way, when I read the first part of the headline, I thought: "I fundamentally disagree with that", and then set down to think how I could write an emollient piece saying so, without in any way disagreeing with the subsequent premise, that we should leave the EU.

My problem is that headline segment: "Brexit vote is about the supremacy of Parliament and nothing else". And my reservations are simply put. It was Parliament that got us into this mess in the first place - it valued its supremacy so little that it gave it away, step by step. It has then sought to maintain its craven position, in the face of public opposition.

Unable to get a response from Parliament, people have resorted to agitation, the culmination of which is a referendum - a true expression of democracy - where the people decide something the politicians are unable to deal with. Why then should we seek to restore supremacy to the very body which gave away its powers, and which has proved totally inept in trying to regain them?

It was this sentiment that drove The Harrogate Agenda, which forms Phase Six of Flexcit. There is little point, we felt, in struggling to return powers to the body which gave them away in the first place, without taking measures to prevent them ever doing the same thing again. And the way to do that is to strip the supremacy from Parliament and restore it to the people. It is the people who should be sovereign, not Parliament. MPs should be our servants to do our bidding, not our sovereign masters.

With that out of the way, though, we can only applaud to the rafters Ambrose's sentiments. "Let there be no illusion about the trauma of Brexit", he says. "Anybody who claims that Britain can lightly disengage after 43 years enmeshed in EU affairs is a charlatan, or a dreamer, or has little contact with the realities of global finance and geopolitics".

We could not agree more with this. Time after time after time we get these empty-headed fools who tell us that we could conclude an exit settlement in days or even weeks. These people are a dangerous distraction. Their ignorance, bordering on stupidity, denies rationality.

But that, as Ambrose says, is a distraction. Brexit comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error.

Here I can afford a private smile as I recall our sometimes intense arguments over the relative powers of Commission and Council. Ambrose hasn't changed his views. I need to beat him up again on the banks of the Little Rhine, over of bottle or two of potent French wine.

However, as long as we do not dwell too much on the meaning of "self-government", we can unite without a moment's hesitation over the need to break away from living under a "higher supranational regime".

Furthermore, we are absolutely in accord with his sentiments about the "leave" campaign. We cannot take our cue from its dire, low-grade arguments. Brexit has nothing to do with payments into the EU budget. Whatever the sum, it is economically trivial, worth unfettered access to a giant market.

Says Ambrose, "We are deciding whether to be guided by a Commission with quasi-executive powers that operates more like the priesthood of the 13th Century papacy than a modern civil service; and whether to submit to a European Court (ECJ) that claims sweeping supremacy, with no right of appeal".

It is whether you think the nation states of Europe are the only authentic fora of democracy, be it in this country, or Sweden, or the Netherlands, or France - where Nicholas Sarkozy has launched his presidential bid with an invocation of King Clovis and 1,500 years of Frankish unity.

The EU as constructed, Ambrose continues: "is not only corrosive but ultimately dangerous, and that is the phase we have now reached as governing authority of crumbles across Europe". The Project, he says, "bleeds the lifeblood of the national institutions, but fails to replace them with anything lovable or legitimate at a European level. It draws away charisma, and destroys it". And, in a telling phrase, he adds: "This is how democracies die".

"They are slowly drained of what makes them democratic, by a gradual process of internal decay and mounting indifference, until one suddenly notices that they have become something different, like the republican constitutions of Athens or Rome or the Italian city-states of the Renaissance", says Lord Sumption of our Supreme Court.

It is a quarter century since Ambrose co-wrote the leader for the Telegraph on the Maastricht summit. He and his co-writer warned that Europe's elites were embarking on a reckless experiment, piling Mount Pelion upon Mount Ossa with a vandal's disregard for the cohesion of their ancient polities.

Yet they reluctantly supported John Major's strategy of compromise, hoping that later events would "check the extremists and put the EC on a sane and realistic path".

This did not happen, as Europe's Donald Tusk confessed two weeks ago, rebuking the elites for seeking a "utopia without nation states" and over-reaching on every front". The Council President declared: "Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that the citizens of Europe do not share our Euro-enthusiasm".

If there were more Tusks at the helm, one might still give the EU Project the benefit of the doubt, says Ambrose. But hard experience - and five years at the coal face in Brussels - tells him others would seize triumphantly on a British decision to remain, deeming it submission from fear. They would pocket the vote. Besides, too much has happened that cannot be forgiven.

In Ambrose's book, the EU crossed a fatal line when it smuggled through Lisbon Treaty, by executive cabal, after the text had already been rejected by French and Dutch voters in its earlier guise. It is one thing to advance the Project by stealth and the Monnet method, it is another to call a plebiscite and then to override the outcome.

He asks whether he needs to remind readers that our own government gave a "cast iron guarantee" to hold a referendum, but retreated claiming that Lisbon was tidying up exercise. It was no such thing. As we warned then, it created a European supreme court with jurisdiction over all areas of EU policy, with a legally-binding Charter of Fundamental Rights that opens the door to anything.

He also asks whether he needs to add that Britain's opt-out from the Charter under Protocol 30 - described as "absolutely clear" by Tony Blair on the floor of the Commons - has since been swept aside by the ECJ.

It is heartening, he says, that our judges have begun to resist Europe's imperial court, threatening to defy any decision that clashes with the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, or the core texts of our inherited constitution. But this raises as many questions as it answers.

For the rest of this long article, you have to go to the original - well worth the effort.

But we need detain ourselves here, briefly, with Ambrose's conclusion. Strangely, after making such a powerful case for leaving the EU, he urges nobody to follow his example. "It ill behoves anyone over 50 to exhort an outcome too vehemently", he says. "Let the youth decide. It is they who must live with consequences".

And there I must finish as I started, with a note of disagreement. The young, still influenced by years of pro-EU propaganda in their schools, colleges, and universities, are in no position to make a decision of such importance. It is too much like asking Komsomol members their opinion of the Soviet Union.

Unsurprisingly, those with more experience and (for some) a little wisdom are more opposed to the EU that the younger generation. For once, the young need to listen to the wisdom of their elders. Otherwise they may decide in ignorance and be forced to repent at leisure – once they have acquired a little wisdom of their own.

In any case, this is by no means a matter just for "youth" - as even Pete declares. We ancients have a dog in the fight: I have no desire to spend my remaining years as a "citizen" of the European Union. I was born British – and I mean to die British.






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