David Green: Don’t hand our autonomy to Brussels

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IT is bewildering that a country like ours with such a proud history of upholding freedom and democracy has allowed its capacity for self-government to drain away to Brussels.

One cause has been the failure of our schools to teach an objective account of our own history, leaving our young people bereft of understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our system.

It is vital, therefore, to remind ourselves of the precious political and cultural heritage left by earlier generations who fought to make possible a free and democratic life for all citizens of this land.

Many others have skilfully made the economic case for independence, but it is my conviction that the political and ethical arguments are being neglected.

What’s at stake is far more than our future prosperity. It’s our ability to uphold our distinctive contribution to Western civilisation.

The huge cost of the EU is undoubtedly a very important question, but even if the cost were zero – for that matter, even if we made a profit – the case for upholding our independence would stand.

A nation is not just a group of people with a system of government, any more than it is just “an economy”, it is a whole way of living – a civilisation. Along with the peoples of many other countries, we developed what turned out to be the most successful way of life so far discovered: liberal civilisation. Its preservation is the great challenge of our time.

What we have established is government that is accountable to its people and dedicated to their personal freedom. The single most important element of our constitution is that the Government can be thrown out at any time by a simple majority in the Commons, and an immediate election called. This possibility remains, but now that fewer of our laws are made by Parliament, the value of being able to hold rulers to account has diminished.

The EU makes occasional concessions to democracy here and there, but the primary thrust of the EU project from the outset has been to centralise power in the hands of rulers who have as free a hand as they can get away with.

Europe has a torn political history on two dimensions: on the one hand between freedom and uniformity; and on the other between constitutional democracy and authoritarianism.

In this great struggle the British people have always been on the side of freedom and liberal-democracy, while the EU inclines towards uniformity and unaccountable elite rule.

Members of the European Commission, which comprises the heads of the EU’s permanent bureaucracy, try to portray the champions of exit as self-serving, and to paint themselves as supporters of international co-operation who renounce narrow nationalism.

But, when we in Britain fight to preserve our own heritage of freedom and democracy, we are not merely defending our own interests. By resisting the encroachments of the Brussels bureaucracy, we are also fighting for the freedom of other peoples and defending the most precious traditions of European civilisation.

The EU bureaucracy also tries to portray its opponents as narrow nationalists who are hostile to international co-operation. But the Brussels vision is not truly international – it’s more about constructing a regional power bloc than finding a worldwide structure that will encourage peace rather than war, promote the mutual benefits of trade, and increase the free exchange of knowledge and understanding.

Britain, of course, has joined many international bodies, including the UN, Nato, the Commonwealth, the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank.

The difference is that the EU is a replacement for the nation state, 
rather than a limited inter-state agreement.

Nation states are not only vital for the protection of liberty, democracy and opportunity, but are also the most mutually beneficial basis for international relations.

It is tragic to watch my own people, who historically led the way in establishing modern freedom and democracy, absent-mindedly give up our powers of self-government.

The EU will not change, which means that we need urgently to recover our powers of self- government while we still have the chance.

• David Green is director of the think tank Civitas. He is the author of ‘The Demise of the Free State: Why British democracy and the EU don’t mix’, published by Civitas.