The other day the editors of the New York Times took it upon themselves to lecture Britain about its obligations to Europe. Their view, unsurprisingly, is that Britain should stay in the EU. They do not, shall we say, have an inordinate amount of respect for those on the opposite side of the issue. They characterize past opposition by British voters to EU membership as “periodic spasms of parochialism,” attribute anti-EU sentiments in the United Kingdom to a “half-baked longing for the simpler days when the British ruled an empire and had less need for European trade,” and sneer about “the seductive simplicities of the euro-bashers who claim that Britain can ignore Europe and thrive on its own.”
While insisting that EU membership is vital for Britain, however, the Times editors are short on arguments for their position. While they do include a pro forma acknowledgement of the EU's “shortcomings,” they don't even try to explain why these “shortcomings” (some might use a much stronger word) aren't enough of a reason for the U.K. to quit the EU. And while they conclude that “Britain needs the European Union as much as it needs Britain” (a widely voiced sentiment these days: on November 18, Radoslaw Sikorski wrote in the Guardian that “Europe needs the UK, as the UK needs Europe”), the Times editors really only make the case for the second half of their claim, pointing out that the U.K. has served such useful functions as “pushing the bloc toward freer trade and away from political federalism.”
Nowhere in the editorial is there so much as a hint of respect for the democratic right of U.K. citizens to cancel their country's membership in a supernational entity that has largely taken over the kingdom's sovereignty and robbed them, as voters, of their ability to shape its destiny. Nor, for all their insistence that being in the EU is crucial to British financial health, do the Times editors reckon with the fact that the two largest Western European countries to have stayed out of the EU, Norway and Switzerland, today enjoy what may be the strongest economies in the region.
The Times, of course, isn't alone in ridiculing those in the U.K. who oppose the EU and who support withdrawal therefrom. A writer in the Scotsman (in an article that, incidentally, provides a fascinating window on current thinking of the Scottish left) recently mocked British Euroskeptics as “petty, dogmatic and insular nationalists” – as “'little Britainers' and 'little Englanders' who imagine a fantasyland UK pulling out of Europe and relocating itself into the mid-Atlantic as a tax-cutting, deregulating, free-marketeer country.” A self-admitted “Euro-fanatic 'wet'” (whatever that means), writing in the Independent on October 31, derided the “flag waving myths” of British EU adversaries. And earlier this month, Conservative MP Ken Clarke, apparently suffering from some crippling delusionary disorder, said on the BBC that those of his countrymen who opposed the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which created the EU, “should die of shame of the warnings they gave.”
This widespread contempt for supporters of British sovereignty is unpleasant enough in theory, but just get a load of it in practice. Last Friday's Telegraph brought news of an outrageous act that altered the lives of a middle-aged couple in South Yorkshire. “The husband,” according to the Telegraph, “was a Royal Navy reservist for more than 30 years and works with disabled people, while his wife is a qualified nursery nurse.” For nearly seven years, to their extraordinary credit, they have been active foster parents, over the years taking care of about a dozen children in all. In September, the couple agreed on very short notice to take in three children, “a baby girl, a boy and an older girl, who were all from an ethnic minority and a troubled family background.” The arrangement worked out very well: “the baby put on weight and the older girl even began calling them 'mum and dad.'”
But then something happened – something disgusting. “Just under eight weeks” after the children moved in, the foster parents received an unexpected visit from “the children’s social worker at the Labour-run council and an official from their fostering agency.” These two bureaucrats told them “that the local safeguarding children team had received an anonymous tip-off that they were members of Ukip,” and that the children would therefore be removed from their home forthwith.
What is Ukip? Usually written UKIP, it's short for UK Independence Party, which, to cite its own website, is a “democratic, libertarian” party that “was founded in 1993 to campaign for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Not because we hate Europe, or foreigners, or anyone at all; but because it is undemocratic, expensive, bossy – and we still haven’t been asked whether we want to be in it.” The UKIP's site further notes that “the EU is only the biggest symptom of the real problem – the theft of our democracy by a powerful, remote political ‘elite’ which has forgotten that it’s here to serve the people.” Now considered a mainstream party, the UKIP has twelve seats in the European Parliament and three in the House of Lords and enjoys the support of as much as nine percent of the British population. In addition to opposing EU membership, it is critical of multiculturalism and supports a range of sensible-sounding immigration reforms. In short, it's a good thing.
When the Yorkshire wife asked what her and her husband's membership in the UKIP had to do with their role as foster parents, one of their two visitors said, “Well, Ukip have got racist policies.” The social worker added that “Ukip does not like European people and wants them all out of the country to be returned to their own countries.” The wife protested that this wasn't true, that she had “mixed race” people in her own family, and that if she and her husband were racists, why in heaven would they want to foster three “mixed race” children? But the visitors were unmoved: “We would not have placed these children with you had we known you were members of Ukip,” declared the social worker, “because it wouldn’t have been the right cultural match.”
The good news here is that the appalling behavior by the social worker and her colleague has not gone unnoticed or uncriticized – although neither of them, apparently, has been officially reprimanded and nobody in authority has actually taken any action to undo the damage. Nigel Farage, head of the UKIP, called the removal of the children from the offending couple's home “political prejudice of the very worst kind.” A former children’s minister expressed “concern.” A spokesperson for the British Association of Social Workers made a comment that I, for one, found utterly baffling (“My first question would be, does the local council have a clear equality policy so you can understand a bit more about the decision-making? Otherwise it’s very difficult to fathom”). And the local council that was responsible for the whole mess issued an empty statement declaring that it had acted after “careful consideration” and was “keep[ing] the situation under review.”
The only surprising thing about the story, however, is just how unsurprising it really is in this day and age. Those of us who follow developments in Britain know that this kind of rigid enforcement of multicultural and PC orthodoxy – and inflexible punishment at every level of the “wrong” views – is the new normal in what was once the land of Magna Carta and Winston Churchill and is now the third largest province (Airstrip One?) in the democracy-challenged empire ruled from Brussels. The irony in all this is that the ugly, illiberal, and systematic belittling and bullying of those who reject Britain's membership in the EU has itself developed into one of the strongest arguments for the proud reassertion of the independence of a free Britain from an increasingly lockstep and autocratic Europe.
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