Wednesday, 6 July 2016

What Took the UK So Long?

As Plain As the Nose On Your Face

A former NZ Prime Minister, Geoffrey Palmer has the matter of Brexit absolutely right, in our view.  His comments on the eventual failure of the European State are apt.  Brexit is just the beginning.
Brexit resulted in my view from a break down in accountabilities. It is entirely understandable.  Having spent most of February in the UK when the whole campaign for the referendum got under way in earnest I was not surprised, although I thought that Remain may win narrowly. My point is essentially constitutional. There has been created by the EU a democratic deficit.

The whole thing began with the European Coal and Steel Community after the World War Two. This progressed in time to the Common Market, known as the European Economic Community, and then the European Union. I think after the Lisbon Treaty things began to become very difficult to manage. It started out small and progressed to 28 nations.
Along the way the populations of each of the "member states" lost the core, fundamental rights of citizens in a democracy: they lost the right to hold their representatives and rulers to account.  As the EU has deliberately morphed towards an uber-state, ordinary people who had voted for years, even centuries, holding their rulers to account, gradually found that this fundamental authority, implicit in all democratic or republican government, has been removed while they lay sleeping.

There are inherent difficulties with super-national organisations of this type. Who is in charge?  In some ways what happened in Europe amounted to a political confidence trick.  The basic feature of the UK constitution is parliamentary sovereignty. That means the Westminster parliament is supreme and can make any law it likes. When the UK went into Europe this effectively stopped. MPs were elected to Westminster but some of law making power, in fact quite a lot, drained away to Brussels in a series of treaties.
Of course, the retort will be that these treaties were by "the will of the people".  They were entered into and signed by the Parliament and its executive.  And the Parliament (in this case, the House of Commons) was the people's house.  All well and good.  To a point.  Democracy, however, can theoretically self-destruct.  It can vote in a tyrant, who proceeds to strip away all democratic freedoms and powers.  This was what has been happening under the European Union.
Thus the MPs at Westminster did not have the same control. The public looked to them for accountability but the MPs were not responsible for what occurred in Brussels. Yet what was done in Europe had important consequences for the voters in Britain.

British ministers had some input in Europe but often could not secure their own way. The European Parliament is very weak and the Commission very powerful.  So how could the British public hold their elected representatives to account for what policies were adopted and change those policies if they did not like them? Changing the government did not and could not change what happened in Europe.  I hold that these fractured accountabilities led to what happened in the vote.

So long as the organisation was confined to trade or a customs union these problems did not arise, any more than they do with the free trade between Australia and New Zealand. But when the treaties took more and more control away from national parliaments unease increased. The Tory Party in Britain has been split for 30 years on the European project.
For the ordinary sovereign voter in the UK, the fundamental problem was that in the EU there was no soul to damn and no butt to kick.  There were only nameless, faceless, unaccountable Commissioners who were exerting more and more control over the lives of ordinary people--a people who had once been the ultimate sovereign of the nation.   But then the people woke up and exercised the sovereignty that lay dormant within the Constitution.  They ordered their country exit the European Union.

The significant negative reaction, within the UK, but even more evident amongst the non-representative "powers" within the EU, was a testament to how thoroughly the European "Project" had become an enemy of democracy, of the sovereignty of the people, and a force for centralised, unrepresentative power.
The euro will not work long term because although there is a European Central Bank there is no control over the fiscal policies of individual countries. The effects of the common currency on the Mediterranean countries like Greece and to a lesser extent Italy and Spain have been very harsh.

Europe had to go forward to something like a United States of Europe with a strong federal government or it had to go back. Where it is presently positioned was unsustainable and there will a correction. I have thought ever since the last treaty was concluded that the project was politically unsustainable. Further, the organisation is now too big. Bulgaria and Romania hardly have much in common with the rest of of Europe.

The political elites have foisted a new system on ordinary people and the ordinary people do not like it. So when the people have an opportunity to decide they reject it. Their fear about jobs and their sense of insecurity about immigration are entirely understandable.  They may be wrong and the economic implications at least in the short term will be considerable. But remember there is an old saying in politics that the people are never wrong. Remember Britain has an older and more effective democracy than any other country in Europe and with a longer democratic history and vigorously democratic politics. At bottom to the British electorate the European project did not seem democratic.
What will happen constitutionally at this point is uncertain.  "Core" Great Britain will remain.  But as for Scotland, the outlook is less certain.  The problem with Scotland is that for as long as people can remember it has failed to achieve economic independence.  Its madcap fiscal spending has meant that it cannot stand on its own two feet.  If it votes to join Europe it will require gollops of European cash just to survive--even as it now requires subsidy from the rest of the UK.  One wonders whether Germany will be happy about that.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC is a former NZ prime minister, a lawyer and a writer.


Anonymous said...

Palmer knows all about accountability and how to avoid it. There is much wrong in NZ because of him.


Anonymous said...

Currently there is no accountability in NZ. The elite running the show are arrogant and sanctionless. A thoroughly researched case proving this is right under the noses of the media but political considerations and job security preclude the spotlight being shone on the cockroaches corruptly forcing the Turitea wind farm on Palmerston North. Read the essay on this website.