The EU referendum: a familial exchange

The following is a conversation I had with my Uncle after he shared an article which argued that Boris Johnson was untrustworthy, and that we should vote to remain.

(I have my Uncle to thank for his help on the technical side of setting up this blog. So thank you to him for his generosity. It’s popular to say the referendum debate has been awful, but there have been some positive aspects to it!)

I comment:

“It’s dispiriting to see the Remain Campaign relentlessly going after Boris and warning about the prospect of Boris as Prime Minister as if it were enamoured with the prospect of Cameron continuing as PM or Osborne taking his place – the most plausible alternatives. This isn’t about who’s going to be the next Prime Minister, it’s about the EU and whether Britain wants to leave or remain on the relative merits of those two options.

The remain campaign would do better if it stopped going for the players and went for the ball! By so often failing to do so, it suggests that it isn’t confident in its own arguments.

The fact is whoever is next Prime Minister, we can vote to replace them with someone else we prefer at the next general election if we so wish.

However, the same cannot be said of Jean-Claude Junker or any of the other EU Presidents, commissioners and bureaucrats. The idea that a vote for an MEP is of any great importance is laughable – particularly when participation rates are so low despite the amount of money the EU has spent promoting participation to little or no avail. MEPs can’t propose legislation they just decide on what the commission has proposed and UK MEPs are of course a minority anyway.

Furthermore, when Britain voted at the last European elections, UKIP did better than any of the other parties, signaling that Britain didn’t want ever ‘more Europe’ or ‘ever closer union’. And yet they’ve got pro-federalist Jean-Claude Junker as their unelected EU Commission President who is pressing for ever closer union… there is no compromise with the EU bureaucrats who, because they are unelected, are immune to the ballot box. To make matters worse, with no emotional investment in Britain, they are happy to ignore our expressed wishes or reservations and go on with their project of a United States of Europe in which Britain is to be a province governed primarily from Brussels.

On the way to this US of E, EU officials give themselves ever more importance, ever better remunerated jobs, more money for the private school fees and the skiing holidays… I suppose they tell themselves that they deserve it for their noble vision.

Well, the euro project which was just another tool to press for and achieve closer union has helped bring misery on the people of southern countries like Greece where youth unemployment is sky high (48%), the Schengen area has helped accelerate the migrant crisis by erasing Europe’s internal border and thereby offering an incentive for those countries on Europe’s borders to just let everyone through. And now, as if Merkel inviting everyone to come without offering safe passage (with all the resultant drownings) wasn’t bad enough, they’re desperately trying to undo their mistakes by sending migrants back with a dodgy agreement with Turkey.

I have no doubt that this ideological project will meet with many more disastrous results only for EU officials to say that the answer to the problem of too much Europe is ‘more Europe’… how determined they must be to ignore the real life consequences of their grand theories and press ahead regardless…

Cameron’s EU deal was very useful precisely because it was an abysmal failure. Cameron wanted to return powers from Brussels back to Westminster. In the end, for all his “battling for Britain” he got a few minor concessions, a few non-legally binding promises about not going into the euro (had that even been on the table?) And for this he even had to give up a British veto.

It was very useful because it showed Britain had given up powers it could not retrieve while remaining a member. The “thin gruel deal”, as it was called offered an illustration of the limits of British influence and power within the EU, which were arrived at startlingly quickly.

Those saying the EU isn’t great but we need to stay in to reform it (most of the remain camp) have fundamentally missed the point and can’t have been paying close enough attention.

Cameron’s deal was the culmination of around 41 years of British attempts at reform within the EU and steering it away from a US of E. It was the very public finale which was so distinctly underwhelming – some might even say humiliating.

Now it’s for Britain to step back and have the sort of relationship we thought we were voting for in 1975 but didn’t get – where we are once more an independent country that trades and cooperates with Europe, while deciding our own laws through our elected representatives.

Let’s stop being the self -sacrificing buffer to the ‘European Project’ and let them get on with it if they must. We can devote our energies to something better. If Britain leaves it would re-energise our democracy and our self confidence and restore a sense of national purpose and optimism as we were freed from the remain narrative that says Britain is too hopeless to govern itself and needs EU bureaucrats to do it for us.

So yes, I think this isn’t about the politicians, it’s about the shape and place of this country in the world, and just how big or small a role we want to have in it…

The very act of voting in this referendum legitimises the democratic process and recognises the importance of people taking part in shaping their future. One can argue that a vote cast to remain would be self-contradicting: a democratic expression of the desire to have less democratic expression..”

 

My uncle’s reply:

“Freedom of movement (and yes this applies both ways), rights of employees, social justice and human rights, economic stability, and yes, I believe greater influence in the world, are all desirable and worth fighting for. And these are all, in my view, more likely to be achieved through continued membership of the EU and seriously endangered if we leave. And even an ever-closer union with Europe isn’t something I’m afraid of – rather that than isolating ourselves from the world and expecting the world to come to us on more favourable terms (I don’t think it will). Moreover, what disturbs me just as much as the serious economic, political and social sacrifices that Britain would be making in deciding to leave is the characters we would be allowing to govern us in such an event – do you really believe any of them have our interests at heart and care about any of the above? If Britain votes to leave, it does so at its peril.”

 

My reply:

I believe that if it transpires that they don’t believe in any of the above as you suggest (with a degree of cynicism which I believe is unfair in the case of people like Michael Gove who have made a principled case for leaving), and we’re unhappy with our national government we can kick them out.

I find it curious that you suspect pro-Brexit Conservatives of not believing in national democracy while raising no doubts about the sincerity, motives, etc. of the pro-EU Conservative government….

In the extremely unlikely event that leaving the EU means some sort of Tory-led Armageddon as you seem to imply then the British public will be more likely than ever to vote in Labour to correct matters at the soonest possible point – no democratically elected government is invulnerable, particularly when it has abused its position.

What I am not confident in is a system which asks us to place much of our trust in EU officials who are not emotionally invested in this country and who are rarely well antiquated with its people, their character, identity and interests.

I am not confident in trusting an EU which is dead set in pursuing an ideological project over half a century old rather than deal with problems of governance as they arise in a pragmatic, reasonable, realistic way. There are other answers than various formulations of ‘more Europe’….

I am afraid to place my trust in EU unelected officials many of whom I’ve never even heard of (and there I’m following the rule rather than the exception) , and what’s worse, many of whom have been, like Jean-Claude Junker, expressly rejected by the electorate (in his case the people of Luxembourg) before to be appointed President of the European Commision – where he decides rules not just for the people of Luxembourg, but for the many peoples of Europe. That system is inimical to democracy. It’s anti-democratic to have a system designed for the Neil Kinnocks of Europe – politicians voted out at the national level only to appointed at the supranational one.

I would be much more afraid to entrust those people who are distant and unaccountable with the future of this country than I would with people who are emotionally invested in the country and – even more importantly – that we can fire in the ballot box if we’re happy with them.

I don’t believe there are serious economic costs to leaving – beyond the possibility of a shallow recession in the short term and a lowering of the value of the pound in the short term (which will provide stimulus to British exports which the Remain Campaign never seems to mention…). Even the treasury analysis which was intended to make the right sort scare headlines for Remain (British families to be £4300 worse off after Brexit…. (in 2030) ) admitted that we would have a growing economy in the event of Brexit. Their forecast said that in the year 2030 the economy would have grown either way, but that it would have grown by £4300 less – which is very different saying that we’d actually be poorer then than we are now. Frankly, it’s a small difference which would go unnoticed. And that is probably in the more pessimistic scenario! I don’t believe the government has been looking at the best case scenarios or at least saying anything about them since that would undermine their position. That’s not to mention that these people can scarcely predict the next 6 months let alone the next 14 years – the future predictions are basically made up statistics arrived at to suit a narrative of “it”ll be a disaster if we Brexit”.

It’s in everyone’s interests that Britain and European Countries carry on trading and cooperating with Europe and it would be far too dangerous for the EU to refuse to do so – at the very least it would be “economic self-harm”. If it were to take such action – if the EU were to “punish” the UK for not falling in line with its plans, if it were to punish the British people for having had the temerity to have decided through a democratic referendum to leave, it wouldn’t be a good look for the EU. If the EU were seen to bully Britain in order to maintain its grip on its remaining member states that would suggest insecurity when it would need to show confidence. Crucially, it would greatly diminish any moral appeal the EU might have.

Here’s an important quote from the leader of ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’, the Former Marks and Spencer Boss, Lord Rose, who took to discussing the economy in an honest fashion during the launch of the BSE Campaign -before horrified spin doctors could shut him up:

“Nothing is going to happen if we come out of Europe in the first five years, probably. There will be absolutely no change. Then, there will have been some change, and if you look back fifteen years later there will have been some more”.

This isn’t about the economy. And it isn’t about the politicians whom we hire and fire.

It’s about the system we want to live under – do we want it to be a democratic system where the people who make the laws are closer to the people affected them, and who are indeed themselves affected by them for being invested in the future of the country? Or do we want to give up further powers to Brussels and see our laws increasingly decided by a far away elite whom we know so little about and whom we cannot call to account in the ballot box?

The last time we had a referendum on our membership of the EU was 41 years ago and the EU has developed radicially in ways we could never have imagined back then – expanding its borders massively, and expanding its powers massively – well into the domestic sphere.

For this referendum we cannot afford to think about the next year or two. We need to look further and consider what system will work best for us over the next 50.

Surely, it must be the system in which people retain a greater degree of control over their futures: preserving the independent, democratic nation state is a better guarantee of our right to democracy and of our ability – imperfect though it may be – to control our destiny than is an supranational ideological project which can only survive so many crises and whose days are numbered because it is too ambitious and seeks into expand ever further eastward even when the sense of a shared European identity is already too weak to sustain it. Let’s not forget that those who identify as European before they do as British, Swedish, Greek or Romanian find themselves in a distinctly unusual position and that that minority within Europe cannot sustain the whole.”