This morning, the Supreme Court ruled that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was illegal. As an old Etonian, Johnson is unlikely to suffer any real consequences for his lawbreaking, but it does allow Parliament to again try to block the no-deal Brexit that was set to cause national chaos in order to enable some of his wealthy donors to trouser some £8 billion. Whilst we welcome the court’s ruling, we are aware of the danger that Johnson and unelected bureaucrat Dominic Cummings may see this as the prelude to an election in which they use the 2016 referendum result to position themselves as the voices of “the people” against the democratic institutions that provide checks and balances on their power – Parliament, the courts, what’s left of the free press and so on. It’s a technique used by many demagogues in this and the previous century.
Whilst we have already set out our position on a snap election, this does bring us back to the question posed in a previous post, that of how a decentralist party can support remaining in the European Union. The answer is: easily, for three reasons.
The first reason is that our guiding principle is subsidiarity, the idea that nothing should be done at a wider level that can be done as well or better at a narrower level. The federative rule is to divide what can be divided and unite what can’t. That leaves enormous scope for (net) decentralisation, but it can also mean that some (limited) powers should now be pooled at a wider level to be effective. This is the opposite of sovereignty, the ancient idea that constitutionally there can only be one winner, now and for all time, and that criticism of this is treason. In the real world, sovereignty is the sound of one hand clapping.
That brings us to the second reason. Viewed at the global scale, the EU is – or can, in the right hands, become – a profoundly decentralist project, creating and defending the space for Europeans to do things their own way. The alternative is true globalism, not the globalism in which conspiracy theorists assume the EU to be inevitably complicit but a worldwide system in which exploitative economic dogma reigns unchallengable. Trade deals favour the stronger party. The EU’s size means it gets good deals. The best the UK alone can expect is chlorinated chicken and a fire sale of the NHS. Looking east, Europe’s dependency on fossil fuel looms large. If it wants to be independent of Russia and the Middle East it needs to think in terms of a European supergrid that links north European wind and south European solar, assuring power when it’s both needed and available. Further east is China. In the row over Huawei’s access to 5G, the missing question is: why isn’t there a British Huawei? If Europe wants its freedoms to survive, it needs to operate at China’s scale, not that of individual nation-states. Leavers are essentially empire nostalgists. They assume that Her Majesty’s loyal subjects are out there, in the pink bits, just waiting for the mother country to welcome them back with what our Prime Minister called “watermelon smiles”. They aren’t. They’ve moved on. And so must we.
The third reason is that for regionalism to work it requires headroom. While the big nation-states might nominally be retained, for constitutional and sentimental reasons, the actual politics of the future, including legislation and finance, needs a twin focus on Europe and on the region. Nation-state politics just gets in the way, preventing both from achieving their potential, insisting instead on old loyalties and enmities that have outlived their usefulness. Our founder, Lord Bath, spelt this out many years ago when he explained that Wessex is re-emerging because Europe needs regions, not nation-states, on its journey to political union. Looking around us today, the renewed aggression and posturing of the nation-states makes their eclipse more urgent than ever.