‘There can be no more reluctant Brexiteer than me’

Lord Phillips of Sudbury says the Brexit debate has become overwhelmed with economic arguments Pict

Lord Phillips of Sudbury says the Brexit debate has become overwhelmed with economic arguments Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who stood for the Liberal Democrats in the 1979 European Elections, enters the Brexit debate.

When I fought the first European Elections in 1979 for the Liberal Democrats I never imagined that we would be where we are today although I did highlight the democratic deficit which was obvious even then.

Sadly the EU has, year by year, become more and more bureaucratic, complex, corrupt and dominated by large corporations (they are reckoned to deploy around 15,000 EU lobbyists to get their way!).

That deficit has in truth become unremediable. There can be no more reluctant Brexiteer than me.

In truth the public is in utter confusion in relation to the stay/leave decision, which is far and away the most complex this country has ever had to face. We have not been helped by so many media commentators, particularly from the metropolis, slagging off Parliament.

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My sense is that, at last, MPs are having the guts to break free of the party servitude that has so long undermined democracy. Years go by with not a single vote (amongst literally thousands) being lost by the Government of the day. You cannot protect freedom by surrendering your own.

Given that we are legislating at the rate of around 20,000 pages a year, of which a big chunk derives from Europe, it is no wonder that most citizens have given up trying to keep track or that the law enforcement capability is scandalously far below the need generated by those tidal waves.

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We thus live in the worst of all worlds, where we legislate prodigiously but then don’t implement much of it. As for helping citizens feel part of the process, forget it!

Perhaps the major strategic failing which we need to address, even at this stage, is the extent to which the debate is overwhelmed by economic considerations.

Of course, they are vital but not at the expense of the social, cultural, relational and communal aspects of life. Economics should be the servant of a country, not its master, especially when, as now, we are ever more ruled by huge, often global, corporations which display little in the way of moral values, claiming that they are only obliged to obey the law, which many then studiously evade.

All this has led to dispiriting outcomes, with big corporations, including some large banks for example, engaging in massive frauds all aimed at lining the pockets of their directors and senior executives as well as the shareholders. Few of the latter have any real interest in or loyalty towards the corporations they invest in, or the consequences of what their companies do. Since the companies themselves these days are bought and sold like bargaining chips, it all fuels a rootless, constantly changing, culture.

But most of us know that these trends, especially to amorality, is having devastating effects in the real world. For there is no substitute for effective community life, in which nobody is a nobody, and where everyone ‘belongs’ and where everyone matures and learns through their experiences of living cheek by jowl with neighbours they know.

I grew up in the 40s and 50s when the vast majority of businesses, particularly shops, were locally owned and run. It was not sensible to opt out of civic life because that would impact negatively on one’s business, because people would notice. The arrival of supermarkets, in particular, has turned all that on its head, with their only real interest (P.R. apart) being “all take; no give”.

The de-communalisation of the UK is inevitably accompanied by a frightening decline in self-esteem, local loyalties, civic pride and involvement - in belonging. To all of this must be added the relentless concentration of power in Whitehall and ever more in Brussels/Strasbourg. The pretence that there are economies of scale which justify all this is but another pathetic delusion.

I have so far largely refrained from addressing the social media, which are having such a profound effect here and everywhere particularly vis a vis loneliness. One must endeavour to avoid sinking into nostalgia. But the great amount of research done recently by universities, think tanks and other charities broadly underpins my remarks, albeit that there are also some remarkable pluses to acknowledge.

I close with a quote from a 1990 report put out by the ‘Office for Official Publications of the European Communities’ entitled ‘A Human Face for Europe’- “The soul of Europe cannot be encapsulated in slogans, ideologies or economic theories. It will be judged by its capacity to listen to the most inaudible voice of its underprivileged citizens and provide generously for them”. Plus ca change. Do I need say more?

If we do leave the EU we must strive to maximise continuing links, both formal and cultural/sentimental. It will, of course, mean a different, less legalistic, relationship but must be founded on mutual goodwill.

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