Neither side owns patriotism

One issue suggested as a reason for leaving the EU is ‘patriotism’.

The intention seems to be to return to some golden age by restoring domestic control of our own affairs. By implication, supporting our continued membership of the EU must amount to treason.

Neither side of the debate has a monopoly of ‘patriotism’. The appeal to ‘patriotism’ is not an argument one way or the other but a sentiment, the expression of an emotion.

Our Westminster parliament has never lost responsibility for most fundamental areas of legislation including defence, taxation, health, and education. Although some power is ceded in areas such as social policy and trade, it is indisputable that the benefits of Europe are greater than the sum of its parts. We get more out than we put in.

Our government’s total annual expenditure is in the region of £695bn, of which we spend about £7bn (1.007 per cent) on the EU. I believe that the benefit we get back from this relatively small investment is well worthwhile. Older readers might recall that, in the years leading up to 1973 when we joined the Common Market (EEC), our country was known as ‘the sick man of Europe’.

This is not a charge that could be made 43 years later, to a considerable extent due to the economic benefit derived from our mainstream membership of Europe and its institutions.

Linked to the ‘patriotic’ sentiment is the idea that the EU is in some way undemocratic, and that we need to leave in order to take back accountability for our own affairs.

Throughout the whole of my adult life I have never lived in the constituency of an MP for whom I have voted. However, I have always accepted that living in a democracy means accepting the will of the majority, as expressed through the ballot box. Just because I am out-voted does not mean that I am disenfranchised.

When some MPs complain that our system of government is not democratic because parliament has lost some of its sovereignty, take a moment to think about what they are really saying. Parliament is still elected by the British people. It meets in open session and is able to go about its business unencumbered. MPs are free to vote on legislation whichever way they choose –although in practice they will usually be expected to follow their party line.

It seems to me that many of the MPs who dislike whatever checks and balances are placed on them by European institutions do so because they see it as constraining their freedom.

However the constraints placed upon MPs’ freedom by Europe are far less than the constraints placed upon them by their own Party whips telling them which way to vote, and threatening them with sanctions if they don’t obey.

How democratic is that?

Finally, what does ‘democracy’ mean in real terms to the person in the street? Most of us engage with the democratic process once every four years, at a general election. Apart from that, on a daily basis, decisions are taken well, well above our heads. We hand over to our MP absolute responsibility for making sure our views are taken into account. In practical terms is it really relevant to us in our daily lives which particular organ of government takes decisions on our behalf?

Peter J C Webb

Glenleigh Park Road


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