Leading Article: Out - and into the World

The Spectator, June 18, 2016 | Go to article overview

Leading Article: Out - and into the World


The Spectator has a long record of being isolated, but right. We supported the north against the slave-owning south in the American civil war at a time when news-papers (and politicians) could not see past corporate interests. We argued for the decriminalisation of homosexuality a decade before it happened, and were denounced as the 'bugger's bugle' for our troubles. We alone supported Margaret Thatcher when she first stood for the Tory leadership. And when Britain last held a referendum on Europe, every newspaper in the land advocated a 'yes' vote. Only two national titles backed what is now called Brexit: the Morning Star and The Spectator .

Our concern then was simple: we did not believe that the Common Market was just about trade. We felt it would be followed by an attempted common government, which would have disastrous effects on a continent distinguished by its glorious diversity. The whole project seemed to be a protectionist scam, an attempt to try to build a wall around the continent rather than embrace world trade. Such European parochialism, we argued, did not suit a globally minded country such as Britain. On the week of the 1975 referendum, The Spectator 's cover line was: 'Out - and into the world.' We repeat that line today.

Since 1975 the EU has mutated in exactly the way we then feared and now resembles nothing so much as the Habsburg Empire in its dying days. A bloated bureaucracy that has outgrown all usefulness. A parliament that represents many nations, but with no democratic legitimacy. Countries on its periphery pitched into poverty, or agitating for secession. The EU's hunger for power has been matched only by its incompetence. The European Union is making the people of our continent poorer, and less free.

This goes far beyond frustration at diktats on banana curvature. The EU has started to deform our government. Michael Gove revealed how, as a cabinet member, he regularly finds himself having to process edicts, rules and regulations that have been framed at European level. Laws that no one in Britain had asked for, and which no one elected to the House of Commons has the power to change. What we refer to as British government is increasingly no such thing. It involves the passing of laws written by people whom no one in Britain elected, no one can name and no one can remove.

Steve Hilton, David Cameron's chief strategist for many years, gave an example of this institutional decay. A few months into his job in No. 10, he was dismayed to find his colleagues making slow progress because they were all bogged down by paperwork that he didn't recognise. He asked for an audit, and was shocked by the results: only a third of what the government was doing was related to its agenda. Just over half was processing orders from Brussels. To him, this was more than just a headache: it was an insidious and accelerating bureaucratic takeover.

With the EU's fundamental lack of democracy comes complacency on the part of its leaders and the corruption of those around them -- which has led us to the present situation. Voters are naturally concerned about the extraordinary rise of immigration, and their governments' inability to control it. Free movement of people might have been a laudable goal before the turn of the century, when the current global wave of migration started. But today, with the world on the move, the system strikes a great many Europeans as madness. The EU's failure to handle immigration has encouraged the people trafficking industry, a global evil that has led to almost 3,000 deaths in the Mediterranean so far this year.

In theory, the EU is supposed to protect its member states by insisting that refugees claim asylum in the first country they enter. In practice, this law -- the so-called Dublin Convention -- was torn up by Angela Merkel when she recklessly said that all Syrians could settle in Germany if they somehow managed to get there. …

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