You can never trust an emigré

I was going to write this column a couple of weeks ago, but I was unable to find the correct source for the quote that serves as the title. I still haven’t been able to track the quote down properly, so you will have to take this as an unsourced anecdote instead. But one of immediate and urgent relevance to our current state of relations with the European Union.

In the autumn of 1813, Wellington was poised to cross the Pyrenees and invade southern France. He was faced by the decision of where to strike. At this point a group of French Royalist emigrés appeared with inside information that had, they said, come from their contacts inside France. Bordeaux was in a state of turmoil. Royalists had armed themselves and were just waiting for a chance to rise up against the hated Bonarpartists. If Wellington attacked towards Bordeaux, the emigrés claimed, he would have a warm welcome and an easy victory.

It was at this point that Lt Colonel Colquhoun Grant , Wellington’s chief intelligence officer, stepped in to say “You can never trust an emigré”. He suspected, rightly, that these emigrés wanted Wellington to do their dirty work for them, defeat the French forces around Bordeaux and so allow them to move in and exact their own brand of revenge on personal enemies. Wellington listened to Grant, and advanced toward Toulouse instead.

It is, indeed, a truism that you cannot trust those with ulterior motives. Particularly emigrés.

From 1998 to 2002 the American intelligence agencies spent a lot of time speaking to Iraqi emigrés. These exiles poured out a host of stories about how unpopular Saddam Hussein was, how Saddam had vast stocks of weapons of mass destruction and how Saddam was a dangerously unstable dictator who was just itching to invade neighbouring states. The only solution, the emigrés said, was for the USA to invade Iraq and remove Saddam from power.

The US intelligence services did not heed Grant’s advice. They believed the emigrés and only later realised that it was all a pack of lies designed to get the Americans to remove Saddam from power. We all know how well that ended.

And so we come to today. In the Referendum last year, those who wish to leave the EU gained a majority. Since then most of those who voted “remain” have accepted the decision. But a small number of die-hard Europhiles have not. They fondly believe that they are right, that a growing number of British people agree with them and that the referendum decision can be overturned. For the most part they are harmless, but some are not.

Some are men and women who have high level contacts in Brussels, Berlin or Paris. Like the emigrés of old, they are saying what their audience want to hear. “The British people are changing their minds”; “The British economy is in trouble”; “We can stop Brexit with legal challenges”; “Parliament will never agree to go with WTO rules” and so on and so forth.

This is dangerous stuff. If the EU negotiators believe these emigrés  – and from what I have heard some are inclined to do so – then they will seek to impose a punishment deal on the UK in the belief that this will cause the UK to change its mind and stay within the EU.

So those well-connected big beasts with their contacts within the EU machinery are working against the interests of their own country. Like the emigrés of old, they are wanting the EU to do their bidding for their own reasons. They are potentially dangerous, they are certainly wrong. The EU should heed Grant’s advice and “never trust an emigré”.

Photo by dun_deagh

“The tyranny of the majority” – really?

The phrase “the tyranny of the majority” is one that has been bandied around a lot recently. Some might be tempted to simply shrug it off as another example of Remoaners doing a bit of moaning. But the phrase actually encapsulates a serious point about the limits of democracy in a diverse, modern society. Whether the Remain voters are using the phrase correctly is, however, another question.

John Major talked about “the tyranny of the majority” at some length last November. He first used the phrase in a speech to a dinner in Westminster. Sir John made it very clear that he wanted the views of the 48% who had voted “Remain” to be taken into account by the government during its negotiations with the EU.

Tim Farron and Tony Blair quickly came out in agreement (no surprises there) as did many others. A common theme was that another referendum should be held before Britain actually left the EU. The idea was that the simple majority of votes cast in June 2016 should not determine Britain’s future for ever. That seems to be what these Remain supporters mean by “the tyranny of the majority”.

But that is not how the phrase is usually meant nor used.

The phrase was first used by American founding father Alexander Hamilton during the drafting of the Constitution of the USA back in the 18th century. Hamilton worried that if there was a permanent majority of people with one viewpoint, they could use it to oppress and disempower those with a different viewpoint.

An example being bandied around at the time was that the densely populated industrial cities might use their voting power to penalise the more thinly populated agricultural areas. Perhaps agricultural exports would be highly taxed, but no taxes put on industrial exports. So those in rural communities would be economically penalised by a larger bloc of voters. That would be unfair.

Hamilton and his colleagues sought to get around this by setting up the electoral college system for the Presidential elections and the way states have weighted voting in the US Senate. Not a perfect solution, but at least they recognised the problem and made an effort to solve it.

A more recent example in the UK might be the fox hunting ban. A majority of the population live in urban areas and prefer not to see foxes hunted by florid-faced stereotypes in red jackets on horseback. The realities of the situation in rural areas played little part in the debate. The urban majority got their way, and look set to continue to get their way for the forseeable future.

That is a real example of “the tyranny of the majority”. One section of the nation has been permanently oppressed by another, larger section which has no stake in the outcome of the oppression. I do not recall Major, Blair or Farron objecting then.

By comparison the EU Referendum vote was a simple exercise in direct democracy. Now, you may or may not approve of referendums [I’ll come back to that another time], but “the tyranny of the majority” it most certainly is not.

Photo by Chatham House, London

Ancient Loyalties

Time to declare a personal interest. I’m a historian and earn a living writing history books – check me out on Amazon – advising TV and film production companies and such like. So I love history. And now I’m going to impose on you a rather sideways look at the Brexit decision.

Looking back at the results, it was striking how the five nations of Britain voted.

England vote Leave, Wales voted Leave, Cornwall voted Leave, Scotland voted Remain, Northern Ireland voted Remain.

Now, this plays into one of my pet theories about Britain and British history. It is widely accepted that the various nations of Britain were fixed in the chaotic and violent years of the Dark Ages that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. In AD400 the British Isles were divided into Roman-controlled areas south of Hadrian’s Wall, Pictish and Celtic tribes of varied cultures to the north of the Wall and a culturally united, but politically fragmented Ireland. Come the year 600 and all that had changed. The English, Welsh, Irish, Scots and Cornish were [more or less] where they are today.

How all this came about is a matter of bitter dispute among historians. Written sources for the period are slim, while archaeology can tell us only so much.

I have my own theories, of course. I believe that what had once been Roman Britain remained politically united rather more than has generally been thought. While the English flooded in and grabbed most of the land, leaving the Romano-Celts to inhabit Wales and Cornwall, there remained an overarching political authority. The English usurped what had been the Roman authority over all lands south of Hadrian’s Wall. They gave the office of governor their own title of Bretwalda and monopolised it for themselves. Quite what powers this title carried with it have always been rather obscure, as has the process by which it passed from one monarch to the next, but we know that it had a real power of some kind.

Crucially the title covered not just England, but also Wales and Cornwall. By the more settled times of the High Middle Ages, England had become a single kingdom and the King of England sought to exercise this power of the Welsh. That led to long wars and disputes with the Welsh princes, who sought to protect their own powers and rights. Those disputes ended when Wales was integrated into the English system of local and national government.

The point I seek to make is that culturally and politically England and Wales have a lot more in common with each other than either does with the Scots or the Irish. Those links stretch back centuries into the poorly understood Dark Ages, but they are very much alive today when it came to Brexit.

Photo by The British Library

The day the referendum became inevitable

Now some of us have been fighting the good Eurosceptic fight for decades. I take my hat off to those veterans who have been keeping the flame alive for far longer than I. The Campaign for an Independent Britain’s very own Edward Spalton is one such. I came late to the struggle. It was not until I read the Maastricht Treaty back in ’94 that I realised the truth about the EU.

But although we have all played our part, I think that there was one key moment that was the true turning point in relations between Britain and the EU. I want to take a moment to give credit where it is due and remember that moment.

It came in October 2011 when David Nuttall, Member of Parliament for Bury North, brought a motion to the House of Commons. That motion read:

“That this House calls upon the Government to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the United Kingdom should

(a) remain a member of the European Union on the current terms;

(b) leave the European Union; or

(c) re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.”

This was not the only such motion to have been put forward over the years, but when it came to a vote in the House of Commons on 25th October 2011, it impact was massive. Prime Minister David Cameron had set his face against this motion. He ordered the Whips to do their worst to ensure that it got as little support as possible. There was no chance that it would be passed, the votes of Labour and the Lib-Dems would see to that, but it was crucial to Cameron’s authority that only a handful of Tory MPs vote for it.

The Whips went to work and made it very clear to each and every one of the Conservative MPs that it was career suicide to vote for Nuttall’s motion. When it became clear that Nuttall had rather more support than Cameron had expected, the Whips doubled down and went to work with a vengeance. All the dark arts of political arm twisting were employed. MPs with embarrassing incidents in their past were told that these faux pas would see the light of day. Those who hankered after a nice holiday with the wife were promised “fact finding missions” to exotic locations.

No stone was left unturned. No MP was left unaware of what rebellion would do their career. No ploy was too low or too dirty to be used. Anecdotes abound of what went on behind the scenes during the 36 hours leading up to the vote.

But when the votes were counted a staggering 81 Conservative MPs had backed Nuttall. Given the number of ministerial positions that obliged their holders to back the government, that was a truly astonishing figure for a rebellion on such a high-profile issue where the Prime Minister had nailed his colours to the mast.

It was, I believe, the day that an In-Out referendum on the European Referendum became inevitable.

So here are their names. Honour them. We owe them our freedom and our liberty.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey), Steven Baker (Wycombe), John Baron (Basildon & Billericay), Andrew Bingham (High Peak), Brian Binley (Northampton South), Bob Blackman (Harrow East), Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West), Andrew Bridgen (Leicestershire North West), Steve Brine (Winchester), Fiona Bruce (Congleton), Dan Byles (Warwickshire North), Douglas Carswell (Clacton), Bill Cash (Stone), Christopher Chope (Christchurch), James Clappison (Hertsmere), Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford), David Davies (Monmouth), Philip Davies (Shipley), David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden), Nick de Bois (Enfield North), Caroline Dinenage (Gosport), Nadine Dorries (Bedfordshire Mid), Richard Drax (Dorset South), Mark Field (Cities of London & Westminster), Lorraine Fullbrook (South Ribble), Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park), James Gray (Wiltshire North), Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry), Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne & Sheppey), George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), Adam Holloway (Gravesham), Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), Bernard Jenkin (Harwich & Essex North), Marcus Jones (Nuneaton), Chris Kelly (Dudley South), Andrea Leadsom (Northamptonshire South), Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford), Edward Leigh (Gainsborough), Julian Lewis (New Forest East), Karen Lumley (Redditch), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Karl McCartney (Lincoln), Stephen McPartland (Stevenage), Anne Main (St Albans), Patrick Mercer (Newark), Nigel Mills (Amber Valley), Anne-Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), James Morris (Halesowen & Rowley Regis), Stephen Mosley (Chester, City of), Sheryll Murray (Cornwall South East), Caroline Nokes (Romsey & Southampton North), David Nuttall (Bury North), Matthew Offord (Hendon), Neil Parish (Tiverton & Honiton), Priti Patel (Witham), Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole), Mark Pritchard (Wrekin, The), Mark Reckless (Rochester & Strood), John Redwood (Wokingham), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Somerset North East), Simon Reevell (Dewsbury), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), Andrew Rosindell (Romford), Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills), Henry Smith (Crawley), John Stevenson (Carlisle), Bob Stewart (Beckenham), Gary Streeter (Devon South West), Julian Sturdy (York Outer), Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth & Horncastle), Justin Tomlinson (Swindon North), Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight), Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes), Charles Walker (Broxbourne), Robin Walker (Worcester), Heather Wheeler (Derbyshire South), Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley), John Whittingdale (Maldon), Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes)

When turkeys really do vote for Christmas

“Don’t worry, Rupert,” said the backbench MP I was having tea with, “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.”

The “turkeys” in question were the House of Lords, and the “Christmas” was the idea that they would seek to block Brexit by undermining Article 50 Bill.

Well, we now know that the Lords have voted to defeat the government on the rights of EU citizens in the UK – and by doing so have thrown UK citizens in the EU to the wolves. Given the size of the rebel majority, it now looks likely that the Lords will inflict other defeats on the government on this Bill.

This should not come as a surprise. There have been many instances in the past when turkeys have voted for Christmas. As a rule, this happens when the turkeys have managed to convince themselves that they are voting for Easter, not for Christmas. They ignore the gathering storm clouds heavy with the snows and blizzards of winter, and instead see only the narrow gleam of sunlight that they think heralds spring and so rush eagerly forwards seeking chocolate eggs.

Perhaps I am taking this analogy too far.

Let me give you some examples.

In 1785 the government of France faced bankruptcy. King Louis XVI brought in the financial guru Jacques Necker to solve the problem. Necker looked at the hideously unfair tax system by which poor peasants were highly taxed, but wealthy nobles lived largely tax-free. He proposed a new tax system under which the nobles and the Church paid their fair share of taxes. The nobles were appalled and forced Louis to sack Necker, bringing in a more compliant finance minister who scrapped the idea of taxing the nobles. The noble turkeys thought that they had voted for chocolate eggs at Easter, but instead had voted for Christmas in the form of the French Revolution that followed. Many of their heads fell on the guillotine as a result.

On 5th December 1648 the English Parliament voted to accept a proposal from King Charles I that put forward a new settlement to end the Civil War that had been raging since 1642. They had forgotten that the army leaders no longer trusted Charles and would accept no deal that saw him returned to power. The next day, the army arrived at Parliament in the shape of Colonel Thomas Pride with two regiments of armed soldiers. He arrested 45 MPs and threw them into prison, while another 300 fled. Only 151 MPs were allowed to take their seats, and they did so under the guns of the soldiers. The MPs had convinced themselves that they were voting for peace, plenty and the rule of law. Instead they had precipitated a military dictatorship headed by army commander Oliver Cromwell.

In 1221 the Governor of Merv, then one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, ordered the execution of some merchants. The pretext was that they had broken a rule on trading, but in reality it was because he wanted to confiscate their goods. It was, possibly, the most disastrous decision in history. The merchants were the envoys of Genghis Khan, ruler of the Mongols. Genghis Khan dropped everything to avenge the insult. He arrived at Merv with an army of around 50,000 men, stormed the poorly defended city and massacred the entire population. It is thought that over a million people were killed. The governor had thought he was voting for Easter in the form of a haul of treasure, but he actually played the role of a turkey at Christmas, as did the entire population of his city.

And so to today. The Lords believe that they can thumb their noses to the government and to the people. They think that they are voting for Easter in the form of flagrant virtue signalling and feeling smug over their smart dinner parties, while seeking to undermine Brexit.

It remains to be seen if they have voted for Easter or for Christmas.

When they say “Divisive”…

One of the words that has been bandied around a lot lately has been “divisive”.

We have all heard it, usually on the BBC from unreconciled Remain votes or from grumpy Hilary Clinton supporters. We are supposed to believe that there was something uniquely “divisive” about the decision to leave the European Union. Or, in the American context, something unbelievably “divisive” about the decision to put Donald Trump into the White House.

Note that the cry went up from the losers in both these nationwide votes long before anything had actually happened. Brexit was “divisive” before Article 50 has been triggered, let alone Britain actually leaving the EU. Similarly, Trump’s victory was “divisive” before he even got to the White House, never mind actually did anything with his new found power.

So, I’ve been thinking about these outcries from the defeated. Is Brexit really divisive? No, I don’t think that it is. So why all the talk about Britain becoming more divided?

I think that there are two things going on here.

First, it might be that some of the losers are seeking to undermine the Brexit victory (and probably the Trump victory too). By painting the decision as utterly disastrous even before it has taken effect, those who have not accepted the decision hope that they can overturn it at some point in the future.

But there is something else. Look at the people who are talking about Brexit being divisive. These are almost without exception the gilded élite. Those who went to good schools, effortlessly slipped into well paid jobs and now live in nice houses in nice neighbourhoods with nice social circles. They tend support a multi-cultural society, support decarbonisation to fight climate change and back the whole host of soft-left doctrines.

By and large these people have had their way in politics and in society all their lives. They like multi-culturalism and large scale immigration and bask in the advantages it brings, without having to put up with their children being elbowed out of the local school due to high demand for places. They can smugly impose decarbonisation policies secure in the knowledge that they can afford the higher fuel bills that they bring.

And now, just for once, they have not got their way. The great unwashed have risen up and rejected the European Union – another of the unquestioned shibboleths of the soft-left.

How awful. How shocking. How “divisive”.

Our friends from the gilded élite have, probably for the first time in their lives, realised that not everyone agrees with them. For the first time in their lives they have not got their way on one of the big issues in life.

I pray fervently that it will not be the last time.