ANDREW ADONIS on our Brexit sovereignty in action, and our moral withdrawal from Europe.
At the weekend, Michael Gove, self-proclaimed champion of freedom worldwide, was asked by Andrew Marr why the Conservative party did not vote to censure Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, in a key European parliament vote, for his government’s anti-Semitism, attacks on minorities and the rule of law.
You have to read Gove’s words twice to appreciate their full significance. ‘You mention anti-Semitism. We need to make sure that our voice is clear and resonant and I don’t believe that individual criticisms of the kind that you’re understandably tempting me to make help us in ensuring that you get both solidarity in the issues that count and the best deal for Britain as we leave the European Union.’
So here, then, is our Brexit sovereignty in action. A nation now afraid to call out the atrocious actions of a far-right regime because we are too worried of offending them as we negotiate our exit deal. Some taking back control this is turning out to be!
In Gove’s view, we need to be ‘clear and resonant’ in tackling anti-Semitism and Orban’s other neo-fascist acts – the dismissal of independent judges, intimidation of media critics, attempting to close down a university set up by a Jew who Orban hates, with each Hungarian election notably less free than the last. But should be clearly and resonantly… silent. Because being actually clear and resonant doesn’t ‘help’. And what it doesn’t help in securing is…. no, not an end of anti-Semitism and authoritarianism, but ‘the best deal as we leave the European Union’.
So it was that Britain’s Conservative MEPs joined the dregs of UKIP, Latvian fascists, the French National front, and the German AfD neo-fascists to vote against a resolution which simply asked the European Council to determine whether there was a ‘risk of serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the European Union is founded’. On the side of democracy were 448 MEPs, including the main centre right and centre left parties of every other EU state, together with Britain’s Labour and Lib Dem MEPs.
Even before we leave the EU, Britain’s foreign policy is becoming corrupted and debased. And this can only get worse until.. when? Praise and partnerships with Salvini, Italy’s new Mussolini?
Rhetoric soon has consequences in blood and treasure. I recently met the defence minister of one of the tiny Baltic states with Putin’s troops massed on his border, desperately worried about whether they may invade at any moment. Absolutely not, I reassured. NATO is solid, and the Article 5 guarantee – an attack on any is an attack on all – would hold. ‘I no longer believe that – not with Trump and Brexit,’ he replied.
After all, our own rhetoric, even when robust because there is absolutely no choice – as after Putin’s chemical weapons attack on Salisbury – has led to little action.
What have we done in deeds to deter Putin and his kleptomaniac associates in the wake of Salisbury? We expelled a few diplomats. But all those vast assets of the Putin entourage in London? Untouched.
Remember those ‘unexplained wealth orders’ (UWOs) which were going to teach Putin’s wealthy allies a lesson by seizing their huge London homes? The sum total of UWOs served against Russians so far is zero.
The head of the agency responsible for UWOs briefed the FT that it was all very legally difficult actually to do anything – even against the Russian deputy prime minister who, wait for it, has a flat worth millions which actually overlooks the Ministry of Defence, just off Whitehall.
We have been here before, in one of the classic disputes of modern Britain and Europe. Remember Churchill’s great argument with Chamberlain over Munich in 1938 – when Chamberlain proclaimed that Czechoslovakia was a ‘far-off country’ and its affairs were ‘between people of whom we know nothing’? That was the country next to Hungary.
The truly shocking truth is that Brexit Britain is withdrawing not only economically but morally from Europe. Even as neo-fascism rises, surely and unmistakably, in large parts of a continent ravaged by ten years of austerity and a Russian bear to the east, Theresa May proclaims neutrality and the appeasement of the Orbans, Salvinis and Putins, when necessary to get through the very act of withdrawing from our continental engagements.
‘Why is it, Sir Winston,’ asked German chancellor Konrad Adenauer rhetorically when awarding the Charlemagne prize to Churchill in Aachen, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1956, ‘that you became the champion of the European ideal? I believe it can be explained from two human qualities that are also the requisite for statesmanship: greatness of thought, depth of feeling.’
Greatness of thought and feeling. Where art thou today?