Britain does not break Treaties dixit Margaret Thatcher

If you, like me, are feeling bereft by the potentially imminent loss of your European Citizenship, then you might agree in finding the jokey vocabulary, which creates portmanteaus of ‘British’ and ‘exit’ and ‘British’ and ‘remain’ and ‘British’ and ‘moan’, simply irritating. Furthermore, you might find the superficiality misplaced and alarming, because the Churchillian ‘sunlit uplands’ whither Andrea Leadsom and now Theresa May seem to be leading us, seem like some sort of never-never land or the wonderland so aptly evoked by Ken Clarke, the only Conservative MP to vote against the triggering of Article 50 in the House of Commons on 21 January 2017:

“Apparently, when we follow the rabbit down the hole, we will emerge in a wonderland where, suddenly, countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that we were never able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. Let me not be too cynical; I hope that that is right. I do want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt somewhere a hatter is holding a tea party with a dormouse in the teapot[1]”.

Contrariwise, I don’t believe that Theresa May is an Alice who can lead us out of the forest and I am rather amazed that she has managed to get where she is and hang on. Remember that she was only elected by her 35,453 Maidenhead constituents; not by her party and not by the country. Certainly not by the 65 million she claims in the Foreword to her White Paper[2]: The strength and support of 65 million people willing us to make it happen”. Funny arithmetic all round here: 17 million voted Leave, 16 million Remain.

Whether you were a Thatcherite or not, it is fascinating to read her words and wonder whether Theresa May remembers what her predecessor said in April 1975:

“But for Britain to leave [the European Economic Community] would mean denouncing a Treaty.

Britain does not break Treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for our relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade we may need to make. As Harold Macmillan said recently: ‘We used to stand for good faith. That is the greatest strength of our commerce overseas. And we are now being asked to tear up a Treaty into which we solemnly entered’.

The choice is clear. We can play a role in developing Europe, or we can turn our backs on the Community.

By turning our backs we would forfeit our right to influence what happens in the Community. But what happens in the Community will inevitably affect us. The European Community is a powerful group of nations. With Britain as a member, it is more powerful; without Britain it will still be powerful. We can play a leading role in Europe, but if that leadership is not forthcoming Europe will develop without Britain.

Britain, if she denounced a treaty, cannot then complain if Europe develops in conflict with Britain’s interests.”[3]

The speech has some other startling assertions, which would have those in the Leave camp growling and hurling abuse; unfortunately memories of Margaret Thatcher are selective.

So, Theresa May’s lack of leadership in Europe and her removing the United Kingdom from the European Union – and seemingly the single market – is going to deprive me of my European citizenship, which I cherish. The freedom to travel as I wish and when I wish to the other 27 member states; to work there if I wish – and that includes Switzerland, where I sometimes earn my muesli by virtue of our joint membership of the European Economic Area. If Global Britain is open for business and free trade, why are we leaving one of the biggest and richest free trade markets in the world? It simply does not add up. More funny arithmetic; the European single market has 508 million people[4], less 65 million hapless Brits soon, which makes 443 million. If we embrace free trade with the USA (326 million), Canada (37 million) Australia (25 million) and New Zealand (5 million), that only makes 393 million. Curiouser and curiouser!

The Supreme Court’s judgment[5] in favour of the Miller case was reassuring for those of us who still want to believe in the separation of powers and representative democracy, rather than mob rule in the Twittersphere. Lord Neuberger and his judges shared the fascinating metaphor of the 1972 Act taking us into the European Economic Area as a ‘conduit pipe’ by which EU law is introduced in UK domestic law[6] and enables us as “UK citizens […] to recover damages from the UK government in cases where a decision of one of the organs of the state based on a serious error of EU law has caused them loss.”

This ‘conduit pipe’ allowed us to turn on the tap of prosperity in the 1970s and catch up with the Trente Glorieuses (1945-1975) that had made France and Germany so much richer than we were. Do you remember the three-day week and the power cuts? I do – and the candles and one paraffin heater in our sitting room in suburban London in 1973.

The ‘conduit pipe’ also brought us our EU citizenship rights, the loss of which are the cause of my bereavement. How will I recover the damages?

Here are some “vivid illustrations of the variety of ways in which individual and group interests will be profoundly affected by implementation of the decision to leave the EU. Ms Mountfield for example provides a detailed breakdown of “fundamental” and “non-replicable” EU citizenship rights. The list starts with the “fundamental status” of EU citizenship (Citizens’ Directive 2004/38/EC preamble), leading to more specific rights, such as the right to move, reside, work and study throughout the member states, the right to vote in European elections, the rights to diplomatic protection and the right to equal pay, and to non-discriminatory healthcare free at the point of use. She categorises the government’s case as an assertion of -“untrammelled prerogative power to do away with the entire corpus of European law rights currently enjoyed under UK law, and render a whole suite of constitutional statutes meaningless, without any Parliamentary authority in the form of a statute.”[7]

Lord Neuberger didn’t agree with ‘untrammelled’, so let’s hope he’s right and that parliament gives the White Paper a good trammelling, but after the vote – excepted the lonely voices of Ken Clarke and Caroline Lucas and Nick Clegg – are we to surmise that our elected representatives are lemmings hurtling off their trolleys to the cliff edge?

I am losing my European citizenship, losing some of the fundamental freedoms that have enriched my life for the past 45 years. We should stop this nonsense.

“All persons more than a mile high must leave the court”.

[1] European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

[2] The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union. Presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister by Command of Her Majesty, February 2017

[3] Speech to Conservative Group for Europe (1) Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 314/75 (2) ITN Archive: News At Ten, 16 April 1975)


[5] JUDGMENT R (on the application of Miller and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Appellant)

[6] Ibid. paragraph 65

[7] Ibid. paragraph 269.