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The Churchill Society
London.

We have our own dream and our own task.
We are with Europe, but not of it.
We are linked but not combined.
We are interested and associated but not absorbed.

Winston Churchill.


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The 1997

Christmas Lecture

The Battle for Britain

The Nature of our National Sovereignty

Is the Address given in 1975 by the late

Oliver Smedley FCA

THE LATE OLIVER SMEDLEY F.C.A.

and in his memory.

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress built by nature for herself,
Against infection, and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This bIessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed, and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
(For Christian service and true chivalry)
As is the sepulchre, in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son;
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land.

 

William Shakespeare, Richard II, ii.i.40

Bodiam Castle Sussex

The Nature of our National Sovereignty

It is impossible even to begin to think about the nature of the sovereignty of the British people without lovingly delving into the history of our unique and wonderful island.

First let us look at the word. 'Sovereignty' is the same word in origin as 'supremacy'. A sovereign is a supreme ruler. Just as a capital city is a city that acknowledges no superior seat of government, so a sovereign ruler is one who acknowledges no superior authority.

The sovereign ruler of Britain is the British electorate because, through nearly a thousand years of ceaseless struggle, they have succeeded in winning for themselves the right to elect, or reject, their own government.

Finally to throw away this priceless, hard-won and stubbornly defended privilege would rightly be considered by future inhabitants of these islands one of the most incredibly craven acts ever perpetrated by the elected representatives of any sovereign people in the history of the world.

 
The last time British sovereignty was ceded to an alien was at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. But having conquered us, William I at least came to live here and became one of us. With him came hundreds of Norman barons, who stepped directly into the shoes of English landowners and assumed their rights and duties.
 
The principle of primogeniture was introduced by the Conquest. In feudal society, public rights and duties were inseparable from the tenure of land. The Norman kings were despotic, but the previously existing pattern of government with the consent and counsel of the barons was maintained. In the next 150 years, however, the kings began to consult the national assembly less and less and to impose taxes without its consent.
 
Windsoe CastleWindsor Castle. Near Runnymede.
 
The idea that there should be no taxation without representation gradually gained ground during this period and finally, at Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames near Egham in Surrey, King John signed on 17 June 1215 the great charter, or Magna Carta, presented to him by his barons.
 
It laid down that 'no scutage or aid' should be imposed on the realm except by common counsel of the realm, defined as archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, greater barons and all tenants in chief. The provisions of Magna Carta were re-enacted as statutes in 1297, and this particular article still survives, at least in theory.
 
In the next 250 years, parliament emerged. It was composed of duly elected knights of the shires, citizens of cities and burgesses of boroughs, who had full powers from those they represented, as M.P.s do to this day. The consent of this body was necessary for the king to enact a statute.
 
Parliaments on this model were constantly held in succeeding centuries and it gradually became recognised that the sovereign power of the realm was vested in both king and parliament. Under the Tudors, from Wales, and the Stuarts, from Scotland, the process of forging the checks and balances of the British constitution continued ceaselessly from century to century.
 
From 1330 parliament had to meet at least once a year, its frequency depending on the king's heed for money. From the reign of Henry V, however, the frequency declined, owing to the new and considerable royal revenue from customs duties, an early interference with the freedom of trade. By 1340 direct taxation was impossible without the consent of parliament and the same was more or less true of indirect taxes by the end of the fourteenth century.
 
Wewtminster AbbeyWestminster Abbey. Already very old in 1350.
 
From 1350 onwards Lords and Commons began to meet separately. During that period of history the King's Council, now the Privy Council, became distinct from both parliament and the courts of law. Its task was to advise the king on the exercise of royal power, e.g. assenting to statutes, creating peers, nominating bishops, granting to boroughs the right to send representatives to Parliament, appointing public officers, etc.
 
Under the Tudors, the chancellor was the king's first minister and held the royal seal. At this time was founded the modern doctrine of ministerial responsibility.
 
The battle for the right to 'rule' the British realm has been a continuing fight, internally between Parliament and monarch, Commons and Lords, and externally against all-comers, for hundreds of years. The constitutional history of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales is a history of continuing conflict, unparalleled in any other territory in the world. It continues to this day.
 
The exceptional degree of subtle sophistication in the unique blend of modernity and mediaevalism, which is the contemporary result of centuries of organic constitutional growth, is due primarily to the fact that our territory is a group of islands and that we are islanders.
 
People who live on continents are troubled about their land frontiers; this weakens their ability to build permanent political constitutions that are capable of optimising individual liberty.
 
France, our ancient foe, has a history of civilisation as old as, if not older than, ours; its democratic
constitution, however, is comparatively new and untried.
 
The French had their revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, which destroyed their monarchy and regime.
 
The Duke of WellingtonTHE DUKE OF WELLINGTON defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
 
Napoleon failed in his attempt to found a new dynasty. It is doubtful whether historians will consider that the French were the pioneers of democracy or even very successful at making it work.
 
The German empire created by Bismarck was proclaimed at Versailles on 18 January 1871, what constitution it had was weakened by two devastating wars in this century. It is was until recently divided into two separate states. The constitution of western Germany is less than thirty years old. The national frontiers of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg have constantly moved over the centuries. Spain became a united kingdom on the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella and finally, after 700 years of struggle against the Moors, sovereign in her own house on the capitulation of Granada in 1492.
 
No one would describe Spain today as an organically developed democracy, although her frontiers have not altered, thanks to the Pyrenees and the sea, since she finally granted independence to Portugal in 1668.
 
Most other states in Europe are of considerably more recent foundation, e.g. Italy in 1860.
 
None goes back to 1066 and beyond.
 
Let us, however, return to the time of the Tudors, by far the most fascinating and constitutionally the most exciting period of British history.
 
Henry VIIIHenry VIII.
 
Henry VIII's final rupture with Rome, leading to the foundation- of the Protestant Church of England, had immensely important results for the future prosperity, happiness and individual liberty of the British people, unforeseeable at the time.
 
In order to ensure an heir to the succession, Henry determined to bring his marriage with Catherine of Aragon to an end so that he could marry the already pregnant Anne Boleyn. His almost unbelievable stubbornness led to the dissolution of the monasteries, and greatly increased the power of the state and caused a revolution in the distribution of land.
 
During his reign, in 1533, Parliament passed an Act of Appeals which declared that "this realm of England is an Empire, competent to settle all cases in its own courts".
 
It must be assumed that since our courts are now over-ruled by the European court, this act has since been repealed.
 
In the reign of Henry's daughter, Elizabeth 1, England finally struggled free from intimate European entanglement and turned her face, her hopes and her ambitions outwards to the vast undiscovered resources of the rest of the world.
 
Under the Tudors we finally left continental Europe, to the immense advantage of many millions of the world's inhabitants and of human liberty.
 
It is indeed a curious belief that we should have taken an historic step forward by turning the clock back four hundred years.
 
The slow but sure weaving of the marvellous tapestry of the British constitution has continued year by year, reign by reign, century by century ever since.
 
Cromewellian BreastplateCromwellian Armoured Breastplate.
 
In the seventeenth century we had our British revolution, the Civil War. However, it may have looked at. the time, and on whichever side we may now as individuals think we should have laid our sympathy, looking back on it it is clear that, in their progress towards insisting upon their own sovereignty in their own island, it was necessary for the British people to destroy once and for all the doctrine of the divine right of kings.

In a confused way this 'British revolution', like the subsequent revolutions in France, Russia, China and, more recently, Portugal, was also concerned with the relationship between landowners and landless, the perennial underlying cause of social injustice and unrest.

 
In 1625, by the Act of Revocation, Charles I had re-annexed all Church lands and tithes that had passed into laymen's hands since 1542. The compensation was not unfair, but the Act outraged the landed class who were also alarmed for their feudal jurisdictions.
 
At the end of the Civil War, on 30 January 1649, King Charles I of England stepped on to the scaffold in Whitehall.
 
He declared that the people's freedom was not a share in sovereignty, but in laws by which their life and goods may be most their own.
 
But to what extent should a free people have a say in the laws by which they are governed?
 
That was the issue then; it is still the issue today.
 
Oliver Cromwell was an Englishman extraordinary.
 
Coronation CoachThe Coronation Coach.
 
To perceive that in order to pave the way for the growth of democracy it was necessary, not merely to depose or banish the king, but publicly to decapitate him, was not merely the mark of a brutal and ruthless ruler, but the instinctive reaction of a great patriot.
It is too late to wonder what might have happened if Cromwell had never lived. He is part of our history. The king is dead: long live the queen.
 
Party Politics
 
One of the spin-offs from the Civil War was the emergence of party politics. The Conservative party of today is the direct lineal descendant of the king's party of three hundred years ago. The opposition party are the spiritual heirs of the Round- heads. By the opposition party is meant the formed political Organisation that for the time being is opposed to the ruling party. In the long run the Conservative party, firmly based on the landed interest, endures; the other parties form, melt away and reform round new nuclei. The particular feature of the continuing dialogue between Conservatives and opposition is that it publicly expresses the emotional dichotomy of every member of the electorate. It externalises the difficulty every thinking individual has in making up his mind. Politicians are the whipping-boys of the community, whose punishment is to decide.
 
Horse Guards Parade GroundHorse Guards Parade Ground Whitehall London.
 
For two hundred years after the Civil War, Tories were opposed to Whigs. There were no three-line whips, however, and movement from one party to the other was simple and frequent. The refinements of today's electoral machinery and party management were unimagined. As the franchise was extended it was found necessary to tighten the 'party system'. After the Whigs came the Liberal Party in 1851. There was no such thing as a Labour party until under the inspiration of Keir Hardie the Independent Labour Party was founded in 1893.
 
The first Labour government followed the general election of 1923, by which time the Liberals had effectively abdicated from the role of opposition leadership.
 
The first time a Labour government was returned with a working majority was in 1945, fifty-two years after the founding of the I.L.P. With the intellectual leadership of the Fabians and the mass membership of the trade unions, they had finally inherited the mantle of opposition from Whigs and Liberals.
 
Nelson's ColumnNelson's Column Trafalgar Square London.
 
The Reform Bill.
 
1830 marked the end of the immediately post-Napoleonic era. Wellington was defeated in the House and Grey became Prime Minister. He instructed those drafting the great Reform Bill that he required "An arrangement on which we can stand" to last a generation, based not on abstract rights of universal suffrage but on property and the historic divisions of counties and boroughs, the relationships between voters and land, which have largely endured to this day.
 
It took two years, a general election, the resignation of Grey, near revolution in the country, pressure by the king on Wellington, bishops and moderates, to get the bill passed.
 
These were tremendous political events.
 
The cabinet, representing the undoubted will of the Commons, fought it through against the Lords. Rotten boroughs were abolished and some 250,000 new voters were added to the electorate.
 
In the last hundred years the consolidation of the sovereignty of the British electorate has continued apace and, until our astonishingly abrupt surrender to the bureaucrats of Brussels, was steadily and healthily continuing.
 
There has been the epic conflict between Lords and Commons, beginning perhaps, with Gladstone's s Home Rule Bill in 1894, sixty-two years after his own entry into Parliament in the year of the Reform Bill, and culminating in 1909 when the Lords threw out Lloyd George's first budget, which incidentally, among many new measures, included proposals for taxing the site value of land. It took two hard-fought general elections to settle this particular issue and to curb the powers of the Lords in the Parliament Act of 1911. Since that time the power of the Lords has been further clipped and the hereditary nature of the House changed by the introduction of Life Peers. House of Lords reform remains an issue.
 
We have come a long way since the Barons represented the conscience and aspirations of the people at Runnymede.
 
The Representation of the People Act of 1918 vastly extended the franchise. The voting qualification for men over 21 years became six months' residence. Women over 30 also got the vote. This brought the electorate up to over 20 million, compared with about 7 million before.
 
Women Munition WorkersWomen won their fight for votes and equality by their courage and endurance in the First World War.
 
In 1928 women finally got the vote on the same basis as men. The fight of the suffragettes has been well described elsewhere. The winning by women of the right to have a say in the choosing of their government is part of the fabric of our social history.
 
In 1969 the right to vote was extended to young men and women of eighteen. It is doubtful if this was seen by many as a principle worth dying for, but it has added its own contribution to the periodical electoral contest.
 
The point I have tried to make by my brief excursions into our national history is that the right to representative govern- government on our existing one-person-one-vote principle, whatever may be said against it, has been won by tremendous personal sacrifice over the years by the British people, who have been successful at the same time in defending their territory and the independence of their government against external coercion; in the nineteenth century against the French under Napoleon and twice in living memory against the Germans and their allies.
 
If the result of signing the Treaty of Rome will have been to hand over effective government of the United Kingdom to a supranational bureaucracy in Brussels over which the British electorate has no power of veto, surely it is a matter on which the electorate themselves should at least have been consulted in the first place, with full disclosure of all the relevant facts.
 
To remind oneself of the unique historical development of Britain's highly sophisticated political system is surely neither chauvinistic, nor anachronistic, nor the sign of a 'great power' complex.
 
Abbey CloistersWestminster Abbey Cloisters.
 
To favour independence for one's own nation is by no means an exceptional sentiment in the modern world; nor is it a sign of insularity or lack of understanding of the interdependence of the whole human race.
 
In fact a desire for national independence is wholly consistent with a belief in the need for considerable reductions in the power of the state and in taxation and government spending, the devolution of power to local representative governments and the clutching back by individuals and families of as much as possible of the freedom of choice that is slowly but surely being sapped away from them by a centripetal bureaucracy.
 
Britain's accession to the Treaty of Rome has ruthlessly destroyed the whole delicate system of checks and balances which have slowly and organically led to the sovereignty of the British electorate over their own governance. What in future will be the point of electing a government whose legislation can be over-ridden by non-elected foreign bureaucrats in Brussels? Surely it is inconceivable that the British electorate would ever have agreed to this if it had been put to them plainly and they had fully understood the implications. That any British politician or political party should have taken such a step without first consulting the electorate would seem to suggest a degree of irresponsibility very close to treason.
 
It may well be asked how the other countries succeeded in bringing themselves to sign such an abdication from national sovereignty. The answer is twofold. First, democracy is a far weaker force, of comparatively recent growth, in the six countries of the Common Market than in Britain. Secondly, having all been defeated or at least occupied as recently as the Second World War, they were psychologically less jealous of the sanctity of their national sovereignty than a kingdom that has not bowed the knee to overseas invaders for over nine hundred years.
 
SpitfireBattle of Britain Spitfire.
 
It is surely too soon to try to explain to the British people that the Battle of Britain was all a stupid mistake.
 
The EU Commission
 
However remote the power of the Council may be, at least there is a tiny link with democracy in so far as the British delegates are government ministers and would themselves most probably have been elected as M.P.s, unless they were Lords or co-opted. But so far as the Commission is concerned, there is no democratic link at all.
 
Under the original Treaty the Commission was to be composed- posed of nine members "chosen for their general competence and of indisputable independence". It was not to include more than two members having the nationality of the same state. They were to be appointed by the governments of the member states acting in common agreement, for a renewable term of four years. Decisions were by majority vote.
 
This Commission is something unheard of in British politics: professional civil servants, not elected by anyone, but with power to make decisions by majority vote that are binding on the governments of member states. Our own civil servants cannot do this. Nor can our own government, without sub - submitting their proposals to the House of Commons and then to the House of Lords for public debate.
 
How can the British people continue to tolerate such a situation? The precious link between voter and executive, fought for and defended over the centuries, has been brutally severed at one stroke of the pen.
 
The economic case
 
The main economic arguments in favour of Britain joining the Common Market appear to have been based on the theory that 'efficiency' is achieved by large-scale production; the larger the scale, the greater the 'efficiency'. In order to make it worthwhile producing anything on a really large scale, it is said, there has to be a large and guaranteed domestic market in which to dispose of the products. If the market is not guaranteed, no one will risk the capital necessary to set up the large-scale production plants.
 
This is, of course, a denial of the very first principle of capitalism, because it seeks to place on the consumer, in the shape of higher prices, the risk of loss that should fall on the investor of capital.
 
The European Economic Community, carefully protected from outside competition, particularly from America and Japan, by its common external tariff, would provide just such a domestic market.
 
It is obvious that, although seized upon by its proponents as a step towards freer trade, Britain's joining the Common Market was in fact an extension of protectionism. It was not altogether surprising that when invited to debate the issue at the time of the original Heath negotiations, speakers against the proposal found themselves opposed, nine times out of ten, by executives of the larger public relations concerns, who were putting the case for joining on behalf of their mass producing clients.
 
The European campaign had all the characteristics of high professional P.R. Whether the politicians- who supported it were parties to it or its dupes, only they will be able accurately to assess.
 
The only people who could conceivably have imagined that they would benefit from such a course were the relatively few individuals who were involved in 'big business', either in management or as shareholders, Even they were deluding themselves, as we shall show.
 
An island economy
 
In order to grow in stature physically, mentally and spiritually, to be a bigger people in every sense of the word, an island population must constantly trade and communicate with the outside world. All land masses are islands in the end, because all are surrounded by sea water; but the smaller the land mass, the more recognisable the island.
 
Just as a nation obtains a great political advantage from having frontiers whose location cannot be doubted, so also it benefits in the economic field. The fact that an island is an island helps to determine the shape of its economy. The only other island in the world that has an economy comparable with ours is Japan. The major difference is that Japan is more nearly self-supporting in rice than Britain is in cereals and therefore the need to trade with overseas countries in order to survive at all is that much less vital. One hears little talk of Japan's joining an Asian Common Market. If there are moves towards a Pacific Common Market, however, they will be due to Britain's having cut herself off from her Australasian trade by joining the E.E.C.
 
Continental countries are in a different situation altogether, because, if efficiently cultivated, there is usually enough land available to grow all the staple foodstuffs the population requires. If one country, because of its arbitrary frontiers, has too little agricultural land, it can draw on the surpluses of its neighbours. None of the world's continents carry such vast populations that, if efficiently cultivated (and this goes for India as well as the United States and South America), the land would be unable to produce enough food to support them. It has been said that if Brazil were cleared and cultivated it would be capable of producing enough food to support the whole population of the world for ever, so vast is the undeveloped - developed potential. Sea-farming has not yet begun.
 
Britain is not part of a continental land mass. When the population grew in the last century to the point where, in order to grow food, it was necessary to take in more land, the land was found in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America, the United States, Africa, Russia and so on, but not, except for fruit, vegetables, eggs and dairy produce, on the continent of Europe.
 
France is the main granary of Europe. Germany is short of grain. It is natural for those two countries, apart from their understandable desire finally to bring the Franco-Prussian war to an end, to come to terms on the basis of a deal over corn.
 
This they have painfully sought to do through the machinery of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Economic Community. But their problems are not ours, and there is no advantage to us in getting involved. Our whole economy is, or was when it was prosperous, built on the idea of buying food and raw materials in the cheapest market, thus maximising the standard of living of workers at a low monetary but high real wage level, and reducing the costs of production of the goods and services sold in exchange.
 
Low food prices mean a low cost of living index, low monetary wages, low costs of production and, other things being equal, maximum exports. Although we have been an increasingly protectionist country since 1932, we have generally pursued methods of protecting agriculture that do not directly affect the cost of living.
 
Food prices have, until we joined the Common Market, been geared to world market prices, and not to the prices paid to our own farmers, who have had their incomes made up to their guaranteed level of support by deficiency payments out of the taxpayers pockets. The exports we have been aiming to sell are mass-produced products of so-called sophisticated industries: cars, refrigerators, aircraft, machinery, electronic equipment, etc. These are the same type of product that our Common Market friends are trying to sell to us.
 
The net effect of our joining the E.E.C. has been not to prise open continental markets to our manufacturers, but to open our own domestic market to theirs, having priced ourselves not only out of their market, through dear food, but out of our own domestic market as well. Furthermore, by buying food at high prices in Europe instead of at lower prices from other parts of the world, we have already drastically reduced the amount of sterling that would otherwise be available in the hands of those other countries to buy exports from us.
 
It is thought by many that Britain had to join the E.E.C. because there was no alternative. But there is always an alternative. As a nation we could decide that we were not going to be pushed around by anyone; that to the extent necessary to preserve- serve our independence we were going to tighten our belts; throw off by degrees the suffocating protectionism, which has destroyed the vitality of our economy and almost our will to live as an independent nation; buy in the cheapest market, whatever the short-term harmful effects on certain sectional interests, such as cereal farmers, flour millers, and motor car or tyre manufacturers: maintain the value of our currency: save money instead of squandering it and pay off the national debt.
 
This has to be put in simple language as an appeal to a great people.
 
The policy is clear and is the exact opposite of being a member of the Common Market; the programme, that is to say the order in which the various measures would need to be carried through, is a relatively simple matter of tactics.
 
But first must come the decision by the nation to adopt the policy.
 
The inevitable reaction of the British people against the political implications of being in the Common Market will be to throw up the leaders who will help the nation decide its destiny and future role in the world. The sad part of the pro-Common Market campaign was that so many of those who supported it honestly believed it to be a noble and large-minded cause. In fact, compared with the alternative, it is pathetically small-minded and introverted.
 
Those who expressed strong views against Britain's joining the Common Market were automatically described as 'Little Englanders' or Commonwealth Preferentialists. Some may have been. But the policy of truly non-discriminatory free trade is a far wider concept than the fateful substitution of European preference for Commonwealth preference.
 
To the free trader both of these are equally indefensible, though the latter is less immediately harmful to the British consumer because of the Commonwealth's vast areas of food-producing land. But other voices are beginning to be heard in support of a larger policy. For instance the following passage occurred in a publication from the Institute of Economic Affairs, Growth through Competition: An alternative to the National Plan by 'Spartacus', the pen name of an economist with recent practical experience of economic planning:
 
'By adopting a policy of unilateral free trade Britain would move far ahead of the position adopted by the E.E.C. Instead of joining a group of countries which trade freely among themselves but are protectionist against the outside world, we should be gaining the full benefits of free competition with goods from all parts of the world'.
 
This policy would benefit not only Britain's economic efficiency and even more obviously the interests of her people as consumers, but also the underdeveloped countries. Free entry for their products together with a steady sustained rate of growth in economic activity in Britain, freed by floating exchange rates from the restraints of balance of payments considerations, would complete the pattern of the expansionist open-market policy which Keynes called 'twice-blessed' because it confers maximum benefit both on ourselves and on others."
 
Except for a relatively few vested interests, there is no economic case for Britain's remaining a member of the E.E.C.
 
The purpose of this address is to argue for the far more inspiring alternative policies.
 
Free Trade is a libertarian policy - it requires no Government intervention - no vast bureaucracies - it wrongs no man - and is the only anti-dote to the dead hand of twentieth-century conservative socialism.

An example of England's wonderfully varied countryside.

 

 

...................Ladybird.

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