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.