David Kernek: I voted for the UK to leave EEC in 1975. Now, I’m a Brexiteer

Nothing will change my belief that an elected British government is democratic and the EU bloc is a doomed dystopia, says David Kernek

David Kernek: I voted for the UK to leave EEC in 1975. Now, I’m a Brexiteer

Nothing will change my belief that an elected British government is democratic and the EU bloc is a doomed dystopia, says David Kernek

Votes in general elections and referenda can change history; can make nations and break empires.

But they are not powerful enough to change the convictions of those on the losing side, and neither should they be.

No-one I know who voted Remain in Britain’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership has changed their minds; some of them have been out on marches, rallies, and street stalls to support those parliamentarians who initially said they would respect the plebiscite result and then spent three years attempting to have it binned.

Similarly, the result of the UK’s first referendum — the one in 1975 — confirming its involvement in the European project, didn’t change my judgement that joining the European Economic Community (EEC) was an error, and nor did it change my mind that our then prime minister, Harold Wilson, was mistaken when, in welcoming the Remain vote, he declared:

It means that 14 years of national argument are over.

During those 14 years, I read up on the history of the European movement, from its origins in 1918, when the founder of the Fiat motor company wrote a book, European Federation or League of Nations, which argued the case for the first part of that title.

This was followed, in 1922, by Pan Europa, in which Count Richard Coudenhove Kalergi proposed a merger of the German coal and French steel industries as the basis of a federal ‘United States of Europe.’

I had taken the trouble to read the ‘Treaty of Rome.’ I studied the arguments against membership set out by the Left and the Right, and thought about those put up by the sensible centre, most of which — then as now — seemed to be about the frictionless sale and distribution of cars, kettles, and cattle.

I looked back at the contribution made by General de Gaulle, who, as France’s president, not once, but twice — in 1963 and 1967 — rejected British applications to join, citing “a number of aspects of Britain’s currency, economy, from working practices to agriculture,” that made “Britain incompatible with Europe.” He added that the UK harboured a “deep-seated hostility” to the pan-European project.

“England,” he summarised, momentarily overlooking the fraying union known as the United Kingdom, “is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines, to the most diverse, and often the most distant, countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones.

She has, in all her doings, very marked and very original habits and traditions. In short, the nature, the structure, the very situation that are England’s differ profoundly from those of the continentals.”

That swung it for me. I voted Leave in 1975 and, having since then read or seen nothing to change my mind, did so again 2016.

From Rome to Lisbon, via Maastricht, Amsterdam, and Nice, each EU treaty has been a building block in the construction of a fantasy country called Europe, a dystopia that will sooner or later implode beneath the weight of its own insoluble economic, political, social, and cultural contradictions.

Which is why, at 11pm Friday, I shall, with many thousands of others, be in Parliament Square, Westminster, to cheer and applaud, if not the definitive termination of the UK’s European Union membership, then at least the decisive and irreversible half-way stage.

Going into Europe was not seen by most of the English as anything remotely resembling an historic change.

It was just about shifting those cars and kettles and, for some, perhaps, the promise of better nosh here and a modest villa in Provence or Tuscany. For the political class and Her Majesty’s commentariat, the EEC offered a world stage and a gravy train to replace those provided previously by the empire.

The Foreign Office’s deeper thinkers might have had a more strategic bent, as Sir Humphrey explained in the TV show Yes, Minister (1980).

Sir Humphrey: "Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause, we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians.

"Divide and rule, you see … We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside, we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing.”

Well, that hasn’t worked, as evidenced by the 52,741 laws — directives and regulations — which, since 1990, have been generated by EU legislation and imported into Britain’s statute book.

The point is not that all of these laws might be rubbish; some might be beneficial, others damaging. The point is that they have not been made by governments that can be turfed out by electors. They have not been made here, nor in Athens, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, or the rest.

Leaving the EU will be historic in a sense that slithering half-heartedly into the EEC, on January 1, 1973, wasn’t. That’s why I’ll be in Parliament Square at 11pm tomorrow, to send up three cheers for home rule, and for a precious European ideal that predates the EU by some centuries: democracy.

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