A Message to Remainers
I want you to consider a few things before voting on Thursday.
Firstly I want you to think about the referendum campaign. I don’t know about you but I know a growing group of people who say they might not vote at all because they are so confused by the claims and counter-claims, and are also turned off by the scaremongering.
Now let’s be clear— the biggest scaremongering is coming from the Remain side. Yes there are some absurd claims on the Leave side too — all that rubbish about the NHS and Adolf Hitler for example — but by and large, scaremongering is a Remain camp ‘thing’ because it is a way of challenging change, which ordinary folk getting on with their lives can be averse to. And let’s be clear, Brexit would be a change so if I was in your shoes I’d probably be doing something similar.
And yet the polls are fluctuating around a 50:50 split.
A close result is not going to put this issue to bed. In fact, short of Leave being totally thrashed (which I loosely define as a percentage with a 2 or 3 in front of it), there is every chance that the Leavers will just be provoked by the result into greater and greater loudness/action etc. Indeed this campaign has at times already threatened to descend into a chaotic culture war. If that’s what you want, then that’s what you will get, and for many many years to come. It’ll take the toxicity of the “Europe issue” in British politics to unprecedented levels. It is one of the great ironies of this referendum that a Leave vote will make Nigel Farage redundant while a Remain vote will put Farage on steroids.
But I’m probably a bit like you in outlook — I live in a charming Brick and Flint house in the Home Counties and have two German cars on the drive. I went into higher education and my mother is an immigrant who still holds her native passport. I earn well — in the Tech sector, as it happens. I do not want a culture war. I want a liberal, open, outward-looking country at ease with itself.
In a nutshell, that’s why I’m supporting Leave. This is no longer a country at ease with itself but one at war with itself over the defining issue of the age — how it engages with Europe. Indeed, we are looking at a whole continent no longer at ease with itself and largely because of totemic yet disastrous EU policies.
Now I daresay you may be sitting there thinking this a war between cosmopolitan liberals and barbarians, and therefore it must be won. If you are thinking that, then regrettably you are part of the problem. There are of course some complete idiots on the Leave side — more than you can shake a stick at (including toxic fools like Farage). But there are also genuine concerns that many people have about EU membership and its effects. You can keep sneering at those concerns as racist or more mildly as “challenges of the modern world” but it does nothing to quell them. It may even stoke them. I might add that even a few lone voices in the European federalist constellation recognise that there is a need for an alternative settlement — Verhofstadt and Duff’s famous views on the need for “associate membership”, for example. But they have got nowhere for the time being.
However I know you may be thinking something else too: that euroscepticism is a generational problem and that in time, crudely, eurosceptics will die. Put another way, “you just have to win this one and then the Leave case becomes progressively unwinnable”.
Well I have some bad news for you: the young have been in favour of “Europe” in all my 26 years of watching this debate. Which means I was in a minority in my peer group in 1990 but am now in a majority. The same was true of 1975 where the young were very favourable to the EEC but those youngsters are now oldsters and firmly against. Indeed every single cohort without exception since 1975 has moved in the same direction.
It is explained by the idealism of youth versus the realism and experience of age. That will be there for as long as there are human beings. It won’t “die off”.
The point is you can’t duck this issue. Nor can the EU. Something is going to have to give.
But, let’s be frank, it is not going to happen inside the EU. David Cameron provided that window of opportunity with his renegotiation and it didn’t work. Lynton Crosby was apparently telling Cameron before the deal was announced that he should tear it up and demand more, such was its paucity. Life-long EU federalist Andrew Duff has described the deal as “essentially spurious and self-indulgent”. Professor of EU law, Steve Peers, has acknowledged that the deal is legally unenforceable. And founder of the Remain website ‘In Facts’, Hugo Dixon, acknowledged when the deal was announced that Remainers should not/could not “big it up”.
In short, the deal is crap. Total unmitigated, unvarnished crap. An absolute political disaster for the British state.
Everyone knows it.
Even Cameron knows it, which is why he stopped talking about it within days of announcing it, despite the deal being three years in the making.
Now, one simply cannot go into a negotiation, come out with nothing, accept nothing, and expect to be taken seriously ever again. It doesn’t work that way in politics or in life.
That’s why EU reform is dead. So is British influence in the EU. Get used to it.
The only way you can vote Remain while believing we can reform the EU from the inside is if you’ve been living in a cave for the last three years. That line of argument has calamitously failed and, worse (for Remainers), it has actually proven the Leavers right in saying Britain has no influence.
Something therefore needs to change, either now or in future. And when it does, it can change in an illiberal demagogue way or in a liberal, democratic way. A narrow loss for Leave at this referendum will only stoke the fires of the former but that, I humbly suggest, is the outcome we are currently heading towards.
So if you want to be part of the inevitable change and to shape it, which is exactly the approach you’ve been arguing for in the EU context despite that route now being closed off, you need to stop fighting the rising tide of anti-EU feeling and start helping engineer the solution. You can’t, Canute-like, command that the rising tide retreats.
I therefore ask you to join me and vote Leave on 23rd June and let’s start shaping Europe 2.0 — one that rejects political union but recognises the need for and the power of democracy, open trade, friendship and free exchange.