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Should Catholics vote to leave the EU in a referendum?

I say, let us depart: Brussels is now the capital of a quasi-imperialist hegemony

By on Friday, 10 September 2010

The EU functions like a micro-manager (Photo: PA)

The EU functions like a micro-manager (Photo: PA)

Last Wednesday, Daniel Hannan MEP and the distinguished economist Ruth Lea launched a cross-party initiative for a referendum on our membership of the European Union.

“If,” asks Hannan, “we are allowed a vote on how to elect our MPs, why not a vote on whether those MPs run the country? If we can have a referendum on whether to have a mayor in Hartlepool, what about one on whether the majority of our laws should be handed down from Brussels?”

Suppose that one day the campaign for a referendum is successful: one day it might be, who knows? After all, it was part of the Lib Dem manifesto, and now they are in government. The question I want to ask is this: is there any obvious side on which Catholics should naturally come down?

Something like this question emerged recently in a lengthy debate, conducted by the editor of Standpoint magazine, the distinguished Catholic journalist Daniel Johnson, between the EU supporter Piers Paul Read (who represents a shade of Catholic opinion which I find congenial and convincing) and the Eurosceptic non-Catholic MP David Heathcote-Amory:

Read: … I think you would agree on the principle of subsidiarity. I would certainly agree that anything that can be done by a smaller unit of government should be done by a smaller unit of government…

Heathcote-Amory: I believe that is derived from Catholic theology.

Read: Catholic social teaching, yes.

Heathcote-Amory: I put it to you… as a good Catholic, that you are temperamentally suited to submitting to a foreign authority, while I, as an angular dissenting Protestant, have a greater instinct for self-determination.”

There are two things to be said about that. Firstly, that though subsidiarity is supposed to be part of the European deal, the reality is that Brussels likes to micromanage every detail of our lives. The second is that Heathcote-Amory does have a point in one obvious respect: English patriotism has indeed been historically so defined by events like our defeat of the Spanish Armada, that it is difficult to disentangle it from hostility to Catholicism and resistance to domination from abroad.

That seems to be confirmed by Piers Paul Read in the Standpoint debate:

Read:  ….one of the arguments in favour of the EU … is that Britain has been since the war a particularly badly governed country in almost any area you choose, whether it is education, health, energy or transport … I would rather be well governed by a Dutch bureaucrat in Brussels than badly governed by a British civil servant. [my italics]

Heathcote-Amory: You would have been entirely at home in the British Empire then. I would have been on the side of the liberation movement, and you would have been this patrician imperialist.” 

Heathcote-Amory may be a Protestant: but that is a view which recalls to me a certain kind of hostility to the domination of any nation by conglomerations of foreigners which it is entirely proper for a Catholic to espouse. It is almost identical with that of GK Chesterton, who would certainly have seen the EU as a quasi-imperialist hegemony, and who defined his own brand of English patriotism as being essentially anti-imperialist; it’s why he was so strongly in favour, for instance, of Irish independence: because he believed that a man who loves his own country should also respect the self-determination of others.

That’s why I say, bring on the referendum. If we ever get one, I shall vote to leave. If the EU really believed in subsidiarity, I might think differently. But it doesn’t: it believes, in the core of its heartless being, in centralist domination.

It is also intrinsically secularist and hostile to religion; but that’s another subject. As they say, watch this space.

  • Mike

    “That’s why I say, bring on the referendum. If we ever get one, I shall vote to leave. If the EU really believed in subsidiarity, I might think differently. But it doesn’t: it believes, in the core of its heartless being, in centralist domination.

    It is also intrinsically secularist and hostile to religion; but that’s another subject. As they say, watch this space.”

    It’s no accident that the humanists and secularists are trying as hard as they can to use the EU to impose their ideas on those EU countries that disagree with them. In many respects, of course, they have already succeeded. For example, Poland has been seduced with money but the price to be paid is being forced to accept EU legislation on all sorts of topics which strongly diverge from the views of the mass of people in Poland.

  • Kevin Greenan

    To leave any form of government or council is to deny yourself a voice within it. As a Christian I want to be able to voice my support or objection and being on the outside I am just living in self imposed exile. In reality the decades of the EU are nothing in the true time of history – patience!

  • AndyFrankophile

    I do not understand the argument that the EU is centralising. Since the EU came in the Regions or provinces outlawed at the revolution have been restored in France. In Germany people identify themselves as Swabians or Saxons in a country that once condemned any trace of particularity. You will easily think of many other examples. There is no micromanagement from Brussels. The execution and enforcement of EU laws is a matter for our own authorities. Do you really suppose Spain and Marseilles, Munich and Romle are managed in the same way as London? This whole article is fantasy.

  • W Oddie

    Most of our new laws (well over half) originate in Brussels, and go through Parliament without discussion. The idea that such laws are “a matter for our own authorities” is true only in a Eurofanatic's fantasy. I see from your pen-name that you are a Francophile; so am I. The only people in Europe who ignore the EU if its regulations are inconvenient or distasteful are the French. I wish we were more like them. We just do as we are told: and we have very little right of self-determination left as a result.

  • AndyFrankophile

    Does Dr Oddie mean half by weight or half by volume or half by number or half by importance? This is the sort of fantasy I mean. There are rules on the import of agricultural products which originate daily from the EU. Few of them are more than ephemera and of no consequence for anyone outside the trade. They are not what a layman would recognise as law and indeed are not so called. Laws in the sense he means occur very rarely indeed. It is sad that an avowed catholic has ventured so far outside his knowledge or experience.

  • Pamela Maher

    The EU, apart from all its unpleasant aspects, fraud etc, is fundamentally anti God. No church should espouse its cause.

  • AndyFrankophile

    To be fair to Dr Odie I should have answered his second point. Again there is something in what he says but it is a profound misunderstanding. In England and often the United Kingdom in general when we pass laws to give effect to the few EU directives that could be usefully described as law we tend to set up enforcement agencies, such as the equalities comission or the equal opportunities commission. Just like our different industrial inspectors these promote compliance in a remarkably officious way. This is not the process in many other countries including France. The laws are passed but enforcement is mostly left to the ordinary state agencies. There is none of the zeal of the English puritan culture. There is, in some areas, a greater sense of freedom and personal responsibility. What we have done in the UK is almost entirely of our own making. The spy cameras, the ASBO culture, the education and social security systems, the planning laws, the road system and all the myriad aspects of our society are our own.

  • SPQRatae

    Virtually all the founding fathers of Europe were Christian Democrats, and devout Catholics. Even the socialist Jacques Delors was a loyal Catholic who attended Mass.

    That doesn't mean the EU has not been drifting in recent years, as it is gradually taken over by more (il)liberal, anti-Christian, UN-loving generations, determined to cut the cultural branch that Europe is sitting on. But that is a problem in governments and societies across Europe, not just the institutions of the EU.

    The answer is to drag the EU back to what it was always supposed to be – a club of democratic nations, comfortable with their common history and culture, freely pooling sovereignty to maintain Europe's place in the world.

  • Lymond

    I think we should engage with the EU and seek to recast a united Europe as Christendom.

  • Byron Charlton

    Considering that most of Europe are members of the Church, I cannot believe that British Catholics would ever want the UK to leave the EU. If it wasnt for the Continent there wouldnt be catholics at all in this country. Look to the history and remember that Catholics in Europe sustained us for the darkest period of British history and in a lot of cases sustained in our need. I for one will always pro-Europe and for stronger ties in the EU as long as I live.

  • cunnane

    ruth lea is not a distinguished economist she is is a tory economist. bill oddie, a self styled leading catholic commentator, should not be commenting on eu politics. he should pray every day for the gift of silent humulity. Bill you are far too wordly – I recommend a year in la trappe. Shut.

  • Wenner

    A Catholic has as much right as anyone else to comment on EU politics–if you say otherwise, then you are trying to deprive a citizen of his human rights on account of his religion. Do you really intend to be such a bigot? God help us if we have to be “distinguished economists” before we have the right to comment on the ills of our society, or question how we were shanghaied from the European Common market into the EU; and how from the Treaty of Rome to the Lisbon Treaty we merely elect “management” in the UK, — the real government is in Brussels. . . What the EU sucks from the UK would pay our national debt in a short time. Beware scaremongers who think the UK can't manage without the UK –at the least we could limit immigration, and prevent draconian extradition of British nationals for “crimes” in other countries which aren't crimes here. . . .I think the average Brit, (as well as the average British Catholic) should be a little more worldly to wake up to the freedoms the EU has already stolen from us.

  • W Oddie

    1) My name is not Bill 2) as a Catholic voter I have a right to my opinion on anything I can vote for especially on an institution which has established itself as very clearly anti-catholic. 3) Someone who tells someone else to be humble should learn at least how to spell. 4) Are you really saying that a Tory cannot be a distinguished economist? If that isn't arrogance i don't know what is. 5) And are you really saying that there are no left-wing economists who have doubts about the EU? If so, you are ignorant as well as arrogant and illiterate

  • W Oddie

    Incidentally, I am not a “self-styled leading catholic commentator”. That's what the Catholic Herald says I am. If you disagree, tell them, don't complain about me.

  • W Oddie

    Yes, but IT JUST WON'T HAPPEN. Any more, see Lymond above, we will ever return the EU or any other secular European institution to being or representing anything remotely like Christendom. That's all gone now, gone forever. Christendom is the Church: it will never again be Europe. Even the great and good, and devoutly Catholic, General de Gaulle, one of my heroes (who gave us such excellent advice about our membership of the EU) didn't think that was possible any more.

  • hoops

    Dear William Oddie,

    I am from Australia and I know that even here Catholics are clanish and traditional but I am not quite coded the English way. I am struck by the class markings of your authorities (the ones the paper looks to) – Lord this and Baroness that. Also the fuss about the Pope is understandable but seems clannish.

    I know its unavoidable but could it be avoided. I suggest forming a new newspaper that argues from the point of view of the Trinity and its support for life through sacramental signs.

  • hoops

    Why was my comment flagged? pray tell.

  • Lnewington

    The next thing will be for Catholics to vote whether we should have a referendum on being members of the United Nations.

    We can't have the monopoly on running the whole world, as the Muslims are accused of.

    As it is we now, we don't honour what we already are signatory to.

    The UN Convention on the Rights for the Child for example, it was the “dreaded” Internation Humanist and Ethical Union who out of disgust, tabled a letter before the UN on the lack of accountability on the worldwide sex-abuse of our Catholic children.

    I wouldn't like to be a signatory to anything with our name on it.