22 June 2016

Why I Am for #Brexit

Tomorrow will see the British people being given the same chance as they had in 1975 to vote on membership of the European project that began life as an attempt to co-ordinate economies in order to reduce the risk of yet another European-wide war and has been transformed over two-and-a-half generations into a superstate. The thing that they voted for in 1975 has changed dramatically over the subsequent forty years. It is a very different decision.

The campaign, on both sides, has been a disgusting display of fear-mongering and prejudice, punctuated by the assassination of a member of parliament by a neo-Nazi. We are all the poorer for what has happened.

The choice is whether the people of the UK want to be part of the EU under the terms negotiated by David Cameron, or whether to leave the EU altogether. Do not pretend that these new terms put the UK at the heart of Europe. Cameron has negotiated away much of the ability of the UK to influence the future direction of the European Union. There is no chance that this will change for the foreseeable future unless you believe that the Conservative Party will lose its majority in the next election, and a pro-European alternative emerge.

It gives me no pleasure to say that in my opinion the best choice for future generations of Britons is to vote for #Brexit. I am forced to associate with people whom I frequently regard as wrong. But in this case, whatever their reasons for agreeing with me in this binary choice, theirs is the correct position when the matter is viewed as a whole. I will briefly explain why.

The campaign to vote Leave has been a fearsome display of 'othering' that conceals the fact that the United Kingdom needs immigration. But the reality is that the UK can control that immigration more easily if it does not contend with the free movement of people throughout Europe. Having left, the UK will be in a position to improve access for people from Commonwealth countries.

Let us be realistic -- the people of the UK will tolerate a number of immigrants. But this number is an absolute one. If you want a whiter, more culturally Western population, vote for Remain. A victory for Leave will mean UK immigration will be browner and more likely to include those of non-Christian faiths. But in this the UK will look more like its kin in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

As a part of Europe, the UK government has allowed those connections to diminish, although the people of the UK have done a better job of keeping them going. This is exactly the point that was made at the beginning of the UK's long debate over the EU in the time of Harold Macmillan's government (1957-63). The postman arriving at the homes of Britons brought letters from family in those former settler colonies on a frequent basis, while the emerging economies of newly independent countries in Africa and Asia would suffer from joining a Common Market that would place tarrifs on their agricultural goods. We cannot exactly go back to those days, but these links are not extinct, merely atrophied because of the UK's membership of the EU.They can be reactivated, but it will take time. They will not replace the EU. It is a politico-cultural community, not an economic one.

Meanwhile, the campaign for Remain has created a horror story about the economic future for a UK outside the EU. Much of this is grossly exaggerated, and neglects the fact that the UK, by not being part of the single currency, is already not at the centre of European economic decision-making. Because the UK remains part of the World Trade Organisation, and because the UK is an important market for the EU, trade with the EU will continue under no worse trading conditions that the UK has with any other country that is part of the WTO, but not part of the EU.

The EU will do all in its power to make the UK suffer the worst possible terms of trade, because it is the EU that is afraid of its future should the UK leave. If the UK makes a successful transitions within the WTO but without the EU, then other countries will certainly follow. We only need to look at poor Greece, whose citizens attempted to defy the EU within the single currency, to see how frightened the EU leadership is of members trying to adjust the terms of their relationship with this ugly economic monolith.

We also hear about how workers will lose all their rights, and how the NHS will go unfunded. Well, these are political decisions, and asking a foreign authority to guarantee your rights or the funding of your health service seems to indicate that you don't deserve them. These are things I am in favour of -- the rights of workers to minimums standards and a well-funded national health service free at the point of access -- and I am willing to take the risk that the British people can be convinced these are valuable things in and of themselves, and not just because of a treaty with foreign powers. And, let's not forget, what the EU gives to workers in the social chapter, it can also take away when it adopts measures to protect the interests of big business.

The rest of the Remain argument can be boiled down to 'the EU is not that bad, really, in terms of democracy'. Oh, but it is. The one time the EU project was derailed was when the French and the Dutch voted against the proposed European Constitution in 2005. And all the EU leaders did was to negotiate a treaty at Lisbon to impose much of the constitutional arrangements anyway. The EU is not democratic in any meaningful way, but a conspiracy against the ordinary people of Europe by their own governments in order to facilitate a continental economic policy because it suits big business.

Let us not fool ourselves. There are people working to reform this appalling entity, but there is no mass movement to do so, and there hasn't been since the 'democratic deficit' became an issue a generation ago. Anyone who thinks the EU can be meaningfully reformed from within is ignoring the dynamic of history.

The one strong argument deployed by Remain is the constitutional one. There is a grave risk that a vote for Leave will cause Scotland to go its own way, in the hope of staying part of the European project, and a lesser one that Northern Ireland might follow suit. But the Union is already in doubt, and there is no guarantee that Scotland would vote to continue the Union in five or ten years. I will say this: if a vote for Remain would guarantee the Union would continue for another ten generations, then I would set aside all my doubts and vote Remain. I do not believe this is so.

The world is a very different place than it was in the 1950s, when the Soviet Union and the United States threatened to turn Europe into an atomic battlefield. The EU is having far more trouble with coping with this change than the UK could acting alone.

Voting Leave is to take a tremendous risk. But voting to Remain is to lock the UK away in a cage that will see it continue to lose touch with its historical relations, to risk seeing the economy trapped in the disaster that is the single currency's austerity regime, and to distort the relationship between UK Labour and UK Capital by placing a higher referee over them that is not subject to direct democratic accountability by the people of the UK. This is probably the last chance the UK will have to withdraw in my lifetime. I hope it takes it.

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