When King John’s rebellious barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, it wasn’t an act of noble altruism on their part. They were responding shrewdly and decisively to an encroachment on their interests, and strove to hobble the king in order to secure their own privileged positions.
The barons had no idea that by acting in their self-interest they were laying the basis for the rule of law and the modern constitutional republic. The English parliament, jury trials, and the Common Law gradually evolved out of the various forms of the Magna Carta hammered out in the 13th century.
The English barons did not see themselves as acting in a revolutionary fashion, but rather as reclaiming their ancient liberties. Previous compacts had confirmed their time-hallowed privileges, and the Magna Carta was a quintessentially conservative initiative: an attempt to codify and re-establish what tradition had always mandated.
As another unintended consequence, in the process of limiting the king, the Magna Carta also limited the power of the elected legislators of the future: it was cited in the 17th century as a bulwark against the tyranny of Parliament.
This, after all, the nature of the rule of law: it limits the power of the king and the legislature, of the ruler and the people’s elected representatives. A political structure bound by law seeks to deter tyranny in all its forms.
And now, nearly eight hundred years later, the British government is on the verge of overthrowing the heritage of the Magna Carta, and is ready to surrender the ancient liberties of the Queen’s subjects — and the sovereignty of the country itself — to an unelected and tyrannical entity known as the European Union.
When they created the European Constitution, the mandarins in charge of the EU counted on the mind-numbing length of the document, the indifference and inattention of the populace, and the compliant media to aid their efforts. A few soothing words spoken into the microphones, a little grease on the parliamentary skids, and the founding document of the new European superstate was expected to slip right on through.
But it didn’t work out that way. When the Dutch and the French voted “no!” in their respective referenda, the EU bureaucrats were aghast. How dare they? The nerve of it — an unwashed rabble, the hoi polloi, going against the judgment of their betters!
The mandarins in Brussels were determined to get their way, regardless of the will of the people. The constitution was to be implemented by hook or crook. But Tony Blair, acting the part of a doughty British bulldog, declared that British voters would be allowed to vote on the EU Constitution before Britain would adhere to it.
Unfortuantely, a slightly revised EU Constitution has morphed into a new “treaty”, thereby removing the obligation from Tony Blair to keep his promise. In his waning days as Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Blair has weaseled out. There will be no British objection to the “treaty”, and Old Blighty will go gentle into that good night.
There was a rumor that Mr. Blair’s successor, the Hon. Gordon Brown, would go against his predecessor’s intentions and call for a referendum. But it is not to be:
Gordon Brown last night attempted to rule out a referendum on the new European Union treaty, despite warnings that it will give sweeping extra powers to Brussels and pave the way for a superstate.
As details of the deal agreed early yesterday filtered out, experts claimed that the treaty marked the return of the EU Constitution in all but name.
Brussels has won extra powers in more than 40 areas, including foreign affairs, defence and immigration.
The new arrangement sports a fig leaf that supposedly allows Britain to opt out of some of the foreign policy provisions in the treaty, but we all know that when the time comes, what little backbone remains in Britain’s leaders will have dissolved.
Will the Tories act differently if they gain power? That remains to be seen, but they talk a good game:
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was clear that much of the EU Constitution had simply been repackaged.
He added: “Blair and Brown have signed up to major shifts of power from Britain to the EU and major changes in the way the EU works. Given their manifesto commitment to a referendum on the EU Constitution, the Government has absolutely no democratic mandate to introduce these major changes without letting the British people have the final decision in a referendum.”
The Lib Dems are responding in their accustomed mealy-mouthed fashion:
The Liberal Democrats, who backed demands for a referendum on the original constitution in 2005, said they would consider a fresh call for a public vote after they had examined the new treaty. Former Labour Foreign Secretary Lord Owen said: “There are deep constitutional questions and to pretend otherwise is absurd.”
And the UKIP speaks the plain truth about the deal:
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said: “This agreement is a significant step towards a European superstate, which is what they always intended.”
Here are excerpts from two editorials in today’s Sunday Express. The first:
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel had called the meeting with the intention of reviving the already rejected plan for a European constitution. In the event, although constitutional issues were discussed, the summit simply produced a new EU Treaty, not a constitution – but what’s in a name?
Tony Blair says that he has written guarantees that exempt Britain from future constitutional interference arising from the Treaty. According to Blair, this special deal means that the new agreement will not require a referendum here. Three years ago, he promised UK voters a referendum on whether we should sign up to a European constitution, now he must honour that.
The Sunday Express does not trust the outgoing Prime Minister. Although it isn’t called a constitution the EU Treaty transfers more power from Westminster to Brussels. The new laws will affect the way we live for years to come. We demand the right to decide such fundamental issues ourselves.
And the second editorial:
The European Union is in dire straits.
For all the alleged benefits Britain gets, it is becoming obvious to millions that there are massive drawbacks associated with our membership.
We pay far more into its budget than we ever get back in grants.
Our membership makes controlling immigration almost impossible given that all the citizens of the 26 other member states have the right to live here. It also limits our democratic freedom of action in many other fields.
The Common Agricultural Policy keeps food prices higher than they need to be in order to subsidise inefficient French farmers. Meanwhile, EU trade barriers prevent Africa from pulling itself out of poverty through exports.
Citizens right across Europe feel an overriding loyalty to their nations and want the EU to have less power over their lives, not more. The French and the Dutch – two peoples traditionally at the core of the EU – voted down plans for it to be given a constitution.
Yet, incredibly, the arrogant Brussels elite will attempt another power grab this week and all the signs are that
Tony Blair is happy to help them.
In the dying days of his administration, Mr Blair is wriggling like the slipperiest snake in the political jungle in his bid to avoid giving the British people the referendum on Europe he promised them.
The new deal was almost scuttled by the intransigence of Poland. The Poles were holding out for a better deal on the apportionment of votes in the EU Parliament, but at the last moment backed off their demands in return for a postponement of the new rules until 2017.
The Poles had issued some string rhetoric against the Germans during the negotiations, stating publicly that they deserved more votes, since the lesser population of Poland is due to the millions of Poles killed as a result of Nazi aggression in the Second World War. But then they changed their minds — did somebody twist their arm?
Here’s how the new voting looks (the “ratio” is the population of each country in millions per allotted vote):
As you can see, the Poles already had a pretty good deal, with more than twice the clout per capita than the Germans.
The scheme is supposedly designed to give the smaller countries a stronger say in affairs by increasing their voting representation. But if that’s the intention, then why not have a bicameral legislature modeled on that of the United States, with an upper house in which each country gets the same number of votes?
It’s obvious that the system is really designed to maintain the existing power structure, in which the larger countries like France, Germany, and Britain gather together privately and agree on policy, with the parliament acting as a rubber stamp after the deal goes down.
You can see why Turkey makes some of the current partners nervous.
Is Great Britain going to cease to exist in the form we have known for the last few centuries? Will the British really allow themselves to be subsumed into the soft totalitarianism known as the EU?
The next elections will tell us something. The BNP is expected to make a strong showing, and if they do, all bets are off.
Our Swedish correspondent LN has been following British affairs closely — he’s the one who tipped me about today’s editorials — and, once again, I’ll give him the last word:
In England Tony Blair is called a traitor; the last thing he did before quitting was to do away with the Magna Carta in a single stroke of the pen.