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British citizens, participation and the European Union

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was Union Jack-waving Brit. The phrase "Libertié, Équalité, Fraternité" is as British as rosbif. So Gordon Brown appeared to suggest yesterday while Europe's other premieres were busy signing the EU Reform Treaty in Lisbon.

At the House of Commons Liaison Committee, Brown said that there was something "uniquely British about the relationship between liberty, civic duty and social responsibility and fairness." Regardless of whether you think that a British statement of values would be a good or bad idea, such self-regarding chauvinism should have no place in the debate and is likely to alienate the government's critics still further.

Britain can justly feel proud of the role it played in the Enlightenment, but no nation should seek to claim ownership. Enlightenment values are by their very nature universal; it is hard to see what is achieved by suggesting otherwise. And at a time when the government is proposing 42-day internment, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only thing uniquely British about "liberty" is the dismissive attitude our government has towards it.


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