It has long been apparent that the European Union has eaten into the very soul of the British establishment — yet only now is it becoming clear just how bad things have got. For more than 40 years, this one-way process has gone on relentlessly as our political elite and professional bodies succumbed to political and financial inducements from Brussels, undermining our sense of nationhood and blurring the lines of accountability and loyalty.
Up until now this has happened away from the public gaze, in the back rooms of power. For years the public could not see the extent of the conspiracy because, as the Tory MP and former chancellor Lord Thorneycroft put it of the European project: “The people must be led slowly and unconsciously into the abandonment of their traditional economic defences.”
Now, finally, the subterfuge of our ruling class has been exposed — first at the referendum, and then during the interminable parliamentary turmoil that has followed, as too many MPs showed they simply could not bear the idea of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
For them, the European Union is a better place than an independent United Kingdom. Endlessly I have heard these same people attack the idea of national identity as some form of xenophobia. How the bien-pensants (conventional people) shake their heads when the cross of St George is hauled aloft, waved at football matches or even attached to the outside of houses. Yet the same people look on with approval as the EU flag is flown in protest around Parliament. I even heard one very forceful Remainer admit to how uncomfortable they felt at the sight of the ‘English’ flag.
This is not surprising. Too many Remainers see supporters of Brexit as xenophobes and petty nationalists. They see the European Union as representing a higher set of values that must be defended against what they see as the hateful small-mindedness of Brexit supporters. You can see that in Parliament during our debates. The ill-disguised and patronising contempt directed by opposition parties at those of us who argue that we must deliver on the referendum has become a permanent feature.
In the UK the people are sovereign, not politicians. It would serve us all well to remember that, when the people vote to direct us in a democratic process, we are bound to deliver on that instruction.
Aided and abetted by the Speaker, this contempt was in evidence last week during the most ridiculous and staged defiance of the prorogation process. They were, they said, standing up for parliamentary sovereignty. But what about the sovereignty of the British people who voted to leave?
At the heart of this political breakdown is the confusion over where our allegiance should lie. The normal and natural allegiance to the United Kingdom has been gnawed away by the steady transfer of power to the European Union over the years. Small wonder that there are those who believe their highest priority is to reverse Brexit.
It is this which explains the disregard so many of our politicians have for the views of the majority of the British people on Brexit. It’s why they find it so easy to believe that the people were confused or misled; too stupid, old or poor to understand.
How else can one explain the incredible decision of the Liberal Democrats to dismiss the referendum result completely? It appears they know better than the British people.
They have decided they want to revoke Article 50 and stay in the European Union, a deeply ironic decision. A party that calls itself liberal and democrat has now decided to act as illiberal autocrats by dismissing the vote of 17.4 million people. The outrage is further compounded when one sees on the same platform, Guy Verhofstadt (the European Parliament’s Brexit representative), approvingly likening the European Union to an empire. And they say it’s the Brexiteers who are obsessed with the days of Empire!
It is this displaced allegiance that has precipitated the breakdown in British politics, not the referendum. The erosion of our independence, denied by endless politicians since the Fifties, has left too many in the establishment with confused loyalties. It is this which leads democrats to be undemocratic and liberals to seek to crush dissent. In the UK the people are sovereign, not politicians. It would serve us all well to remember that, when the people vote to direct us in a democratic process, we are bound to deliver on that instruction, not bend the knee elsewhere.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2019
Iain Duncan Smith is a leading Conservative British MP and prominent Leave campaigner