Why the Brexit impasse makes me proud of our democracy - Bernard Ingham

The right to demonstrate over Brexit highlights the importance of freedom of speech, argues Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary Bernard Ingham.
The right to demonstrate over Brexit highlights the importance of freedom of speech, argues Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary Bernard Ingham.
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IF there is one thing these days that makes me proud to be British, it is the Brexit impasse.

Our Parliamentarians may be out of touch with the majority of the people, at each other’s throats and generally obtuse in trying to frustrate our departure from the European Union.

Franklin D Roosevelt espoused freedom. writes Sir Bernard Ingham.

Franklin D Roosevelt espoused freedom. writes Sir Bernard Ingham.

But it also demonstrates our essential freedom of speech and expression. It may look an unholy mess and cause much disaffection in the land, but no one is rioting or being carted away for saying what they think.

In an ever more intolerant world, we should take some satisfaction in our democratic maturity.

The danger is that we shall become complacent when freedom is under such threat.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia was rightly excluded from the weekend’s G7 summit because of his annexation of Crimea.

Margaret Thatcher supported the freedom of Poland, writes Sir Bernard Ingham.

Margaret Thatcher supported the freedom of Poland, writes Sir Bernard Ingham.

On the other hand, it is a pity that he was not exposed to the West’s free-thinking when he ritually arrests and tries to silence opposition to his totalitarianism.

Communist China is another major power not admitted to these global economic and political discussions. Its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjang, where one million people are said to be held in detention camps, is no recommendation for its admission to G7 councils.

Nor is its crackdown in Hong Kong. But exposure to Western free-thinking might be therapeutic.

Franklin D Roosevelt’s four freedoms – of speech and worship and from want and fear – are far from being achieved across this planet when, apart from the communist world, you consider the state of Africa, the Middle East and parts of the American continent.

Brexit continues to polarise political and public opinion.

Brexit continues to polarise political and public opinion.

Nothing in my experience has rammed home to me man’s yearning for freedom than my visit with Margaret Thatcher to Poland in 1988. I then knew it could not be long denied the Poles – and it wasn’t.

Nor was it fully realised. After all, Margaret Thatcher said in her famous Bruges speech in 1988: “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them re-imposed at European level with a European super-state exercising new dominance from Brussels.”

Yet since then efforts have continued to superimpose that superstate on its 28 members.

That inevitably limits the freedom of individual co-operating nations to govern themselves.

Worse still, EU governing is done by unelected bureaucrats with only a pretence of democratic control.

And, even worse, the other 25 of EU member states seem fearful of challenging France and Germany over the terms of Britain’s departure. The vassals dare not offend the moneybags.

It is vital that Boris Johnson gets us out of the EU by October 31, not just to end political uncertainty but to recover the true freedom of independence.

Otherwise our essential freedoms remain at risk to Jeremy Corbyn and his Momentum mob.

Given half a chance, they would not merely wreck the economy, demolish our defences – goodbye Nato – and end the monarchy; they would also crack down on dissent. What is more, they know that technological change – i.e. the internet – has so sapped media resources that press freedom is already vulnerable to such pressure as advertising and readership boycotts.

If you think I exaggerate, look what Jeremy Corbyn’s acolytes recently did when journalists tried to ask their Supreme Leader awkward questions: they shouted them down.

Then there is the proliferation of single issue – and minority – pressure groups seeking to impose their will on the majority. By all means let them be seen and heard so that we know how far the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

But the freedom of ordinary citizens can be maintained only if their liberty to go about their lawful business is upheld. Britons are not free when they cannot get to work, go on holiday or travel without let or hindrance.

In advocating a ban on strikes in public services, I have not the slightest wish to deny the workers in those services a decent income and working conditions. We have to find a way of reconciling their interests – and those of demonstrators – with the public’s rights.

In short, when – for he has no political option – Boris Johnson casts Brussels’ dust off our feet, he must safeguard individual freedom that is steadily being eroded by technology and zealots.

Let us not apologise for the apparently chaotic three-year effort to get out of Europe.

But let us resolve that when we eventually leave to show the world that our essential – and economically successful – freedom is founded not on licence but self-discipline and respect for our fellow citizens.