On June the 23rd Britain faces an existential question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
Britain faced a similar referendum in 1975 on whether Britain wanted to remain in the then European Economic Union (EEC). At the time Britain was “the poor man of Europe”. ‘Yes’ to membership was portrayed as saying ‘Yes’ to trading and cooperating with our European neighbours, which no reasonable person could disagree with. Concerns about the implications of membership for Britain’s independence and sovereignty were brushed aside, and two thirds of voters voted to remain.
Since 1975, a lot has changed. Britain is now fifth largest economy in the world. Meanwhile, the continent is still recovering from the disaster of the euro, which has helped decimate the economies of Mediterranean countries like Greece, where youth unemployment is at 48%.
Nowadays, less than half of British exports go to the EU (44%) and that number is declining as modern technology (the internet, cheap flights, Skype) diminishes the importance of geographical proximity.
Not the EU we signed up for
Perhaps even more impressive than the economic change has been the political change which has occurred within the European Union.
Contrary to what Britain had hoped, the EU is not a loose arrangement of democratic nation states trading and cooperating together. Instead, it is a project which aspires to mould its constituent states into a European superstate
British voters are rightly concerned by this project about which they were never properly consulted. They can see that the European superstate is already taking shape before them.
It has a defined territory, a common citizenship for its population of 508 million, a currency, a president, a criminal justice system, a foreign minister, legal personality, treaty-making powers, a flag and a national anthem.
And it still wants more. The EU agenda is always ‘more Europe’. As Angela Merkel puts it, “We need a political union, which means we must cede powers to Europe and give Europe control.”
This is not the Europe we signed up for. Most British people wanted trade, cooperation and good relations between independent countries. Instead, they find themselves in a European superstate governed by a distant elite in Brussels.
The public should decide
The EU now influences aspects of our lives we could never have imagined, from opening Britain’s borders to the other 27 EU countries to what parts of Britain’s territorial waters British fishermen can fish in.
Those who defend British membership of the EU say that the EU generally makes the right decisions for us so we should let them get on with it. But that misses the point. This is not about what level of migration is ideal, or who should be able to fish in British territorial waters. The point is that the British public should decide on matters which affect it through its elected representatives in Westminster.
At the moment the House of Commons Library estimates that the EU makes as much as 55% of laws in Britain. What happens when the EU makes decisions we don’t like? When MEPs cannot propose legislation in the European Parliament and when British MEPS are a minority of MEPS, what mechanism do we have for correcting the EU’s mistakes?
We have already witnessed our powerlessness to do anything to re-establish control over immigration from the EU. That may not worry some people, but what will those people do when in the future the EU passes into law something with which they disagree?
The British public was never told that joining the EU would lead to the erosion of our independence and our sovereignty. In fact, they were explicitly told it wouldn’t. In 1973 Prime Minister Edward Heath made a television broadcast marking Britain’s accession to the EEC in which he said:
“There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”
Cameron’s “thin gruel” deal backfired
David Cameron’s recent EU deal was meant to reassure voters by transferring powers from Brussels back to Westminster. In the event, Cameron failed to achieve the “fundamental treaty change” he had promised. Instead, he returned from Brussels with only a few minor concessions and non-legally binding promises. The Prime Minister ended up having to boast that Britain wouldn’t be made to join the Euro or Schengen. These were proposals that no one had been making in the first place.
Mr Cameron’s “thin gruel” deal backfired. Instead of demonstrating that Britain had influence in Europe as a member of the EU it showed the opposite.
Britain had given up powers to Brussels which it could not retrieve while remaining a member of the EU. The British Prime Minister had gone to Brussels with a clear democratic mandate to return powers to Westminster. In its response, the EU revealed its indifference to the concerns of British voters. It was either unable or unwilling to reform.
Those who would like us to stay argue that we should remain in the EU in order to reform it. They must think that the British public has a very short memory indeed.
No such thing as a qualified remain vote
The choice facing us is serious, but not very difficult.
On the one hand, Britain can vote to remain in a dysfunctional EU whose remote elites do not care particularly about the needs and concerns of the British people because they have no emotional investment in our country, which is to become a mere province of the greater European superstate, anyway.
A vote to remain is a green light to a United States of Europe. There is no such thing as a qualified remain vote. EU bureaucrats will interpret ‘Remain’ in the way that provides the least obstacle to their projects. Put simply, they’ll hear what they want to.
A vote to remain would also be an endorsement of the Remain Campaign, which has consisted of relentless scaremongering. It would be to endorse ‘Project Fear’, which promises that all the horrors of the earth will be visited upon us if we have the temerity to vote leave, from WW3 and economic ruination to global irrelevance and the universal detestation of Britain, to a coup for IS and a delay in finding the cure to cancer…
Alternatively, Britain can vote to regain its sovereignty and once more become an independent country which trades and cooperates with countries in Europe, the Commonwealth and around the world, while living under our own laws. In leaving the EU we would re-join those prosperous and happy non-EU European countries like Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, whose populations all back their respective arrangements with the EU over the EU membership they rejected.
A renewed sense of national purpose
The rest of the world awaits – this is a chance for this trading nation to rediscover its global vocation.
Britain would retain and perhaps even amplify its influence on the world stage. It is not the small player that Remainers suggest it is. Britain is the fifth largest economy. It has the fourth greatest military. Britain has diplomatic clout. It is one of 5 permanent seats on the UN Security Council. It is a member of the Commonwealth, NATO, the IMF and a host of other international organisations. Britain has a rich history and culture. It is the world’s number one soft power; it has the most widely studied language, and one of the world’s great capitals.
A vote to leave would give a renewed sense of national purpose and optimism. It would re-establish our democracy while reaffirming our self-belief where a vote to remain would demoralize, perhaps even extinguish, both.
For a Europe of independent, democratically self-governing nation states trading and cooperating together: Vote Leave.
This article is indebted to Daniel Hannan, MEP and author of ‘Why Vote Leave’. It employs a number of the arguments he has sets out in that book.