[Guest post by Joel Pearce]
This may come as little surprise to some, but I nevertheless thought that I would make it public: I support the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s exit from the European Union. In fact, no, that is something of a falsification – what I actually support is a dissolution of the European Union itself, and a return of sovereignty to the 28 member states that comprise it.
It always confounds me how uniform social media is in its opinion sharing, and yet even I didn’t expect such monotone Europhilia to fill my newsfeed for the referendum period. You would think that a demographic that describes itself as ‘left-wing’ and ‘anti-establishment’ might be a little put out by a state that imposed austerity on Greece (against the wishes of its democratically elected government), disbanded a progressive Portuguese government (because it was too hostile to the European Union), and has market economics encoded into its constitution (indeed, it is illegal to nationalize industry as a member of the European Union, something Jeremy Corbyn will swiftly find out if he comes to power). But no, the Student Left has lined up behind the most powerful state in the world in opposition to a mythical ‘Tory establishment’. But who is really ‘the establishment’?
Who Rules over You?
Voltaire provided something of a litmus test, proposing that: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” This is a simple, self-explanatory methodology, and I really like it – so let’s give it a whirl. Am I allowed to criticize the Tory Party? Well, yeah, it would seem so. I can say anything I want about the Conservatives – no matter how outrageous – and I am unlikely to be opposed. What about the Labour Party? Again, I’m pretty sure I can get away with saying whatever I want about them. UKIP? Again, any shit sticks as far as they’re concerned. The British Monarchy? Virtually a pastime in this country. But the European Union, what happens if I criticize that institution? According to Owen Jones, I then apparently belong to “a faction that believes in cuts, privatisation and policies that favour the wealthiest, with added xenophobia and dogwhistle racism” or, according to Marina Hyde, I thus favour Nigel Farage and “a vote for his quiet malice, a vote for his smallness in the face of vast horrors”. Again, even rather lukewarm scepticism of the European Union has been met by my peers as evidence of latent racism, xenophobia, or bigotry. So who rules over me? Bingo! The European Union.
As in the EEC referendum of 1975, most people are labouring under the misapprehension that the European Union is merely a free association of sovereign states, a mere agreement between a number of democratically constituted governments. This is false. The European Union is a state: it has its own government, its own president (unelected, of course), its own court, its own border, its own flag, its own currency (that we escaped being part of by a hair’s breadth ), and soon its own army. Not only this, but the European Union has the ability to overrule our own democratically elected government whenever it likes. Our famous ‘veto’ showed its true worth when, in 1976, just a year after we voted to remain in the EEC on the promise that we would retain our sovereignty, our government was overruled on the new Commons Fishery Policy. Since that time, our government, and all the governments of the EEC and then the EU, have been overruled without cease – the Dutch and French in 2005, the Irish in 2008, and the Greeks in 2015 most notably of all. We are not a member-state of the European Union – we are a province of it, and the House of Commons is not a parliament but a regional assembly. Once this becomes clear, you soon realize what is at stake.
So how does the European Union operate? There are elections, right, in which we get to choose our representatives? Well, kind of. The legislative chamber in the European parliament – the equivalent of the House of Commons – is the European Commission, which is entirely unelected. All positions in the Commission are appointed by secret ballot. If that doesn’t sound a little gut-churning, wait until you hear what the current (unelected) president of the Commission, Jean Claude Junker, has to say about how things go down behind closed doors:
We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.
Junker, in his own words. Cripes! And we think David Cameron is bad.
So what role do the elected representatives, the MEPs, play? Well, they’re the second chamber – the equivalent of the House of Lords – who do not have the power to draft legislation, but are tasked with passing it. The problem is – again, like the House of Lords – they have no real power, and in effect just rubber stamp whatever the Commission gives them. They can veto or delay legislation but virtually never do, and are essentially a ‘mock parliament’ that has only a simulacrum of control.
You must now understand why a referendum on the issue is so important. We forget that our legislators in the Houses of Parliament are employed by us, that every five years (or whenever an election is) our MPs divest themselves of their powers and return them to us, the electorate, who then decide how to re-invest them. This is bottom-up power relations, and has worked tremendously well (by historical comparison) for the three and a half centuries of unbroken government we’ve had in this country since the Bill of Rights was signed in 1688. This all came to loggerheads with the European Communities Act 1972, signed by none other than a Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, at which point our MPs voted to transfer some of that power to a Commission in Brussels not directly elected by us, the people.
So we invested power in our MPs, only for them to siphon some of it away to an unaccountable body, and come back to us for the next election, in 1974, with a reduced amount of decision-making abilities. It was never theirs to give away in the first place! With every further treaty, more and more powers have been divested from the people and given to the parliament in Brussels, with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 effectively ending the United Kingdom’s status as sovereign country. Enshrined in all these treaties is the notion that the driving force of the European Union is ‘ever-closer union’, meaning ever less powers for the electorate. If we vote to Remain, who knows how little decision-making powers we’ll have in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years time?
Unlike the House of the Commons, with the European Commission the powers belong exclusively to them – there are, after all, no elections. This is top-down power relations, where they decide our laws for us without our acknowledged input or consent. The younger generation – for reasons I struggle to discern – prefer this arrangement to the one their parents and grandparents had, and if this referendum were to be held in a decade or two’s time it would be a landslide for Remain. In other words, it is now or never: do we govern ourselves, or do we not? I have made the decision that I would rather be a Little Englander who has the power to elect his legislators than a progressive who does not.