Vote Brexit: reclaim democracy

William Cash, Spear’s editor-in-chief, on why the EU’s democratic deficit matters more than dry-as-dust economics.

The death of Jo Cox MP has put democracy back on the agenda. Parliament is being recalled today, according to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as a ‘tribute’ to everybody ‘who values democracy’. Whilst laying flowers on Friday, along with the Prime Minister, Corbyn described her killing as an ‘attack on democracy’.

This belated focus on the values of ‘democracy’ rather than an obsession with ‘economic growth’ and political demonisation is timely. Over the last months of the Referendum campaign, the issue of our ‘democracy’ has often been forgotten at the expense of ‘group think’ supranational-body fear-mongering, wild guesses at the fiscal consequences of Brexit, and a debate in which the economy has repeatedly been held up by the likes of the CBI, Bank of England’s Mark Carney (ex-Goldman Sachs) or the IMF (discredited and proved wrong so often in their past predictions)  as the most important issue on which people should be voting on June 23rd.

What the death of Jo Cox has reminded us is that politics is not only about economics. Far from it, in fact. Democracy and open debate are (in this country at least) more important – whatever one’s political views. As financier Jimmy Goldsmith argued in The Trap, his 1994 attack on global corporate capitalism, the ‘nomenklatura of the EU machine and the ever growing power of political elites, ‘I do not accept that economic growth is the principal measure of the success of nations’. For Jimmy, economics was ‘a tool to serve us. It is not a demi-god to be served by society’.

Such a view is worth remembering as Goldsmith’s predictions that the EU would morph into an unaccountable EU state have been proved very largely correct. Goldsmith denounced the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 as an undemocratic attempt to create a ‘supranational, centralised, bureaucratic state – a homogenised union. It would destroy the pillars on which Europe is built – its nations. It would convert Europe into one multicultural space in which national identities would fuse and sovereignty abandoned. It would coerce ancient European nations to merge into the ultimate artificial state.’

Jo Cox was also a principled parliamentarian who understood the democratic power of campaigning for causes that she believed in. That is what makes a democracy. Freedom of expression. Freedom to campaign. That spirit is what must be celebrated by not being politically correct and dumbing down the campaigning on both sides until the last moment before June 23rd.

What Cox has in common with a long tradition of outspoken and tireless parliamentary campaigners – including Tony Benn, my father Bill Cash, and his friend Jimmy Goldsmith, who went on to give up his business career to found the Referendum Party  – is that she believed that getting Parliament behind her was the best way to achieve her aims. What makes British parliamentary democracy unique is not so much which side of the political debate one is on – which cause one supports – but rather that our democratic process allows room for the freedom to campaign regardless of which side you are on.

But if her death is an attack on democracy, what sort of democracy do we even have today? In a final speech in Parliament the late Tony Benn told the House of Commons: ‘If one meets a powerful person – ask them five democratic questions: ‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how do we get rid of you? If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.’

How long we will continue to live in a self-governing democracy where such questions will have any relevance any more will be decided on Thursday. The vote is a choice about the future of the very democracy which has already been so undermined by successive EU project treaties – from the Treaty of Rome to the Lisbon Treaty. All have wilfully and deliberately set out to undermine the democratic process that is being celebrated today in Parliament.

The awkward truth, however, is that whilst lip service may be paid to the notion of ‘democracy’ today, the Remain camp – who want a EU superstate to have legal force over our own supreme sovereign court – are advocates for surrendering our democracy to an unelected and unaccountable supranational nomenklatura political elite who have little (or no) respect for democracy as we know it.

The truth is that ever since the European project was born in the early 1950s the idea of democracy has been ‘under attack’ not so much from mentally-ill extremists but rather from the EU’s own self-perpetuating and self-serving silent assassins of European political democracy.

The EU project is not so much undemocratic as ‘anti-democratic’. The European commissioners meet in secret just as the European Union itself was created in secret and has no interest at all in what we understand by democracy. MEPs cannot even introduce their own laws. Votes are often decided in advance simply on majority voting. Once a law is enshrined by the EU, or the European Court of Justice, it cannot be repealed.

That is because the EU has no interest in being democratic. It never has. Ever since its foundation, the unelected EU commissioners and their 40,000-strong army of civil servants have essentially believed that the idea of national kingdoms and sovereign nations are dead and that Europe is best served by unelected political elites who are better placed to create a ‘stable European political order’. There is nothing democratic about this rationale.

It never has been democratic. It never set out to be. It doesn’t even pretend to be. The clearest evidence for this is set out in a letter written in 1952 by Jean Monnet, known as a ‘father’ of the European project. Working as President of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community, Monnet was never once elected to public office.

Few have heard of Jean Monnet since he worked behind the scenes of the American, French and German governments as a latter-day Mandelson-style internationalist. But his legacy, political intentions and influence are very much worth recalling as Britain decides what sort of ‘democracy’ it wants to be after June 23rd. The following excerpt from Monnet’s letter is what I would call a cold-blooded ‘attack on democracy’.

Europe’s nations should be led towards a superstate, without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.

Sixty years later, we are now at that junction of history where the British people have a final chance to decide whether they want to belong to an unelected EU super-state or run our own self-governing democracy with MPs elected to serve the people not the state. This slide towards secrecy and anti-democracy is not even a secret in itself. The EU’s leaders are almost proud of being anti-democratic, arrogantly assuming they know what is best for the collective ‘good’ of Europe.

Alas, being thought of as collectively ‘good’ (a word often used to describe Jo Cox) is not the same as being right. Take Claude Cheysson, the former French minister of Foreign Affairs who was a member of the European Commission from 1985 to 1989. In an interview in 1994 with Le Figaro he explained that the EU could only have been constructed ‘in the absence of democracy’ and that the present EU economic problems  were the ‘result of having mistakenly allowed a public debate on the merits of the Maastricht Treaty’.

Such words are exactly what constitutes an ‘attack on democracy’; and indeed they are exactly the sort of words that Jeremy Corbyn has spent most of his career fighting against in the interests of British democracy. In his final speech to the Commons, Tony Benn used the phrase ‘popular sovereignty’, to express the idea that in a true democracy like Britain, the people are sovereign. Such an idea, of course is an anathema to the unelected EU autocrats.

This idea of a sovereign people goes back to the Bill of Rights of 1689, which effectively transferred the source of power from the Crown to the people, laid down the fundamental constitutional ‘rights’ of our democratic political system including the right for free parliaments and elections, and ‘freedom of expression’ in Parliament.

These democratic rights were further championed and fought for by such political reformers as John Bright, a tireless and brave parliamentary campaigner from the North, whose zeal for reform had much in common with Jo Cox’s own efforts on behalf of international aid and Syrian refugees.

Along with the businessman Richard Codben, Bright helped to empower the people of Britain with the Repeal of the Corn Laws and the Reform Act of 1867, which not only liberated the feudal grip on the working classes to a world of free-trade and cheaper prices through competition, but also led to the working man (and later woman) being given the vote. As one of Britain’s greatest political campaigners, Bright’s statue stands prominently today close to the ‘Family Room’ in the Commons (close to Central Lobby).

Although certain politicians have called for a radical change of political ‘tone’ in the final few days of the Referendum campaign, it’s worth remembering that the last time the Tories were at war (the Bastards v. John Major) over Europe during the Maastricht Rebellion of 1993, the mood was even more bitter, personal, and angry.

Whoever said politics was about being nice? We cannot allow the debate to become neutered just three days from the most important historic vote in our lifetime. That would be an insult to the tradition of great campaigners and reformers to whom political emancipation, freedom and our basic citizens rights are owed – all because of our ‘gift’ of democracy to the world.

If some of this year’s Referendum campaigning has been regarded as ‘heated’ and personal, it was nothing like as nasty and divisive as during the Maastricht rebellion when debates often went on all night. At least the rebels knew they were fighting for the future course of democracy.

One of the reasons for having the Referendum was to clear the bad blood within the Tory backbencher ranks that has existed within the Conservative party well before the Maastricht rebellion. The final vote was defeated by the narrowest of margins – eight votes. John Major then threatened a motion of ‘No Confidence’ in his Government the following day. This meant that the Maastricht Bill was strong-armed through Parliament making a mockery of the democratic mandate. The spectacle made House of Cards  look like a game of Animal Snap.

After that very ill-tempered and bitter night in the Commons, John Major had walked up to my father and said, ‘Well, Bill it’s all over now.’ To which my father replied, ‘No, Prime Minister – it’s only just begun.’

That was 25 years ago. That we are still debating what our democracy means today means that the cause is not lost – yet. But the Establishment and our leaders – from Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich in 1938 to John Major returning from Maastricht (not to mention Cameron earlier this year failing to get any sort of deal) have a track record of failure in this regard. As the historian Andrew Roberts recalls: ‘John Major came back from negotiating Maastricht saying we have qualified majority voting and it was game, set and match, but the opposite was true. It was Major who put us on this road – this slide into this wholly undemocratic European Union.’

On Thursday, the British people will be deciding whether our relationship with the EU project is indeed ‘all over’. We may not have all-night sittings in the Commons any more, but what is critical is that the national debate must go on to the very last moment that the people choose their destiny.