Tomorrow, Britain gets to cast a vote on its continued membership in the European Union, although it is unclear how binding such a vote would be on the Government. Probably not binding at all. The latest opinion polls are giving it 51 per cent remain to 49 per cent leave. The bookie odds are in favour of the remain camp. I am guessing the remain vote will win. It shouldn’t. The debate has been asinine to say the least. The public deception has reached unbelievable heights. My own profession has been wheeled out or wheeled themselves out in grand statements about how catastrophic exit would be. I don’t believe much of it at all. I provided my opinion on the topic in this February 23, 2016 blog – If I was in Britain I would not want to be in the EU. I will not repeat the analysis here. But in the research I have been doing on how the Left has become neo-liberal, there was a lot of overlap in how the Left became, to their detriment, pro-Europe. Here is some points on that. I hope the Exit wins.
As part of my research on the way the British Left evolved, I have dug up a lot of material on the divisive debate in 1972 surrounding the European Communities Bill.
The debate in Britain about the proposed European Communities Bill 1972 was rather divisive.
It is interesting that the No vote was supported by the extremes on the left and the right, not to different to today.
I understand a lot of left-wingers are reluctant to vote EXIT because the likes of the looney Nigel Farage is pushing for that.
I am not sympathetic to very much that the right politicians espouse and do not think voting to leave is tantamount to nurturing their whacky ideas. But they are correct to advocate an exit.
Similar to today, the No camp was made up of an unholy alliance led by the extreme right-wing views of Enoch Powell, famous for his Rivers of Blood Speech and Tony Benn, a socialist Labour MP from the Left.
Powell was a racist no doubt who opposed immigration, anti-discrimination legislation and all the rest of it. But he was correct in his assessment of the loss of democracy that accession would entail.
At the time, British Labour was split over the issue. Its principle ‘pro-European’ voice was Deputy Leader Roy Jenkins, whereas future Prime Minister, then Foreign Minister, James Callaghan had stated his antipathy towards Europe in a Speech at Southampton on May 25, 1971:
But if we are to prove –– if we have to prove –– our Europeanism by accepting that French is the dominant language in the Community, then my answer is quite clear, and I will say it in French in order to prevent any misunderstanding: Non, merci beaucoup.
The British Labour leader Harold Wilson was also not particularly enamoured with the idea of joining the European Community but in the lead up to the Bill he agreed to support the principle of joining but to question some of the terms of the entry (particularly in relation to pricing under the Common Agricultural Policy).
This cartoon appeared in 1971 by cartoonist Hans Geisen to capture the domestic constraints that Prime Minister Heath faced in pushing his zeal for Europe.
Source: GEISEN, Hans. 30 Jahre politische Karikaturen 1958-1988, Eine Auswahl der besten und bisher unveröffentlichten Karikaturen. Basel: Basler Zeitung, 1988. 156 S. ISBN 3-85815-171-X.
As a reflection, when the accession was being discussed in the early 1960s, Geisen had produced this cartoon in 1962:
Source: GEISEN, Hans. 30 Jahre politische Karikaturen 1958-1988, Eine Auswahl der besten und bisher unveröffentlichten Karikaturen. Basel: Basler Zeitung, 1988. 156 S. ISBN 3-85815-171-X.
The early 1970s accession was complicated initially by the resistance of Norway who disputed proposed sea boundaries relating to its fishing operations. British Prime Minister Heath sent the Norwegians an ultimatum on November 29, 1971 to his Norwegian counterpart (Trygve Bratteli) saying that Norway’s demands were “intransigent” and that Britain would continue on with or without Norway.
During the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill (February 17, 1972), Wilson said:
The whole history of political progress is a history of gradual abandonment of national sovereignty … The question is not whether sovereignty remains absolute or not, but in what way one is prepared to sacrifice sovereignty, to whom and for what purpose … whether any proposed surrender of sovereignty will advance our progress to the kind of world we all want to see.
He was in fact repeating statements he made to the Commons on August 3, 1961 in a debate about the European Economic Community which sought “to make formal application under Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome in order to initiate negotiations to see if satisfactory arrangements can be made to meet the special interests of the United Kingdom, of the Commonwealth …”
The vehemently ‘pro-European’ Prime Minister Edward Heath targetted Labour MPs with similar sentiments as a means of overcoming the hostility within his own ranks, led by Enoch Powell.
Powell addressed the Conservative Party conference on October 14, 1971 in Brighton and said:
I do not believe that this nation, which has maintained and defended its independence for a thousand year, will now submit to set it merged or lost. Nor did I become a member of a sovereign parliament in order to consent to that sovereignty being abated or transferred.
In his – Comments to the House of Commons during the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill (February 17, 1972) Powell said (paragraph 699 onwards):
It shows first that it is an inherent consequence of accession to the Treaty of Rome that this House and Parliament will lose their legislative supremacy. It will no longer be true that law in this country is made only by or with the authority of Parliament—which in practice means the authority of this House. The legislative omni-competence of this House, its legislative sovereignty, has to be given up.
The second consequence … is that this House loses its exclusive control—upon which its power and authority has been built over the centuries—over taxation and expenditure … For the first time for centuries it will be true to say that the people of this country are not taxed only upon the authority of the House of Commons.
The third consequence … is that the judicial independence of this country has to be given up …
There is … a fourth consequence … the progressive strengthening of the Executive as compared with this House, or, to put it the other way, the continuing diminution of the power of this House to influence and control the Executive …
In archives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from 1971, the document FCO 30/1048 – released to the public in September 2012, is fascinating reading. It numbers some 224 pages and is a 203 mb download.
It discusses the “legal and constitutional implications of entry of UK into EEC” and appears to have gone before the British Cabinet on June 17, 1971.
It included a “Factsheet on Sovereignty” to summarise the implications. A more complete discussion of sovereignty followed and it is a fascinating exercise in trying to obscure the reality.
They distinguish between “sovereignty” and the “the realities of power”, and say “it is the latter which count”.
An example they give is the “UN General Assembly, where, for example Mauritius has the same vote as the US (but the realities of power are reflected by the veto in the Security Council”.
They also use the example of “Central American republics” who “are sovereign states recognised as such by other states, in practice they are limited by their relations with the US Government, and perhaps more critically with private US interests, both in their freedom of international action and in their ability to regulate affairs withintheir own boundaries.”
These external constraints thus are often accepted by nation states in the “pursuit of national interests”.
And so the typical argument was presented where the “increasing interdependence of modern states and the development of economic and other links which cut across national boundaries” has limited the “degree of independence of action” by sovereign states.
Further on, the briefing report does say admit that within the UK “the notion of sovereignty is bound up with the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty” which involves “the exclusive power to make supreme law”.
This leads to the more usual understanding of the nation state:
1. The Parliament makes “any law it wishes”.
2. “there is no legislative power in the land save by the authority of Parliament”.
So how would accession change this?
The Report is clear:
But there has been no comparable (and irrevocable) transfer of authority within the UK itself purporting to bind successor Parliaments; and although Parliament has occasionally enacted legislation which in terms purports to regulate the freedom of action of future Parliaments, in strictly legal terms such legislation does not prevent future Parliaments from legislating to the contrary.
And in specific terms (see Paragraphs 10 and 11 starting on page 6 of the FCO Report – page 23 of the PDF archive):
11. Membership of the Communities will involve us in extensive limitations upon our freedom of action.
They suggest this is similar to any “contractual agreement” (such as the GATT) but then admit:
But it is not correct to regard the European Community Treaties as involving solely matters of a legal significance equivalent to that of other existing treaties. For example, in matters within the Community field (see Annex) we shall be accepting an external legislature which regards itself as having direct powers of legislating with effect within the United Kingdom, even in derogation of United Kingdom statutes, and as having in certain fields exclusive legislative competence, so that our own legislature has none; in matters in which the Community has already adopted a common policy, we shall be accepting that the Commission will jointly represent the Member States, who to that extent will have their individual international negotiating powers limited; and we shall in various fields be accepting a wide degree of coordination of our policy with that of the rest of the Community. All of this we shall be accepting “for an unlimited period”, with no provision for withdrawal.
So in just the same way that the Eurozone elites claim the “euro is irrevocable” and Member States have no way out, Edward Heath was receiving advice in 1971 that this surrender of legislative authority would have “no provision for withdrawal”.
They also admitted that Britain would surrender its discretion in dealing with third parties:
… that in negotiations with the rest of the world on matters forming the subject of common Community policies, there would be joint representation by the Commission. The Community being exclusive in character and membership also means in practice giving up some of our important links with the remainder of the world (Commonwealth Preference for example).
Australia certainly felt the cold winds that followed Britain’s abandonment of its previous Commonwealth arrangements with respect to trade and other cooperative ventures. We were droppped like ‘hot cakes’!
The Report also provided an interpretation of the Treaty of Rome:
The loss of external sovereignty will however increase as the Community develops, according to the intention of the preamble to the Treaty of Rome “to establish the foundations of an even closer union among the European peoples”.
The Report considered the restrictions that would be placed on internal law making in Britain (so-called “internal sovereignty”).
It was clear (see Paragraph 12, page 9 of the document, page 26 of the PDF) that:
By accepting the Community Treaties we shall have to adapt the whole range of subsidiary law which has been made by the Communities. Not only this but we shall be making provision in advance for the unquestioned direct application (i.e. without any further participation by Parliament) of Community laws not yet made …
Community law is required to take precedence over domestic law …
the community system requires that such Community Law as applies directly as law in this country should by virtue of its own legal force as law in this country prevail over conflicting national legislation.
And so it went. The FCO briefing report continued to outline how joining the EEC would be “a further large step away from what is thought to be unfettered national freedom and a public acknowledgement of our reduced national power; moreover, joining the Community institutionalises in a single, permanent coalition the necessary process of accommodation and alliance over large areas of policy, domestic as well as external”.
It would subject Britain to a “remote bureaucrasy” which is “more powerful than compared with the democratic systems of the Community”.
We read that the European Community is not democratic, that “in the longest term the progressive development of the Community could indeed mean the weakening of the member states’ independence of action and in the last resort of their national institutions and their sovereignty”.
In conclusion, the FCO staff advise the Heath Government and the Labour Opposition (implicitly, given they did not see this secret report), “not to exacerbate public concern by attributing unpopular measures or unfavourable economic developments to the remote and unmanageable workings of the Community.”
In other words, don’t tell the public the bad news! In April 1970, for example, only 15 per cent of British voters indicated they were in favour of joining the EEC.
In Heath’s elevation to the top job on June 15, 1970, the issue of joining the Common Market was played down. But upon election, Heath’s pro-European mission began in earnest.
The Government certainly followed the advice of the FCO Report by misrepresenting what accession would mean.
In the White Paper, the Tories presented to the Commons outlining the accession, which was accompanied by a public pamphlet stressed how the accession was really just an entry to a common trading structure – the Common Market.
The usual claims were made – British industry would have better access to markets abroad – etc.
The public document said that there would be no compromise to British sovereignty, despite the secret FCO briefing report saying exactly the opposite.
The British people were told in the White Paper that:
There is no question of Britain losing national sovereignty; what is proposed is a sharing and an enlargement of individual national sovereignties in the economic interest.
There were also claims that the British fishing industry would be protected but the accessions negotiations subsequently revealed that there was no such undertakings. History tells us that the industry withered.
Heath was challenged about the undertakings he gave French Prime Minister Georges Pompidou at a Paris Summit over May 20 and 21, 1971 and he told the House of Commons on June 10, 1971:
We have said that as members of the enlarged Community we would play our full part in the progress owards economic and monetary union. That was confirmed in my talk with President Pompidou and in my statement to the House. We have said that we are prepared to envisage a gradual and orderly run-down of official sterling balances after our accession. We have said that after accession we would discuss measures by which a progressive alignment of the external characterisics of sterling with those of other Community currencies might be achieved. Both of these developments would be viewed in the context of progress towards economic and monetary union. But let me make absolutely clear that we have given no undertakings as to how fast or by what means these developments could or should be brought about. These would be matters for discussion after our entry, when we should be a full member of the Community with all the rights of a member.
He was specifically asked about the status of the pound if accession went ahead. He fudged his response (you can follow the debate at the link in the previous quote).
In documents subsequently revealed under FOI requests we learned that in fact Heath had told Pompidou that that his Government (Source):
… did not regard sterling as an instrument of prestige nor did they feel sentimental about it.
He also affirmed that Britain would “go as far and as fast as the Six towards the harmonisation of economic and monetary policies from a customs union to an economic union”. (see PREM 15/ 372 Pages 101-201.
It was also revealed that in the wake of the Hague Summit 1969 (and the resulting Werner Report) that the transition to a common currency would be completed by 1980. He evidently told Heath this at the Paris Summit in May, 1971.
On the Labour side, Tony Benn was opposed to entry because he considered it would compromise democracry within Britain.
In his 1981 book Arguments for Democracry he reflected that accession was:
… the most formal surrender of British sovereignty and parliamentary democracy that has ever occurred in our history.
The FCO briefing report did not disagree!
He told the BBC in 2014 (Source):
When I saw how the European Union was developing, it was very obvious what they had in mind was not democratic. In Britain, you vote for a government so the government has to listen to you, and if you don’t like it you can change it.
His position was consistent. In 1963 he gave an interview to the Encounter magazine when Harold Macmillan first tried to access the Common Market. He said (page 21 in Winstone, Ruth (2015) The Best of Benn: Speeches, Diaries, Letters and Other Writings, London, Arrow Books):
The idea of Britain joining the Common Market is emotionally very attractive. To throw open our windows to new influences, to help shape the destiny of a new community, even to merge our sovereignty in a wider unit … By contrast the xenophobic, parochial delusions of grandeur … appear petty, old-fashioned, and reactionary. But the issue must not be decided by either of these emotions. A political decision of this magnitude calls for a cold hard examination …
First, that the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses Bureacracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice under democratic control …
A significant proportion of Labour Party MPs at the time were similarly against the idea of accession. They understood that Britain would be entering an arrangement where corporations dominated policy making with the interference of the IMF who had as Benn wrote in 1981 “no allegiance to the nation”.
Tony Benn was also worried about the erosion of workers’ rights.
As is the case in the current debate, there are those who claim that without EU membership, the conservatives will ravage the rights of workers in Britain.
Back in time, this issue also weighed on the Left. Even during the 1983 national election, the British Labour Party were campaigning to exit Europe and that sentiment continued up until the late 1980s.
But interestingly, it was the then President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors who shifted opinion among trade unionists and set the Pro European trend that we now observe within the British Left, which will probably push the vote in favour of Remain tomorrow.
Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing!
I remind everyone that Delors, a so-called socialist was the Economics, Finance, and Budget Minister in the Mitterand government (1983 to 1984) who strengthened the neo-liberal program that Raymond Barre had begun in the 1970s.
This was the famous ‘austerity turn’ that the Mitterand socialists imposed on France as they became neo-liberals.
Delors then moved to Brussels and pushed through the Maastrict Treaty and the mess that we now see as the Eurozone.
But he certainly schmoozed the British trade union movement in 1988.
He gave a famous speech – Speech to Trades Union Congress – at Bournemouth, September 8, 1988.
The TUC was facing the Thatcher hostility and Delors assured them that the successful implementation of the Single Market Act would establish “a platform of guaranteed social rights”; “would include the participation of workers or their representatives” and would allow the British workers to by pass Thatcher and become part of the movement “to improve workers’ living and working conditions, and to provide better protection for their health and safety at work.”
That won over the TUC and one might suggest that at that point the British Left lost perspective.
In an article I read last week (June 16, 2016) – Labour: for the EU, against the people – the author (a lawyer) argues that “Corbyn’s party has lost faith in democracy”.
John Holbrook (the author) suggests the pro-European position that British Labour has adopted:
Effectively, it is arguing that the British people cannot be trusted at the ballot box. Give them the freedom to elect a government, with real power, and they may choose the wrong government that passes the wrong laws. Wisdom, in the eyes of Labour, lies not with the people, but with bureaucrats based in Brussels.
I often receive E-mails from those who suggest they are sympathetic to the Exit case but worry that it would give carte blanche to the neo-liberals to wreak havoc.
My response is as now – if it is bad enough you can vote them out. You cannot vote Brussels out.
Except for tomorrow!
Jon Holbrook’s take on this is that Delors and others “persuaded many to do what Benn warned them not to do: to believe that a good king was better than a bad parliament”.
But if the opinion polls are accurate, the people are not convinced. British Labour according to Jon Holbrook now “reflects the interests of a European elite”.
He surmises that British Labour is now seen “as the party of the metropolitan elite” and has lost faith in the judgement of the people to determine their own destinies via the ballot box.
Labour gave up on the ballot box decades ago, and the people are now using the ballot box to trash the Euro-elite that Labour stands for.
Somewhat longer than I planned but that is what happens when one gets lost in the archives.
I hope tomorrow that Britain votes to leave the European Union.
If they do they will be voting to restore the capacity (potential) of the people to resist the corporate elites and their servants in Brussels who have overseen the most brutual neo-liberal austerity – the most horrific treatment of people for decades.
They will be rejecting the corporate elites who have wined and dined the political elites of Europe to ensure the distribution of income is pushed further in their favour.
They have left a nation (Greece) is a supplicant, depressed state.
All the talk in the late 1940s about creating political structures to ensure Germany never went to war again are now irrelevant. NATO prevents that not the European Union.
The European Union – the ‘European Project’ – is a decaying, necrotic arrangement that is incapable of dealing with the challenges of the present, much less the future.
Its economic design has failed. It is incapable of dealing with the migration issue. It has long gone past its use by date.
That is enough for today!