I’m a romantic when it comes to Magna Carta. I understand its limitations and how it is largely a document of its time. I recognise that it took long years of struggle to control the King and establish an effective Parliament. Magna Carta was nonetheless an important step on the England’s pioneering journey. England was early to recognise and require equality under the law, fair trials, and controls on the executive power of government. Our belief in this idea of freedom, and our shared passion to ban arbitrary government, limit power and make it accountable were the envy of many around the world.
The irony is that as the 800th anniversary of these important beginnings of our long tradition arrives , we see the consequences of being less vigilant about unaccountable power in recent years in our dealings with the European Union. A country known for its assertion of rights against monarchs, has become known now for its feebleness at withstanding the transfer of powers to a continental bureaucracy. Where is the new Magna Carta to limit the power of Brussels? Where is the once mighty Parliament, famed for facing down various Kings until it controlled the kingdom?
Some will say the modern heirs to our Magana Carta tradition lie in the European Parliament and the European Convention of Human Rights. The problem with this interpretation is that to many UK citizens it does not feel like that. Magna Carta placed the power to control the Crown in the hands of those in our own country able to wield it. Later generations wisely extended the power to all adults living as citizens in our land. Can we say this has now been properly transferred to the EU institutions, or will the UK voters see that to restore the magic of the Magna Carta tradition they need to bring power back from Brussels?