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Roger Scruton: We voted to leave the EU to get back the right to rule ourselves


(In the second part of his broadcast on the EU, an affront to democracy, philosopher Roger Scruton explains how its founding treaty – The Treaty of Rome – traded national sovereignty for a sovereignty that could never be democratically exercised.)

Europe was set on the path towards democracy by the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which ended the devastating 30 Years’ War. The Treaty marginalised religion, established a secular rule of law in the sovereign states of Central Europe and rearranged borders so that nationality, rather than faith, should become the ground of political allegiance.

In all subsequent conflicts, peace has been achieved when the nation states of Europe have agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty, and to allow each nation to make its own laws and to live unmolested within its borders. And it has worked, at least for short periods between the conflicts, and will surely continue to work so long as the nation states are democratically governed.

The Treaty of Rome, which founded the European project, was the first real departure from that long-standing peace-making process. It was not a Treaty guaranteeing the sovereignty of its signatories, but a treaty to diminish national sovereignty, with the ultimate aim of destroying it. It was a Treaty against the nation state. It was advertised at first as a customs union, but it soon became clear that those who signed up to the Treaty were not merely surrendering their ability to tax the goods crossing their borders, they were surrendering their border too, and also the right to make laws within them. In short, they were relinquishing national sovereignty in exchange for sovereignty of another kind. But this other kind of sovereignty could never be democratically exercised, since the people would never identify with it as ‘ours’ always, those laws handed down from on high would be laws coming from them over whom we had no say.

This, in my view, is the real reason why so many people voted to leave the European Union. They were voting for the right to vote on matters of shared national concern.

The official story is that the Treaty of Rome aims to regulate trade and commerce between the nation states, but in subsidiary matters, where the application of the treaty is not in question, national governments exercise full sovereign choice. As for the European Commission, its directives and regulations are purely technical matters, governing the management of the internal market. In such matters, national parliaments have always been happy to delegate to experts. So what is there to worry about?

That official story is entirely deceptive. The scope of the Treaty is unlimited, since all laws and decisions can be understood as bearing on trade between the nation states. This free movement of people across national borders has been justified as an integral part of the internal market, while laws concerning the terms and conditions of employment have been used both to impose a moral code of nondiscrimination and to penalise people who wish to get ahead by working longer hours than their competitors. In the name of the internal market, we have discovered, people can be bossed about in every aspect of their social being, and no parliament can defend its electorate from this. The metrication directives led to the abolition of long-established customs of our high streets, to great popular discontent.

This profound change, which affects not only our historical identity, but also our trading relations with America was branded merely as an adjustment to the internal market. Hence, parliament had no right to question the result, even though it was an affront to the British people, their history and their long-established patterns of trade.

The promise of sovereignty in subsidiary matters is, in fact, entirely empty. For who decides which matters are subsidiary? Who decides that a nation may pass its own laws when considering the terms of employment contracts, or the standards of energy efficiency in buildings? The answer is: the European Commission. The government has sovereignty only if the Commission permits it, and that, of course, is not sovereignty at all. The term ‘subsidiarity’ is a term of newspeak, which means the opposite of what it pretends. It means that national governments are not sovereign at all.

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