Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Reforming the EU: Denning-Canute Syndrome

It seems increasingly fashionable for well meaning members of the political class to speak of reforming the European Union. There are a couple of examples here (Andrea Leadsom MP) and here (George Freeman MP). In marked contrast to those who have nailed their colours to the Better Off Out mast, the reformers appear to back an older Conservative mantra, namely “In Europe But Not Run By Europe”.

This leads me to the eminent English judge Lord Denning, whose 38 year career on the bench was noted above all for his 20 years as Master of the Rolls (in common parlance, head of the Court of Appeal). European law first caught his attention in 1974 in Bulmer v Bollinger, a case about the legitimacy of the “Champagne Perry” label. He noted: -

“But when we come to matters with a European element, the treaty is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back. Parliament has decreed that the treaty is henceforward to be part of our law. It is equal in force to any statute…”

Interestingly, this sentence in the judgment was preceded by four of equal note: -

“The first and fundamental point is that the Treaty concerns only those matters which have a European element, that is to say, matters which affect people or property in the nine countries of the Common Market besides ourselves. The Treaty does not touch any of the matters which concern solely the mainland of England and the people in it. These are still governed by English law. They are not affected by the Treaty.”

Well, that might have been the position in 1974, when the public at large could hardly have foreseen where the UK’s decision to join the then six strong European Economic Community might lead. So let's head onward to 1990. In a preface to a Bruges Group publication, with 16 more years’ worth of EEC/EC membership served, Denning went further: -

“No longer is European law an incoming tide flowing up the estuaries of England. It is now like a tidal wave bringing down our sea walls and flowing inland over our fields and houses - to the dismay of all."

Great wisdom and perception for a 91 year old. Here and now, had he still been alive at the age of 113, he might have said: -

“To describe EU law today as a tidal wave inundating the UK would be wrong. It would be a gross understatement. The tidal wave has been supplanted by a burning oil slick. It destroys everything it touches. It engulfs our majestic rivers and unleashes toxic smoke across our green fields. And it feeds upon itself thanks to the malign efforts of the pyromaniacs of Brussels.”

So are the aspiring luminaries of our political class sending for a modern day Red Adair? Well, no. They appear to be ostentatiously placing their thrones on the shore and commanding the fiery waves to advance no further. I am going to coin a description for this, namely “Denning-Canute syndrome”.

We can only hope that before it is too late, Adair’s successor is called upon by the UK to put out the fire, and that works are then set in hand with all due alacrity to erect an impenetrable flood barrier and then drain and reclaim the inundated land.

Better Off Out.

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