Brexit debate: the EU referendum is a battle for Britain’s soul

The Brexit debate is not about arguments or statistics, but something more visceral: our destiny as an island people (PA)

The remain camp has been busy in the last week of the EU referendum campaign issuing threats of “emergency Brexit budgets”, moving the debate from Project Fear to Project Armageddon.

Former prime ministers have also been evoking the memories of the war and why, above all, the main reason for staying in the EU is that the European project has “kept the peace” in Europe. Gordon Brown and the Archbishop of Canterbury have waded in with their own reasons why voting for a collective EU superstate is the best way to keep the peace in Europe.

These arguments for staying in the EU are phoney, out of date and wholly misunderstand that the only reason my home town of Bridgnorth in Shropshire did not become the Nazi headquarters of England in 1940 (as documents have shown was Hitler’s intention) is because the British people were fighting for freedom, democracy and the right to rule themselves as a self-governing nation.

The “heart of the matter” of the referendum debate is whether we want to live in a democratic sovereign kingdom or an unelected EU superstate. To understand why the media have misrepresented this key determining issue, it’s worth recalling a New York Herald Tribune article written by their London correspondent in 1940 when the British people were under direct threat from German invasion and the Blitz.

The subject was the military watch over the cliffs at Dover Beach in 1940, just months after the Battle of Britain – little different from Harold’s soldiers keeping watch in 1066 after marching from Stanford Bridge.

The writer, Walter Millis, said that the “invasion” issue was not a military problem as such but rather an issue of national identity and belief: “in what men believe in, in how much they will stand, in whether they are overcome by the essential blankness of the external world or whether they are resolved to overcome it, to wield their Bren guns not as the instruments of a shrinking defence but as the weapons with which they will shape their world to what they believe to be worth while. Such matters unavoidably escape the military expert. They are the larger part of what wins wars.”

Substitute the words “military expert” for “media pundit” and you have the reason why the Brexiteers have the advantage on June 23 despite the government’s heavy guns and propaganda artillery.

Nobody is interested in the arguments any more. We are tired of the exaggerated claims, lies and fear mongering on both sides. This is now a Gradgrind-style entente not about winning over minds with facts or propaganda but a battle for the very soul of Britain – indeed, what is is to be British and what sort of country we want to live in for the next 50 years. In so many ways it is now an aesthetic and moral choice about our destiny – rather than a debate over trite economics.

The Brexiteers may not have the propaganda arsenal and heavy artillery but the side of English history is on their side in that none of the great battles that has divided this nation in our last 1,000 years have been won by argument.

When you look back on the landmark events of the last 1,000 years which have divided our country into rival camps as is now happening – the Wars of the Roses; the Reformation; the English Civil War; the Reform Act of 1832; the General Strike of 1926; the Abdication; Suez; the 1975 referendum (although sovereignty was not really at stake then) – none of these were decided by argument or statistics, rather by something more visceral, tied into our sense of national spiritual identity and our destiny as an island people.

The bulk of remainers are urbanites. The leave camp is better organised on the ground and has better village networks and better grass-roots support. The attack by George Osborne on Green Belt land – 50,000 houses just approved in Green Belt land outside Birmingham – is an aesthetic assault on our very identity.

This is not just a vote about the freedom to pass our own laws, have our own sovereign government and parliament, etc. Just as in World War II it was about fighting to save the idea of England (countryside, arcadian villages. etc), that “Other Eden” under threat by mass housing that is only being built to satisfy the needs of mass immigration.

The media have been engaging in a ping-pong match between the two sides rather than asking what the issues are that will really decide for voters – and the true historical context. In the last week, Brexiteers need to turn the debate into a battle to save the beauty and soul of Britain – and forget about engaging in a school debating-style contest with the remain camp.

Thanks to 24-hour rolling new coverage, social media and the internet, people are now turned people off the trading of insults on each side. Nobody knows what facts are true. This is a vote that will be decided on visceral, emotive and non-rational grounds – just as other great milestones of British history were decided – not by Project Fear or a Gradgrind obsession with facts.

Two weeks ago, I publicly debated Brexit with remain camp Defence Minister Philip Dunne MP in St Mary’s church in Bridgnorth. The church is next to the ruins of Bridgnorth Castle which was destroyed by the parliamentarian forces in 1646 in the Battle of Bridgnorth. Shortly before this Civil War battle, King Charles I stood at the walls of the castle, looked out around him across the River Severn below and declared: “This is the finest view in my kingdom.”

Back in the 17th century, this country was indeed a kingdom. Now it is not so much “my kingdom” but “our kingdom”. Our sovereign kingdom: a self-determined nation whose elected House of Commons is the Mother of Parliaments, the democratic bedrock upon which western European civilisation – and American democracy – is based.

It is this democracy and the freedom of being able to create our own laws and remove our elected politicians that has kept the peace in Europe. All attempts to impose “collective” unelected rule in Europe – whether Napoleon or the Austro-Hungarian empire – have ended in implosion and dictatorship.

Only by voting out can we keep Britain a sovereign kingdom. A kingdom that makes its own laws, sets its own taxes, and has a democratic Parliament that we – the people – can dismiss every five years through fair elections. Are you on the side of monarchy versus federalism? Being a democratic sovereign nation rather than a province within the unelected EU superstate?

The choice down to what sort of country do we want to live in: a true independent and great kingdom, brimming with buccaneering businesses that want to trade with the world, or do we want to become a powerless province of an EU superstate that is part socialist political project, part customs union?

For too long the British people have been betrayed by our big business leaders and politicians – the very people who have been elected to best serve the democratic interests of those who elect them. But so often they only serve themselves, their careers and their self-interest.

Not only is June 23 the most important vote in our lifetimes, but it is also our last chance to reclaim our hard-fought democratic birthright before it is handed over to unelected Eurocrats by the very politicians that we elected to serve us in Parliament.

The EU is not so much undemocratic as anti-democratic. The European Commission meets in secret. The EU Parliament is a puppet parliament that cannot even introduce laws on its own. Once a law is enshrined by the EU, it cannot be repealed.

That is because it has no interest in being democratic. The EU simply believes that the idea of national kingdoms is dead and that Europe requires unelected political elites to create a stable European political order.

The EU never has been democratic. It never set out to be. It is a con. It is a con on the people of Europe.

The clearest evidence for this is set out in a 1952 letter sent by Jean Monnet, known as the father of European project. President of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community, he was never once elected to public office. Nobody had heard of Monnet as he worked behind the scenes of American, French and German governments as a latter-day Mandelson-style internationalist.

Europe’s nations should be led towards a superstate, without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.

That is why this vote is so important as this is a debate that boils down to the interests of the Establishment and the ordinary man. Again and again over the last century, whether it was the FBI disastrously supporting the rejoining of Gold Standard in 1926, Appeasement in the 1930s, the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 or wanting to join the euro – the Establishment has been wrong. And it is wrong again today about Britain’s long-term best interests.

This is not a debate about the status quo, or about the state of the Eurozone now – an economic mess with 50 per cent youth unemployment in certain countries and many simply heading here thanks to open borders. This is a debate about what sort of country we want to hand down to future generations.

William Cash is editor-in-chief of Spear’s and a director of the Catholic Herald