The pro-Brexit alliance in the Conservative party is often characterised as being obsessed with immigration. In reality, their thinking is more complexby David McKay / January 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
What is it that drives the convictions of the European Research Group (ERG), the alliance within the Parliamentary Conservative Party that is so vociferously intent on the UK leaving the EU? In December 2018 Philip Hammond the Chancellor of the Exchequer famously referred to them as ‘extremists,’ thus implying that their views were beyond the acceptable range of opinion within the Party. Yet the ERG world-view has been central to the thinking of prominent British Conservatives for many decades (and possibly many generations).
It would be all too easy to conflate their perspectives with those of the anti-immigrant right as represented by UKIP and their fellow travellers. Yet hostility to immigration is only tangential to an anti-Europe sentiment within the party that can be traced back to at least 1945.
Even as late as the 1990s, when John Major referred to the anti-Maastrict rebels as the ‘bastards,’ immigration was not the dominant concern. It was the Monday Club, founded in 1961 by a grouping of far-right Tories including many MPs, that was opposed to immigration and went so far as to advocate forced repatriation. On Europe, however, its members were split—so much so that until 1980 it decided not to take a position on the subject.
While anti-immigrant sentiment is certainly widespread among ERG adherents, then, I would argue that it is not what really drives their ideological passion. Instead they are driven by three interrelated strands of thinking: a hostility to government and especially supra-national government; a conviction that Britain (essentially England) is inherently superior to other countries; and a distrust of reasoned compromises and bargained solutions and especially those informed by expert opinion. In will abbreviate these as anti-statism, chauvinism and anti-intellectualism.
While hostility to the role of the state is part and parcel of Conservative thinking, the ERG’s critique of government has certain unique characteristics. For although they believe that, as a general principle, the less government the better, they hold a particular contempt for certain forms of government.
Any established authority beyond the nation state is, to them, essentially corrupt and inefficient. People who serve in such organizations as the…