You have to admit it – Jeremy Hunt’s was not the most diplomatic of comments, accusing the EU of turning into a Soviet Union-style prison from which there is no escape for any member state. But the Commission’s uncompromising behaviour in the Brexit so-called ‘negotiations’ suggests just that. And it’s not the first time the bloc wasn’t happy about referendum outcomes it didn’t approve of.
Witness the 13 out of 48 referendum results which rejected the EU line. Most notable was Greece in 2015, when 61.3 per cent voted against the proposed bail-out deal. Shortly afterwards a second bail-out deal, with even harsher conditions, was accepted. There were a further three, involving Denmark in 1992, Ireland in 2001 and again in 2008, when proposals were rejected, only to be accepted a year later, with certain ‘adjustments’.
So to some extent, Mr Hunt has a point. And when the EU Parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt rounded on him, claiming that ‘Churchill and Thatcher, these great defenders of European democracy, must be turning in their graves’ – well, he too had a point, but certainly not for the reasons he was implying. To understand just how mischievous Mr Verhofstadt was being, you have to go to the Churchill and Thatcher speeches to which he was indirectly referring, given respectively in 1946 and 1988, to see exactly what those two great Conservatives really thought about the prospect of the EU and a federal Europe.
Churchill addressed the University of Zürich in September 1946. It’s an interesting speech, given decades before the realities of the EU’s intentions were clarified, slowly and grudgingly, to its member states.
He spoke of Europe: ‘This noble continent, the home of all the great parent races of the Western world, the foundation of Christian faith and ethics, the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times’. He accepted that tragedy had been foisted on it by the ‘series of frightful nationalistic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations in their rise to power’. Churchill could foresee a remedy – a new regional organisation of Europe, founded on broad natural groupings, which could give a sense of enlarged patriotism and common citizenship to the peoples of Europe. In his words, ‘the structure of the United States of Europe will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by a contribution to the common cause’.
It was not for nothing that he delivered this speech in Switzerland – a confederation of highly decentralised cantons, each with its own political, social and economic decision-making, with only foreign and defence policy centralised in the Bundesrat. Individual cantons, to this day, have their own tax and public services policies; deal with health, education, agriculture, energy, and the environment, and increasingly take their own decisions on immigration and asylum. Any changes to cantonal or federal law are subject to direct democratic referenda.
So Churchill was justified in addressing his Zürich audience in terms of his ‘remedy . . . which would, in a few years , make all Europe . . . as free and happy as Switzerland is today’.
If only . . .
Margaret Thatcher, addressing the College of Europe in Bruges in 1988 was faced with a very different European reality. She, like Churchill in 1946, was entirely in favour of European co-operation and mutual defence to enable individual states to realise their full economic potential and have the opportunity to feature more strongly on the international scene. But she knew exactly where to draw the lines – lines which Mr Verhofstadt would today reject as far-Right populism, and even undemocratic!
Thatcher reiterated the same appreciation of Europe’s great achievements, in particular the concept of the rule of law, which marks a civilised society from barbarism, and – crucially – the idea of Christendom, with its recognition of the unique and spiritual nature of the individual, from which our belief in personal freedom and human rights derives.
But Thatcher’s vision of the best way to build a European Community was ‘willing and active co-operation between independent sovereign states’. She went on: ‘To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging, and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve. Europe will be stronger because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity. It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European personality.’
Most importantly, she insisted: ‘Working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy . . . It is ironic that just when those countries such as the Soviet Union, which have tried to run everything from the centre, are learning that success depends on dispersing power and decisions away from the centre, there are some in the Community who seem to want to move in the opposite direction.’ For Thatcher, a more united Europe ‘must . . . preserve the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country, for these have been the source of Europe’s vitality through the centuries’.
What a brilliant vision. And how grotesquely mis-realised by the current Council and Commission, and cravenly surrendered by our current puny UK politicians, of both Left and Right. I hope you got all that, Guy . . . but I doubt if you listened to it or read it. If you did though, you’ve probably dismissed it as dangerous neo-Nazi nationalism and a threat to your own well-funded nomenklatura status.
Yes, both Winston and Margaret must be turning in their graves, but only because totalitarian Brussels will never accept member state sovereignty. What inspirational Conservative visionaries Churchill and Thatcher were, and how bleak the current political landscape in Britain, where there is no one prepared to risk their own petty political future for the greater good of the national interest.