Putting the ‘Con’ into ‘Take Back Control’.

Two of the memes that were the icing on the ‘Leave’ campaign’s layer-cake were ‘… the erosion of our sovereignty’ and ‘Take Back Control’. These two hooks were swallowed by leave voters without raising an eyebrow. Few asked ‘What is the sovereignty that is being eroded?’ or ‘What control did we want to restore?’

These ideas, foisted on the UK by Europhobes, were obviously related but few sought to scratch below the veneer of the Pandora’s Box. Their biased audience was no longer listening to experts; cautionary advice was labelled ‘Project Fear’ and they waited with eager anticipation for the ‘hook’ that was by now hard-wired into their political infrastructure. The slogans did their job in realizing the marginal majority that Europhobia achieved. So, now, if this regrettable dis-juncture is implemented, isn’t it time we knew what ‘sovereignty’ is and what ‘control’ entails?

Sovereignty – A Lesson from History

State sovereignty has four aspects; territory, population, recognition and authority [1]. Historically, this was ‘Westphalian sovereignty’ and it was based on the 1648 treaty which ended the bloody Thirty Years War, a conflict in which approximately one tenth of the participants population was slaughtered (8 million); true decimation. This system of sovereignty encompasses; the right of a territory to govern itself in terms of its laws, movement of people across territorial borders, recognition by and non-interference from other states, supremacy over any other authority (e.g. religious).


With globalization, this type of sovereignty became unsustainable and antagonistic to international growth. In 1998 NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said that “… humanity and democracy [were] two principles essentially irrelevant to the original Westphalian order …” and “… the principle of sovereignty it relied on also produced the basis for rivalry, not community of states; exclusion, not integration.” The period of history from 1648 to the present bears the most poignant witness to this truth. The borders that were imposed by international treaties became the gory blood-soaked battlegrounds of nationalism; treated as barriers to imperialist ambitions rather than limits of reasonable internationalism. The principle of national sovereignty was being progressively challenged by technology and by the ever-closer integration of international trade, travel, scientific cooperation, education and aid to developing countries. Globalization cannot be contained by protectionism any more than the WW2 cigarette black market. The growing tide of international liberalism witnessed a wave of commitment to global unity.

A signature event marking this, was when the 18-year-old Mathias Rust, with 50 hours flying experience, on 28 May 1987, flew a light aircraft from Helsinki to Moscow, landing on Vasilevsky Descent next to Red Square near the Kremlin. The details of this symbolic ‘invasion’ make fascinating reading [2]. Where a light aircraft could go, a microlight could follow. The unassailable Soviet border had sprung a leak. In the future, a flock of autonomous AI controlled drones will be even harder to detect [3]. Carbon dioxide and methane never knew borders; nor will the internet. All borders are now porous and policing our societies requires cooperation and integration for global security and defence. In ‘Westphalian’ terms, to paraphrase the philosopher. “Sovereignty is dead. We have killed sovereignty”. The ghost, the spectre of sovereignty haunts and dances on the graves of its victims [4]. In its place, we must look to more sophisticated models to govern this planet. Not being at all overdramatic, we can with the bard say:

“Already Terra Firma trembles from belligerence
Lest we quell, our passions will engender our deliverance.”

‘Take Back Control’ – The Carpetbaggers’ Charter

To abandon the idea of independent sovereignty in favour of globalism does not rule out local control of laws, territory, migration and authority. So, what does ‘Take Back Control’ mean to those who spouted it with hypnotic frequency. Its primary purpose was as propaganda, fitting whatever sub-text was suitable. Fishing quotas, farming subsidies, immigration, trade, defence, growth, self-determination; all these were salt on the wounds that Europhobes blamed on EU membership.

The mechanisms of local control (both regional and national) within a supranational polity are dealt with in numerous textbooks, articles, discussion forums etc. and do not concern us here. What is important is to what extent has the ad hoc UK administration made good on its promise and passed control from the supranational EU to the electorate? That is what the referendum was supposed to be about, that is what the slogan promised, that is what the slim majority has failed to deliver.

Why? Because Boris Johnson NEVER meant the populist voter to have ANY measure of control. Because Theresa May’s promise to include workers on company boards was swiftly abandoned. Because intrinsically populist issues were summarily dismissed with autocratic decisions (a third runway at Heathrow [5] and environmentally unsafe fracking [6]). Because, the day after the referendum, Johnson quoted Cameron as saying there was “… no need to invoke Article 50.” [7] Because the Government subsequently tried to use the Royal Prerogative to invoke Article 50 and have challenged the High Court decision to require a Parliamentary vote. Because ‘Take Back Control’ always had an unstated spectral clause; ‘… Give Control to Us’. Not a subordinate clause … more a ‘subordination’ clause.

The blood-letting in the aftermath of the result was Shakespearian. The spectre of democracy departed as Lady Macbeth turned, facing the audience with the bloody dagger aloft.  The theme was a meme which was a con trick; the dialogue was doublespeak. ‘Take Back Control’ fooled enough people to do the job required of it. The slim majority is being used to justify the enforcement of Westphalian sovereignty to the satisfaction of Farage, Trump [8] and Putin.

EU 2 – The Sequel

Europe’s liberal tide of the past seven decades is still rising and the current wave of nationalism will not wash away the political ideals and structures created. The EU is not built of sand!

[1] Sovereignty
[2] Mathias Rust
[3] Reportedly deployed from a US B52 on 20th January 2017 to ‘execute’ 100 IS militants in a training camp near Idlib in Syria.
[4] Deaths before 1648 can also be attributed to the ambitions of countries and organisations that were the equivalent of sovereign states; and to empires. Estimates of deaths in world conflicts vary from 350 million to 765 million.
[5] Heathrow – Expansion of Heathrow and Third runway at Heathrow
[6] Fracking – Video in online Independent 6-10-2016 and BBC – Fracking in Lancashire
[7] Boris Johnson’s post-referendum speech – video in online Independent 24-06-2016.
[8] Donald Trump’s inauguration speech – “…we are transferring power from Washington DC, and giving it back to you, the people.” … “20 January 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

Stephen DuBois
Europa United contributor

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