THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Don't blame the millennials, blame their teachers
EU 2 #VoteLeave

Let's talk about EU baby

I'm saddened by the standard of the EU referendum debate. I have never revered Godwin's Law but would happily agree that the next side to mention Herr Hitler loses. I wish we could talk to each other as adults about this serious issue. Politicians may think it safer to underestimate our intelligence, but it's only true if they are not caught in the act. In that respect, I begin to doubt their judgement.

This is not an existential issue. Britain will continue regardless. On balance I think we would prosper better outside the EU. I also think we would be happier and that the rump of the Union would have a better (though still poor) chance of success in its ill-conceived and archaic venture. If we Remain we will never be a good member. We will always cause trouble. Our sister nations will make more use of the eye roll emoji than any other when texting each other about us. Here's why.

There is a greater philosophical divide between the two families of law involved in the EU venture than there is between Christianity and Islam. Few citizens of Civil Law and Common Law countries could articulate the differences. Indeed most lawyers from either tradition could only do so at a theoretical level. I am a Common Lawyer by training but I spent two-thirds of my career practising law in Civil Law jurisdictions and I can tell you that - for all their blissful ignorance of jurisprudence - our citizens have a different emotional response to law itself.

One can build a modern civilisation using either system. Everyday life in Britain and Germany for example is not that different. The fact that we started with anarchy and subtracted liberties (too many in my view) to arrive at our present civilisation and that they began with no rights and were granted them (too few in my view) might seem like the difference between sculpture and painting. Both can produce beautiful art. Who cares that one is additive and the other subtractive? Few people I suspect, fearing for the readership of the next paragraph!

If you see your rights as deriving from law and your law as deriving exclusively from legislation enacted by politicians however, you are likely to respond more warmly to new laws than those of us who see law (quite reasonably) as an occasionally necessary evil. You are more likely to regard politicians as benefactors which, incidentally, maximises their already great tendency to be corrupt charlatans. Corruption is endemic in Continental Europe. I say that from twenty years experience. I don't believe it's because they are worse people (most of my friends really are Continentals) but because they have an inferior system of law and government.

Let's say that an Italian dies of food poisoning and the offending food is traced back to a dirty butchers shop. The EU Commission might respond to the problem with the Hygiene in Butchers Shops Directive, which reads quite simply that "Butchers Shops must be clean".

When this Directive arrives in London the British Civil Service must translate it into the negative language of the subtractive Common Law. They will generate a document listing all the unhygienic items that may NOT be introduced into such establishments. A thick local version of the Bill to implement the Directive will land in the House of Commons library, on the desk of the EU correspondents of the newspapers and at the Butchery Trade Association. All hell will break loose at the intrusive regulations foisted on us by Brussels. And Continentals will marvel that those damned Brits don't want clean butchers shops.

Meanwhile the five word Directive will have been voted into law in the Continental Parliaments. Ministry of Health officials will appoint inspectors. French butchers will sigh and bribe them. German butchers will proudly impress them with their sparkling chopping surfaces (and then bribe them just to be sure) and so on.

This little parable explains much of our problem as an EU member. I told it to a German lawyer over lunch last year and he said "... For the sake of European peace you should give up your legal system and move over to Civil Law..." I said we had ended many European wars but started none. Civil Law countries had started all of them. If anyone was to give up their legal heritage, therefore, perhaps it should be them? He paled, his German colleagues fell silent and a Russian colleague laughed. "He's right you know". And I am.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Phillip Downs


I was very pleased to discover that you have returned to blogging. In many ways this explanation gets right to the nub of our problem of compatibility with the EU and indicates that we will always have such a problem. It is this sort of intelligent issue that should be being examined in the EU referendum debate and not the pitiful scare stories we are having to suffer. It's enough to make you despair.

Best wishes.

barnacle bill

I had not thought about why I felt I was British and not a European until you raised the matter of us enjoying governance under Common Law. Not the Civil Law our continental cousins live under.

Quite a valid point.

As for the referendum; I wonder if we haven't all fallen down the rabbit's hole and are living in Wonderland. It's just getting surreal.

The comments to this entry are closed.