Dr David G Green is Director of Civitas.
Are we content to be a useful outpost of American foreign policy? According to successive American administrations down to the present day, we should be. For years the better Americans have worried about supporting dictators in countries such as Egypt merely because they served American interests. And recently America has acknowledged that, if self-governing democracy is right for the American people, it’s also right for nations such as Egypt. Not so in our case it seems.
It’s a mistake to focus the EU debate on the economy, let alone on the American desire for the convenience of making a single phone call to Europe, when what’s really at stake is whether we want to be a free people or a subservient one. The European Union betrays the unspoken covenant between the government and the people. We give our allegiance to the government of the day and we agree to obey the laws of the land on one fundamental condition: that our rulers act for the common good. But we don’t merely take their word for it. Since 1689 we have had the power to remove the government immediately and call an election by the simple expedient of convincing the House of commons to pass a vote of no confidence. Knowing that an immediate election can be called makes Cabinet ministers behave differently. The power does not have to be used very often, so long as it remains a realistic threat. The right to remove an unworthy government did not emerge unexpectedly in 1689. Before that date we had a tradition of deposing rulers from time to time, with the last occasion in 1688.
Many other things make the difference between a free people and a subjugated one, but the ability to throw out the government straight away is the single most important. It took centuries of struggle, sacrifice and bloodshed to construct our free system. Today, the majority of our laws are being made by officials in Brussels who can’t be ousted. They know it and they act accordingly.
The institutions of the European Union do not even come close to our democratic system. While our constitution is calculated to make the government take public opinion into account, the institutions of the EU are calculated to isolate decision makers from public pressure. They dare not make it too obvious that we are ruled by a self-chosen elite and so they go through some forms that resemble democracy. Most notably there is an elected European Parliament, but the vital element is lacking: the power to depose the rulers and trigger a general election by a simple majority vote. What’s really at stake is the survival of democracy itself.