Leaving the EU is horrible, but it is the only way to preserve our democratic liberal nation state
Sadness, foreboding, and dismay that it ever came to such a point: these are the emotions that this reluctant Brexiteer feels as we finally leave the European Union on Friday.
I feel no satisfaction in the traumatic moment. Yet I stick to my view that this dysfunctional marriage had to end. Such is the Brexit paradox.
There has been much commentary over recent days dividing us (again) into opposed camps: Remainers still angry or in mourning, set against triumphant foes of Brussels. But what about the rest of us with more subtle feelings and in many cases a deep affection for l’Europe des patries?
Of course we recognise the advantages (for some) of being able to live and work anywhere in the EU. We know Brussels did a good job breaking down the cartels, opening up cheap air travel and (belatedly) ending the racket of roaming fees.
We can see that if you are dealing with a Chinese Communist Party that sees itself in “existential struggle” with the West, or with a pathological predator like Vladimir Putin, it is better to club together in self-protection. Mark these down on the good side of the ledger. But they are not the heart of the matter.
It has been a particularly irritating habit of the British establishment, aligned with a nexus of vested interests, and their army of academic and media auxiliaries, to reduce Brexit to a matter of trade above all else. If that were the case, then one would wish to stay in the EU.
But Brexit is not about trade, and nor are the details of customs clearance or rules of origin as important as we keep being told. They are not trivial but they are second order issues.
The elemental question is who runs this country. Do we wish to be a self-governing democracy under our own courts, or a canton of a higher supra-national regime that keeps acquiring more powers – beyond its ability to exercise them competently – through the Monnet Method of treaty creep?
There is no mechanism for removing this overweening hybrid executive in Brussels, even when it persists in error as did in nearly accomplishing the extinction of North Sea cod by sheer ecological vandalism, or when it forced half of Europe into a debt-deflation spiral from 2010 to 2015 based on economic doctrines discredited a century ago.
How do you dislodge the European Council from the Justus Lipsius when it behaves outrageously? Can you impeach it? No, you can’t.
Commission fonctionnaires may be urbane, talented, and hard-working, but they are not a civil service. They can launch dawn police raids. They can impose vast fines on their own authority. They have quasi-judicial powers and the prerogative of legislative initiative.
They are more like the Roman Curia. Nothing like this has existed in British political life since the Reformation. How do voters hold this Caesaropapist structure to account? They cannot do so. That is what Brexit is about.
There are great numbers of us in Britain, France, Holland, the Nordics, or the Czech Republic, who think the precious liberal nation state – inspired by the redemptive values of the English Bill of Rights and the Déclaration des droits de l'homme – has been a resounding success.
We think it is the only forum of authentic democracy, the agent of the greatest moral progress the world has ever seen. We think the systematic attempt to discredit the nation state by blaming it for two world wars is an historical sleight of hand, a lie fed to two generations of European school children though the co-ordinated Franco-German curriculum in a systematic brain-washing exercise.
We see it as the guarantor of social solidarity and a bulwark against religious agitation, fracture, and the unforgiving clash of communitarian identities. We think it should not be discarded lightly.
Prof Gil Delannoi from Science Po in Paris argues in La Nation contre le Nationalisme that the EU is acquiring the character of an empire, a softish variant akin to the Holy Roman Empire, but – he notes acidly – soft empires remain soft only until they meet resistance.
The ousted Greek and Italian prime ministers discovered this during the eurozone crisis. When the euro’s survival was a stake, the imperial reflex was to replace these mercurial leaders with reliable EU apparatchiks – nice gentlemen, to be sure, but usurpers shoehorned into office with the connivance of captured local elites.
The implacable difficulty is that no empire has ever been democratic, even if the imperial mother country can itself be democratic in internal matters. So what do you do if you think that the EU is in fundamental and dangerous constitutional conflict with your nation state, sapping the lifeblood out of your institutions?
The chaos in Parliament over the last three years does not validate claims that Britain's quirky form of national democracy has long passed its sell-by date. The Bercow nadir illustrates a different point: degradation is what happens when legislatures have been eviscerated and the political class has been infantilised by yielding its functions to a higher authority. You end up with a playground.
What do you do? You vote for Brexit, or Frexit, or whatever your cause may be called – if they let you – knowing that it is going to be a painful ordeal, and hating the fact that you are at odds with the European nations you admire.
We are told that the EU has learned its limits and has stopped accreting power. Another Conference on the Future of Europe is planned: a two-year vox pop foray to rebuild trust and show EU citizens that their voice counts.
Forgive me for wincing. I was the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent when Europe’s leaders – chastened by the torching of Gothenburg – published the Laeken Declaration in 2001. This mea culpa confessed that Europe’s peoples had come to see the EU as "a threat to their identity" and that there was no appetite for "a European superstate or European institutions inveigling their way into every nook and cranny of life."
It spoke of returning powers to the member states and restoring "democratic legitimacy" through a Philadelphia convention. What happened? EU insiders hijacked it. A praesidium under super-elitist Valéry Giscard d'Estaing picked Commission lawyers to draft the wording.
The final text called for an EU president, a justice department, a supreme court with jurisdiction over all areas of EU policy for the first time, and for scrapping the national veto across further swaths of policy. It became the Lisbon Treaty, pushed through by executive nod without a referendum, except in Ireland where voters promptly rejected it – to no avail obviously.
Sure enough, the insiders are already subverting this new attempt. The European Parliament – a self-promoting corporation as much as a legislature – has picked the arch-integrationist Guy Verhofstadt to lead the charge and is already talking of stripping states of their tax and foreign policy vetoes.
Nor can the EU retreat as long as the euro exists. The logic of monetary union is fiscal union, and that path leads to a unitary superstate. The euro cannot be made to work successfully any other way, as the German professoriate warned a quarter century ago.
Either the eurozone moves towards an EU treasury with shared debts, fiscal transfers, and federal tax powers, or it will stumble from crisis to crisis with each cyclical downturn until it blows apart. But to assume those powers is to strip the Bundestag and its peers of their core tax and spending prerogatives, without which democracy is a sham.
It is why the alluring cakeism of the City of London – in the EU but not in the euro – could never be a stable equilibrium and could not last. The notion that we could have it "both ways" and cling forever to a frozen status quo has been the great illusion of City Remainers. The EU is reorganising its constitutional structure around the viability of the euro and there is no place in this scheme for a sterling hold-out. We had to join them totally, or leave them.
My fond hope is that by saving our democratic nation state from slow asphyxiation we will head off a drift into anomie and dangerous political waters. The dust will settle and the world will wake up to find the same tolerant free-thinking UK, under the rule of law, that it has mostly been for 300 years, and wonder how it misread Brexit so badly.
It is Europe that the liberal intelligentsia should worry about. The EU has choked off the political breathing space of its members. It risks succumbing gradually to the Salvinis, the Orbans, and the neo-Falangist syndicalism of the AfD and the Rassemblement, as voters rebel against globalist cultural nihilism.
A liberal-minded Briton does not have to apologise for Brexit and the restoration of democratic self-rule, but that does not make it a pleasant exercise. The sadness is that Europe’s hard-driving ideological elites have led us to this regrettable juncture.
I will drink my toast on Friday to fellow souverainistes across the Channel. Join us soon.