BRITAIN'S BREXIT REFERENDUM: A COMMENT
"Since 1975 the EU has mutated in exactly the way we then feared and now resembles nothing so much as the Habsburg Empire in its dying days. A bloated bureaucracy that has outgrown all usefulness. A parliament that represents many nations, but with no democratic legitimacy. Countries on its periphery pitched into poverty, or agitating for secession. The EU’s hunger for power has been matched only by its incompetence. The European Union is making the people of our continent poorer, and less free. This goes far beyond frustration at diktats on banana curvature. The EU has started to deform our government. Michael Gove revealed how, as a cabinet member, he regularly finds himself having to process edicts, rules and regulations that have been framed at European level. Laws that no one in Britain had asked for, and which no one elected to the House of Commons has the power to change. What we refer to as British government is increasingly no such thing. It involves the passing of laws written by people whom no one in Britain elected, no one can name and no one can remove".Leader, "Out – and into the world: why The Spectator is for Leave". The Spectator. www.spectator.co.uk
I wonder whether debate about Britain’s membership of the EU has not reversed the usual polarities. Continental Europeans, once associated with airy abstraction, now seem to be weary pragmatists seeking to solve one problem at a time; Anglo-Saxon conservatives often seem inspired by a kind of revolutionary fervour. Hannan points out that countries have frequently entered into the various incarnations of the EU at times of “pessimism”, which is a fair point but one that made me wonder about Hannan’s relationship to his own political tradition. Does he imagine that, say, the third Marquess of Salisbury was an optimist? Is not a desire to hold on to existing institutions for fear of something worse an admirably conservative one? Charles de Gaulle looms over much debate on Europe and has acquired a cult following among Britons hostile to the EU (Hannan among them), but de Gaulle was often flexible in what he did even when he was intransigent in what he said. On the first page of his memoirs, de Gaulle describes his “certain idea of France” as being like “the princess in the fairy tale”, surely a sign that one can deploy a nationalist myth without wholly believing in it. Perhaps British Conservatives should look more to their own party and their own country. Might it be that the current state of the European Union – produced by messy compromises and not always springing from the highest ideals – actually fits in with English Conservatism? Consider the dispatch that Duff Cooper (the man who persuaded the Cabinet that de Gaulle should be allowed to broadcast his Call to Honour on June 18, 1940) sent to Churchill in 1944. He called for the creation of a West European “Bund” that would help contain the Soviet Union. He thought that this new structure should exist under British aegis, and that “it might well be within the framework of the British Empire which has so successfully contrived to combine federations and the retention of state sovereignty”.Richard Vinen, "Euro stars – the good, the bad and the confused". The Times of London Literary Supplement (TLS). 15 June 2016 in www.the-tls.co.uk Au fond, the entire Brexit referendum is a debate something akin to dealing with hobgoblins and long-dead ghosts. The crux of the 'leave' campaign consist almost entirely of xenophobic posturing about immigration (which even someone as establishmentarian as Lord Turner will admit is a legitimate issue), and nonsensical cries and yelps about how much money the United Kingdom contributes to Brussels on a net basis (the leave campaigns figures are considerably off) 1. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the 'Remain' campaign has also indulged in some shameless posturing and sloganeering of its own (inventing figures as to how much the average British family will be impacted in say ten-years time by the UK leaving the European Union). The fact of the matter is that sans the immigration issue, the leave campaign has scarcely a foot to stand on. It being the case that if the UK were to vote to leave the European Union, the likelihood of Britain being able to obtain anywhere near the types of agreements that say Norway or Switzerland have with Brussels is close to being non-existent. There is absolutely no rationale for the other states in the EU to negotiate a moderate settlement with London. When one adds the facts that: i) aside from Vladimir Putin, no world leader worthy of the name has cared to endorse the idea of the UK leaving the European Union; ii) that in the aftermath of a vote to leave the EU, there will be chaos, both political (Scotland might use the occasion to push for another referendum to break-up the United Kingdom) and economic (Pound Sterling might drop precipitously); iii) the upshot of both 'i' and 'ii' will be a completely unnecessary crisis: political, economic and other, in the European and Western world. For reasons which are entirely emotional and irrational. As the London Times' David Smith recently noted:
Since the single market began in 1993, Britain’s GDP is up by 62% in real terms on OECD figures, compared with 42% in France, 35% in Germany and 15% in Italy. Switzerland’s GDP has risen by 48%… I would be the first to say our growth performance reflects many factors, including the Thatcher reforms of the 1980s and Bank independence in 1997.It is hardily the case that the United Kingdom has been held back by the European Union economically in the past forty-plus years. There are admittedly genuine issues relating to immigration from Central & Eastern Europe into the UK. Something which I can be highly sympathetic about being an long-standing admirer of Enoch Powell. However, the chaos which will ensue in the case of a Brexit, for me cancels out any reason for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. As Richard Vinen, cogently points out, it is eminently the case that those who wish for the UK to remain in the European Union are the true conservatives, and it is those romantics and ideologues, who are championing the Leave case, who are the radicals. I for one, have no wish to endorse radicalism of any sort. Hopefully, the British electorate will prove to be as conservative as myself tomorrow.
1. See: "I turn to migration. He shares my view that it is problematic if unlimited. “If immigration were the only issue, I could be a Brexiter,” he says. “The British population is forecast to go up from 63m to 74m by 2040. If you ask people what is the biggest determinant of their standard of living, often it is the length of their commute. Some people say, ‘Oh, we’ll just build on the greenbelt.’ But people love the greenbelt. I think large-scale immigration of people who are willing to work in unskilled jobs also probably reduces the wage rate of the people who are there already. And you can’t control your borders, unless you’re out.” Nevertheless, he concludes, “I think the economics, apart from immigration, are clearly for staying in. I think there’s a political case that, however frustrating it can sometimes be, we should be part of a Europe attempting to get to joint points of view on the environment, and so forth". In: "Martin Wolf, "Lunch with the FT: Adair Turner". The Financial Times. 18/18 June 2016, in www.ft.com. 2. David Smith, "Britain succeeds in the EU: we’d be daft to leave it". The Sunday Times (of London). 12 June 2016 in www.thetimes.co.uk.