After several years of dithering, it feels like events in Britain are quickly moving towards a resolution. Unfortunately that resolution may be the death of the oldest democracy in the world.
A few months after the UK voted to leave the European Union I wrote down some predictions about the negotiation process. Those predictions were, generously to me, only half right. In “A null deal” I said: the EU is no longer rational enough for geographically nearby countries to negotiate with which in my view is still correct given the British and Swiss experiences of how the EU does “negotiation”. And I wrote:
Nobody likes to say that the leaders of nearby countries are fanatical zealots who value abstract visions more than good relations with their neighbours. It certainly wouldn’t follow the traditional rules of diplomacy. But it’s clear that the idea of negotiating some sort of new deal with these people is a fantasy, and the less time wasted on it the better.
Which suggested negotiations would be impossible. That bit was wrong — negotiations happened, a deal was written (by the EU). The only problem is it was written by, as I put it, fanatical zealots. The proposed deal is so terrible in so many ways even a Parliament dominated by hard-line Remainers couldn’t agree to it.
In fact my real views went further than this. I’d concluded there were two possible outcomes. In the first the UK would leave with no deal after two years of stalled negotiations, and in response the EU would begin a new form of total economic cold war. For example, by telling other countries they could trade with the EU or with the UK but not both.
Or, the government would simply call it off and refuse to leave, leading to Britain and by extension the rest of Europe (who would never be given such a vote to begin with) being formally considerable as dictatorships. How long public perception would need to catch up with this reality is a different thing, to be discussed some other time.
The idea the government might void the referendum wasn’t a freak or extreme view. I’ve heard similar views expressed quite a few times over the years … and noticed it was always by people from elsewhere in Europe. They got used to seeing their politicians ignore or block referendums about EU power transfers. And whilst the idea of a new cold war seemed radical back then, even to me, it was a realistic assessment of the situation. We know this because it’s now shared by various officials in Europe. According to the Brussels correspondent for The Times:
The EU is working on a strategy to avoid a “Brexit cold war” amid fears that relations between Brussels and London could break down completely after a no-deal Brexit.
European governments and diplomats, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, now fear that the acrimony of a no-deal could become a political conflict that drags on for years in a “Brexit cold war”
“There is no shortage of acrimony,” an ambassador said. “I don’t think there will be any circumstances under which there will be anything other than a Brexit cold war.”
Where does this language come from?
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has told friends of her worry that no-deal could create divisions comparable to the Iron Curtain.
I think she’s right. This new Iron Curtain will certainly not be created by the UK, which has taken a position of pathetic slavishness … willing to do practically any amount of harm to itself merely to obtain the promise of future talks. Its political classes are desperate to avoid conflict of any kind.
No. A new Iron Curtain will be built by the EU — the only side of the table that explicitly wants to build an empire.
The Explicit Desire For Empire
At this point EU supporting readers of my blog are up in arms, especially the Americans. Empire! What?! The EU is no Empire, they say. In fact it’s the other way around! It’s the British inability to let go of its former empire days that’s causing the problem, according to the Washington Post:
Brits are hardly alone in harbouring delusions of empire …. but the fantasy of Britain’s past collides almost farcically against Britain’s present.
And in an op-ed for the New York Times titled Theresa May’s Empire of the Mind:
Brexit is rooted in imperial nostalgia and myths of British exceptionalism, coming up as they have — especially since 2008 — against the reality that Britain is no longer a major world power.
I’ve been told many times that Leave voters didn’t know what they were voting for. So I wonder how Remain voters feel about this speech by Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s chosen representative in the Brexit negotiations:
“The world order of tomorrow is not a world order based on nation states or countries. It’s a world order that is based on empires.”
I’ve never actually heard leave campaigners talk about the British Empire. But here the most vocal supporter of so-called federalism openly talks about how the EU must be an empire in the “new world order”.
Verhofstadt’s speech is grim. He doesn’t seem to distinguish between power blocs by whether they’re democratic or not: to him they’re all just empires:
“China is not a nation, it’s a Han civilization. India … is not a nation … it’s the biggest democracy worldwide … the US is also more an Empire than a nation, maybe soon they’ll all be speaking Spanish, I don’t know what will happen, and then finally the Russian Federation.
The world of tomorrow is a world of empires in which we European and you British can only defend your interest, your way of life, by doing it together in a European framework and in the European Union.”
This is a dystopian vision of the future, but one increasingly held by the European establishment. Verhofstadt hasn’t been slapped down by anyone on the EU side and I don’t think he will be, because they agree with him. The EU’s primary purpose is no longer one of internationalism, harmony and peace (if it ever was). Rather, Europeans must agree to obey Brussels in every respect because the inevitable future is one in which the rest of the world is united against them to destroy their way of life. In this formulation America is an enemy empire no different from China. Even India is a threat!
All totalitarians create external enemies for the population to focus on. The EU is hard at work to demonise American tech companies so it can “save” the public from them. Demonising America itself is the obvious next step.
Doublespeak outside fiction
Verhofstadt gave this speech at the conference of the Liberal Democrats. It’s worth pondering that for a moment.
This whole topic is riven with enormous amounts of what George Orwell called doublespeak — openly describing what something is but then giving it a name that’s the opposite of what was just described.
In 1984 the government of Big Brother ran organisations like the Ministry of Truth (propaganda), the Ministry of Peace (war) and so on. The characters all knew what these organisations did because the government didn’t lie about it, except that the names were reversed from reality.
There’s been enormous amounts of this going on in Britain lately, in my view all of it from supporters of the EU. Nowhere is this clearer than the Liberal Democrat party.
The ‘Lib Dems’ have exactly one policy under Jo Swinson, their new leader: they will revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. Formally voiding the largest vote in British history, which Parliament itself voted strongly to hold, would be the greatest destruction of democracy for as long as I’ve been alive. Nobody with such a policy can call themselves a “liberal democrat”. It’s doublespeak.
The Lib Dems ran on a similar policy during the last election but back then they claimed they’d hold a new referendum first, called the “People’s Vote”. The people voted and inflicted heavy losses. The first referendum was also a people’s vote of course: the only point of the second would be to rig it so the people’s preferred option could never win. It’s classic doublespeak.
Only someone very naïve would have believed in the People’s Vote. The stupidity of such people is now on display, because recently Swinson admitted on camera she’d never implement the result of a second vote if she lost it:
Now the Lib Dems have given up pretending and have come out in favour of outright and immediate cancellation.
What a shock.
The losers take over
But there’s a problem. Despite the Lib Dems badly losing the last election on People’s Vote policies, they are now incrementally taking power anyway because MPs keep defecting to them from other parties. Voters who voted for a Conservative or Labour policy of leaving the EU are being surprised to discover their local MP is now a Lib Dem promising to cancel it. A full half of the Lib Dem MPs now in Parliament came via this route and it’s still rising. They are slowly taking control without ever having won anything.
Worse still, many Labour and Conservative MPs are effectively implementing Lib Dem policy without bothering to switch parties. This is in direct contradiction to their own pledges during their last campaign. They work together in a “Remain Alliance”, with weekly meetings at the EU Commission offices in London.
Conventionally, if an MP changes party they’re supposed to call a by-election so voters can make a fresh decision on them. Zero of the defecting MPs have done this.
And what of the second biggest party? Labour campaigned by saying they’d respect the referendum because many of their core heartlands voted Leave, but now have rejected that and formally adopted the “People’s Vote”, with them campaigning to Remain. Are they any more likely to respect that vote? Well, the leader of the opposition has spent all year demanding a general election but then vetoed one in Parliament when offered it. They aren’t in favour of any vote that they haven’t rigged.
These politicians don’t care if their voters are now totally disenfranchised — they care only about locking the UK into the EU for as long as possible. Everything else can burn.
The dying embers of democracy
The wealthiest countries are democratic and at the basis of that success is the loser’s consent. The ruling party must consent to a fair vote and if they lose, they must stand aside no matter how painful it may be for them.
The loser’s consent is almost completely gone now in Britain. Politicians lied en-masse to obtain power. They have now passed laws stating the UK can never leave without a deal (i.e. the deal), that the country must demand another extension, that Boris Johnson must send letters dictated to the word by them, and in all other ways are now forcibly implementing a path that voters repeatedly rejected.
They refuse to hold by-elections. They refuse to hold a general election. The Speaker of Parliament has stated outright he’ll bend the rules in whatever way he can to achieve his preferred political outcome (which is “bollocks to Brexit”). Remainers launch constant challenges through the courts to try and render the winning option of “leave” even more illegal than it already is.
Many pundits are saying another election must be near. I hope they’re right, but given the behaviour of Remainers so far there’s no reason to believe this is the case.
Unlike the much smarter Americans, us Brits don’t have any formal written constitution. Parliament is all powerful and can do more or less what it likes unless the Queen overrides it — which she never does. Parliament already changed how often elections happen in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act of 2011. The belief at the time was that the opposition would never refuse the opportunity to win power so it’d make little difference in practice. That assumption has very rapidly been proven false.
What stops the Remain Alliance holding this Parliament open and implementing minority policies until 2022? Nothing.
But more problematically, what stops the Remain Alliance setting things up so they hold power indefinitely? Constitutionally speaking, nothing except the Queen. Socially speaking also nothing, given that so many MPs have now publicly sacrificed basic principles like the loser’s consent.
How might they do that?
How to convert the UK into a full dictatorship
The simplest way would be to pass a new law that removes the 5 year requirement on calling elections. It could be either significantly increased, or abolished entirely.
But that’s not attractive. Such a law change really would formalise the UK as a dictatorship of the current Parliament. Even the current crop of MPs would struggle to support that: it could lead to civil war or outright institutional collapse. It’s also possible such a law would never gain Royal Assent.
Another possibility would be to corrupt the Royal Family. Very little is known about the political views of the Queen due to her extremely rigorous adherence to political neutrality. But the Queen is old and may soon die. The next in line to the throne is Prince Charles, who has historically been far more political. He recently complained that the public is “obsessed with Brexit”. Does Prince Charles support leaving? It’s hard to know. Given these comments I doubt it.
So one way for them to go would be to kill leaving either Lib Dem style or with Theresa May’s “deal” that’s practically the same thing, replace Boris Johnson with a Europhile PM and then claim it’s done. Go back to domestic agenda and keep extending Parliament until the Queen dies. Pretend it all never happened. Meanwhile convince Prince Charles that attempts to re-open the issue should be refused Royal Assent, to avoid the “obsession” returning. In the unlikely event the Brexit Party outright win an election instead of just splitting the vote, this may mean they still cannot constitutionally implement their policies.
This path is slightly more complicated but may still be unappealing, especially to Prince Charles, who might feel this would threaten the existence of the Royal Family itself.
So let’s get more convoluted again. Another way would to be abuse the House of Lords. Currently Parliament is supreme over the House of Lords because the HoL can only delay or amend the passage of a law, not stop it entirely. If the Lords make themselves too troublesome the Prime Minister can ask the Queen/King to appoint more Lords who are ideologically allied. But this relies once again on the Royal Family. Remainers could steadily bias the House of Lords to be even more staunchly anti-Brexit than it already is, such that the Lords delay or amend any of the legislation needed to deviate from EU law. Then they could convince Prince Charles to refuse to appoint new Lords in bulk. Charles would claim his refusal to bulk-approve new Lords was only to preserve the constitution and oversight of Parliament, there was no precedent to violate because it had never been requested before and that it was nothing to do with the EU. Very few would believe him but the social circles in which he moves would all play along with it, so cognitive dissonance would rarely present itself.
Meanwhile the establishment would be doing everything it can to sink the Brexit Party outright.
Totalitarians everywhere like to lock up their opponents and rig votes. We’ve seen some of that already.
The Electoral Commission is a committee that runs the election process in the UK. It is completely dominated by outspoken EU activists:
“Conservative MPs criticised an investigation carried out by the Electoral Commission following revelations by this newspaper that almost half of the board had made public statements criticising the pro-Brexit campaign or backing calls for the result to be overturned. The commission’s Code of Conduct requires them to be impartial”
It has the power to fine people unilaterally, engage in search/raid activities and even decide whether an organisation can be a political party at all. It has repeatedly abused its powers to harass Leave campaigners.
In one notorious example the Vote Leave campaign asked for it to interpret an extremely vague part of electoral law, and the Commission gave it advice. Then after Vote Leave won the Commission changed its mind and fined them over the very thing the team had asked for guidance on. Remainers rejoiced — finally, the evidence they wanted that the referendum had been illegitimate. This led to an extraordinary two year legal battle which ended up in the High Court, in which the Commission tried to hide the fact they’d given any advice to the campaign at all. The court slammed the Commission and overturned its rulings, saying in their judgement the Commission had been:
“unconstructive”, “arbitrary” and lacking “any rational basis” for its actions.
Fortunately the judiciary and police still seems to be holding a level of neutrality. The Commission have legally harassed other Leave campaigners too, both prominent and irrelevant, but can’t go further than fines because they keep getting rejected by the courts and police.
Thus a simple way for the Remainer Alliance to sink the Brexit Party is to pass many more vague electoral laws under the guise of ‘protecting democracy’ from ‘foreign interference’, and to award the Electoral Commission more direct power to enforce them. What happens if the EC can fine a party £7 million instead of £70,000? What if it chooses to simply ban parties from elections? Then it can wipe out any party it chooses, under the justification of “protecting democracy”.
Given the growing extremism of the Remainer faction, the Electoral Commission will at some point try to exterminate the Brexit Party, the other parties will still be dominated by Remainers and the EU will have successfully conquered the country. The EU Commission will proceed to strip-mine wealth to support failing economies elsewhere in its territory. British MEPs will do nothing to stop this — if they still exist at all — because the EU Parliament is a fraud and so is the Supreme Court, because they have no real power, because the Parliament won’t let them speak and because the bulk of MEPs will be happy to vote for huge wealth transfers anyway.
So I don’t see any end to the constitutional crisis engulfing Britain. There are many tactics left and Remainers will continue trying to terminate democracy until they are completely purged from public life or until they win. No compromise will be possible.
Although the title of this essay mentions Europe I’ve written about the UK. That is deliberate. If the UK can’t leave then no country can leave. The UK has a strong anti-EU tradition, isn’t in the Eurozone, uses first-past-the-post voting, has good relations with America and the population was given a direct and simple referendum. Other countries have been given votes on expanding the EU’s power, which they rejected and then watched as the treaties were signed anyway. There’s no chance of the political classes in other countries allowing their people to even express a desire to leave, let alone actually do it. France and Germany are in particular already lost, trying to imagine a German exit is practically impossible.
Given the terrible actions of dictatorships, why do people support them?
Power, fear and a desire to make the world a better place.
Dictatorships are great for the ruling elites. That’s why they all have large cadres of supporters who do whatever it takes to sustain them. The sorts of people most outspokenly pro EU are the same sorts of people the EU selects to be a part of the ruling classes: ideologically pure politicians who lost elections, academics, bureaucrats. The rewards can be large. The EU pays Lord Peter Mandelson large bribes to remain loyal. He is a key member of the Remain Alliance and is thus certainly earning his keep.
They rule through fear. People are who afraid are easily dominated. The Remain campaign relied on fear so heavily it literally became nicknamed “Project Fear”. Verhofstadt now creates the same fear of foreigners to justify his view that Europe must become an empire.
And finally, they want to make the world a better place. They feel the world’s problems are caused by democracy, and can be fixed by the enlightened rule of experts like themselves, if only they’re left to get on with it. They feel the future gets brighter when countries disappear and politicians are replaced with superior people … like academics and technocrats. There’s no evidence these people are smarter than the average person, and some good evidence they’re less smart. But, well, that doesn’t diminish the appeal of the vision.
It is at its root, a psychological problem. Fixing it will require a new utopian, populist vision of the future with mass appeal. I plan to write about that in future.