Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

13 November 2007

Brown’s Red Lines: An Alternative Take

Further to my previous post, Between E and U: Brown’s Red Lines and the Break Up of the UK, it occurred to me that I missed what now seems to be an obvious point about GB’s [Gordon Brown’s] so-called red lines: the areas of government where GB claims Britain has secured guarantees enabling it to get out of transferring sovereignty to the EU under the EU Reform Treaty.

Let’s recap what those red lines relate to: the justice system; foreign affairs; tax and social security (including all work, pensions and benefits matters); and the fundamental human rights framework of the state. In the earlier post, I argued that these guarantees were primarily intended to appease the English electorate, more Euro-sceptic than their Scottish and Welsh counterparts. A more straightforward interpretation would be that these areas represent virtually the entirety of the policy and legislative responsibilities that have remained the preserve of the UK government after the transfer of powers in so many other vital domestic matters to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In other words, if substantial powers in these domains were transferred to the EU, there would be virtually nothing left of the UK government: the only real powers would be those of the devolved administrations and those of the UK government relating to the corresponding policy areas in England. Hence, any remaining rationale for a UK-wide government implementing policies and laws relating to England only but pretending that these still relate to Britain as a whole would be completely discredited: as there was very little UK-wide governance for the parliament and executive to attend to, they would effectively be dealing almost exclusively with England-only matters. It would then be only a matter of time before the need for the anomaly to be corrected became so pressing that an English parliament could be established.

What a strange state of affairs this is then: the UK state relying for its preservation in its current form on a European constitution from which the UK has derogated in its most fundamental areas! There should be no doubt now that the Reform Treaty is the European Constitution in all but name: last Saturday, Giscard d’Estaing, the author of the original Constitution, himself said on BBC Radio Four that the Treaty was substantially the same as the Constitution – he should know. Another way of expressing the irony of all this is to say that the red lines that are supposed to be guaranteeing UK independence from the EU are in fact making the very survival of the UK as we know it dependent on the EU; the UK constitution is shored up by the European Constitution.

Does this mean that supporters of English devolution or independence should back the EU Reform Treaty on the basis that, over time, GB’s red lines will be subverted and there will be less and less actual real UK government, enabling the emergence of an English parliament in the manner described above? Doubtless, there will be some English nationalists that would support such a strategy; but it’s a risky one: if real sovereignty were transferred from the UK to the EU, would the people of England then be allowed to decide for themselves whether they wanted an English government or not? Perhaps, on the contrary, the nightmare scenario of a break up of England into a number of ‘EU regions’ of comparable size to Scotland would then occur, and England as such would be no more.

As I stated before, England has the right to decide how deeply involved or not it wishes to become in the Euro-integrationist project; and, eventually, to decide whether it wishes to be an independent nation: independent of the UK and of the EU. The EU Reform Treaty / Constitution, which risks being ratified without the agreement of the people of England and, indeed, of the UK electorate as a whole, risks foreclosing such an option. We could then be left with a UK government that is increasingly toothless within Europe but which still pretends to have legitimacy as a British government, even though its real powers are limited to England. For this reason, the Reform Treaty should be opposed.



  1. I would like the United Kingdom to come out of the EU altogether. I believe this is vital for many reasons but also because I believe in the Union and I think this is one of the causes of separatism (particularly in Scotland). We should never have joined it and people my age have never had a referendum to decide whether we want to be in the EU or not.

    Comment by Barry — 16 December 2007 @ 6.24 am | Reply

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