THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Brexit 2016" Feed

On not over Stating our case

My Sunday Times today has an article about the booze culture of Westminster. It's an interesting enough piece but what struck me most was the title; "Drunk in charge of the nation". Are our political leaders — drunk or sober — really in charge? Does the government "run the economy?"

The Executive and its minions in the Civil Service run the state. The Legislature determines (directly, or by delegation to Quangos or treaty organisations) the extent of that state's rôle in the affairs of the nation. The Judiciary adjudicates disputes both between citizens and between citizen and state. But the state and the nation are not the same thing.

The British state is undoubtedly too big, too costly, too intrusive, too wasteful, too stupid and generally too big for its boots but we, the more or less willingly governed, are the nation. The state and its employees are our — more or less humble — servants. The money they mostly squander comes from (or in the case of its drunken sailor borrowings is underwritten by) the private sector in the broadest sense of the term. Everyone who pays taxes from earnings *not* paid to them by taxpayers funds the state.

The state is to some extent a necessary cost to the nation. In Britain, as in the rest of the free world, political debate largely turns upon the "someness" of that extent.

In that crucial debate, confusing the ideas of "state" and "nation" helps statists. It allows them to brand as disloyal any opposition to state projects. I certainly saw that during my days in Russia where the ruling kleptocracy allows no such distinction. Though the Russian nation is as cultured, enterprising and lovable as the Russian state is vile, vulgar and putrid the fallacy that to oppose the state is unpatriotic prevents rational debate. In truth, as Edward Abbey (and not, as mistakenly suggested on the Internet, my illustrious namesake) said

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.

We anti-statists don't help clarify this state/nation confusion by constantly focussing on the centrality of the state. Almost everything that's good about our nation; its culture, its wealth, its inventiveness, its civil society, its philanthropy, its charity, even its sport flourishes in spite, not because, of the great bloated parasite that hectors, lectures, condescends to and tyrannises us.

In our darkest moments perhaps we should remind each other that our nation may not flourish as it deserves because of our defective state, but that it still flourishes. Only a healthy beast could gambol on with such an enormous bloodsucking parasite draining its vitality. Certainly not one that was "run" or "controlled" by it.

EU 2 #VoteLeave

Time and again journalists interviewing members of the Leave campaign ask "what will Britain look like after Brexit?" If not satisfied with the answer (and as a matter of principle they are never satisfied) they say "How can you ask people to vote for something when they don't know what it will be like?"

These are damaging exchanges for Leave despite the fact that it's a stupid question. It's a classic "Project Fear" tactic; sowing doubt and uncertainty in the minds of voters, most of whom are healthily focussed on living their lives to the full and don't plan to think too hard about this historic decision.

Britain after Brexit will be very different if people vote for Jeremy Corbyn or George Galloway than it will if they vote for Boris Johnson, Michael Gove or even me! All that George Galloway and I have in common is that we believe the future direction of our country — left, right, up, down, forward or backward — should be set by the British people. He would take it in a totalitarian direction. I would take it to the very brink of anarchy, take one step back and stop.

We agree on almost nothing else but that *you* should choose between the available options, not unelected officials in Brussels. There is therefore no logical contradiction when he bangs on about "workers' rights" and I bang on about deregulation. Is that really so hard to get over, because the Leave campaign is signally failing to do so? It's especially disappointing as we don't know how far in any direction the EU will take us if we Remain. Being risk averse makes no difference in this decision because either choice leads to the uncertainty grown ups call "Life".

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.