Suppose in 1945, with the Nazi war machine smashed and Britain rejoicing after the greatest victory in her history, we had been told: “Of course, 50 years hence your leaders will have surrendered your sovereignty to the people you’ve just defeated and those you’ve liberated. In effect, they will be your masters, your lawmakers – oh, and incidentally, it will be a crime to sell in pounds and ounces…” The prophet would have been ridiculed, perhaps even reviled as a traitor and probably put in a padded cell.
Well, it has happened.
So wrote George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels, a few years before he died in 2008. Since when, of course, things have got a whole lot worse. But if he’d met the angry Remainer I was talking to in the pub last night, he would have been told his argument was entirely invalid.
“If you use the word Nazi you’ve lost the debate,” the angry Remainer explained. (He’d got very cross about something Leave campaigner Michael Gove had said. So cross that he was now more certain than ever that Britain should hand over the last vestiges of its sovereignty to unaccountable bureaucrats in the German-dominated EU.).
“Oh really? And who made that rule?” I asked him.
“Everyone knows this. Just look it up on the internet,” said the man.
Well, I don’t mean to be rude. I’m sure that somewhere buried within that angry Remainer was a perfectly decent, thoughtful chap who’d simply been scared witless by all the propaganda scare stories the EU-controlled establishment has been so assiduously promoting these last few weeks. Even so, do any of us really want to wake up tomorrow morning to find ourselves in a country where arguments as flimsy as this man’s have tipped the balance in the most important democratic decision any British subject will make in their entire lives?
I’d call this referendum life and death stuff, except that would be to trivialise it: of course, it’s much more important than that. On its outcome depends the future, the liberty and wellbeing not just of 60 million or so British subjects but also that of many millions more Britons as yet unborn.
I want those unborn Britons to discover, as most of us do once we’ve achieved full consciousness, that to be born British is to win life’s lottery. But in order for them to do that there must still be a recognisably British Britain for them to inherit.
My American friends at the Ricochet Podcast asked me the other day what exactly I meant by Britishness. In the last few years there have been some cringemaking official attempts to define this quality – “tolerance” and other such bien-pensant (and frankly unBritish) drivel. For me, though, all it means is a heartfelt sympathy with our island story – 1066; Magna Carta; the Civil War; the Glorious Revolution; Waterloo; 1940 “Our Finest Hour”; and so on; and an appreciation of the achievements of the heroes and heroines who made it possible, from Alfred the Great through to Queen Elizabeth I, from Shakespeare to Elgar, from Florence Nightingale and Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
You don’t have to like or agree with all them, only to understand that collectively they embody what has shaped us as a people and made us one of the greatest nations on earth. This applies, as far as I’m concerned, whatever your religion or race or even country of birth. If you’ve got your British passport fair and square and if you’re as proud to be British as any native-born son or daughter then as far as I’m concerned, you’re in. You’re one of us.
If you believe in all this what you’ll also believe in, as night follows day, are the traditions and institutions that have evolved in the process. Parliament, of course. And freedom of the press. Property rights. English common law. The established Church – and its separation from state. Constitutional Monarchy. As well as smaller stuff like hunt meets, Morris dancing at village fetes, cheese-rolling, the Trooping of the Colour, Highland Games and Eisteddfods. Again you don’t have to like or agree with all these things; only to accept that these are part of our national tapestry, the things that make Britain distinct from any other country in the world.
This distinction, this British exceptionalism, this is not something our friends in the European Union value in the slightest. Look how hard we had to fight them just to be able to keep our weights and measures, like the mile and the pint. For fans of the European project this, I appreciate, is one of those trivial, jingoistic arguments which no mature, sophisticated person ought to care about. We’re all citizens of the world, now, apparently. Sovereignty is so 18th century. International relations are about co-operation, supranational decision-making by a global elite, ever closer union…
But I’m afraid I disagree. There is much that I love about the European continent which is why I never tire of exploring it. But the reason I find France and Italy and Germany and Spain and Portugal interesting is because they’re French and Italian and Spanish and Portuguese, not because they’re “European”.
One of the things that has struck me throughout this referendum campaign is how upbeat and joyous the tone of the Brexiteers has been and how relentlessly negative (and dishonest) the tone of the Remainers. There may be lots of good reasons for this but the most powerful is simply this: we have such faith in our nation and its achievements that we just know we’ll do so much better if we’re free than we will if we remain shackled to the failed, anti-democratic bureaucracy of the European Union.
I’m not suggesting that Remainers are unpatriotic. Just misguided, ill-informed or intellectually dishonest. If you still need persuading that this is so then I recommend you read this superb analysis in the National Review.
Here’s a flavour:
Why might the British people — who among their historical achievements are pioneers of constitutional parliamentary liberal democracy — wish to exchange their successful self-governing democracy for this constitutional abortion? What arguments is the Remain campaign able to mount in favor of doing so?
Remain advocates deny the plain fact that EU membership means a loss of sovereignty. On this central question Remain has only lies and obfuscation to offer. It denies the plain fact that EU membership means a loss of sovereignty. When that proves unpersuasive, it argues that “sovereignty” is an outdated theoretical concept unusable in the modern world; instead the British should choose effective “power” over it. Scholars will recognize this argument as the typical socialist confusion, exposed by Hayek among others, between freedom and power, applied to relations between states. It’s odd to hear this classic socialist trope from supposedly conservative politicians such as David Cameron. But things are worse than that. In exchange for its democratic sovereignty, the EU offers Britain not power but a one-twenty-eighth share of collective decision-making with countries whose interests are badly aligned with those of the Brits.
All this is true. My fear is that tomorrow morning Britain may wake with the most almighty hangover, survey the wreckage, listen to the triumphal ullulations of the Establishment elite, and say to itself: “Oh God, oh God, what did I do?”
To avert such a disaster all we need do is look in our hearts and have faith in ourselves. If you believe in Britain there’s only one way to vote…
So do it!