Rupert Matthews: What would happen if Britain tried to leave the EU? (Part II of II)
Rupert Matthews is a freelance historian and is currently one of the MEP candidates for the Conservative Party in the East Midlands Region. If you are on Facebook, you could join his group “Rupert Matthews for East Midlands MEP”.
In my first article on this subject, yesterday, I outlined the similarities between the position of the states of the USA in the 1850s and the states of the EU in 2009. As I showed, the legal and constitutional debate over whether a state could legally secede from the USA, and how it should do so, seem strangely similar to those being held today regarding Britain’s position in the EU.
But the Treaty of Lisbon (aka EU constitution) would change things if it ever comes into force. Again the parallels with the situation in the USA in the mid-19th century are striking – and ominously instructive.
In 1861 seven states passed acts of secession. The Union government led by President Abraham Lincoln refused to accept these acts and maintained that the states remained part of the USA. Lincoln ordered the arrest as traitors of those involved in the secession.
But Lincoln faced a legal impasse. The enforcement of law and order was a function of the states. At this date there was no Union-wide police force. All Lincoln could do was order the governments of the seceding states to arrest the ‘traitors’. This they refused to do on the grounds that they were now independent and so did not need to obey orders from the Union President –and anyway the men were patriots of their states, not traitors to the Union.
Lincoln did have the powerful forces of the US Army and the US Navy, but he could not legally use them. The armed forces of the Union could be used by the President only to protect the USA from invasion or to invade a foreign country. By stating that the seceding states were still part of the Union, Lincoln had made the arrest of the secessionists a police action. If he acknowledged the secessions, thus allowing the army to invade a ‘foreign country’, he would have removed his grounds for wanting the arrest of the secessionists as traitors.
Fortunately for Lincoln the US Army was occupying two fortresses on the territory of South Carolina, one of the seceding states. South Carolina asked for them to be handed over. Lincoln refused. South Carolina mobilised its militia to block all access to the fortresses to starve their garrisons into surrender.
One of those fortresses was Fort Sumter, which had been built to guard the entrance to Charleston, the main port of South Carolina. The guns of Fort Sumter could easily block all access to the harbour and so cripple the economy of the state. That was why South Carolina wanted to gain possession of it so badly. When news came that the US Navy was preparing to break the blockade with an armed convoy, the government of South Carolina decided to force the issue. The militia opened fire on Fort Sumter, which promptly surrendered.
Lincoln was then able to argue that the USA had come under armed attack. He mobilised the US Army and the American Civil War began.
This is relevant to Britain in 2009 because of some little noticed provisions tucked away in the Lisbon Treaty.
First, the newly created High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will also head the European Defence Agency (EDA) and have a right of initiative for proposing EU-led military operations. The bottom line is that the EU will get a defence capability for the first time.
Second, Article 28b allows EU armed forces to be used to deal with any “crisis”. An event will be defined as a crisis by the Council and Commission. Article 28a allows the EU armed forces to be used to protect the strategic interests of the EU, again these are to be defined by the Council and Commission. Finally Article 188r allows armed forces to be deployed to any part of the EU without the agreement of the government of the member state in whose territory they are deployed.
These provisions are scattered widely through the Treaty (probably deliberately), but taken together they create an EU armed force that can be deployed – and sent into combat - anywhere in the EU for any purpose decided upon by the EU Commission and Council. They ensure that the EU would not be faced by the constitutional impasse faced by Lincoln in 1861. If any state of the EU sought to secede, the EU would have the legal powers to enable it to send in armed forces to put down the secession movement. Never mind getting Ireland to vote again – the tanks would be on the streets.
And let’s face it, political unions of all types have a history of not tolerating secession movements. Look at how the Warsaw Pact reacted to Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The USA fought a bloody civil war to stop the southern states seceding. In ancient Greece, the League of Delos began as a voluntary defence pact against Persia, but when one state tried to leave the league it was invaded, conquered and its entire population sold into slavery.
Am I being unduly alarmist? Well maybe – the EU needs another 30 odd years to reach the point that the USA had reached by 1861. But perhaps all those people out there who think the Lisbon Treaty is a good idea (and I know they do exist) could answer this question:
Why does the EU want to have an army and the power to use it internally against the wishes of the member state concerned if not to stop secession?