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

Keep the champagne on ice for a few more days!

 *** Post Script: Since this article was first posted on the website, it has been announced by a Downing Street spokesman that Mrs May will trigger Article 50 on Wednesday Week – March 29th. ***

Following Brexit developments since the memorable vote on 23rd June last year has been rather like watching paint dry. However, it does finally look like the long wait is over. The European Union (Notification of withdrawal) Bill has finally completed its passage through Parliament in its original form. The amendments proposed by the House of Lords were defeated in the Commons and now only Royal Assent is required.

Government sources have said that Mrs May will invoke Article 50 in the final week of March. A decision to do so straight away would be seen as playing into the hands of Dutch eurosceptic parties. A General Election is being held in the Netherlands tomorrow (March 15th) and Geert Wilders’ Partij voor de Vrijheid has been topping many recent opinion polls. At a time when accusations are flying here, there and everywhere about foreign interference in domestic elections, Mrs May will not want to give the EU any reason to accuse her of such behaviour, given the negotiations will be delicate enough as things stand.

Mrs May needs to steer clear of 25th March for similar reasons. This date marks 60 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which formally established what has become the European Union. Celebrations are planned in Rome to mark the event and although the beginning of the Brexit will inevitably have to be fairly close to the festivities, triggering Article 50 immediately before March 25th would not win us many friends.  To  celebrate the beginning of Brexit at a time when EU-27 will be attempting to celebrate the European Union’s achievements against a backdrop of rising euroscpticism across the Continent would not be very good manners. Let’s face it, many of us who worked so hard to ensure our countrymen voted to leave the EU will surely want to crack open a bottle of champagne when the  formal departure process begins. Let’s keep it on ice for that bit longer. It won’t do us any harm.

Domestic politics also have limited Mrs May’s options. The SNP holds its Spring Conference in Aberdeen this coming weekend with Nicola Sturgeon threatening a second independence referendum following the Brexit vote. Mrs May has declared herself a strong supporter of “our precious union” and therefore wisely does not want to fan the flames of Scottish nationalism given that the result of a second referendum could be hard to call.

It is a relief, however, that the final obstacles in the way of triggering Article 50 have been surmounted. Then begins the hard graft. Unless both parties agree to an extension, we have to get a deal in two years which will enable our economy to function on day 1 of Brexit. There has been much posturing on the EU side, with talk of a big divorce settlement for the UK. It may turn out to be nothing more than a demand to honour our commitments to the end of the current seven-year EU budget cycle.

However, obstructive behaviour will benefit neither side.  If no agreement has been reached two years after Article 50 is triggered,  the Treaties no longer apply in our country and the UK and the EU would face a nightmare scenario in trying to relate to each other without any legal basis for so doing.

It is hard to imagine anyone wishing for such a calamity, but it is very apparent that our negotiators are going to have their work cut out to come up with a comprehensive settlement. Therefore, while we may be popping the champagne corks at some point before the end of March, it will be no more than a brief moment of light relief before the beginning of what is going to be a long, hard slog.

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)

Our Chairman demolishes a supporter of the Common Fisheries Policy

Readers of local papers across the country need to keep an eye open for the name C.N. Westerman. This ever-industrious gentlemen bombards local papers across the country with letters in support of the European Union. Indeed, he is so besotted with the EU that he even praises the Common Fishery Policy – one of the most catastrophically badly managed projects of the EU. Even keen Europhiles usually recognise that. The letter below appeared in the Derby Telegraph of 7th March 2017. No doubt he has sent the same letter to other papers. Informed refutation of this nonsense is required

“BREXIT supporters have complained that they are all regarded as ignorant  and stupid by EU Remoaners but that is not correct. People like Michael Gove are quite clever but very untrustworthy. We suspect their motives.

The matter is most openly displayed by those voters of the UK fishing ports who voted to come out of the EU and declared their reasoning that

“it does not suit us”.

Their only motive is to continue to do what they want to do.  We never doubted the sincerity of their short-sighted self interest. But we doubt their wish to protect the oceans for later generations. And the rest of us lose all the industrial EU advantages for the wrong price of a fish supper. Any thought that our oceans, upon which our grandchildren must depend, need to be protected from exploitation, from thoughtless commercial fishing by UK businesses and also by the 192 other nations, makes no impact on their minds. No one nation can save the oceans. It is a stupid thing to say, not just because the speaker is stupid but because he is not honest.

Every child at school should be able to see that the EU offers the best hope for our planet by coaching other nations to grasp the vision of “shared responsibility- for oceans and for air pollution, for a balanced ecology  and the continuation of animal species, for humans being able to live without epidemics and without warfare. It is only after they have left school that the adults’ self-interest comes to endanger their own grandchildren.”

I  responded as below. It is not possible to refute all his points in a single letter of the size likely to be acceptable to a newspaper. (around 250 -350 words)  I ask those with knowledge of fishery matters to respond with other points to  opinion@derbytelegraph.co.uk and wherever else they see this letter – or one like it- published.

 7th March 2017

 Sir,

Of all the EU’s activities the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) must rank as the most damaging for the marine environment and economically disastrous for British people.

 In 1972,  just as Britain’s negotiations to join the EEC were nearly complete, the European Commission announced out of the blue that there was going to be a Common Fisheries Policy. This meant that Britain’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of waters up to 200 miles away from our shores, or to the median line where countries are nearer, must become a “common resource” for all European countries to fish.

 It was an official secret at the time, but Edward Heath knew that the EEC treaties provided no legal basis for such a policy. It was a try-on. But, having counted up the number of fishermen and constituencies affected, he decided they could be sacrificed. Surely one of the nastiest pieces of premeditated treachery to his own people by any Prime Minister.

 Today I received the following account by a friend whose lifelong career has been designing equipment for trawlers. He writes “On 28 January a trawler was fishing in the English Channel for haddock and whiting…..Good marks had shown up on the sounder and the skipper decided to haul early. He was delighted to see the net bursting at the seams……The delight turned to horror as the first fish on deck were not whiting and haddock but Sea Bass of 2 – 3kg size. As he had no quota for that species, all had to be thrown back dead into the sea. Out of an estimate of 500 boxes, there were 6 boxes of whiting and haddock….”

 So around 17 tonnes of dead Sea Bass polluted the sea. That week the prices were good and the overall value would have been around £175,000, if they could have been landed.

 Not only does the Common Fisheries Policy cause this grotesque abomination but around 60% of the fish caught in our waters go to foreign trawlers. Often they are landed on the mainland of Europe, processed, packed and shipped back to us at much higher prices.

Yet C.N.Westerman thinks this is marvellous because the EU does it. It is up to every Member of Parliament to right this historic wrong.

 Yours faithfully,

 Edward Spalton

A letter from our Chairman:- “How BBC was “nobbled” before our vote to join EEC.”

This letter appeared in the Derby Evening Telegraph on 2nd March 2017

Sir, The President and the Media

Saros Kavina is quite right that a free press and media are important to a free society. But President Trump has shown some discernment in excluding the BBC from his press conference.

What has emerged from the American election is that the media are composed of a collection of interest groups with their own agendas which they promote quite ruthlessly, bending the facts where it suits them.

As a long-serving independence campaigner, I would rate the BBC as amongst the worst offenders. Its part in manipulating public opinion in the Seventies in favour of entering the EEC was fully admitted in a Radio 4 programme “Letter to the Times” of 3rd February 2000. Contributors included Sir Edward Heath, Roy Hattersley and the Conservative marketing man, Geoffrey Tucker, who organised the campaign which brought the influential on side. Apart from the Daily Worker, every single national newspaper supported the European project.

This is what Tucker said.

We decided to pinpoint the “Today” programme on radio and followed right through the news programme during the day…. the television programmes “News at Ten”, “24 Hours” and “Panorama” and from radio “World at One “ and “Woman’s Hour”. Nobbling is the name of the game. Throughout the period of the campaign, there should be direct day by day communication between the key communicators and our personnel – e.g. Norman Reddaway at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Marshall Stewart of the “Today” programme. And in 1970 the “Today” programme was presented by Jack de Manio, who was terribly anti European. We protested privately about this. Ian Trethowan listened and de Manio was replaced.Ian Trethowan, a personal friend of Heath’s, was the BBC’s Director of Radio.”

So the BBC was under daily direction by the Foreign Office as to what it should say to British people, in the interests of a foreign organisation, the European Economic Community. Norman Reddaway went on to a knighthood and to be ambassador to Poland. BBC policy has remained unchanged ever since.

So, to Saros Kavina’s advocacy of the free media, I agree that it would be a good idea.

Yours faithfully

Edward Spalton

Brexit and some alternative facts

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. (anonymous, often misattributed to Eric Blair aka George Orwell)

The truth is usually more complex and subtle than the simplistic soundbyte beloved of politicians and media headline writers. Fake news is not necessarily the problem; misinformation can be spread because the basic assumptions are incorrect, the background has not been thoroughly investigated or it is just speculation masquerading as fact.

The following are a couple of quite significant examples.  However, please don’t take my word and incomplete knowledge of these subjects for granted.  A much better source is Eureferendum.com and the original source documents.

Control of EU Immigration Requires Leaving the Single Market – NOT TRUE

How often have we heard or read this, but it is not actually correct.  The Single Market (aka European Economic Area), created by the European Union (EU) and to which the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) also belong has free movement of goods, persons, services and capital as basic principles (set by the EU). The conditions of access of members of EFTA to the single market are set out in the Agreement on the European Economic Area which also includes free movement as a basic principle.

However, the EEA Agreement also includes an opt-out which can be applied unilaterally by members of EFTA (see Chapter 4, Safeguard Provisions, Article 112), but obviously not by Members States of the EU.  It states:

  1. If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising, a Contracting Party may unilaterally take appropriate measures under the conditions and procedures laid down in Article 113.
  2. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Agreement.

This opt-out is intended to be temporary (until a permanent solution is implemented), but nevertheless can be invoked and maintained in the absence of that permanent solution.  It has been used already by Liechtenstein to control immigration and Iceland to control capital flows in the wake of the financial crisis.

The EU negotiators are already setting terms for the EU-UK negotiations – NOT TRUE

How often has the media reported that this or that person, with an appropriate grand EU-related title, is already laying down tough terms for us? In reality, at the moment there are no negotiators as such – just political nominations by various posturing organisations within the EU set-up and their self-important leaders or other politicians. The small print of the Lisbon Treaty Article 50 states:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states:

  1. Without prejudice to the specific provisions laid down in Article 207, agreements between the Union and third countries or international organisations shall be negotiated and concluded in accordance with the following procedure.
  2. The Council shall authorise the opening of negotiations, adopt negotiating directives, authorise the signing of agreements and conclude them.
  3. The Commission, or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy where the agreement envisaged relates exclusively or principally to the common foreign and security policy, shall submit recommendations to the Council, which shall adopt a decision authorising the opening of negotiations and, depending on the subject of the agreement envisaged, nominating the Union negotiator or the head of the Union’s negotiating team.
  4. The Council may address directives to the negotiator and designate a special committee in consultation with which the negotiations must be conducted.
  5. The Council, on a proposal by the negotiator, shall adopt a decision authorising the signing of the agreement and, if necessary, its provisional application before entry into force.

Clearly negotiations are with the Council (of the European Union) who nominates a negotiator and, at the time of writing, they haven’t done so, officially at least.

To sum up, all is not what is reported or stated to be true facts and because they are repeated so often, if not vehemently, it is easy to be taken in.