Singing for a Brexit

Saturday 23rd April 2016


Lord Norman Tebbit, Former Chairman of the Conservative Party and cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government

Back in the 1950s and1960s, I was an airline pilot, living half of my life out of this country, staying in the same hotels, drinking in the same bars as my colleagues and working for similar Western nationalised or monopolistic private sector airlines. We were almost all NATO-trained and we flew similar aircraft. English was the common language of aviation. We shared the same problems which could mostly be solved only by multi-lateral agreement. 

So I became a firm advocate of Britain’s entry into the nascent European Economic Community. However, it was not until I began to spend a lot of time in Brussels, first as a Parliamentary Under Secretary responsible for civil aviation, then Minister for Industry and later as Secretary for State for first Employment and then for Trade and Industry, that I was driven slowly, but remorselessly, to change my mind.

In those days, we were still mostly North European states, but, almost without exception, my colleagues (and certainly the Commissioners) took the continental view that laws exist to define what the citizen is permitted to do, rather than what he or she is not allowed to do, and that when push came to shove, governments, especially the European government, could bend or break the law. 

In short, I realised that Ernest Bevin had been right when, in 1950, he said that Britain was “different in character from other European nations and fundamentally incapable of integration with them.” 

As the European Union referendum campaign has developed, it has become more and more evident that the great difference between the Remain and Brexit camps is between those who have seen the truth which Bevin saw over 60 years ago and those who either deny it or, simply, believe that Magna Carta, and all which has followed it, are an impediment to government.

Of course, there are those who in their guts know Bevin was right, but also know that he no longer has the power of patronage on which their jobs in Government depend. However, the Brexit camp must make the case for getting put before the EU achieves its destiny of becoming a single European state.  Against that, the Remain camp is pretending that, somehow, we can have a special status – neither quite in, nor quite out, rather like a cat caught in the cat flap.

David Cameron told us before his negotiations that if he could not achieve a good enough deal, he would lead us out of the EU, but now he says that it would be madness to leave.  Somewhere there is something odd about that.

Of course, there will be risks and uncertainties in leaving.  But what of the risks of staying as the crisis in the Eurozone worsens?

Amidst all the uncertainties, I take some comfort from finding myself on the same side of men and women of principle: Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Kate Hoey, David Owen, Nigel Lawson, Micky Forsyth and the like, not to mention the irrepressible Boris Johnson. I also take comfort from Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair being on the other side.

The Brexit campaign has not only the best songs, but the best singers, too. 


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