Lord Willoughby de Broke
LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
Lord Willoughby de Broke is a UKIP member of the House of Lords. He is one of the ninety hereditary peers elected to remain in the House of Lords after the passing of the House of Lords Act 1999. Whilst he was in the Conservative Party he was a Vice-President of Conservatives Against a Federal Europe (CAFE).
Lord Willoughby de Broke is the Chairman of St Martin’s Theatre Company and an Honorary Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. He was President of the Heart of England Tourist Board. In 2006 he was elected as the Chairman of the Warwickshire Hunt. He is also a Deputy Lieutenant for Warwickshire. and President of the Warwickshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
His political interests include Tibet, rural affairs and the EU. He shall talk on The EU, the House of Lords and the Lisbon Treaty.
Gerald Frost is a senior journalist, author and speechwriter who has written widely about domestic and international politics. Gerry was Director of the London based Centre for Policy Studies from 1992 until 95 and head of the Institute of European Defence and Strategic Studies, which he founded in 1981. Gerald Frost has edited more than 70 books and monographs, and written widely in the international media.
He is currently the editor of the Eurosceptic magazine Eurofacts. Gerry Frost’s talk was titled Euroscepticism: Why has it failed?
Speech by Lord Willoughby de Broke
I was interested to hear what Gerry Frost had to say because I greatly admire what he’s done in publishing Eurofacts and bringing the facts of the argument to a wider public. And I’m going to ignore his rather disobliging remarks about UKIP; I’ll leave that for another day.
My subject really is what has been going on in the House of Lords and I come to you from the coal face, hot and darkened with dust this evening from a vote on the third reading of the Lisbon Treaty Bill, where the Conservative amendment was defeated by a very substantial majority of 90 odd votes, which is more than they lost the original referendum vote on last week, which was lost by about 50 votes, this was nearly double that. And you have to ask why? I don’t think it was the strength of the arguments, I think it was a lot of Conservatives were at Ascot actually, that’s why I think the vote was so substantial.
I think I need to explain to you why somehow you may feel the House of Lords has let you down, perhaps the eurosceptics, well let’s look at the complexion of the House of Lords first of all. There are about 215 Labour peers, about 208 Conservative peers, 200 cross-benchers, 60/65 Lib Dems, there is the church of course who are completely Europhile the Bishops and then there are the disaffects, people like Lord Black who wasn’t able to be with us tonight, Lord Archer and then the UKIP duo of Malcolm Pearce and myself and other people who don’t feel able to take a party whip.
But of course the 200 cross-benchers aren’t perhaps what they were a few years ago, which really they are the balance in the Lords, the maths speak for themselves but it seems to be a sunset home for commissioners. In the Lords we’ve got Lord Kinnock, Brittan, Tugendhat, Richard, Clinton-Davis, a raft of them in other words there. The cross-benchers also have people who are on Government chairman of quangos of various sorts, nearly all appointed under the Labour Government although they have to, by convention, sit on the cross-benches they are temperamentally inclined to vote Labour or are temperamentally Europhile. And then the Lib Dems of course, we know what their position is, I think we do, I’m not sure they know themselves but I’ll go into that in a minute.
So the reason that if you’re surprised about the votes in the Lords, simply it’s the mathematics, it isn’t if you like in our, the eurosceptics, the rationalists, the euro-realists, its not in our favour, which is one of the reasons of course we’ve never won a single amendment during all the 11 days of debate on the Lisbon Treaty.
The Lib Dems of course really are the special ones, I mean they manage to vote in the Commons, some of them lost the whip because they voted against their own party and voted for a referendum. When it came to the Lords, they managed to do a sort of double U-turn and didn’t vote for a referendum and didn’t vote to abstain, they decided they would vote actually with the Government. So it made it very difficult, it was like nailing jelly to a wall to work out what the ‘Lib Dim’ position actually was, but in the end they made it quite clear that they were going to vote regardless of what their leader said, they were going to vote with the Government and support the Lisbon Treaty.
Now this evening’s debate was interesting because of course after the Irish vote the Lisbon Treaty is technically dead, its moribund, it’s all over for the Lisbon Treaty at the moment. It requires as you all know 27 signatories to get it through, to ratify it, one of those countries, the only country that was given a referendum decided not to ratify the Treaty so it is dead, but you wouldn’t have thought it to hear the debate tonight.
In fact Lord Brittan got up and said, and I quote, ‘the Treaty is not dead its asleep’. By God if you were Sleeping Beauty you wouldn’t want to be kissed awake by Lord Brittan would you? And there were a mass, there was Lord Kerr of Kinlochard who formulated the constitution in the earlier Treaty that was voted down by the French and the Dutch voters and of course they simply cannot accept that their pet baby was voted down by the Irish this time having very carefully ensured as far as they possibly could that there would be no referendums at all in the European Union, it was too dangerous to do it, they’d all agreed that. They said there’s going to be no referendum we can’t allow that, just like the Government here, we really can’t ask the people it’s too dangerous and they’re too ignorant to be asked. Luckily the Irish, I think it was the Irish Court, the Irish High Court, the Irish Supreme Court said this Treaty was of Constitutional importance and therefore a referendum was required.
So that is the position and there were several speeches by eminent legal personalities in the Lords who explained in words of one syllable – actually no lawyers never use one syllable when ten will do – but they did explain quite clearly that the Treaty was dead but other noble Lords then got up and said no its not dead at all, it is like Lord Brittan said, its asleep or the Irish made a mistake or they weren’t actually voting about the Treaty, they were voting about the colour of Brian Cowen’s socks or about abortion or anything but about what the Treaty was about. Exactly what they said if you remember when the French voted down the constitution, they were voting against Mitterrand and not about the issues in the referendum, a total lie.
But it does get under people’s skins in the end, this constant drip of superiority, of arrogance, of denial that people know what they’re voting about and I believe that in spite of tonight’s vote, it doesn’t alter the fact that the Treaty is actually dead. And I spoke to Lord Neill, who is not a law lord but he is a very highly respected legal person and he said ‘no the Treaty is definitely dead’. He spoke tonight and I collared him afterwards and I also spoke to Lord Christopher Kingsland who was Shadow Lord Chancellor and he certainly knows what he’s talking about he said ‘no its all over for the Treaty, its dead, they’ll have to come back with a different Treaty or they’ll have to ask the Irish to vote again’. And I think the chance of the Irish being amenable to having a Treaty stuffed back down their throats is remote in the extreme.
So what is going to happen? There will be confabulation, there will be a lot of eminent groups and all of the things they love calling their study groups in Europe and they’ll get together and they’ll try and think of a fudge. But I think it’s going to be quite difficult to be honest and no one seems to want a new treaty, even the Government admitted that tonight but the Lisbon Treaty is non-operative, it’s finished but it is extraordinary how many peers tonight simply won’t accept that.
The Lib Dems were in total denial. Shirley Williams said ‘well they were voting on the wrong thing and didn’t have the right information’ and I didn’t get up and speak because there were too many speakers and they were too long to be honest, but I felt like saying well, which is true, yesterday morning I went out to look at my sheep and there was a dead ewe in the field. So I went up to it and I kicked it, it was still dead and I didn’t call the vet and say this ewe is not dead its alive so could you please resuscitate it. But that is the mindset now and in fact that was exactly what Barroso said, his first reaction when he came looking, I have to say a little bit green about the gills after the Irish vote was announced and said ‘the Treaty is not dead, it is alive’. Well you can make your own judgement as to whether it’s dead or alive.
So we had several vigorous exchanges in the Lords and the Europhile lordships don’t really appreciate UKIP at all so we were always under attack and our amendments, although we tried to tell the truth about what Europe really means and what it means to our democracy, it wasn’t very popular. But there were some rather amusing moments and I want to share one with you because it concerns Gerry Frost and Eurofacts.
One of the front bench spokesmen is called Lord Wallace of Saltaire who is incredibly pleased with himself, in a very academic way he’s cleverer than most people and boy does he let you know he’s cleverer than most people. And he had terrific fun one evening, it was quite late and he brandished – I have to say that I’m partly guilty because I gave Lord Wallace a subscription to Eurofacts for Christmas, and I did give it to all the Liberal front bench, I thought it would really make their Christmas holiday – and he picked it up and said ‘oh here we’ve got Eurofacts’ with a sort of sneering grin to Malcolm Pearson and me who were sitting up on the back benches, ‘and it appears according to Eurofacts that seers, crystal ball gazers and fortune tellers are going to be regulated out of existence by the European Union, they will have to qualify under one of these directives that the UKIP people keep on talking about, ha ha ha, isn’t that funny, isn’t it ridiculous’ and he sat down to wild cheers from the Lib Dem benches. Fine. Two days later what was the page three story in The Times, ‘Crystal ball gazers, fortune tellers are going to be regulated by the EU’. That was under the EU Commercial Practices Directive and here’s the story in Eurofacts, so if you haven’t read it I strongly advise you to subscribe to Eurofacts and get the full story.
So we circulated the Times story together with the extract from Hansard and circulated it to everyone in the House of Lords who took part in those debates and that was in a way a little bit of quiet revenge which was quite enjoyable.
Another enjoyable moment was when UKIP, that was Malcolm Pearson and me, put down an amendment which the Liberal Democrats wanted to have in the Commons – they weren’t allowed to table it, the speaker said it was inadmissible – was a referendum not on the Lisbon Treaty but on whether we should be in or out of the European Union, that’s what the Lib Dems wanted... sorry I misspoke, the ‘Lib Dims’, that’s what they wanted. So we put that forward, we wanted to help, they didn’t put it forward but we did, always ready to help and so we put it forward, we spoke to it very movingly and of course the Conservatives opposed it as they were bound to do so, they don’t want to be painted as get outers, good God no, and so we voted, we divided the House on this amendment, which is what the Liberal Democrats said they always wanted, they said they don’t want to vote on the Lisbon Treaty, lets vote in or out, let the people vote on that, so good, we’ll have that. And I said well I hope our noble friends the Liberal Democrat benchers will support us, no, they sat on their hands like sort of crows on a branch and didn’t go into lobby at all they abstained. And when they were challenged on this by David Howell on the Conservative front bench why they hadn’t supported their own amendment, what was their amendment in the Commons, they said they couldn’t bring themselves to support a UKIP amendment, some sort of contamination by being close to us on the voting lobby or something.
So its been a difficult time in the Lords really but you have to hang onto the fact that the Irish have voted the Treaty down, which is absolutely brilliant and I’d like to go just a little bit wider because what is happening I think in Parliament – and I notice it in the Lords because I spend quite a lot of time there and particularly when there are EU regulations and directives coming through – that Parliament, lets say Parliament broadly, its true of the Commons and the Lords are losing power now. So much of our legislation comes from Brussels.
Just the other day, and I don’t know if this was in Eurofacts or not, McCreevy, the Competition Commissioner I think, said 80% of our commercial law/legislation now comes from Brussels. That was not a scare story from Eurofacts, it was not a scare story from The Daily Mail, it wasn’t the Murdock press, it wasn’t anything like that, it was the Commission saying that and I notice that all the time when I’m in the Lords. We keep on getting things put up on the order paper, the legislation on waste electrical and electronic directive, the driver’s hours regulations, the curd cheese regulations. Just the other day we had a nice one, the recognition of furrier’s qualifications regulations. I had no idea that Lords knew so much about furriers but they did. But I had to tell them and a lot of them still don’t realise it that you cannot do anything about it, we can debate them, we can have a wonderful time displaying our expertise and there were two members of the Worshipful Company of Furriers there who said what absolute rubbish this furriers regulation was. And I said well that’s all very well but it is rubbish, of course it is, but we cannot do anything about it, the Government have to sign up to it, we have to agree to it, it’s a done deal, we can’t do anything about it so there’s actually not much point debating it, you might as well do the crossword or go and have a drink or something else.
And this is happening more and more and I think that all of you, if you don’t already realise it, ought to know that Parliament is becoming increasingly impotent and it is an ongoing process because more and more law is being made in Brussels and sometimes its not even seen by Parliament, its what they call directly applied and goes straight into British law immediately. The ones that are applied, as I say, we can debate them but we cannot do anything about them at all. So I’m feeling increasingly impotent there, we can pretend that we’re doing some good there I suppose but we can’t do anything about now the majority of law that is coming our way.
Last year the ex-President of the German Republic, Roman Herzog, made a statement in a newspaper article that over 80% of German law was put into place not by the German Parliament but by Brussels, by the Commission and the Council Ministers. And really he was quite serious; he said Germany has got to ask itself well can it genuinely call itself a proper democratic republic anymore.
And I think we’ve got to ask ourselves the same question now in this country, we’re losing our ability to run our show. It’s wonderful having the state opening of Parliament but what does it really mean. I mean next week, probably tomorrow or the day after, because the third reading is happening even as I am speaking, the Queen will sign this Treaty, it will get the Royal Assent and that will be that. Now the fact that it doesn’t come into force is neither here nor there and the argument I am making that we have no longer the power to run our own affairs in this country.
Do you remember years ago when Jacques Delors said 80% of your laws will be made in Brussels in ten years and he was howled down and it was ‘up yours Delors’ and all that sort of stuff went on but actually its happened so there we are.
But ladies and gentlemen I don’t want to end on that rather pessimistic note, this is Waterloo Day after all and Napoleon may think that he’s won the argument, after all our petrol is sold in litres and a lot of our laws now are expressed somehow in metres or kilometres, witness the outrageous law that was pushed through last year that you cannot be allowed to demonstrate not within 800 yards of Parliament but within 1 kilometre, what’s that all about.
Well let’s celebrate Waterloo Day but let’s wonder whether from the grave the victory is quite as complete as we thought then but let’s hold onto the Irish and I think for the moment no more Irish jokes.
Speech by Gerry Frost
As I left home this evening the telephone rang and my son, who knew I was coming up to London, asked me to meet him for a drink. I explained I had another engagement, I said I was speaking to a meeting in the Bruges Group. He asked the title, I said ‘well it’s Euroscepticism: Why has it failed?’ He said ‘it sounds a bit negative to me; it could be construed as the musings of a grumpy old man’. I think I should counter that charge head on; I plead guilty to the charge and ask for 257 previous offences to be taken into account.
When Robert asked me to speak this evening, it seemed to me to be an appropriate moment to ask why euroscepticism has failed, failed that is in the sense that we have not achieved our fundamental objective of getting the British Government to announce its intention to leave the political structures of the European Union. This is a goal which after all, some of us have been pursuing man and boy for 30 years or more. True public opinion may be more eurosceptic than it was three or four decades ago but it was never strongly in favour of the European Union in the first place.
The fact remains that after all the millions of words that have been expended in the eurosceptic court, after all the meetings, petitions, pamphlets, entries on the blogs, books, speeches and after all the many demonstrations that British interests are damaged by EU membership, there are only a dozen out of 646 MPs in the House of Commons who are prepared to say publicly that they are in favour of repealing the Treaty of Accession. And this, despite the iniquities of CAP, the regulatory hyper activism of the Brussels machine, the corruption and the systematic strangulation of democracy, not much to show really for 35 years of political activism.
Eurosceptics such as myself like to convince ourselves that at least intellectually we have won, we have won the argument, so much so that the various pro-EU bodies, the publications, the think tanks, pressure groups have faded away, closed down, their members skulking in the political undergrowth until there is a more propitious moment to announce and advance their cause. Well the truth of the matter is they can afford to do that, they may have lost the argument but events have moved inextricably in the direction of ever closer union. There has been no need for them recently to exert themselves. The EU juggernaut has moved on regardless, the Europhile victory has been a triumph without them having to exert themselves.
So now that the Lisbon Treaty is all but ratified, it seems to me that it’s worth asking why this should be so and why it is that eurosceptics have not been more successful. It’s a question that I ask myself frequently. Haven’t they read the latest issue of Eurofax I ask myself. How can they possibly continue to believe in an enterprise which has so dramatically failed?
What follows is an attempt at a tentative answer to that question to which perhaps you can contribute more ideas and help to create a more comprehensive picture. Is it our fault, by which I mean is it the fault of eurosceptics, eurosceptic activists, eurosceptic pressure groups, think tanks, publications? Is the fault in ourselves and not in our stars, should we have gone about the pursuit of our goals in some other way. I am inclined to think that most of the opportunities for expressing descent that exist in a free or freeish society have in fact been exploited, some of them skilfully so I think we can plead not guilty to that accusation.
Have we been paralysed by a lack of resources, handicapped possibly? Euroscepticism has won a significant victory, the solemn pledge by all parties to hold a referendum on the Euro was extracted by a millionaire, James Goldsmith with bottomless pockets. Given the resources available to Government it was bound to be a David and Goliath affair but euroscepticism has its own millionaires, the Wheelers and the Paul Sykes as well as the Goldsmiths. Business for Stirling was well funded as is open Europe. Lack of funds does not go very far to explain why euroscepticism has not made greater advances than it has. In passing it’s perhaps worth noting that while the Goldsmith campaign was well funded and well organised and well led, its goals were clearly defined.
There is a tendency for some eurosceptics to be coy about their objectives for fear of being excluded from polite society. If they are open and candid they fear that they will be so excluded. This comes ill from those who complain the goals of their opponents; the Europhiles are being pursued by subterfuge and deceit, so perhaps there is something to learn from that. Has the eurosceptic cause been inward looking and fissiparous, have we argued too much with one another and failed to cooperate and collaborate, possibly but most pressure groups campaign bodies and the like are run by strong-minded, opinionated people who do not easily fall into line or agree with one another.
Has UKIP, the one Party in favour of withdrawal from the EU let us down? I believe it’s very important for there to be a credible party to which disaffected members of other parties, particularly the Conservative Party can threaten to switch their support if it fails to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership and fails to do what is necessary if it cannot get its way. However, UKIP plainly failed to take advantage of the support it attracted at the last European elections, there is clearly some dissatisfaction within the Party that it has not done more to oppose the Lisbon Treaty and it sometimes seems to me as the recipient of telephone calls from UKIP members that there are as many splits within the Party as there are members. There is also something peculiar about a political party whose greatest achievement to date is to get a dozen people elected to an institution which it thinks Britain should not belong to but I don’t think we can lay much blame at the door of UKIP. In its defence it can be said that it is trying to do the right thing, its heart is in the right place even if its strategic brain is not always fully engaged.
Well is it the force of the public, it has always been a tenant of Thatcherism and I speak as an unreconstructed Thatcherite, that the public is sounder in its instincts than are the intellectuals and the elites. Countless opinion polls show that the public does not like the EU. A recent poll commissioned by Global Vision asked whether if Britain sought to negotiate a new looser relationship with the EU but the rest of the EU objected, 57% said Britain should leave the EU under these circumstances while only a third, 33% said Britain should stay in. So the public is more or less okay. It has to be acknowledged however that the EU is seldom at the top of the public’s list of priorities and it’s proved very difficult indeed to get large numbers of people to publicly demonstrate their views on this subject.
Lord Pearson, whom I greatly admire, said recently that you could get a million people out in the street today. I think reality is that you struggle to get 250. The British public may indeed be slow and obtuse in recognising its interests in this matter. There is however I think one partial explanation for its apparent apathy, the public has been lied to over the EU so frequently that it believes that it has been effectively disenfranchised in this matter as it has indeed on the issue of immigration and that nothing it says or does will make any difference at all. No doubt Europe’s reaction to recent events in Ireland will have strengthened that view.
Moreover, public opinion needs to be led; motivated, inspired and political leadership has been in short supply. I was abroad when David Davis resigned over 42 days but I am told that it resulted in a wave of public support which took members of the opinion forming elite by surprise. Nick Robinson of the BBC who initially described the resignation as being absurd publicly acknowledged the strength of public feeling on the matter.
Now I don’t underestimate the danger that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society but it seems to me that the European project, which effectively sounds the death knell for another project, that of self-government project which began in these islands would have been a much better issue to resign over. Had David Davis approached that issue as Keith Joseph when rejecting the post-war middle of the road economic and political consensus during the 1970s did, combining passion with intellectual rigour, frankly admitting his own and his party’s errors, I believe he would have shaken the political establishment to its foundations.
So I’m not inclined to blame the public. Should we blame the Tories, most certainly, I think we should do that on every available occasion. But it seems to me that the failure the Conservative betrayal – that’s not a word I like it’s a sort of socialist word, it’s the word of ideologs but its the best word I can find in the circumstances – the failure of the Conservative Party in this regard is part of a much larger betrayal, the betrayal of the national interests by Britain’s political, cultural and education elites who came to regard the notion of national interest as passé or even immoral. In their judgement Britain was small, jaded, unexciting, they thought they could have a slice of the action in something bigger, more modern, more exciting.
I think in some ways this failure of our elites is comparable to that during the 90s when members of the British political establishment opted for appeasement rather than rearmament. But there’s a difference of course, when appeasement proved not to work many backed rearmament and Churchill. When the EU was shown to fail or at least not to live up to expectations there was no comparable switch of allegiance.
For some of course the EU is pretty much what they expected it to be and are presumably happy with the results, the likes of Ken Clarke for example, but I think we are talking a fairly small number, I think its true that many who once were strong supporters of the EU are now disillusioned but there has been very little in the way of recanting or acknowledgement of error. The political elite prefer to ignore the direction and implications of the European project as much as possible because they feel somewhat guilty about it and are aware that they have been party to political developments which have not turned out well and which have been obscured by a cloak of deceit. Europe is the elephant in the room which all but a few ignore. The problem for them is that the elephant is getting bigger and more troublesome.
The attitudes which I have described explain why among the political class there is a readiness to accept responsibility for problems when things go wrong, problems that originated in Brussels. Normally you can take it for granted that politicians will shift the blame to any available person, even to the weather or to sporting failures. So what is taking place is of course very unusual.
On an almost daily basis it is possible to observe Ministers taking responsibility for problems, the chaos in the Post Office for example or the chaotic introduction of the absurd and the whole unnecessary Home Improvement Packs; they’re just two examples of a long list which began life in the EU. Extraordinarily the age old cry of ‘it’s not our fault’ has been replaced by ‘yes it is our fault’. This is not of course an honest admission of guilt but a thoroughly dishonest attempt to conceal a greater fault that of transferring powers to an unaccountable and unpopular EU institution while pretending that you were doing something else, it could be modernising, it could be responding to the needs of enlargement or simply tidying up to use a phrase favoured by Jack Straw. The underlying strategy is analogous to that of a criminal who pleads guilty to a minor charge in order to escape a much more serious one. Many of the people I am talking about describe themselves as eurosceptic but are embarrassed by what they have signed up to and do not like to acknowledge the huge political and economic capital that has been invested in a project which is becoming less popular and harder than ever to justify.
Now eurosceptics denounce particular aspects of the EU, the democratic deficit for example, the iniquities of the CAP, the tendency of the EU to over regulate, the danger that in creating an autonomous defence capability we will wreck NATO, there are many such people will agree. They say the same things themselves, particularly at moments such as now when the EU is getting particularly bad press but they curiously refuse to move on from analysis of the EU’s defects to a conclusion that we would be better off out or even to a conclusion that we should seriously explore that possibility and the means of doing so. What is it that prevents moving to a conclusion which many in this room would seem obvious and right?
I think the explanation is that too much capital has been invested in this project to permit candour. Like a gambler who frittered away his family fortune the calculation of what has been lost is too painful even for those who have gone along with the project rather than enthusiastically endorsing it and of course such omissions inevitably involved deteriorating relations or perhaps ruptures in relations with friends, allies, political parties, its not an easy thing to do.
Its possible to mention scores of MPs, distinguished journalists and broadcasters who fall into this category and one also observes the emergence of the younger generation which has no reason at all to feel guilty for mistakes made in the 70s, 80s or 90s but has come to recognise that it has little to gain in terms of career advancement if it raises difficult matters relating to the EU. I note the Policy Exchange which is full of bright young people, now the biggest political think tank in Britain in terms of funding employing around 45 people and the one closest to David Cameron does not include Europe in its published list of priorities and has published only one paper on EU matters and that on the implications of enlargement. Curious, I would have thought as Chairman, Charles Moore would certainly describe himself as a eurosceptic as would its Director Anthony Browne. Its publications team with good ideas about policy measures the Tories will introduce but it seems curiously uninterested in the question of how such measures are going to be introduced when as is now the case, around maybe 80% of our laws and many of our policies are made in Brussels.
As you are probably aware the Conservative Party says that it wishes to reclaim control over employment and social policy. If it is serious about this it will need to do some serious work. I can’t see any evidence this is being done at the Policy Exchange or anywhere else for that matter.
Although rare, it is not unknown for political errors to be acknowledged. In the 20s and 30s young intellectuals admitted to having been wrong about communism. A good number of these became rabid anti-communists. Why are there not more examples of European federalists making similar intellectual U-turns? As I say its not an easy thing to do, its not just a question of admitting that you’re wrong, that you backed a system that sucked out the substance of democratic British institutions that resulted in the passage of hundreds of laws which meet our needs if at all very poorly, many of which were evidently absurd and unnecessary, a system which has cost the tax payer billions, again with very little in return, which has created a method of agricultural support, which is probably the most inhumane and inefficient in history.
To acknowledge the full enormity of the harm that has been done of course you also have to admit if you’re honest, that all of this has been done deceitfully by people who sometimes appear to have also deceived themselves. There has always been a furtive quality about British collaboration in the European project and it is this quality which makes it particularly hard for our political elites to admit error since it amounts to an admission of moral weakness as well as flawed political judgement. This it seems to me is what euroscepticism is up against.
Well what of the future? That consummate eurosceptic blogger Richard North, whose partner Helen Szamuely is here this evening, recently concluded that euroscepticism had indeed failed, indeed it was quite dead. I disagree, I think its defined as a general aversion to the affairs of the European Union, I think its more evasive than it has ever been, its time to regroup, to raise our game. The political elites in this country who are responsible for our present difficulties are weaker and less confident than ever and they are conscious of the huge and still growing gulf in attitudes which separates them from the electorate.
Moreover there are signs that the tectonic plates are shifting, that Britain is going through one of those periods reflected not only in the opinion polls but in other manifestations too in which the prevailing consensus is likely to be challenged under the impact of events, particularly I think economic events. The Chancellor has recently been writing to José Manuel Barroso, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel complaining about the impact of the CAP on food prices, he’s stopped taking the rap. It’s not of course that he’d expect Mrs Merkel or Mr Sarkozy to take a blind bit of notice; he’s simply trying to escape responsibility for decisions which originated in the EU. We may expect more of the same as the Government loses the plot and cannot work out whether its likely to be damned more as a result of admitting that the EU was behind so many unpopular measures or not.
Now I have no doubt that in the long run the EU edifice will implode under the impact of its own contradictions, though despite the present lack of political leadership I remain hopeful that Britain will have chosen to chart its own course by then. My gut instinct is it will take one more twist of the integrationist ratchet for British public opinion to become angrier and more assertive and for euroscepticism to become more hard line. At that time we may expect milk and water eurosceptics to become 100% proof eurosceptics and more senior politicians to offer a semblance of leadership if only to avoid being left behind in the rush. There is still all to play for, we have failed so far but we may yet succeed.