Brexit and Beacons

ECHR signatories
Signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights

Hmm… Just a quick one, this.

I heard Lord Lawson of Blaby last night, speaking on the ‘Outcome of the European Union Referendum’. I was very struck by the similarity of the language he used to language used by David Maxwell-Fyfe at the time of the genesis of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950. (David Maxwell-Fyfe was the U.K.’s Deputy Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, and a key negotiator in the Council of Europe after the Second World War, and spoke for the U.K. at the signing ceremony). I wondered whether Lord Lawson was aware of the similarity of language and was deliberately evoking it; but what struck me equally forcefully was how the contexts were almost polar opposites.

So, here is the text of David Maxwell-Fyfe’s famous speech, with the bit about being a beacon in bold:

The Council of Europe has taken a definite step to carry out its aims by drawing up “the rules of the Club”. It has laid down the minimum standards of human dignity and freedom compatible with membership. In some countries which have been fortunate enough not to lose individual human rights the matter may seem of small importance, but as the majority of our members have seen literally all human rights disappear in their own lands during the last ten years, the importance for them is obvious.

It will be observed that we have chosen simple rights. Indeed, it is a bitter commentary on the twentieth century that almost all of them would have been taken for granted in almost every country in 1900.

Anyone who has had to study the onset of totalitarians would agree that there is a tide in the affairs of states which, taken at the flood, sweeps on its people and leaves them high and dry on the rocks of tyranny. Nevertheless, there is always a moment when the guiding lights of democracy and reason, though burning low, are not extinguished. The problem is how these lights can be tended in time. We believe that an impartial and objective examination by an international body of the alleged infringements of a generally accepted code of individual freedoms would illuminate the dangers for all good democrats to see. We believe, further, that when the truth of the situation is seen, a stand against the encroachments of tyranny would be made.

Some may say that it is of doubtful value that the democratic nations should reinforce individual liberty among themselves and leave the totalitarian states untouched. We do not accept this pessimistic view. We consider that our light will be a beacon to those at the moment in totalitarian darkness and will give them a hope of return to freedom. Further, the Convention need not only be a test of membership, if it is adopted, but also a passport of return to our midst.

And here is Lord Lawson of Blaby, speaking yesterday (again the bit about being a beacon is in bold):

The result of the referendum was a tribute to the courage of the British people. Project Fear may have been successful in reducing the size of the Brexit majority but most of our fellow citizens declined to be cowed. The next Government and the next Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be, will have a historic opportunity to make the United Kingdom the most dynamic and freest country in the whole of Europe—in a word, to finish the job that Margaret Thatcher started—and to become a beacon to our European friends, currently embroiled in a failed and doomed experiment.

Erm, I think only one of those two recognised a high point of British influence in Europe… Still, the beacon that was lit in Europe is still alight today…


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