Opinion

It's the end of Britain as we know it

The Lisbon Treaty spells the end of a sovereign Britain.

By

You might want to take that vacation in England just as soon as you can – before its 1,000-year run as a sovereign nation comes to an end.

This winter, 27 nations of the European Union (EU) signed the Treaty of Lisbon. You may think, "Innocuous enough," as Portuguese-inspired visions of the Tagus River and chicken piri-piri swirl before your eyes.

But for England (Britain, actually) the Treaty of Lisbon isn't that appetizing. That's because, if ratified, it will become the decisive act in this creation of a federal European superstate with its capital in Brussels. Britain would become a province and its "Mother of Parliaments," a regional assembly. And that's no small humiliation for a country that gave the world English and saved Western civilization in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

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The Eurocrat elite in Brussels might not admit it, but the Treaty of Lisbon is essentially a constitution for a "country" called Europe. More bluntly, it's a cynical repackaging of the EU Constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to put the EU Constitution to the British people in a referendum. But his successor, Gordon Brown, has reneged on that promise. He insists that the Treaty of Lisbon is shorn of all constitutional content and that it preserves key aspects of British sovereignty. On March 11, the bill to ratify the treaty cleared the House of Commons. And now the Brown government is poised to win passage in the House of Lords, too.

But British resistance is stirring. In a recent series of minireferendums, almost 90 percent of voters gave the Lisbon Treaty an emphatic thumbs down and demanded a nationwide referendum.

If all 27 nations ratify the treaty this year, it will begin to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2009. The British will then be expected to transfer loyalty and affection to the EU and devote themselves increasingly to its wellbeing.

With its flag, anthem, currency, institutions, regulations, and directives, the EU has long been indistinguishable from a nation-state-in-waiting. Now the Lisbon Treaty gives it those requisites of nationhood it's always lacked: a president, a foreign minister (and diplomatic corps), a powerful new interior department, a public prosecutor and full treaty-making powers. Add to those its common system of criminal justice, an embryonic federal police force, and the faintly sinister-sounding European Gendarmerie Force, and what this union becomes is a monolithic state with great power pretensions.

Most alarmingly, though, is that the Lisbon Treaty can be extended indefinitely without recourse to further treaties or referendums.

That 27 European nations are on the verge of being reconstituted as a federal European superstate is substantially the achievement of the fanatical French integrationist Jean Monnet, for whom the nation state was anathema.

When British Prime Minister Edward Heath took Britain into the Common Market in 1973, the country thought it was entering a free-trade agreement. It hoped membership would sprinkle some European stardust on Britain's shipwrecked economy.

Mr. Heath, a passionate Europhile, assured the country that membership would not entail any sacrifice of "independence and sovereignty." Like Europe's fervent integrationists, whose plans for political union had always been disguised as increasingly beneficial economic integration, Heath maintained the fiction that he had simply joined a trading bloc.

Britain had been a highly successful nation state and global power. Now, it seemed, she needed Europe to reverse a relentless decline. Thus when the British were asked to decide on continued membership in the Common Market in a 1975 referendum, almost 70 percent voted to stay in. The "Yes" campaign swept to victory on a platform of jobs, prosperity, and peace. But the implications for the weakening of national sovereignty went unheeded.

Few recalled that in 1961 the Anti-Common Market League had warned that signing the Treaty of Rome (which created the Common Market) "would mean a permanent, irrevocable loss of sovereignty and independence" and that Britain's affairs "would increasingly be administered by supranational bodies … instead of by our own elected representatives."

Surrendering to supranational rule is hard for Britain given its celebrated past. Its European neighbors, by contrast, their histories indelibly stained by tyranny, military defeat, and imperial barbarity, seem eager to subsume themselves in a suffocating superstate.

The Treaty of Lisbon crystallizes the EU's core belief that nation states are every bit as defunct as Stone Age tribes. In the case of Britain, though, it would curtail the freedom of action and global vision of a nation whose people are far from convinced that sovereign independence is a badge of shame.

Britain could walk out of the EU today simply by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act. But political courage of that order is in short supply.

Perhaps only Queen Elizabeth II can rescue her realm from the baleful Treaty of Lisbon. She could veto it when it comes to her for royal assent and – sensationally – declare that she's not prepared to see her proud, independent, liberty-loving country swallowed up by an arrogant, authoritarian, and unloved European superstate.

She would be in excellent company. Queen Anne refused assent to the Scottish Militia Bill in 1708. And that was only about a bunch of musket-toting rubes of doubtful loyalty. This is about national survival.

Stephen Webbe is a British writer and historian and former Monitor correspondent.

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