Amazing irony in latter-day British surrender to Europe – Business Day, 14 July 2014

THREE weeks from Monday is the 100th anniversary of the declaration of war against Germany by the UK. A little more than seven weeks from Monday is the 75th anniversary of the UK’s declaration of war against Germany.

THREE weeks from Monday is the 100th anniversary of the declaration of war against Germany by the UK. A little more than seven weeks from Monday is the 75th anniversary of the UK’s declaration of war against Germany.

The UK’s entry into both world wars was to prevent German domination of Europe, whether under Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler.

Resisting European domination has been a key theme of British history since the last unwelcome invader, William the Conqueror, in 1066.

Yet, having sacrificed lives, treasure, and its empire to remain a sovereign democratic nation-state independent of European control, the UK has in the past 41 years surrendered sovereignty step by step to an alien, undemocratic and unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels dominated by its former enemies, the Germans and the French.

Two years ago, The Spectator, one of the few British publications politically incorrect enough to warn against the threat Europe represents to British democracy, reported that Prime Minister David Cameron found that 25% of his workload involved enacting diktats from Brussels. In the face of possible losses to the UK Independence Party (Ukip) in the next general election, Cameron is now trying to reclaim some of the powers surrendered to Brussels.

This is a truly amazing state of affairs — that a country whose navy once ruled the seas now has to beg other countries to get back some of its own sovereignty. As the new European boss, Jean-Claude Juncker, said last week, Westminster could have some of its powers back "if the others agree". Even more bizarre is that both major parties, never mind the ineffably pro-Europe Liberal Democrats, have acquiesced in the incremental surrender of the UK’s sovereignty.

Not even Margaret Thatcher was able to stop the relentless thrust towards more power for Brussels. At least Gordon Brown was able to keep the UK out of the euro.

The key word in the erosion of democracy is "incremental". Those bent on creating a European super-state have always been shrewd enough to recognise that explicit acknowledgement of their agenda risked provoking a reaction hostile enough to derail it.

For the UK, what has occurred is tragic. The British established one of the finest systems of government in the world, with even the monarch being subordinate to parliament, as Edward VIII knew when he was forced to abdicate in 1936.

Regular elections in multiparty systems are only one aspect of democracy. Other vital aspects are the protection of rights by independent courts, and a free press able to expose abuse of power and serve as a vehicle for public debate.

No less important, however, is perpetual accountability of the executive to a vigilant legislature. This includes mechanisms such as prime minister’s weekly question time, but also the power to overthrow the executive by simple majority vote at a moment’s notice. This accountability of the executive to parliament is what makes the British constitution superior to that of the US, where the separation of powers has mutated into frequent stalemate between Congress and the White House.

But at least the US government is not subordinate to an unaccountable bureaucracy somewhere else. If fear of losing an election now forces Cameron’s Conservative Party to start repossessing powers from Europe, Ukip will have done democracy a great service.

• Kane-Berman is a consultant at the South African Institute of Race Relations.

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