Discoveroids, British Independence, and Darwin

One of countless subjects we don’t discuss here is the possibility of United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union — often shortened to “Brexit” for British exit. There’s a referendum on it scheduled for 23 June.

We know what you’re thinking: What does this have to do with the usual subject matter of the Curmudgeon’s blog? The short answer is “nothing,” at least that was true until now. But this just popped up at the Discovery Institute’s creationist blog: Stephen Meyer Asks: There Will Always Be an England…Or Will There?

It was written by David Klinghoffer, a Discoveroid “senior fellow” (i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist), who eagerly functions as their journalistic slasher and poo flinger. We’ll give you a few excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis.

It was as a PhD student at Cambridge University that Center for Science & Culture director Stephen Meyer incubated his Darwin skepticism and began to develop his arguments for intelligent design.

Ah yes, Stephen Meyer. Not only is he a Director, Vice President, and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, he was a central figure in the infamous Sternberg peer review controversy. Klinghoffer says:

So it comes as little surprise that Meyer has a special affection for Britain, and for the special relationship between the U.K. and the U.S.

That’s nice, but so what? Let’s read on:

With the vote just a week away on Brexit — the proposal that Britain leave the European Union — Meyer weighs in with judicious articles at National Review Online and The Stream, outlining what’s at stake:

We’ll let you visit the Discoveroids’ blog for links to those “judicious articles.” Here’s one quote from Meyer that Klinghoffer gives us:

America’s closest ally, Great Britain, stands on the brink of a profound decision, one that could determine whether it remains the free, prosperous democracy that has worked closely with the United States since World War II, or goes on morphing into something much smaller and sadder — a bullied province of that unaccountable oligarchy called the European Union.

You’re still wondering: Why do we care about what Meyer thinks about Brexit? It’s in Klinghoffer’s final paragraph:

The evolution debate isn’t an issue here, of course. But there are certain overlapping themes — notably skepticism, freedom, and independence versus lockstep homogenization and always having to look over your shoulder in concern about what a distant, bullying authority might say. Don’t you think?

So there you are. The Darwinist conspiracy is a bullying authority, just like the European Union. And Klinghoffer wants out! Or maybe it’s just that the Discoveroids don’t have anything else to talk about. No surprise there — they never did.

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33 responses to “Discoveroids, British Independence, and Darwin

  1. It’s not just Klinghoffer who thinks this way. I was reading earlier today that there’s a strong correlation (in the UK, of course) between supporting Brexit and denying climate science.

    Since there’s likewise a strong correlation between climate-science denial and all other forms of science denial, it’s no wonder that even Klinghoffer has come to the obvious conclusion: if you’re a creationist, voting for Brexit is the way to go!

  2. Jeffrey Shallit

    always having to look over your shoulder in concern about what a distant, bullying authority might say

    Oh, like the Christian god?

  3. Dave Luckett

    Unfortunately, in the sense of the stopped watch, it is possible for even such a twitching, foaming lunatic as Klinghoffer to be right, sometimes. On the single issue of whether the British should leave the EU, he is right. They should.

  4. On the single issue of whether the British should leave the EU, he is right. They should.

    Nope, they’d be bonkers to do so. As bonkers as, say, voting Trump here — and for similar reasons. What the Brits need to do is boot out their current government, which has inflicted egregious harm on most (not just much) of the population, and then evaluate where they stand vis-a-vis Europe. Right now, the less educated members of the population, believing that the frying pan to which they’ve been consigned by Cameron and the almost incomprehensibly odious Osborne is all the EU’s fault, are saying: Oh, yes, that fire looks so much better!

  5. Dave Luckett

    What net benefits do you think Britain receives from EU membership, realthog, that compensate Britons for loss of sovereignty and democratic participation in meaningful control over their own governance?

  6. You’re still wondering: Why do we care about what Meyer thinks about Brexit? It’s in Klinghoffer’s final paragraph:

    The evolution debate isn’t an issue here, of course. But there are certain overlapping themes — notably skepticism, freedom, and independence versus lockstep homogenization and always having to look over your shoulder in concern about what a distant, bullying authority might say. Don’t you think?

    You mean, as opposed to what an omnipresent, in-your-face bullying authority of the sort which fundamentalists of every faith yearn for might say?

    And if America were the sort of society Klinghoffer thinks it is, how would he be able to blather on as he does without being beaten into the dirt, perhaps literally?

  7. @Dave Luckett
    What net benefits do you think Britain receives from EU membership

    Roughly those same benefits that Louisiana receives from not seceding from the union.

  8. Dave Luckett

    Ah. So to your mind the EU is a sovereign nation, and Britain is subordinate part of that nation, whose secession should be met with whatever sanctions would be required to override it, no matter what the will of its inhabitants.

    One could argue that Louisiana did actually apply to become part of the Union in 1812 and that the Union is indissoluble. But Britain never applied to become a part of a larger nation-state. When it joined, it was the EC, which was represented as an economic zone, a common market, not a sovereign entity whose laws would override British law. But you say that somehow, without an actual act of consent, Britain is now subordinate to a sovereign power outside itself.

    Perhaps the average Briton agrees with you that this is a good thing. We shall see.

  9. Christine Janis

    All of British science is behind staying in the EU. We receive many benefits in terms of EU funding (e.g., the Marie Curie Foundation, which funds my current position), not just in terms of funding for Brits, but in terms of the free interchange of EU graduate students, post docs, and research fellows, usually on European money. This is particularly true in poorly-funded areas of research such as evolutionary biology, and several of my younger colleagues support their research on EU foundation grants.

    Oh, wait a minute, —- *now* it’s becoming clear why Klinghoffer wants us of of the EU.

  10. Where to begin?!

    The British Referendum carries a raft of important issues (e.g. the meaning and practise of ‘sovereignty’, ‘democracy’, and ‘market freedom’) which sadly are barely addressed by either the Remain or Leave campaigners—and which would take us far beyond the scope of this present blog.

    But Klingy’s blathering (which, I believe, is representative of the American political Right on this issue), really does need to be addressed, even if only briefly. And full disclosure: I arrived in Britain on the very day in January 1973 that the UK joined what was then the EEC (European Economic Community). I was then an American undergraduate completing my studies here, though I have resided here ever since (and eventually naturalised as a British citizen) and well recall the original British Referendum of 1975.

    And what is particularly striking, comparing that previous referendum to today, is the 180-degree polarity shift between Left and Right. In 1975, the Conservatives, the centrist Liberal Party, and the centre wing of the Labour Party (which was then the government, under Harold Wilson) were united in vigorously campaigning to remain in the EC (European Community, as it was then styled), and the left-wing of Labour and other further-left political grouplings (including the whole rattle-bag of the Communist Party and all the Marxist and Trotskyite splinters) that argued to bail out; now, of course, it is the Tories who are deeply riven between Leave and Remain factions (in fact, there has been a civil war within the party over Europe for decades now). It is instructive to consider the reasons that the current Tory Brexiteers give for this shift—and their argument is succinctly provided here by Dave Luckett, who writes (with my emphasis):

    Britain never applied to become a part of a larger nation-state. When it joined, it was the EC, which was represented as an economic zone, a common market, not a sovereign entity whose laws would override British law. But you say that somehow, without an actual act of consent, Britain is now subordinate to a sovereign power outside itself.

    Which must be challenged with the question, “Represented (or misrepresented) by whom.” Certainly not by the European institutions themselves; the European federal project has been explicit from the outset of the original Common Market (from which France, under de Gaulle, was determined to exclude Great Britain—but that’s another tale), and the long negotiations of what was to become the SEA (Single European Act, modifying the original Treaty of Rome), as well as the what would become the Maastricht Treaty, were already well underway in 1975. And—irony of ironies—it was the British left that made the issue of evolving political federation the centrepiece of their 1975 ‘Brexit’ campaign: witness Tony Benn on the 1975 referendum (Benn was a lifelong Labour socialist and member of Wilson’s cabinet):

    we must recognise that the European Community has now set itself the objectives of developing a common foreign policy, a form of common nationality expressed through a common passport, a directly elected assembly and an economic and monetary union which, taken together, would in effect make the United Kingdom into one province of a Western European state.

    Britain’s continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation and the end of our democratically elected parliament as the supreme law-making body in the United Kingdom.

    Benn wasn’t being prescient; he had simply done his homework. It was the political Centre and Right (including, to compound ironies, Margaret Thatcher, then an MP but not yet the Tory Leader) who claimed the EU was only ‘an economic zone’—they were the ones who misrepresented the issues (though I think it more a matter of self-delusion on their part, but that is by the by).

    So I do not see how Dave Luckett can claim that “somehow, without an actual act of consent, Britain is now subordinate to a sovereign power outside itself,” as the UK (and chiefly, as it happens, during Tory UK governments) have been an active and equal partner in all relevant European legislative initiatives (and secured for itself relevant exemptions from some provisions thereof, as on Schengen and the ERM).

    Aaargh! Much, much more to say on these matters, but I fear I’ve already waffled on too long already; apologies. I’m liable to succumb to temptation and post more—but will trust to our Curmudgeon to delete any further babblings from me should I overdo it🙂

  11. Klinghoffer waxes romantically:

    it comes as little surprise that Meyer has a special affection for Britain

    But I hope it doesn’t come as a big shock that Britain has little affection for Meyer…

  12. America’s closest ally, Great Britain…

    Umm…. no. Perhaps in the same ball park, I guess, but hardly in the same game.

    America’s closest ally is Canada. America’s closest trading partner is Canada. America’s closet source for comedians is Canada. Just look at Ted Cruz. You’re welcome.

  13. Megalonyx says: “Where to begin?!”

    Thanks for the background. I haven’t followed this issue at all. My un-informed assumptions were that being in the EU had a big effect on immigration policies, and maybe also on the issue of a common currency.

    I can easily understand that a nation would want to control who is allowed to enter — although I think the Brits always let Commonwealth people enter freely. And a common currency could be an economic disaster, if the EU wanted to print zillions of Euros, backed by nothing, to fund grandiose schemes. But I don’t know about European currencies, so I have no opinion. I don’t even know if those issues are involved in the Brexit debates.

  14. I’m still grappling with the puzzle of why the British EU Referendum is on the Disco’Tooter’s radar at all, leave alone how they see any parallel with their own floundering Creationist/theocratic agenda. But I don’t marvel that Klingy weighs in with his signature frothing hyperbole (“… skepticism, freedom, and independence versus lockstep homogenization and always having to look over your shoulder in concern about what a distant, bullying authority might say”). More revealing (though still bristling with factual errors) are Meyer’s own pieces in The National Review and The Stream, from which Klingy gives a sample (the emphasis is Meyer’s own):

    British voters will decide, in short, whether they will continue to be engulfed by the creeping political unification of Europe.

    This is our friend the (demonstrably false) claim that Britain was duped into signing up for a “free trade zone” that has been stealthily transformed into a tyrannical super-state.

    But, if you ignore the rhetoric (from both sides), then I think some interesting and challenging questions arise. I am rather doubtful that ‘economic’ or ‘market’ freedom can be meaningfully segregated from ‘political’ freedom—except in the imaginings of both the far Right and the far Left (which contrast with one another chiefly in the relative importance they place on each). Could a free ‘Common Market’ actually endure—as the Tories claimed (and some still maintain) was the sole original purpose? That is, a region of entirely sovereign states that agreed to nothing beyond the removal of trade tariffs between the members and free movement of investment capital across borders, but without the free movement of labour, and absent at least some over-riding regulatory powers?

    Such a scheme would have some merits, no doubt, but also a raft of difficulties. For brevity, a much-simplified example: Suppose you are a British car maker, keen to export your products worldwide, which can entail not only paying import duties, but also meeting locally-set legislative product regulations, both of which increase your costs. The ‘common market only’ model removes the tariffs, but if each target nation creates an abundance of local product regulations to favour its own native industry (as Japan used to do with a vengeance) you are no better off, for you have additional costs to meet multiple specifications, and none of which may actually result in a superior product . Unless one wishes to argue (and it can be argued, but not by me) that all such product regulations should simply be abolished and all goods are sold caveat emptor, surely it is better that your ‘common market’ include a legislative body, to which all members elect representatives, with powers to agree and enforce common product regulations in order to prevent such ‘unfree’ local protectionism? Or: is it truly a ‘free’ market if, say, car components from different manufacturers are allowed to move freely within the ‘common market’ but the workers who make them are not?

    There are many, many criticisms to be made of the current European legislative bodies (to make them would be too lengthy), but I’d call out the particularly pressing need to pursue the wider debate about where the boundaries should be set between state and federal domains. The EU is an evolving federation, and the challenges it faces are broadly similar to those which faced (and, arguably, continue to face) the United States. It took great effort for the 13 American colonies, even though they shared a common language and British common law, to forge and ratify its constitution and federal institutions—and the inherent tensions in that structure still led to a Civil War and continuing tensions today. But political institutions are never complete (in the way that science never achieves complete knowledge), and—in democracies, at least—entail compromises.

    I would be fascinated to hear American enthusiasts for ‘Brexit’ explain why they are not (if indeed they are not) also advocating the dissolution of the United States.

  15. Dave Luckett

    Megalonyx, observe the use of the tenses and conditional mood in the Benn statement you quoted. He was right of course, and what he feared came to pass. But that doesn’t mean that the British signed up for it.

  16. Our Curmudgeon notes:

    I can easily understand that a nation would want to control who is allowed to enter — although I think the Brits always let Commonwealth people enter freely.

    Immigration is indeed a key issue in the Referendum—but immigration from the Commonwealth has been an ‘issue’ long before the EU Treaty of Maastricht (1992). Following WWII, Britain was not only financially ruined, it faced an acute labour shortage—and actively recruited immigrants from the Commonwealth, who played a significant role in rebuilding the nation. But there has been a continuing reactionary (and, in places, openly racist) backlash: see : see Enoch Powell’s River of Blood Speech.

    Ironically, it was entry into the EU that led to sharp restrictions on immigration from the Commonwealth, although Commonwealth citizens still make up just over half of the UK’s net annual immigrants. Despite hard data showing that EU migrants to the UK make a net contribution (additional generation of business productivity and taxes paid in greatly exceed social security benefits paid out), the ‘Brexiteers’ exploit the old ‘Rivers of Blood’ rhetoric in their campaign rather than look at some of the sounder arguments about reforming the EU.

    Our Curmudgeon also notes:

    And a common currency could be an economic disaster, if the EU wanted to print zillions of Euros, backed by nothing, to fund grandiose schemes.

    Correct—and one of the reasons Britain retained Sterling rather than enter the Eurozone (which is not co-terminus with the EU). But that also makes the general point that economic union without corresponding political union is a nonsense, surely one must have both or neither.

    And one of the better Brexit arguments, to my mind, is pointing out the deficiencies in the current political institutions of the EU. The European Parliament, at present, is something like having a Senate without a House of Representatives. The constituencies are far too large (only 8 for the entire UK), and turnout for elections is embarrassingly low. My own constituency, with the virtually meaningless designation of ‘UK: Eastern Region’, returns 7 MEPs: at the moment, 1 Labour, 3 Tories, and 3 UKIP—the later only swan off to Brussels to object to everything, as their sole political agenda has been Brexit.

    It is not, as Brexiteers claim, undemocratic, but it is certainly not anything like democratic enough. The Remain camp maintain that the EU can and will evolve into a democratic federation, the Leave camp insist that no federation should be sought under any circumstances.

  17. Oops! I dropped a link in first paragraph–but leave it, I’m over posting on this thread!

  18. Dave Luckett enjoins me to

    observe the use of the tenses and conditional mood in the Benn statement you quoted. He was right of course, and what he feared came to pass.

    I did indeed so observe–and I agreem his analysis was indeed correct. And as I indicated, it is almost unbelievable that folks from Margaret Thatcher to Klinghoffer should subsequentluy come to agree with such a hard-core socialist!

    It may seem even less credible, at least to some, that such an ardent socialist as Benn was, above all else, thoroughly committed to democracy, but such is the case, as even his political opponents acknowledged. And that is why Benn concluded the speech quoted above with these words:

    Having campaigned so long to win for you the right to have a referendum I am proud to serve in a government that has promised that the final decision will be made by all the electors through the ballot box. The whole nation, and all political parties, are divided on the Common Market question. We must respect the sincerity of those who take a different view from our own. We should all accept the verdict of the British people whatever it is, and I shall certainly do so.

    And so he did.

  19. Thank you, Megalonyx, for saying so much that I wanted to say, and for saying it so much better than I would have!

  20. Dave Luckett

    Thank you, from me, too. I would not have believed that anyone would actually defend the idea that Britain is and should be the province of a European imperium governed by unelected bureaucrats. I had thought that it would be argued that it hasn’t resigned its sovereignty, or perhaps that the EU is, or will become, a representative democracy. How wrong I was!.

    I urge the remainers to actually make that statement boldly to the British people, rather than pretending to them that Britain remains an actual nation-state governed by a representative Parliament. I’m sure that when the real situation is explained to them, they will react accordingly.

  21. the idea that Britain is and should be the province of a European imperium governed by unelected bureaucrats

    Sorry, Dave, you’re twaddling. Have you ever lived in or been to the UK? Please outline your expertise on the topic.

  22. Dave Luckett

    Realthog, it was you, and not me, who described the benefits of the relationship between Britain and the EU as being like those conferred by the relationship between Louisiana and the US. Louisiana is a state of the Union, not a sovereign nation. But Britain is, or was, a sovereign nation. To become like Louisiana, it necessarily must give up sovereignty.

    It was Megalonyx, whom you praised, who doubted that it was possible for the EC to have survived merely as a customs union and common market, and who called it a federation, while conceding that it fell well short of being a representative democracy, on account of the manifest deficiencies of its institutions in that regard.

    That is to say, both of you have conceded – you by exemplar, Megalonyx directly – that if Britain stays in the EU, it will be as a subordinate non-sovereign entity in a federation, that is, as a state or province in the US, Australian or Canadian sense; and that this federation is at least defective as a representative democracy. Personally, I would not call it a democracy at all, since its only representative body has no power to initiate legislation, nor direct control over the actual functionaries through a ministry.

    That is, you have conceded precisely what I described. You think that Britain should resign, or actually has already resigned, its sovereignty to the EU, despite the latter’s shortcomings as a representative democracy.

    I have visited Britain for periods between a few weeks and several months over the last forty years. Do you think I need to reside there to appreciate the consequences of this, or to estimate its appeal to the average Briton?

    Perhaps so. That is why I urged you to make the situation as you have stated it plain to as many of the British people as possible. Your frankness has been commendable. I can only trust that they have as clear an understanding as yours.

  23. That is to say, both of you have conceded – you by exemplar, Megalonyx directly – that if Britain stays in the EU, it will be as a subordinate non-sovereign entity in a federation, that is, as a state or province in the US, Australian or Canadian sense

    But that statement of yours is complete nonsense, as you’d know if you were properly acquainted with the UK, or could be bothered to research the issues beyond emotive statements like your “I would not have believed that anyone would actually defend the idea that Britain is and should be the province of a European imperium governed by unelected bureaucrats” BS.

    Is the EU perfect? No. Does the UK’s membership of it bring more gains than losses? Yes.

    You might want to think about the Scottish attitude toward the EU.

  24. Dave Luckett

    I hope you’re right, realthog, I truly do.

  25. Dave Luckett is incredulous:

    Thank you, from me, too. I would not have believed that anyone would actually defend the idea that Britain is and should be the province of a European imperium governed by unelected bureaucrats.

    I wouldn’t believe that either–though your own credibility is now negligible if you think your statement reflects anything in any position I have outlined here, or any reality about European politics. But I suppose I can return ‘thanks’, of a sort, for illustrating precisely the preference for emotive rhetoric over reasoned discussion which I bemoaned at the very outset of my posting on this thread, viz.:

    “…European imperium…” Are you channelling Nigel Farage? The EU wields no more (but far, far less) ‘imperium’ than the US federal government; are you projecting here? I understand something about the continuing tension in the US between States Rights and Federalism, maybe you have strong views on that one that explain where you’re coming from?

    “…governed by unelected bureaucrats…” Whom are you talking about? The European Council? That’s comprised of the 28 (locally elected) heads of government of the member states, and fills an Executive, not Legislative, function. The European Commission? That body consists of 28 individuals (one from each member state) appointed by the European Council subject to approval of the European Parliament—the Legislative body of directly-elected MEP’s. This is no less democratic than the American Executive, where your President is elected (well, indirectly elected via the Electoral College) and then nominates a wholly unelected Cabinet to head ministerial portfolios—subject to Senate confirmation.

    Or perhaps you mean the ‘bureaucrats’ who perform the administrative duties arising from the work of the above Executive and Legislative bodies? True, they are not elected—just as career civil servants in America or any other nation are not elected. So what’s your beef?

    Perhaps—though you do not state this, it usually comes close behind when channelling Farage—you suppose there must an enormous army of EU ‘bureaucrats’—I mean, there must be zillions of ‘em for the gigantic task of wielding micro-mangerial ‘imperium’ over the 508 million inhabitants of those 28 emasculated European ‘states’, right? And lo! There are at present writing precisely a whopping 32,900 such EU bureaucrats…which is 7.4% the size of the civil service (439,323) for the UK alone, and smaller than many UK state ministries. O the horror!

    One could go on: there is a world of difference between ‘losing sovereignty’ (as when a nation is forcibly conquered or annexed) and ‘pooling sovereignty’, as the cantons of Switzerland do, or states of the United States do, &. &c. in a variety of forms of federation. Even NATO represents a federal form derived from a measure of pooled sovereignty.

    A vote to Remain is a vote for the status quo, which is never the sexy case to argue. But if membership of the EU was as ghastly and deleterious as the Leave camp fulminates, it needs to demonstrate all those ill effects are present now, and they fail to do that with the sole exception of ‘Immigration’ (I won’t repeat my points on this from previous posts). It also needs to demonstrate palpable benefits from Brexit that outweigh the disruption arising therefrom.

    Now, there is a real and serious debate needed about the structure and direction of the EU, and an interesting more general discussion is possible about the nature of federations. So can we drop the emotive language and distortions? Happy to discuss issues of substance here (subject to our Curmudgeon’s permission—we are guests here), but you have not so far demonstrated an interest in that.

    …Just one more thing. I outlined in previous posts the curious way in which membership in the EU has historically not been a Right vs. Left political issue, but at different times has fractured different parties. What is most striking now is that the best predictor of someone’s voting intention here is their age: the younger generation strongly favouring remaining in the EU, the older generation (old farts like me) more inclined to Brexit. At first, that seems odd, as it is generally the young who are both keener and more receptive to change. But the Brexit option simply isn’t that sort of change, it is much more a reactionary nostalgia for a previous era when Britain was a world power—and as such as vacuous, IMHO, as Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” jingoism. And–as realthog has already pointed out, it is worth considering why the Scottish Nationalists, whose aim is to claw back sovereignty from Westminister, are equally keen to remain in Brussels. Indeed, if the UK goes for Brexit, we may well face a real consitutional crisis when Scotland insists on revisting the referendum on independence, which is nightmarish to contemplate.

  26. @Megalonyx

    Indeed, if the UK goes for Brexit, we may well face a real consitutional crisis when Scotland insists on revisiting the referendum on independence

    I believe Nicola Sturgeon has already said as much.

  27. What if the Remain vote passes only by virtue of the votes from Sscotland? Would there be anti-Scotland feeling among the English?

  28. Dave Luckett

    As I said to realthog, Megalonyx, I hope you’re right, I truly do. I’m the one who fears a gathering disaster that I surely hope never arrives.

    But you have conceded that the true center of power of the EU is appointed, not elected. You have not contested the facts I cited about its one elected body: that no matter what it is called, it cannot initiate legislation, which means,and must mean, that it is not a Legislature; that it has no effective control over the actual executive, nor over the real rules that the executive approves and enforces. Any proposal it rejects – and those have been very few – is merely returned for discussion. It has no power to enforce its will, on those rare occasions when it actually expresses one, nor to supervise the functionaries at all. Those sovereign powers lie elsewhere.

    Consider the practical politics. If the EP mattered, it would be noticed. Its elections would be keenly contested by parties and people who wished to actually make policy; who were interested in real decisions. But nobody really cares what the EP does or says. The turn-out for its elections, and the detached, disinterested and academic nature of what passes for its debates alike attest to that. The same goes for its officeholders, a group of nonentities that might have been – probably were – selected for anonymity and lack of charisma.

    “Losing sovereignty” means losing sovereignty. It does not mean being “forcibly conquered and annexed”. Sovereignty can be lost in other ways. In this case, it has been.

    The size of a bureaucracy is important, agreed. Also important are its actual powers and what effectively restrains it. In the case of the EU bureaucracy, the powers are very great, affecting everything that can be traded or manufactured or grown in Europe, and everything exported from or imported to Europe, but the oversight consists of a body that rarely meets and is otherwise preoccupied with being the heads of governments, and another consisting of the same metal as the bureaucracy itself, also unelected.

    No, I am not a Confederate sympathiser. I already indicated the argument against allowing secession – that the Union, once contracted, is indissoluble. That Union specifically required the cession of sovereign powers to a nation-state. But as we have already discussed, whatever the predictions that were made in 1975 about the development of the EC into the EU, the British never approved or applied to join the result that obtains today. They joined what on practically all sides was represented to them as a common market and customs union of nine member states. They were assured that they were not resigning any part of the sovereign powers of their own Parliament to this body. That Benn was not taken in by this falsehood is much to his credit, but irrelevant.

    There are arguments on specific issues which point in different directions, true. I think there is much to the argument that Britain must of necessity be a trading nation, but (because sea transport and electronic transport does not scale with distance the way land transport does) that it is uniquely placed among European nations to trade with the whole world, not just within Europe. If it must choose between favoured access to Europe (but with barriers elsewhere) and equal access to the whole world, it should therefore choose the latter.

    It is also true that for five centuries at least it has never been in the British interest to support a hegemonic European power, because that power inevitably contracts policy that is not in the British interest. One such policy is the tariff and administrative walls that the EU has built around itself over the last forty years and the extreme reluctance of the real powerbrokers in the EU to break down those walls, as witnessed by their extraordinary performance over a limited “free trade” treaty with the US. Ten years of bureaucratic paper-shuffling, and nothing. (Bureaucrats, whatever their numbers, are past masters of the arts of delay, obfuscation and infighting in support of their own interests. A free trade agreement would reduce the bureaucracy’s powers and influence, so they’ll do their utmost to obstruct it. The whole episode is another demonstration of how free of effective supervision the EU bureaucracy is.). Another is the EU’s attempts to extend its membership eastwards, into conflict with Russia. There’s already been real trouble there. There could be worse.

    Another case is immigration. Free movement of labour is absolutely fundamental to the EU and cannot be negotiated beyond a little minor quibbling around the edges. It’s questionable whether this policy is in Britain’s interest, but It doesn’t matter whether it’s in Britain’s interest or not. It is enforced on Britain, anyway.

    In 1975, a depressed and sluggish Britain joined a renascent and growing European economic union, and profited. In 2016, it is being asked to continue to cede essential sovereign powers to a supranational federation that comprises the only part of the world to have experienced no net economic growth in a decade. The policies of this federation are not consonant with Britain’s interests, and there is at least a respectable argument that they are, in sum, contrary to them. But there is no argument at all denying that the present arrangement does require cession of real sovereign powers to this entity. You appear to think that this is a good thing.

    I differ.

  29. Dave Luckett states

    I differ.

    Yes—but I appreciate that you have set out some arguments which are indeed of substance and interest. I think the nub of where we differ is your statement here:

    “Losing sovereignty” means losing sovereignty. It does not mean being “forcibly conquered and annexed”. Sovereignty can be lost in other ways.

    You do not seem to allow that ‘sovereignty’ is multi-faceted rather than monolithic, but insist it can only be absolute: it’s all or nothing. But that’s an outdated nonsense, no nation possesses such absolute ‘sovereignty’–with the possible exception of an autocracy like North Korea. Any nation subscribing to any international treaty (whether trade, alliance, non-aggression, &c.) cannot be said, in your apparent view, to have ‘pooled’ or ‘shared’ sovereignty, but can only be said to have ‘lost’ it—and moreover lost all of it, as if this mystical entity called ‘sovereignty’ is somehow absolute and indivisible. On this view, we must all eschew anything that smacks of sovereign-busting ‘international law’, such as UNCLOS, but instead encourage our mariners to take up piracy and our navies to grab territorial waters to the full extent we are able to defend them by force.

    The serious point here is: sovereignty can happily exist (and historically, has so existed) in even the total absence of democracy, but—and on this I presume we can easily agree—the reverse does not hold true, e.g. a prerequisite for ‘democracy’ is surely a ‘sovereign’ polity. But unless you wish to argue that there are in the world no democracies, then you must recognise that ‘sovereignty’ is a not an absolute but is composed of parts of unequal significance and subject to modification to fit the exigencies of the real world.

    On the above point I suppose we will have to agree as gentlemen to disagree, and that’s fine; my own views are not set in concrete, in any event, and—as I said—I think there is an interesting, and evolving, debate around just what ‘sovereignty’ does and/or should mean in the modern world which participates in a fully global economy rather than the world, of previous centuries, in which nation states first developed.

    But I do need to respond to a few of your other points (as briefly as I can);

    you have conceded that the true center of power of the EU is appointed, not elected.

    The Commission? As I said before, it is appointed by nomination by the Council (the directly elected heads of state) subject to approval by Parliament; analogous, as I also previously said, to the process by which an American President ‘appoints’ his ‘unelected’ Cabinet. Your elected President is democratically authorised to delegate the policy-making and administrative duties of, say, the Department of Agriculture, subject to approval by the democratically-elected Senate. Why is your Secretary of State, say, not directly elected, as is the President? That could be done, but would it be practicable and sensible to constrain the President in that way?

    But if one wishes to complain (and I often do) about a wholly unelected political institution, one does not look to Brussels but to our own dear House of Lords. Yet, oddly, the Brexiteers who most loudly complain about deficiencies in EU democracy are also the stoutest defenders of the continuing Medieval aspects of our own British upper chamber. Go figure!

    More telling, though, is your comment on the European Parliament:

    no matter what it is called, it cannot initiate legislation, which means, and must mean, that it is not a Legislature; that it has no effective control over the actual executive… It has no power to enforce its will, on those rare occasions when it actually expresses one, nor to supervise the functionaries at all. Those sovereign powers lie elsewhere.

    But that is because ‘control’ over the Executive (the Council) is already in the collective hands of the people of the member states—that is the “elsewhere” that those “sovereign powers” are to be found. Or do you think that Parliament should be able to override the choice of head of state by the voters of that state? But the real point about the European Parliament is in your next comment:

    If the EP mattered, it would be noticed. Its elections would be keenly contested by parties and people who wished to actually make policy; who were interested in real decisions. But nobody really cares what the EP does or says. The turn-out for its elections, and the detached, disinterested and academic nature of what passes for its debates alike attest to that.

    I’m in broad agreement with you on this, and previously noted the poor turnout in the UK for European elections: only 35% of eligible UK voters cast a ballot in the 2014 Euro Parliamentary election, compared to 66% in the UK General Election of 2015, and those figures are representative of relative UK turnouts generally (for comparison, turnout in US general elections has been, in recent years, around the 55% mark). Although the turnout is higher in many other member states (so it’s not quite true that “nobody” is concerned about what the “EP does or says), it’s also lower in some, and I pretty much agree with the reason for this you’ve given: most of the work of the EU institutions is with matters with limited impact on daily life.

    But hang on, do you not see some contradiction in your argument here? All the stuff that most matters to people remains firmly in the control of their respective national parliaments, the transnational legislative scope of the EU is very sharply curtailed. But, on your argument, the members have “lost” all their sovereignty to the EU, the EU has supplanted national parliaments, and does so wholly undemocratically. If the EU has indeed so denuded the member states of any meaningful sovereignty, why do we all so foolishly continue to bother at all with our various national assemblies, concerned as they are with such trivialities as taxation, criminal law, infrastructure, welfare, &c &c. ? Your objection is not consistent.

    Let’s note in passing your objection to MEP’s:

    a group of nonentities that might have been – probably were – selected for anonymity and lack of charisma.

    Perhaps some evidence for this contention you’d care to share? Actually, don’t bother with that one, I know of some who certainly fit the description—the UKIP members. Here’s a better challenge: identify bodies of elected representatives which do not included a healthy sample of idiots, demagogues, and fools…

    Carrying on:

    whatever the predictions that were made in 1975 about the development of the EC into the EU, the British never approved or applied to join the result that obtains today. They joined what on practically all sides was represented to them as a common market

    You’re repeating your assertions but still without evidence. Benn was not making a prediction in 1975, he was faithfully reporting the published programme of the evolving European project. The British membership of the EU, and the various subsequent amending treaties (Maastricht, et. al) has been entirely conducted via our elected representatives through all the normal scrutiny of the UK parliament and extensive negotiations in Brussels, as for every other member state. That it is subject to a second referendum now (even though the first was supposed to be binding) is not because of some further European treaty in the offing, or change of direction, but arises entirely because the Tory party, previously in coalition with the lib-dems and worried about defeat by Labour, promised a referendum in order to take the wind out of the sails of the eternal malcontents of UKIP (who have no political programme beyond booting out immigrants). It’s the same political gamble (and, whatever the outcome, with the same deleterious effects) as the previous Labour government’s attempt to eradicate the Scottish Nationalist party with the referendum on Scottish independence.

    Continuing:

    Another case is immigration. Free movement of labour is absolutely fundamental to the EU and cannot be negotiated beyond a little minor quibbling around the edges.

    Agreed that immigration is the driving issue in the referendum, and free movement of labour within the EU is fundamental because it is fundamental to any genuinely free market. The intention to introduce this freedom was perfectly clear from the outset and was indeed part of the appeal to the Tory Right in 1975: it would help keep labour costs down and also dilute the power of organised labour (which is one of the reasons why Benn opposed it). Free movement works in both directions. Some 1.2 million Brits have emigrated to elsewhere in the UK, many of them retirees to Spain, where they do put some cash into the local economy (a benefit) but also inflate the cost of housing and are high consumers of state-funded health benefits.

    It’s questionable whether this policy is in Britain’s interest, but It doesn’t matter whether it’s in Britain’s interest or not. It is enforced on Britain, anyway.

    It’s not questionable, and it most certainly does matter: a majority of European migrants to the UK are younger working folk who make a significant net contribution to the UK economy. There are ups and downs, gains and losses, but the net effect is economic growth and the healthy circulation of wealth. This is what free markets do.

    It is enforced on Britain, anyway

    –by treaties openly debated, negotiated and ratified over several decades by our duly-elected representatives. Traffic speed limits are similarly ‘enforced’.

    …Much more could be said (there always is), but I don’t wish to seem to be spamming this thread. We can agree to disagree on the theory and principles involved in this one, but I’d still like to see a convincing list of specific benefits that would be available only via Brexit that both (1) compensate for the short and mid-term cost, instability, and disruption that are certain to arise on leaving the EU, and (2) are superior to the benefits, at such minimal cost, to the UK from its continuing membership.

  30. Dave Luckett

    “You do not seem to allow that ‘sovereignty’ is multi-faceted rather than monolithic, but insist it can only be absolute: it’s all or nothing.”

    Pretty much. Old-fashioned as the fact may be, a nation-state is still an entity responsible to and directed by only itself. Nations may make what mutual arrangements they perceive to be in their interest, and denounce those arrangements at will. That, of course, involves consequences which must be considered. But the power to do it at all is the definition of sovereignty.

    We aren’t actually arguing over that, unless you are arguing that Britain doesn’t have the power to leave the EU, just as Louisiana doesn’t have the power to leave the Union, which is a point that was settled in 1865. Do you think that the same situation applies to Britain and the EU? If not, the point need not detain us. We agree that Britain may leave. The question really is, should it?

    Is it really in Britain’s interest to continue to comply with the requirements, policies, regulations and constraints imposed by EU membership? Is it really in its interest to have its trade policies decided by a European power? Is it really in its interest to have no control over its borders with Europe, or over the numbers or description of immigrants from Europe? You think so. I think not. Do these, plus the direct costs of membership, outweigh the benefits? I think so. You think not.

    We are agreed that the EU itself needs reform. I learn, on doing some further research, that the EP has even less power than i thought. Not only can’t it initiate legislation, but it cannot actually disallow it, either. If it dislikes a measure, it can only give advice, which the Commission can cheerfully ignore.

    The European Commission – which is where the real power in the EU lies – is effectively selected from bureaucrats and party hacks who are sworn to foster the interests of the EU, and not those of their home countries. They have every motivation zealously to pursue that course. Quite apart from the oath, they are certainly interested in increasing the power and scope of the EU, for that also increases their own. They are also not subject to any effective supervision or constraint from any elected body.

    These arrangements are, to my mind, intolerable. Britain should leave.

  31. @michaelfugate

    I’ve just been watching that. The next best piece of commentary on the subject after our own Megalonyx’s, I’d say.