You would never know it from the shrill media coverage, but Tory MEPs’ refusal to back the EU’s censure of Viktor Orban’s Hungary is one of the most principled things they have ever done. They are, of course, being denounced as Orban apologists, as cheerleaders for the authoritarian turn Hungary has taken under his prime ministership. Nonsense. They have taken a stand against authoritarianism. Against the authoritarianism of the European Union, whose technocratic arrogance has now reached such dizzy heights that it presumes the moral authority to punish nation states for doing what their own people, the electorate, have asked them to do. That is a far greater crime against democracy than any committed by Orban.
You don’t have to be a fan of Orban or of his traditionalist agenda to see that there is a very serious problem with Article 7 of the EU Treaty. It was the unleashing of this punishing article against Hungary, of this ‘nuclear option’, as it is fittingly referred to, that MEPs were voting on last week. A report by a Dutch MEP said Hungary has turned against EU values, including freedom of the press and respect for minorities, not least Jews. And in response to the report, a majority of MEPs voted to pursue ‘disciplinary action’ against Hungary under Article 7. This means sanctions could be imposed. Hungary could be reduced to the level of a pariah state in Europe. But not if the Tories were to get their way. Of the 19 Tories in the European Parliament, 18 voted against censuring Orban’s regime.
Cue horror in the British chattering classes. This is a ‘stain’ on Britain’s good name, a writer for the Guardian says. The Tories are cosying up to a hateful regime, we’re told. They must denounce Hungary’s ‘reactionary’ government, says Labour.
The first thing to say to all these moaning Euro-federalists is, ‘There’s a beam in your eyes, guys’. For the likes of the French political class, rulers of a country in which Jews are slaughtered in public and soldiers must be posted at every Jewish institution, to denounce the rise of prejudice in Hungary is hypocrisy of staggering proportions. Likewise with politicians from Belgium or Sweden, nations in which many Jews say they no longer feel safe.
As for our own Labour Party raging against Orban’s Hungary — please. Labour included a commitment to clamping down on press freedom in its actual manifesto last year. It promised to enforce a law that would have heaped enormous financial pressure on newspapers and magazines to sign up to state-approved regulation — which would have been the first time in 350 years that the British state stuck its nose back into the workings of the press. Then there’s Labour’s interminable anti-Semitism crisis. A party whose leader makes favourable comments about a mural showing hooked-nosed men running the world and crushing ordinary people really is not in a good position to bemoan anti-Jewish prejudice in other nations. Get your own socialism of fools in order, Labour.
Alongside the hypocrisy, there is the sheer anti-democracy of what is being proposed. EU officials want to punish a government that was freely and fairly elected by the Hungarian people. Orban’s party won more than 49 per cent of the vote in the elections this year. This is a higher percentage than that enjoyed by our governing party, the Tories. Polls suggest the approval rating for Orban’s political circle is very high. Let’s get real here: the EU and its cheerleaders really want to punish the Hungarian people; to tell them they made a mistake at the elections; to dictate to them about what sort of government it is appropriate for Hungary to have.
The irony would be funny if the consequences were not so serious: in one breath, EU apologists denounce Orban for behaving in an anti-democratic way; in the next they whoop as an external body, the EU, threatens to punish Hungary if it doesn’t stop doing the things it was democratically elected to do. National sovereignty, the right of people to determine the destiny of their nation, is one of the great causes of our time. It animated the vote for Brexit, it fuels populist parties elsewhere in Europe, and it is a great concern for many Hungarians. They will look at the EU’s bully-boy tactics and recognise them for what they are: an attempt to dilute the Hungarian people’s will.
So, good on the Tory MEPs who refused to back the anti-democratic censure of Hungary. And shame on those who are denouncing these Tories as bootlickers of Orban’s regime. It brings to mind the way that those of us who opposed the war in Iraq were written off as stooges for Saddam. Grow up, everyone: you can be critical of a foreign government while also opposing any tyrannical attempt by outsiders to overthrow or throttle that government.