I’ve voted in favour of the UK leaving the European Union. I don’t expect this post to persuade any waverers, but for the record, here is my thinking, and some of the reasons for my decision.
I love Europe, and strongly identify with it. I live and work in mainland Europe; I spend much of my free time travelling round it, enjoying the history and culture of its different nations and cities, the natural beauty of its countryside, and the infinite variety of its cuisine and its wines.
But just because I love the continent, doesn’t mean that I must love the EU, the artificial and quite chaotically undemocratic behemoth that controls much of it. The overbearing political, economic and social vision was conceived, and continues to be developed by, people we don’t know, didn’t elect, and cannot influence. The appeal to remain and “reform from within” is hopeless and desperate. It’s our failure to make a dent in EU policy that has caused such a shrivelling in support for it.
So let’s get that clearly on the table – that disliking the EU is not the same as disliking Europe and the countries within. They are totally separate.
I don’t understand the trade argument. I see no reason why the UK can’t continue to import wine from France, Italy and Spain, and cars from Germany. Will the producers of these fine commodities really want to increase their prices to us? And why would the EU nations want to pay more for their Scotch, oil and pharma products from the UK? In any case, the market is already rigged. It’s almost impossible to find decent British sausages and cheeses in France or anywhere else in mainland Europe, presumably a result of effective lobbying by certain vested interests. There are more than 30,000 professional commercial lobbyists in Brussels and Strasbourg, and they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t doing their jobs well enough.
Much is made of the EU being a club, and social media is full of tortured metaphors playing on this idea. We’re a bunch of lads wanting to leave at midnight to find somewhere better, but realising nowhere else is open, we can’t get back in. Or it’s some genteel gentleman’s club, and we are the embarrassingly unruly members suddenly refusing to wear the right bow-tie.
But the EU in 2016 is not anything I’d recognise as a club, or not one that I would want to join. Back in 1973, it was a different story. The proposal was to team up with five major European economies — Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands – plus Luxembourg, to form a ‘Common Market’. With roughly the same GDP levels and political outlook, the European Community, as we were benignly called, would be a band of high-fiving brothers promising little more than no trade barriers in a pre-globalisation world of high tariffs. Into the bargain, we could motor round each other’s manors and be waved across borders by smiling policemen. Most people could have lived with that arrangement indefinitely, but sadly, all that remains of that distant dream is the crunch of broken glass beneath our regulation issue, one-size only, EU prison boots.
What happened to our little club? Well, what happened to our little club was that the committee got ideas above itself, and decided to reinvent itself as a government, and one remote from its members. We’ve had a succession of far-reaching treaties that we’ve not even been allowed to vote through. They have taken the original Treaty of Rome’s note about “ever closer union” and interpreted that as an invitation to create a legally binding federation of quasi-independent states under the supervision of the unelected EU Commission.
So we have the creation of the Eurozone / single currency, the supremacy of the European courts, the legislative superiority of the European Parliament (itself little more than a rubber stamp for the Commission), the regulatory tentacles that spread into every corner of our national lives, and soon, we are told, the joint European military force, as just some examples of how the original loose arrangement of homogeneous NW European nations has become a grotesquely corrupt, anti-democratic and over-powerful entity. And that original club of six (or nine when we joined)? We have instead a wild expansion to 28 countries, with several more waiting impatiently in the wings. And who can blame these economic tiddlers for wanting to join up and take advantage of the benefits provided by the more successful countries?
If this is a club, it is not the club that we joined back in the seventies. I prefer to think of the EU as that other sort of club – a cudgel that is beating the face of the common man into a bloody pulp. I ask this simple question: if we were thinking of joining the European Union for the first time NOW, would we do so? Would we hell!
What isn’t discussed much is the growing anti-EU sentiment around the rest of Europe. Advocates of a Remain vote seem to think that we are somehow disgracing ourselves; making a fool of ourselves in public; being typically boorish Brits. But UK Leavers are simply reflecting a wider malaise found across Europe. The French exhibit even less support than we do for the EU. A recent poll had only 38% of the French approving of EU membership. Nearly all major members struggle to get above 50% approval. I have work colleagues who tell me that they hope for a Brexit vote in the hope that it will increase pressure on their governments to hold their own referendum.
The reality is that the EU is a terrible failure but our leaders and other vested interests are incapable of admitting it. We are, by some distance, the least healthy economic zone on the planet (apart from Antarctica, apparently). We would be better off doing what normal countries do: happily trading with each other in open competition with everyone else, and having all sorts of mutually beneficial agreements on, for instance, environmental issues, anti-terrorism / serious crime intelligence sharing, accords on aviation, reciprocal mobile phone charges, and so on. We don’t need to erect some massive supranational political, fiscal and legal institution to administer them. Naturally enough the EU sets its own pay scales and benefits for its tens of thousands of very generously rewarded employees. Their principal task seems to be self-preservation at all costs, especially as those costs will be borne by others.
Why can’t we concede that the EU is a flop? It seems to me that the Remain side have persuaded many, particularly the young, that wanting to exist outside the EU, in the way that around 150 other nations manage to do, mostly very successfully, is an unnatural desire. That to leave the EU and join the rest of the world is somehow isolationist, when it is precisely the opposite: it is internationalist. It’s a move that rejects the political navel-gazing insularity of the EU and opens us up to the world. So I say this: instead of remaining with the gang of 27, let’s rediscover the wider and warmer embrace of the 150+ club. There are more of them, so you’re more likely to find someone you fancy, and they’ll hug you for free, unlike the garlicky chaps across the Channel who insist on you opening your wallet first.
The young have been persuaded that to vote to remain in the EU is like voting to Make Love Not War. It’s a sentimental and deeply cynical tactic. “Why can’t we all just get along?” Are our major economic and political institutions really such softies? You decide.
I regard it as a dishonest argument, in the same way that wanting to adopt the global standard approach to immigration, namely employing some sort of pre-set criteria to help determine eligibility, is presented as “racist and xenophobic”. It’s equally false. Were that the case, almost every nation on the planet would have to be described in those terms. It’s common practice and common sense to say: let’s have immigration for sure, but on our own terms, and in alignment with planned expansion in public services and housing provision.
What will the result be? I suspect we have enough collective national idiocy to vote Remain by a narrow margin, and spend the next few chaotic years bitterly wishing we had taken the chance to escape while we had it. But we are likely to be inside the tower as it collapses, instead of being the horrified spectator outside, watching so many friends turn to dust.
Finally, I keep seeing the desperate argument that asks: do you really want a Brexit that would produce a government formed from the likes of Boris and Gove, with Lord Farage of Dover in the background? Well firstly, I’m confident that Boris Johnson will not be the next leader of the Tories. My tip is Theresa May who seems to have played a suspiciously clever game during this campaign by managing to straddle both sides of the argument at once. She would present herself as the unity candidate, and with some credibility.
More important, this is not about personalities but principles. It’s not a Big Brother eviction. And even if it were, I can’t see that Messrs Cameron, Osborne, Blair, Miliband, Clegg, Mandelson, et al, have much more to commend them than the other lot. Let’s be honest. If we are thrown out of the club, who would you rather be out on the town with, looking for a late-night lock-in? Boris and Nigel? Or Osborne and Clegg?
I rest my case.