HM the Q in EU
Steven Den Beste has another post on the EU, this time on the status of Queen and Commonwealth
, and he's exactly right on all of this, although he should have mentioned the last exercise of essentially vice-regal power by a Governor-General in a major country, when the then incumbent sacked Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 following a series of political and constitutional wrangles
But I use his post as an opportunity to post a warning to my Euroskeptic friends. You will overplay your hand if you try to portray the proposed EU constitution as something that will abolish the British constitution. And the fanatics will be delighted you walked into their trap. The fundamental sources of legitimate political authority in Britain -- Crown and Parliament -- are untouched by the Constitution. As I say below, the simple repeal of a few Acts will free Britain from its European entanglements. (If a referendum approved the entanglement, the situation would be a lot trickier, given the dubious constitutional position of referenda). As long as there is a Crown and a Parliament, Britain governs itself. The proposed constitution leaves Her Majesty's position intact, as it does the positions of the Kings and Queens of Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark (have I missed anyone?).
In many ways, the correct way of looking at the EU is as a gigantic Environmental Protection Agency or similar regulatory body. Congress has delegated legislative authority to that organization, and it causes tremendous problems, acting as a Fourth Branch of Government in many ways, but it should not be argued that the EPA has abolished Congress or dismantled the Constitution. The EU should be opposed on the ground of the damage delegating powers to it causes to British interests, not on some imagined abolition of the source of those powers. Yes, Britain's Parliament will become increasingly irrelevant, but it's not going to be abolished. The argument should be that Britain needs to retain powers jealously in the British interest, not that it is under threat of abolition.
The proposed Constitution is bad enough on its own, as I shall investigate over the coming days, and Britain should resist ratification with all its might. I am beginning to come to the conclusion, however, that the best way for people to do this is not to campaign for a referendum. Besides the constitutional arguments advanced below, I have no faith that the referendum itself will not be loaded (imagine the question "Do you support HMG's efforts to promote peace and prosperity for Britain and Europe by adopting certain administrative measures outlined in the White Paper distributed to all households on 7 June?" or something like that). Moreover, going down the referendum road is liking losing your virginity. Once done, it becomes easier the second time. Even if we win, the question will be posed to us again every time a pro-European government comes to power. The only way for us to obviate that course of action is if we win a referendum that removes us from the European entanglement entirely and sets us down another course, which the people will then see is better.
My preferred course of action is for us to make it politically impossible for HMG to support ratification. In all of what follows, we need to base our arguments on clear, regular, up-to-date polling data, which will probably continue to support the Euroskeptic position in a way that might not be the case with referenda (especially private referenda, as I mention in the comments section on my previous post below).
We need to target marginal Labour MPs, making it clear that the issue is important enough to their constituents that they are in danger if they support ratification. We need to target business interests, pointing out the likely effects of stifling European regulation. We need to target supporters of civil liberties, pointing out the raison d'etat
and asking whether free speech and other liberties will really be respected in this new Europe. We need an all-out education campaign telling people the truth about Europe's ambitions to legislate for us and how our Parliament is perfectly capable of doing that and still keeping us the fourth largest economy in the world. We need to point out how withdrawal will not damage our economy, if the EU adheres to international law (and if it won't, why are we in it?). If all these arguments fail to move HMG, and they'll require substantial funding, then and only then we should resort to demanding a referendum, with all its hostages to fortune, anchored on the idea that HMG is willfully ignoring the expressed mood of the nation.
Yet I have a feeling that just a modicum of pressure on endangered Labour MPs might do the trick. Blair will not want a split in his party over Europe, seeing what it did to the Tories. The small but influential Labour Euroskeptic movement should be in the lead here. Over to you, Stephen
Overall, if the EU is a tangled web and the constitution the spider, we are at least a wasp. Let's sting the spider and fly away from the web.
PP: Stephen Pollard has an important post replying to this argument
, which I shall try to answer later today. The most important point is that Article 10 is essentially already
part of UK law and has been since 1972. I'll examine the legal reasoning later.