That at least is the impression given by David Cameron, triumphantly announcing his deal with the EU ahead of the Referendum on June 23rd. Just to recap, the negotiations have apparently achieved a seven-year restriction on in-work benefits (which Mr Cameron claims will reduce migration from the EU into Britain), permanent exemption from ‘ever-closer’ union with other member states, and what are set out as vital protections for our economy.
Wow! Forgive me for not putting out the bunting, but what about the minor issue of framing our own laws without interference – to put it another way, what about our national sovereignty? Under the Treaty of Lisbon, which forms the constitutional basis of the European Union – agreed to by all member states – EU law takes precedence over national law. Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg in practice acts as final court of appeal for contentious cases, not infrequently overturning the rulings of our own courts.
When you think about it, that really is something. The British legal system deservedly has the reputation of being the best in the world. Do they really think we can’t give proper judgment on our own?
David Cameron has said a lot recently about enforcing ‘British values’, but the truth is, many of the values which these days we (re)define as ‘British’ were first formed not here in the UK, but in Brussels. The campaign for Same Sex Marriage, for example, gained impetus from the introduction of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, setting out the range of rights available to European citizens and which became binding in December 2009. Following the drive to legalise civil partnerships across the EU, the Charter deliberately dropped the reference to men and women, stating:
This inevitably opened up the way under EU law for legal challenge by same sex couples wanting to marry, and without doubt drove the rush to introduce a bill that would bring us into line with European policy – in the process redefining marriage. The rationale was simple: the UK did not want to have its sovereignty so publicly challenged by a ruling that ran counter to UK law, and which it would be powerless to resist.
So Mr Gove was not exaggerating when he said it would be, “hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things they were elected to do, or to use their judgment about the right course of action for the people of this country”. We would do well to heed his warning, “Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the EU’s policies have become a source of instability and insecurity.”
In the UK our Christian heritage has given us a constitution that is the envy of the world. For centuries, our laws and traditions have been explicitly framed with reference to God and, as consequence, down the years, our legal system has been seen as a byword for justice, truth and fairness for all. In marked contrast to continental Europe, it has been our proud boast that for an English man or woman anything and everything is legal, unless expressly prohibited by law. Yet now, with our newly minted values – strongly influenced by the aggressively secular winds of Europe – that famed justice and freedom for all is under threat. Indeed, it appears fast disappearing down the proverbial rabbit hole, because we no longer apparently have the right freely to express our views – even when founded on, or quoting from, the Bible. Instead, and increasingly, we are only permitted to say what accords with secular values sanctioned by legislation.
This is not right. We are a Christian nation, and as a matter of urgency, we need to recover the values, strength, respect for others, and compassion that in the past have made Britain great.
Once again, we call on Mr Cameron to uphold the UK’s Christian heritage, and to protect freedom of speech and belief for all. Without interference.