We are still masters of our nation’s future, if we awaken to our rights in time (not forgetting our responsibilities). The State Opening of Parliament—the mother of parliaments no less. This has been where our laws were passed and our rights upheld. Is this to be continued? Or do gentlemen in Brussels know best?
BY J ENOCH POWELL
I was talking to a well-informed lady who, as so many people do, was deploring Britain’s daily more evident relinquishment of power to the institutions of the European Community. ‘But it’s too late now, 1 suppose,’ she sighed. ‘Not at all!’ 1 replied. ‘I assume you know that treaties do not bind Parliament.’ She didn’t. She nearly fell off her chair with astonishment. ‘It was an Act of Parliament,’ 1 continued, ‘away back in 1972 which made all this possible; and every Act of Parliament is repealable—even the Act which created the poll tax. We are as free to repeal or amend the Act of 1972 as we are to repeal the poll tax.’
I quote that conversation because it made me realise how few people in Britain understand that what is happening to us is in our own hands. Not grasping that, they shrug their shoulders, wrap themselves in good old British phlegm, and prepare to put up with loss of independence as though it were something to do with the weather. If they go on putting up with it, that will be their own fault, the individual personal fault of everyone whose name is on the electoral register.
There is a serious danger that the electors of Britain, dazed, drenched or drugged by the spate of pseudo-news which falls like monsoon rain, may fatally fail to understand that they will have before them at the forthcoming General Election a question deeper and more serious than any in the long history of Parliament.
To all innocent appearance, the Party candidates who seek their votes will tell them that they are asking agreement or approval for certain policies, which will be attractively set out in the Party manifestoes, not to mention the individual candidate’s election literature. They will be policies which involve not only the executive acts of government, as for example in defence or external affairs, but also the making of new laws and the amendment of old laws for the internal affairs of the United Kingdom. This time, however, there will be a new and startling feature.
For the first time, all the candidates will have something in common, and when I say ‘all’, I mean ‘all’, including the small fry, with (for the sake of accuracy) one exception, the Ulster Unionist Party. They all, with that exception, intend that these matters shall in future no longer be decided for the United Kingdom by the electors of the United Kingdom, but shall be decided elsewhere by others over their heads in circumstances where the so-called representatives of Britain are in a permanent minority.
That is what they all intend. It is what they mean; but it is unlikely they will say it as plainly as I have just spelt it out. Candour, especially at election time, is not a characteristic for which politicians have been notorious, and it would be decidedly odd to be caught saying to the electors: ‘Give me your vote and return me to Parliament; but mind, I mean to see to it that Parliament shall no longer decide the matters which I lay before you in my election address and my Party’s literature.’ That would be quite queer; and such a coruscation of truthfulness is so unlikely that the electors—and incidentally the politicians need to be put on the alert well in advance.
But do we not read all sorts of brave bluster from the Prime Minister about what he will not agree to in December at a place called Maastricht, which has suddenly become famous—or well, he won’t agree to ‘just yet’ or not ‘at this stage’ or not ‘in December’? Yet this is somebody who has declared in writing that Britain is ‘committed to the progressive realisation of economic and monetary union’ because it ‘appears in the preamble to the Single European Act, which was ratified by Parliament’. Oh yes; and who forced through Parliament, with a guillotine, the provisions which enabled the Single European Treaty to be ratified? The name is Thatcher; and thereby hangs a cautionary tale.
Only a year afterwards, in September 1988, she caught sight of the gulf of loss of self-government which yawned before her, as it yawns at this moment before the electors of Britain. The peril which had become visible to her in 1988 had existed since 1972, when a Bill was forced by a majority of eight through the House of Commons which in comprehensive form surrendered over-riding judicial, legislative and fiscal power over the United Kingdom to the institutions of the Community. I make no complaint that in 1972 as a member of the Heath Government she did not oppose this: there would otherwise have been no place for her in the public life of this country. At all events, in 1988 she said, ‘No, this has got to stop.’ It was only fair for the other European countries to know what was the mind of Britain. But Mrs Thatcher had left far behind her those colleagues who had risen to office by swimming in the sea of Eurospeak and who were at that moment engaged in negotiating away still more of the control of the British electorate over the laws, taxes and policies of the UK. She ‘broke our bats’, complained Sir Geoffrey Howe. Bats or no bats, they pulled her down, which is why John Major is Prime Minister today and why he is set upon securing (I use his own words) ‘the next stage of economic and monetary union’ as far as possible unobserved.
Where does that leave the elector who wants to defend his own country, his right to a say in its affairs, and the preservation of its parliamentary self-government? A General Election may, and does, decide the fate of Governments; but it is still the election of 650 individual representatives. The elector is not powerless. He can resolve not to give his vote to any candidate who will not be committed as a Member personally and individually to end the erosion of the powers of the British Parliament, which, if we are to be honest with ourselves and our neighbours, means recovering what the House of Commons gave away in 1972. No, it is not ‘too late now’. The British people can still get their way—if they are in earnest.
John Enoch Powell MBE, known as Enoch Powell, was a politician, classical scholar, author, linguist, soldier, foxhunter, philologist and poet. A Conservative MP (1950–1974), then Ulster Unionist (UUP) MP (1974–1987), he was Minister of Health (1960–1963). During World War Two he served in both staff and intelligence positions, reaching the rank of brigadier in his early 30s. He wrote this article for Country Illustrated magazine, as pertinent today as it was in 2006.
¶ This article was written for, and first appeared in Country Illustrated magazine in 2006.