Letter:Freedom myth takes liberties

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The Independent Online
From Mr William Wallace Sir: Charles Moore's contribution to "Another View" (8 February) is useful for the clarity with which it spells out the myths of English exceptionalism which the Euro-sceptics propound, and the direct link between debates over constitutional reform and European integration. The editor of the Sunday Telegraph sees Britain's "strong, continuous, free institutions, especially parliamentary government" as the heart of what separates Britain from the (less free, less democratic) continent.

The sovereignty of Parliament - allegedly derived from the ancient traditions of the Saxon Witan before the Normans invaded from France - was the myth which Protestant parliamentarians developed in their struggle with the Stuarts. Unionists embellished it in the 19th-century struggle to deny the Catholic Irish the right to home rule; refugees from authoritarian regimes on the continent in the 1930s adopted the myth with the country to which they had fled. It was, the Catholic Mr Moore should admit, an intrinsically anti-Catholic myth: Protestantism and Unionism went together.

In reality, the British parliament is now among the least effective and democratic European legislatures, riddled with corruption and dominated by executive patronage. The "free institutions" of local government have been deliberately undermined. The British legal system lacks constitutional guarantees for individual liberties.

The defence of parliamentary sovereignty serves to protect the dominant position of an unrepresentative elite in south-east England. It has nothing to do with Britain's national interests, or with the promotion of the genuinely "free institutions" which Britain currently lacks.

Yours sincerely, William Wallace European Studies Centre St Anthony's College Oxford 9 February