The European Union is a kind of game, in which the countries of Europe pretend to be a single state, in some respects behaving as if they are a single state, when in fact they are not a single state at all. There is increasing movement towards a single state – but it hasn’t yet happened and it increasingly looks as if it never will.

They are not a single state because they lack the one factor which holds a state together – a single undisputed centre of power. And power means real power – the power of coercion. There are no European armed forces. There is no power in Brussels, should a member government defy the EU, to bring that member government to book and force it to climb down. Suppose Britain passes an Act of Parliament to restrict immigration in accordance with the undoubted wishes of the British people. What can the European Commission do? Of course the matter can be referred to a European Court, which will undoubtedly declare the ban illegal under European law and possibly impose a large fine on the British Government for attempting independent action. The British Government, fortified if necessary by an Act of Parliament removing the authority of the European court, does not pay the fine. Brussels does not have a bailiff to come and collect it and it will not be paid.

The countries of Europe are not yet a single state because they lack a federal legal and tax system which reaches in practice to the individual citizen. Brussels may decide, but to ensure that a Brussels decision is enforced in practice, the EU depends on the mechanisms of each individual state. These function much more willingly and much more efficiently in some states than they do in others. One of the biggest problems about British participation in the EU game is that Britain assumes – and British people assume – that once a law becomes law, it will actually happen in practice. In many other countries, it doesn’t. Over long centuries during which British people have trusted their governments to decide wisely (on the whole) and British governments have trusted the people to obey the law and not to rebel against their jurisdiction, we have got into habits which are very different from the habits of most continental countries. We are an island at the North Western extremity of Europe. Bulgarians, at the South Eastern end, are very different. In Bulgaria, the people do not trust the government and the government does not trust the people and things happen accordingly. Other countries in Europe vary in their enthusiasm for enforcing their own and European laws, but no others enforce laws in the literal way we do.

This makes the straightjacket of EU regulation much more uncomfortable to us than it is to Bulgaria. But perhaps we need to remember two things. The first thing we need to remember is that a British parliament cannot bind its successors. This means that if an EU regulation proves unsuitable to our British needs, all we have to do is to pass a law which reverses it, amends it or instructs our courts to ignore it. The second point is that Brussels law, in Britain, is based on a treaty. It is international law, not British law. International law is not enforceable. Treaties are useful forms of international agreement and wise governments adhere to them for as long as they can. But no treaty lasts forever, even if it claims to do so on paper, and sooner or later all treaties end up in the bin.  British laws do not. They remain in force permanently, until changed. British courts will enforce Brussels law for only as long as a British Act of Parliament is still in force to rule that Brussels laws are automatically British laws, and for as long as no British parliament has enacted another law to repeal the first or to make exceptions to it.

The countries of Europe are not yet a single state because the EU does not command the loyalty of the people of Europe. In Britain, people are only just starting to be dimly aware that anything has changed. We still vote for our MPs to go to Westminster. The Prime Minister who emerges from this traditional procedure still talks to us as if he has a free hand to make decisions to please us.  We have to be constantly reminded of the extent to which the EU circumscribes his power to change things. Because we see no swastikas around, most of us still believe that we are an independent country. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also good, because it shows clearly where our loyalties still lie. If we still think we are an independent country, then in the last resort, we are.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, General Robert E Lee was offered a senior command in the Federal Army. He replied “Mr. Blair, I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the four millions of slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?” He was faced with a conflict of loyalties. All his military life had been spent fighting for the United States, and he had greatly distinguished himself. But was he, in the last resort, an American or a Virginian? Lee decided that in the last resort, he was a Virginian. And once his decision was made, he led the forces of the Confederacy against those of the Union, and he almost defeated it. This happened because, at that stage in its development, the United States had not yet established itself as the primary focus of loyalty for its citizens. At that stage, America was much further along the line of federal development than the EU is now. Who can think for a moment that, if any British soldier was faced with the same conflict of loyalty as that which faced Lee, he would hesitate for a moment?

Let us not talk too much about war. Of course there won’t be a war. There won’t be a war because it is really all play-acting, a game. But in the last resort, we have to realise that games are games and real life is real life. And when Britain decides that we have played the EU game for long enough, and other matters are pressing upon our time and attention, we shall leave the pitch and let the others carry on if they wish – until the final whistle.

Photo by harry_nl

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