Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016


So it's Referendum time again, and the national discussion has already started, and manifested itself  amongst friends at church and in the Oxford Union.

First thing's first - I do not believe in referenda. To say an electorate can make a more or less irrevocable decision on a particular day and enforce that on succeeding generations is very undemocratic. Such constitutional referenda are very different from the direct democracy of Swiss confederal or cantonal votes or Californians propositions. The logic of the binding referendum could extend to saying " Well you elected a Parliament once - why should you change it every five years? " Sorry, we know the line about many newer nations and "Free elections - once ", and referenda are somewhat in that category. Furthermore they are open to manipulation and also to people voting not on the issue on the ballot paper but on something related or possibly vaguely influencing them. by implication there is not going to be a re-run. Yes, I know this one is in a way, but there have been no re-runs of the referenda which abolished the Italian monarchy in 1946 ( and widely recognised as highly dubious to say the very least) or the Greek monarchy in 1974 ( and strictly against the provision sof the 1952 Constitution)

I have always tended to be somewhat Eurosceptic, and certainly sceptical as to the way the EEC and EU were and are run, and I was very much against Eurofederalism. I recall the line of a friend who now works as an advisor in Downing Street to those he suspected to be unsound on such points, "Are you a Eurofederast?", in the Oxford Union in the late 1990s.

That all said I appreciate the vision, based on a common heritage and the notion of Christendom, or even of the post-1815 Congress system of Europe acting in concert.

That and the state of the world today inclines me to vote to remain within the EU. 

In some ways the situation is similar to that of the high medieval church - if the Euro was its Unam Sanctam, then was the Euro crisis its Anagni?  ( I assume all readers appreciate those references...)

The Prime Minister does look to have failed to get very much in his negotiations that makes a significant change, and thos eof his Cabinet who say they back his line but without enthusiasm for the EU are, I suspect, about right.

We hear talk of possible new domestic legislation on sovereignty, but that pass was sold in the 1972 Act of Accession; it may well be too late now to do anything about that on an individual basis within the EU

There seems to me to have been a serious and continuing failure to build up alliances within the EU and to have worked for an evolving process of reform and decentralisation. Being the Awkward Man of Europe has not helped the UK's image, and failing to respond as positively as we should have done to the post-1989 situation in central Europe was a major mistake. We should have played a founding part in the process, not, as Churchill and Eden seem to have thought, telling Europe to unite as though the landmass twenty miles from Dover had nothing to do with us. Fog in the Channel does not cut Europe off.

Some European commentators see what is being offered as bad if the EU then get others doing the same, and worse if it leads to a break-up, initiated by a Brexit.

So my instinct is to stay - not least because it is a cold world out there, and we should huddle with our friends. There is also the crucial question regarding Scotland, and the threat of the ris eof seperatism there if they vote to remain and the English vote to leave and take the rest of the UK out of the EU. That is, of course, the fault of having the 2014 Scottish referendum.

Those who urge one to vote Leave need to show what positive alternative they can offer that is not merely a romantic return to the 1950s and the remains of Imperial Preference or that will make us too close to Uncle Sam.

The whole thing makes the political future uncertain in many ways whatever result. Could this do for the Conservatives what Tarriff Reform did in 1903-5?And a final thought harking back once again to the 1950s - is this going to be David Cameron's Suez?

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