17 Feb 2018

Peter Hitchens: The UK is an 'atrophied' nation

From Saturday Morning, 11:05 am on 17 February 2018

Peter Hitchens is a British journalist and author and has written extensively on politics and social conservatism.

He has long been an advocate for the UK leaving the European Union but believes the current path of Brexit will leave Britain half in and half out "after a lot of shouting".

His preferred option is the Norwegian model.

Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens Photo: NIGELLUCKHURST / Wikimedia Commons

"Norway is outside the European Union and outside the Customs Union so you aren't governed, in most cases, by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.

"You are inside the European Economic Area and the single market and therefore a lot of trading is made much easier  you aren't a third country."

Hitchens started as a journalist with The Daily Express. He graduated to foreign correspondent and reported events such as the US military intervention in Somalia, the final months of the Soviet Union and last few days of racial segregation in South Africa in the early 90s.

From being a member of the Trotskyist International Socialist Organisation in the 1960s and 70s, Hitchens, brother of the famous late writer Christopher Hitchens, is now an arch-conservative, and columnist for the Mail on Sunday.

He feels the UK's sovereign muscle has "atrophied" since gradually becoming more integrated into the EU.

"Britain has become a semi-nation while it's been a member of the EU.

"I think for most EU members it is limited nationhood - the semblance of nationhood, without the reality."

He believes the shock to Britain following the Suez crisis, when it realised it no longer was a major international power, led it to move towards the emerging EU as a way of maintaining its place in the world.

"Britain was looking around for some other way of asserting itself, quite a lot of people, particularly in the Conservative Party thought it would be a good way of doing it, and I think they were mistaken."

Britain's history makes it unsuitable for the kind of limited sovereignty he believes it’s had under the EU.

"The UK is exceptional in many ways: it hasn't been invaded since 1066, it has common law instead of a civil code, it is wholly differently governed and has a completely different history; largely due to the fact it is surrounded by deep salt water.

"Should it under those sorts of circumstances conform to a system of government devised for different sorts of countries? I think probably not."

He believes Britain is undergoing a "slow-motion constitutional crisis."

"We have this incessant clash between the will of the people as expressed by the referendum, and the will of the people expressed in the general election.

"We have political parties, neither of which fundamentally are in favour of leaving the EU, both of them obliged by constitutional duty to support measures that will take us out of it … it's a mess."

Nevertheless he believes the Brexit referendum should be honoured.

"Democracy ceases to exist, it unwinds, unravels and turns into a heap of ashes if anyone involved says we're not going to abide by the result of the majority vote."

He believes most voted in ignorance of what the European Union actually is.

"Most people in Britain don't understand the European issue, and never have."

Hitchens believes it will be a difficult journey back to full sovereignty if the UK goes down the Norwegian route, since Britain has lost much of the industrial manufacturing base which would enable it to reestablish itself as a global trading nation.

Although conservative, he is no fan of the Conservative Party and is quietly enjoying its current disarray.

"That's one of the great compensations. I hate the Tory Party more than you can possibly imagine, because I am a conservative and the Tory Party is the principle obstacle to conservatism in Britain."

He also believes Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is wise to take an ambivalent position on Brexit. He says Corbyn is in the Bennite tradition of Euroscepticism  - an "honorable tradition" on the left.

"He [Corbyn] believes if he wants to pursue seriously left-wing policies in this country he can't do so if he doesn't have social sovereignty over our government, and parliament doesn't rule.

"A lot of the legislation that goes through the British parliament now is disguised as acts of parliament, but is in fact European Commission directives dressed up as acts of parliament which as EU members we are obliged to pass."

Hitchens dislikes anti-EU party UKIP which he says is wedded to a kind of "nostalgic flag waving."

"I never liked UKIP I thought it was a Thatcherite party in exile. I didn't like its leader Nigel Farage who is more a libertarian than a Conservative."

Symbolism is irrelevant, Hitchens says.

"The real facts of sovereignty are to make your own laws, to enforce your own borders, to run your own economy and have your own armed forces that you yourself control.

"These are the facts of sovereignty and these are the things which we've been throwing away - and I would like them restored."