As I write, the key vote on Theresa May’s quasi-Brexit deal with the EU is set for January 15. This column has previously advocated voting for May’s deal on the grounds that it offers the most certain progress towards Brexit, but the European Commission has booby-trapped it, so that there is a chance of Britain being marooned in a hellish twilight limbo, half-in and half-out. On the other hand, honest, rational Brexiters are far short of a majority in Parliament so if May’s deal fails, there will not just be dirty work at the crossroads, but dirty work all over the landscape. This column thus attempts to advise on tactics, in a world even naughtier than usual.
The vote on January 8 to suspend preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit,” which won by 7 votes even though the government whipped against it, demonstrates how committed to “remain” are the MPs and how far they will go to thwart the will of the majority. Far from aligning Parliament with the will of the electorate, May’s foolish 2017 election merely removed solid Tory Brexiters from Remain-supporting seats around London, while the north of England, solidly Brexit-supporting, remained represented by Labour MPs who pretended to favor Brexit but in reality are taking every opportunity of thwarting it. Thus, Parliament has become a huge obstacle to implementing the will of the people,
That replicates the central problem with the EU itself. Had it remained the simple trading arrangement the British people were told they were joining in 1973, the political traditions of other members would not matter much. Joining it was economically foolish (because Britain had much the same comparative advantages as continental Europe but lacked raw materials, which it could source from the Commonwealth trading relationships it gave up). However, provided agreement could be reached on trading rules, a wide variety of countries could enter into a “common market” without worrying about each other’s internal political arrangements. This changed once the Maastricht Treaty was signed, and the EU became to some degree a political union, after which the political traditions of its other members began to matter very much indeed.
To put it bluntly, except in a few EU members such as the Netherlands and Ireland (much of whose political tradition derives from Britain) those traditions are not those of freedom, nor are they compatible with British traditions, even modified by the socialism of the 20th Century. Of course, if you go back far enough, political life everywhere was “nasty, brutish and short.” But Britain from 1642 onwards diverged from the Continental norm, and by the middle 20th Century had a 300-year tradition of political freedom, including such key components as freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
The two dominant powers of continental Europe, on the other hand, both had aggressive dictatorships within the last 220 years. Neither of those dictatorships permitted free speech, and the German one indulged in genocide. The countries of Eastern Europe, also, were ruled by Marxist dictatorships until 30 years ago, and even now the current Presidency of the Council of the EU is held by a country, Romania, that is still governed by the highly corrupt socialist successors of its Marxist dictatorship. The French and Russian Revolutions led to mass slaughter, not to freedom as did the American one (whatever one’s differences with it). It is thus not surprising that the key elements of an Anglo-American liberal (in the classical sense) democracy are absent in most EU members and above all in the EU itself.
Membership of the EU over the last 46 years has eroded some traditional British freedoms. It is now possible to get arrested in Britain for speech offenses, which would have been unthinkable a generation ago. The Blairite “Conservative” MP Anna Soubry this week wanted police action against young demonstrators non-violently calling her a Nazi, again unthinkable to a previous generation. One’s only regret is at the historical illiteracy of the demonstrators; Ms. Soubry, an opponent of democracy and individual rights and a supporter of large institutions and socialism in general, is of course not a Nazi but a Stalinist, one of that dictator’s more unpleasant regional commissars, perhaps.
The need to exit the EU is thus unquestionable; the question is how best to ensure that this happens. I had been in favor of voting for May’s deal, as a half-loaf that could be expanded over time into a full one, while preserving good relations at an arms-length level with the EU, but there are two hidden problems. First, the deal is structured so that the “backstop” is legally binding while the exit from it is not. I would be prepared to accept a backstop that allowed Britain to exit, at the cost of sawing off Northern Ireland (because I think that is likely to happen anyway in a decade or so) but May’s deal does not appear to leave Britain with that option.
Second, the deal extraordinarily commits Britain to participate in the “permanent structured cooperation” EU defense pact. Given the disgraceful failure of EU countries, notably Germany, to contribute adequately to their NATO obligations, Britain has always resisted an EU defense pact, which seems likely to add bureaucracy and cost without significantly adding capability. More important, participation in the pact would endanger Britain’s participation in the “Five Eyes” intelligence cooperation with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, because the other members of Five Eyes regard France, Germany and several other EU members as riddled with spies and leaking like a sieve.
By giving no certainty of the ability to exit, May’s deal makes it very difficult for Britain to sign new trade treaties with third parties, such as Japan, India and the United States, all of which could be highly advantageous. In particular, the interminable delays surrounding Brexit have already wasted two years of President Trump’s term in office, the best chance Britain is likely to have for an advantageous U.S. trade deal for decades to come.
Nevertheless, on balance, I would still recommend any wavering MPs to vote in favor of May’s deal on Tuesday. It is most unlikely to pass, but the greater the number supporting it, the better the chances of either getting the modest changes from Brussels needed to make it acceptable to a majority, or of ensuring that some kind of Brexit actually happens. The worst possible outcome on Tuesday would be a large majority against May’s deal, which would terminally weaken May herself and leave the process wholly in the control of slimy dishonest Remainers like Ms. Soubry and the execrable Speaker John Bercow.
Jeremy Corbyn, who personally appears to support Brexit at least mildly, is bedeviled by a Remainer Blairite majority in his party and by the insatiable ambition that might make him Prime Minister in a Britain locked forever in the EU. As Prime Minister of an emasculated EU province, he would have no power to do more than tinker with the hard-left fantasies he favors, but even tinkering with them is more than he ever thought he would achieve.
Brexit supporters who believe the Remainer propaganda of a “People’s Vote,” allowing the British people to express again the preference of a modest majority of them to leave the EU, should overcome such naivete. Any such second Referendum would be stolen by the Remainers; it’s as simple as that. Andrew Roberts’ superbly prophetic 1995 novel “The Aachen Memorandum,” which the silly man has now disowned, showed how it would be done, and that book’s accurate description of the EU’s governing forces should leave you in no doubt that this would indeed happen. (The 2016 Referendum was not stolen because the EU authorities never dreamed they would need to do so.)
If as I expect May’s deal goes down on Tuesday, and May herself has any wish to avoid the eternal curses of the British people for centuries to come, she has one remaining option: an immediate prorogation of Parliament to March 30, the day after Brexit, which would then happen automatically. Adjournment won’t do; it gets to be debated by the same bunch of useless leftist Remainers that have already disgraced themselves. However, Prorogation is a Royal prerogative, not subject to debate; the Queen can constitutionally exercise this right any time her prime minister recommends that she do so. The teeny weeny tantrum of the ineffable Bercow in that event would be worth filming, but it would be to no avail; Parliament would be out of session until the Brexit day had passed, and unable to mess it up. Since the EU’s Article 55 is automatic, it would operate automatically, and Britain would emerge on March 29 into the sunlit uplands of freedom.
I don’t suppose May will have the sense and courage to do that, so I have every expectation that Britain will be condemned to eternal servitude to a tyranny that lacks even the pageantry of the Third Reich or Napoleon’s Empire. The blame should not fall entirely on May; it should be shared by Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, who committed the folly of attempting to join the embryonic EU and above all to John Major, who failed to give Britons a referendum at the time of the Maastricht Treaty, the last point at which the Realm of Darkness could have been stopped.
(The Bear’s Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of “sell” recommendations put out by Wall Street houses remains far below that of “buy” recommendations. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.)