With little else to do but indulge himself in a display of student politics unflattering in a man aged 74, the Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable took part in an anti-Brexit march in Manchester over the weekend.
“I believe it would be a healthy exercise in democracy to participate in a peaceful, dignified protest on the big issue of the day by marching,” he explained before the event.
“Brexit changes most things, not least the quaint notion that governments always seek to increase the prosperity and opportunities of its citizens. It is vital ministers […] hear thousands of British people demanding an exit from their disastrous Brexit.”
Of course, I welcome Cable’s right to march in favour of any issue, but this was pretty desperate stuff given Britain has already voted democratically to leave the EU, and it does make me wonder what planet this former government minister occupies. Why does he want to remain chained to a continent riddled with troubles?
For the fact is that the EU is in worse shape now than at any point in its history. Indeed, all the evidence shows it is a terribly unhappy, unhealthy and increasingly ungovernable bloc. And it’s only those like Cable with appallingly blinkered vision who cannot see what a wonderful gift Britain has been given by those of us who voted to get out of it.
Take Germany, the dominant force in the EU. It is run by a leader whose dangerous and irresponsible policy of inviting a million migrants from Africa and the Middle East to settle in her country has backfired spectacularly, as last month’s federal election showed.
Not only has Angela Merkel’s autocratic behaviour divided millions of German citizens and perhaps placed the rest of the EU at risk from Isil terrorists, it has also left the country pondering deep questions about its sense of self as well as threatening Merkel’s own position and legacy.
What about that other key EU player, France? Over the weekend it was under attack yet again from an extremist who stabbed two young women to death at a railway station in Marseille, reportedly shouting “Allahu Akhbar” as he did so.
Such appalling acts have scarred France repeatedly in recent years, leaving hundreds dead and utterly undermining its philosophy of liberty for all. The fact is, you can’t be truly free in a country which is stalked by terrorists and under a seemingly permanent state of emergency.
Emmanuel Macron, France’s woefully inexperienced new president, has a vast job ahead of him if he is restore anything resembling order.
At the same time, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are currently locked in a stand-off with the EU over its desire that they each accept thousands of migrants from outside the EU. They do not accept that the EU has the right to tell them to do so, raising fundamental questions about its legitimacy.
Italy, meanwhile, has spent another summer dealing with the twin nightmares of migration: first, the cost and impracticality of having to process and house those who land by boat on its shores; second, the unimaginable tragedy of having to cope with those who drown en route. EU chiefs cannot be said to have strained every sinew to confront this problem. Where is their solution?
And then we come to Spain.
It is a country which has done marvellously well out of the EU in financial terms. But on Sunday we saw how deeply divided it is as the people of the highly prosperous region of Catalonia voted in a referendum on whether to secede.
900 men and women of all ages were allegedly injured by police using brute force (including rubber bullets and dragging women from polling stations by their hair) to try to stop the poll going ahead.
The EU’s response to this anti-democratic act has been telling. The EU Commission simply repeated the Spanish line that the referendum was illegal. It didn’t even condemn the shocking violence which was beamed around the world on TV news programmes.
The vice president of the EU parliament, Ramon Luis Valcarcel of Spain’s ruling People’s Party, did commit to a position. He put out a tweet claiming the vote was a “coup against Europe”.
But then again perhaps his attitude – which most reasonable people would surely find extraordinary – is unsurprising given how closely the EU resembles the old Soviet Union: for the uninitiated, the EU has its own military police force – the European Gendarmerie Force – with 900 permanent personnel and a back-up of 2,300 officers on standby. The commissars of yesteryear would surely approve.
Vince Cable spoke of a “healthy democracy” before he marched in Manchester. If he wants to continue to take part in such demonstrations, he would do well to remember that he will still be able to exercise this right in an independent Britain. I fear the same cannot be said of the downcast, depressed, and dispirited EU.