Friday, 6 August 2021

Why the EU is more democratic than the UK

 

Brexiters claim that the EU is run by unelected bureaucrats. It’s a laughable claim because it’s untrue.

The EU is a democracy, run by elected politicians.

By comparison, the UK seems more like a quasi-democracy, with unelected decision-makers and undemocratic practises that would be considered despotic compared to EU standards.

Take our Parliament. It consists of 1,431 members (in the Commons and the Lords). Just 650 of them were elected, but the other 781* were appointed, and not elected.

Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019, 83 new unelected members of the Lords have been appointed, including his brother, Jo Johnson, and Brexit negotiator, David Frost, enabling him to be in the Cabinet.

On the other hand, the European Parliament has 705 members, ALL elected.

Just look at other aspects of so-called British ‘democracy’ that would be considered alien in the EU:

  • We have a legislative system whereby most laws are made by Statutory Instruments, drafted by the Civil Service, which cannot be amended by Parliament and most of which become law automatically, without a Parliamentary vote.
  • We have governments that can bypass Parliament with the use – and abuse – of arcane and ancient Royal Prerogatives and Henry VIII clauses.
  • We have an old-fashioned voting system of first-past-the-post resulting in governments that most people didn’t vote for. (In European Parliament elections, voting is by proportional representation).
  • We have a Prime Minister who could (until it was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court) close down Parliament for an extended period at his will and without Parliamentary approval.
  • We had a Prime Minister who attempted to initiate Brexit without Parliamentary authority and spent considerable sums of public money in litigation defending her “right” to do so.
  • We have a government that has given lucrative contracts to their friends, bypassing usual procurement procedures and public accountability.
  • We had a referendum in which two out of the four members of the United Kingdom voted against Brexit, but we still went ahead with it anyway.
  • We have an unelected head of state (although she has no real power to intervene on important issues).

None of these undemocratic situations would be acceptable in the EU.

But how many people truly know that the EU is a democracy?

For years, Brexit politicians and papers have been selling us the blatant lie that the EU is undemocratic, even a “dictatorship” and run by unelected bureaucrats.

Let me take this opportunity to explain why that is not the case.

▪ EU MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS

In the EU, democratic governance is the number one requirement of European Union membership.

In 1962, the year after Britain first applied to join the EEC, Spain also applied.

The country was then governed by authoritarian dictator, Francisco Franco. Spain’s membership application was flatly and unanimously rejected by all members of the European Community.

The reason? Because Spain wasn’t a democracy.

Indeed, if the UK was applying to join the EU now, recent events could present questions over the validity of our application and whether our democratic governance is currently robust enough.

Remember, the Tories have committed to scrapping our Human Rights Act and they oppose the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. In the recent past, the Tory government has also threatened to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

That would likely bar us from joining the EU, where a commitment to human rights is also a strict membership requirement.

Before becoming a member of the EU, an applicant country must demonstrate that it has a stable government guaranteeing:

  • Democracy
  • The rule of law
  • Human rights
  • Respect for and protection of minorities
  • The existence of a functioning market economy
  • The capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union

Most countries that applied to join the EU did not meet these strict membership requirements and so they needed many years to prepare for the process before their application could be accepted.

NOTE: The UK's unelected House of Lords may be a barrier to the UK being accepted as an EU member if we apply to re-join. We may have got away with having an unelected second chamber when we first joined in 1973, but there is a question mark over whether our application would be successful again without deep constitutional reforms in the UK. 

▪ EU MEMBERS

Contrary to what many people in Britain understand, the EU is a democracy, democratically run by its members.

These comprise the democratically elected governments and Parliaments of EU member states, alongside the directly elected European Parliament.

All the treaties of the EU, upon which all EU laws must be compatible, and any new countries applying to join the EU, must be unanimously and democratically agreed by all the national parliaments of every EU member state, however large or small.

In some EU countries, according to their national constitutions, agreement must also be obtained by regional parliaments and national referendums.

All the EEC/EU treaties since Britain joined the European Community in 1973 years ago were fully debated and democratically passed by our Parliament in Westminster.

Not once were any changes to our EU membership imposed upon us, and neither could they be, as the EU is a democracy.

In addition, every EU country has a veto on any treaty changes or any new country joining.

(Compare that to our referendum of 2016, when a majority of citizens in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against Brexit, but it made no difference.)

▪ THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

The European Parliament is the EU's law-making body, alongside the EU Council, which comprises the departmental ministers of democratically elected governments of every country. 

The Parliament is directly elected every five years by citizens in all EU countries. The latest European elections were held in May 2019.

There are 705 MEPs (we used to have 73 MEPs from the UK representing us in Europe; alas, no more)

Each European country is proportionally represented in the Parliament according to their size of population.

EU laws can only be passed by the European Parliament in concert with the EU Council (also called the Council of Ministers).

The Council of Ministers shares law making and budgetary powers with the European Parliament. When voting on proposed EU laws, its meetings must be public.

Alongside the Council, the European Parliament has the democratic power to accept, amend or reject proposed laws and regulations.

According to extensive research by VoteWatch Europe, over 97% of adopted EU laws in the 12 years to 2016 were supported by the UK.

There are proposals to give the European Parliament new powers to directly initiate legislation.

▪ THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION

The European Commission is the servant of the EU, and not its master. Ultimately, the Commission is beholden to the European Parliament, and not the other way around.

The Commission President must be elected by an absolute majority of all MEPs (i.e. over 50% of them).

Indeed, Ursula von der Leyen could only become Commission President with the democratic backing of over half of ALL MEPs.

Each Commissioner must also be democratically approved by the European Parliament in a strict vetting process. The Parliament has the democratic power to reject candidate Commissioners – as it did in 2019.

The Parliament also has the democratic power to sack the entire Commission at any time during its five-year tenure.

The Commission is responsible for implementing the democratic decisions of the EU, upholding and enforcing democratically passed EU laws and treaties, and managing the day-to-business of the EU.

The Commission also proposes new laws, but they only do this in close collaboration with the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, as only the Parliament and Council can pass laws.

The Commission has zero power to pass any laws.

Before the Commission proposes new laws, it prepares ‘Impact Assessments’ which set out the advantages and disadvantages of possible policy options.

The Commission then consults interested parties such as non-governmental organisations, local authorities and representatives of industry and civil society. Groups of experts also give advice on technical issues.

In this way, the Commission ensures that legislative proposals correspond to the needs of those most concerned and avoids unnecessary red tape.

Citizens, businesses and organisations also participate in the consultation procedure. National parliaments can also formally express their reservations if they feel that it would be better to deal with an issue at national rather than EU level.

▪ THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL

The European Council consists of the democratically elected leaders of each EU country – their Prime Ministers and Presidents. It is the EU’s supreme political authority.

The Council does not negotiate or adopt EU laws, but it does democratically set the political goals and priorities of the European Union, including the policy agenda of the Commission.

The Council also democratically chooses candidates for the post of Commission President, which the European Parliament must then elect with an absolute majority of MEPs.

The Council President reports to the European Parliament.

▪ UK MEMBERSHIP OF THE EU

During our membership, Britain democratically helped to run and rule the EU, and not the other way around. Whatever the EU is and has become, Britain helped to create it.

Indeed, the EU can become whatever all its members unanimously agree it can become. But of course, that only applies to EU members, and not to ex-members.

Outside of the EU, Britain can only watch as democratic decisions about the running and future direction of our continent are decided without us, even though those decisions will affect us just as much, whether we are a member or not.

Leaving the EU has meant a loss of sovereignty. We no longer have a say, votes and vetoes on the running and future direction of our continent.

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* Confirmed by the House of Lords Press Office on 8 June 2021:

“There are currently 781 members of the House of Lords. There are a further 40 who cannot currently attend the House of Lords or take part in its proceedings because they are on leave of absence or are disqualified from participating. 26 Church of England Archbishops and Bishops sit in the House of Lords on an ex officio basis. When one retires, they are replaced by another based on their seniority in the Church. 83 peerages have been announced since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.”

It seems that, unlike the Commons, membership of the House of Lords is in a constant state of flux.
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Friday, 25 June 2021

Who made the decision to leave the EU?


So, here’s THE key question: Who made the decision for the UK to leave the EU?

It wasn’t the referendum. The referendum, as agreed by Parliament, was advisory only and not legally capable of making any decision.

This was confirmed by the Supreme Court, who also ruled that the decision to leave the EU had to be taken by Parliament.

But Parliament didn’t make the decision either.

Following the referendum, there was no debate or vote by MPs on the specific question of WHETHER Brexit should go ahead.

The then Brexit Secretary, David Davis, erroneously told Parliament in January 2017 that a Parliamentary decision wasn’t necessary, as ‘the decision’ to leave had already been taken by the referendum.

A ‘decision’ that the Supreme Court ruled was not capable of being made by the advisory referendum.

(And remember, the Supreme Court ruling came about – thanks to Gina Miller’s successful legal challenge – because Theresa May’s government had wanted to implement Brexit without ANY approval of Parliament.)

▪ WAS PARLIAMENT MISLED?

Mr Davis advised Parliament that, since the ‘decision’ to leave the EU was already made, all that Parliament was required to do was to give the Prime Minister authority to notify the EU of an ‘intention’ to leave.

An intention is not a decision. It is not even binding.

Indeed, the European Court of Justice ruled that Brexit could be cancelled at any time during the Article 50 notice period, with Britain remaining an EU member on exactly the same terms as before.

(i.e. Brexit could have been unilaterally cancelled by Britain at any time until 11pm on 31 January 2020, when the Article 50 notice period expired).

In January 2017, Parliament was presented with one of the shortest bills ever, ‘The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill’.

The Bill simply stated:

(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.

(2) This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.

Significantly, this Bill did not include or agree the content of the Article 50 notification letter that Theresa May later unilaterally composed and sent to the EU.

When Parliament passed the Bill to give power to Mrs May to notify the EU of an intention to leave, the world was led to believe that Parliament had voted to leave the EU.

Nothing of the sort had happened.

To repeat: Parliament never actually debated and voted on the specific question of whether the UK should leave the EU.

▪ WHO MADE THE DECISION TO LEAVE?

So, since the referendum couldn’t make a decision to leave the EU, and Parliament didn’t make the decision, who did?

That mystery was unravelled in June 2018, at a ‘permission hearing’ in the High Court regarding the validity of Article 50.

That hearing established that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, EXCLUSIVELY AND INDIVIDUALLY made the executive decision for the UK to leave the EU.

Lord Justice Gross and Mr Justice Green unusually made their judgment citable and ruled that the decision to leave the EU was contained in the Prime Minister’s Article 50 notification letter of 29 March 2017, to Donald Tusk, the then President of the European Council.

In that letter, Theresa May stated that ‘the people of the United Kingdom’ had made ‘the decision’ to leave the EU, even though the Supreme Court had ruled that the referendum was advisory only and not legally entitled or capable of making any decision.

She also erroneously advised Mr Tusk in her letter that ‘the decision’ to leave the EU had been ‘confirmed’ by the United Kingdom Parliament.

To repeat: Parliament had only given the Prime Minister permission to give notice to the EU of an ‘intention’ to withdraw from the EU.

That’s not at all the same as a specific decision to leave.

▪ WHAT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED?
Had Parliament been asked following the advisory referendum to debate and specifically vote on whether the UK should leave the EU, a bill to this effect would have required a plan, impact assessments and evidence from all the Brexit committees.

The question put to Parliament following the referendum SHOULD HAVE BEEN the same one that the UK electorate was asked:

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

Asking Parliament instead if it will give permission for the Prime Minister to notify the EU of an ‘intention’ to leave was not at all the same as a debate and vote on whether the UK should remain or leave.

Parliament only ever debated and voted on the terms of leaving the EU, but never on whether we should leave.

In reality, it was Theresa May, as Prime Minister, who ALONE made ‘the decision’ to leave the EU, a decision inherited and adopted by the next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

▪ GETTING BREXIT DONE
Boris Johnson went ahead and ‘Got Brexit Done’. He negotiated the terms of leaving the EU, and Parliament voted to accept them.

But again, Parliament didn’t vote on whether we should leave; it was always assumed that the decision had been made by the referendum, even though the referendum was decided by an Act of Parliament to be an advisory poll only.

Brexiters claim that even if the referendum was advisory only, the general election of 2019 gave Mr Johnson a democratic mandate to go ahead with Brexit.

There is merit in that argument, but it needs to be looked at in perspective.

In the general election of 2019, most voters did NOT vote for the Tories. Most voters in that general election voted for parties that wanted to offer a new referendum on Brexit.

The Tories only won their landslide 80-seat majority with just 1% more votes than they got in the 2017 general election, in which the Tories lost their majority entirely.

Something is clearly wrong with our archaic system of voting, that returned a result not representative of the nation.

Polls strongly indicated that if 12 December 2019 had been a referendum, instead of a general election, Remain would have won.

Furthermore, the electorate wasn’t given a democratic opportunity to agree on the terms of leaving the EU.

In the 2016 referendum, ‘Leave’ was not defined. The country was denied a second referendum to approve the version of Brexit that we have now ended up with.

▪ A PUBLIC INQUIRY
It’s not only a Public Inquiry on Covid-19 that the country deserves. We also urgently require a Public Inquiry on Brexit.

Such an inquiry would need to investigate how Brexit went ahead despite only a small minority of the total electorate voting for it (just 37%), in an advisory-only referendum, and without the specific and explicit approval of Parliament following the referendum result.

The inquiry would also need to investigate how the Leave campaigns won – by the slimmest of margins – through lying, cheating and law breaking.

In the referendum, all the reasons given to leave the EU were based entirely on incorrect and untrue statements.

The Leave campaigns also overspent what’s allowed under electoral law by a significant margin, and used masses of stolen personal data to target potential voters in illegal ways.

▪ THE BOTTOM LINE
And so, here’s the final rub:

If the referendum had been a legally binding vote, then under UK law, the serious illegalities and irregularities that took place would almost certainly have resulted in the referendum result being annulled by the courts.

But as the referendum was an advisory exercise only, it escaped such legal scrutiny – even though after the referendum, the result was treated by the government as if it was legally binding.

The courts cannot annul an advisory vote in the same way that a legally-binding vote can be annulled when serious irregularities may have affected the result.

Do you get the feeling that the country has been conned on an enormous scale?
  • What David Cameron should have said after the referendum result - 2½-minute video:

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Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Yes, the Prime Minister is useless, but that’s not enough to shift him


By a strange set of circumstances, which some of us would call a perfect storm, we now have the most incompetent, corrupt and dangerous Prime Minster in living memory.

He is popular, although his popularity rating seems to be in decline.

Nonetheless, with a weak and uninspiring Opposition, there is a chance that Boris Johnson could be in power for many years, leading the country in a direction that many of us don’t want to go.

Just as exceptional circumstances brought us a decade of Tory misrule, culminating in a Boris Johnson premiership, it will take exceptional circumstances to replace him with safer and saner leadership.

Here are some ideas, but yours are just as important, if not more so.

▪ We need opposition parties to work together. They probably won’t, but they should, and if they could put the country above their parties, they would.

▪ We need an opposition leader whose personality appeals to the people. Yes, I know that will be an anathema to many, especially those who liked Jeremy Corbyn and thought he’d make a good leader.

But it matters not a jot if you or I like someone. The nation as a whole has to warm to a leader. Yes, it’s a personal thing.

▪ We need an opposition to offer policies that both excite and appeal to a broad section of the country. With our voting system, no party can win without the support of those who don’t usually vote for them.

That’s a fact, not an opinion.

▪ We need an alternative government not just to appeal to the country at large. We need them to be brave and bold, and offer new, truly radical policies that will both set it apart from those now in office, and to animate and arouse us.

What could those policies be? Well, here are a few outline proposals. They are not all my ideas, some have already been put forward by opposition parties.

▪ A universal basic income for everyone. Yes, everyone would have enough; an essential income for all. For anyone to live in poverty in the UK – especially children – is shocking and unacceptable in the modern age.

▪ Truly green public transport. People are getting excited about electric cars, but that won’t be enough to tackle climate change. The issue is not so much what fuels the cars, but who owns them.

For most of the last year in lockdown, my car has been on my drive, and I doubt I’ve driven more than 100 miles. It shouldn’t be that way.

We need excellent, reliable, green public transport that’s so inexpensive, most of us won’t want or need to own our own car anymore. Who’ll pay for that? To start with, those who insist on car ownership for private use only.

▪ Free higher education for all, and lifetime learning for everyone, subsidised by the businesses who need clever people to work for them. Education is an investment in the future and wealth of the whole nation and provides huge returns.

If Britain wants a world class workforce – and it does – then the government, not just businesses, needs to be an “Investor in People”.

▪ A massive investment in green farming across the UK. Our government must do much more to help our farmers to enable Britain to be more successful and sustainable in feeding its people.

▪ A new system of voting; proportional representation, that most countries in Europe have now adopted. Our current system of first-past-the-post means that governments get into power that most people have not voted for.

Most people did not vote for the Tories in the 2019 general election, and yet they achieved an 80-seat majority with only 1% more votes than they got in the 2017 general election, in which they lost their majority entirely. That cannot be right.

▪ The United Kingdom to be an equal partnership of its four members – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’d mean the UK becomes a true union of four sovereign states (if that’s what they want) acting on a similar model to the EU’s 27 nations. It’s just not acceptable or sustainable for England to be superior to the other three.

▪ Closer relations with the EU, leading over time to negotiating and applying to rejoin. That will likely take some time, because the relationship has been so damaged. The first step could be to rejoin the Single Market.

▪ Subsidised fast internet broadband for everyone, paid for by the businesses who make billions out of us being on the internet, and whose business models simply couldn’t work without it.

So, these are some initial ideas, but of course they are not nearly enough.

The debate about what country we want Britain to be, and the polices to take us there, needs to take place years in advance of a general election, not just weeks before one takes place.

That means now. Yes, it’s urgent.

What ideas do you have that would set the nation on a new and better path to the one we’re now on?
  • WATCH AND WEEP – the uselessness of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister

  • BREXIT LIES – Boris Johnson, you DIDN'T get Brexit done

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Thursday, 3 June 2021

"What if the EU ruled that we must all wear knickers on our heads?"

After the referendum, and before Covid, I sat down at one of my favourite eating places to enjoy a vegetarian curry. Hot stuff!

But more heated was the discussion that took place afterwards.

Brexiters to the left of me; Brexiters to the right of me. I was outnumbered, but I put up a good fight. Here’s how it went.

‘The EU isn’t democratic!’

‘Yes it is; laws are democratically passed.’

‘No. You are deluded. The Parliament is full of puppets. They do as they’re told.’

‘Actually, the EU is run by democratically elected politicians.’

‘You’re talking out of your behind! Look, tell me this, if the EU passed a law saying everyone had to wear women’s knickers on their heads, what could you do about it? Well, what could anyone do?’

 ‘The EU would never pass such a law. What could you do if our Parliament passed such a law?’

‘We could vote at the next general election.’

‘So, we can vote in the next European elections. Did you vote in the European elections?’

‘No. Waste of time. So you see, if the EU told us to wear women’s knickers on our heads, there’s nothing you could do.’

‘So, tell me one law of the EU that you don’t like.’

‘There are thousands, so many.’

‘Well, just tell me one.’

No answer. Conversation moves on...
‘And the EU accounts have never been signed off!’

‘Yes, they have been signed off every year by the independent auditors.’

‘No they haven’t.’

‘Yes they have.’

‘No they haven’t’

Get out mobile phone. 

‘Look, here’s the signature of the President of the European Court of Auditors, signing off the EU accounts.’

‘Oh that’s not independent, it’s got European in the name’.

‘Of course it’s independent.’

‘No, I mean when PwC [PriceWaterhouseCoopers] refused to sign off the EU accounts.’

‘PwC has never audited the EU accounts.’

‘So, it must have been one of the other big accountancy firms.’

‘Why would any of them audit the EU accounts when the EU accounts are already signed off by the European Court of Auditors?’

‘Look another thing, it’s a gravy chain for EU bureaucrats. There’s a guy at the EU who gets paid 90,000 a year just to look into the shape of lettuces.’

‘Who are you talking about?’

‘I met him at a party. He told me. Why would he lie to me?’

‘Well, people sometimes embellish things at parties. What’s his name, I’ll contact him to check this out?’

‘I don’t know his name. I just met him at a party, and that’s what he told me. Of course he wouldn’t lie!’

‘Look, this is getting ridiculous. The referendum has split the country in half. There’s a real danger that it could split up the four countries of the UK.’

‘What’s wrong with that? We don’t need Scotland. Let them go.’

‘I think it would be very sad for the UK to split.’

Look, get over it. We’re leaving That’s democracy. We’re leaving.’

‘Yes, but in a democracy, voters can change their minds.’

The exchange went on for another hour. You can guess the rest.

These are all the same comments left on my Facebook pages every day, but this time, in real time, real space, face to face.

I said in passing,

‘The best debates are ones where you can agree the facts, and then discuss what you think about those facts. But the problem with the debate about Brexit is that nobody can agree on the facts.’

We all parted on good company, shook hands, and agreed it was a lively and interesting discussion.

But it’s taken over 40 years for such misinformation about all things EU (and Europe) to become rigidly entrenched in the minds of millions and millions of Britons. 

Where’s the big campaign to enlighten and change minds? There isn’t one.

If there was another referendum next week, all the same immovable myths and misunderstandings would swirl around the country. Just like last time.
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