What are we actually voting for in this referendum?
To answer that, let’s suppose the Remain vote wins. What happens then?
Well the one consistent handbrake on EU integration will have been released as the club’s most awkward member state comes back into line. The UK Government and all of Westminster will declare with one voice that “we’ve had two votes in 40 years — the matter is now settled for good”.
The EU will be cock-a-hoop; there will be high fives in Brussels and in several cities around Europe. The takings in the Belgium Capital’s bars and restaurants will surge. All those news stories in the British tabloids — the silly things eurocrats say; unwanted demands (and fraud) from Brussels especially unexpected demands on the UK taxpayer to cough up an extra £1.7bn by Christmas; arguments over immigration numbers; the whole corporatist racket — those stories probably won’t disappear but they’ll become entirely academic & inevitable. Like an unwanted tax bill or weeds in your garden.
The people will have voted for it, you see.
The EU will then press hard on the accelerator towards political union. And the UK — “the awkward partner” — will become an associate part of the historic journey towards that new country, whatever shape it may take. Indeed the whole process of the last 40 years has been a stealthy journey towards this destination, with Westminster in denial at every step of the way. If the UK votes to Remain, the process won’t only continue but it will speed up. “The UK hasn’t voted out”, the narrative will go, “so it never will”.
This is the point: A vote for Remain is not a vote for the status quo. It is a vote for a wild journey — a journey that ultimately ends in a country called Europe, into which, despite today’s denials and protestations, the UK will eventually be absorbed and will adopt the euro, just as respected writers like Wolfgang Munchau in the FT have previously suggested.
Absurd? Who could have guessed in 1975 that voting on the EEC ‘common market’ would bring us to this point 40 years later, with common policies on almost everything including a mooted EU army (despite those Westminster denials)? And let us not overlook that the EU integration impulse will outlive David Cameron and his deal.
“If the EU can’t make meaningful concessions when its second largest economy is about to vote on withdrawal, when will it ever be amenable to change? If the UK should vote to stay in, how could it hope to be taken seriously afterwards?”
To fight this journey, we first need to get off the ‘EU train’ where it is now. That doesn’t mean we are suddenly magically transported somewhere else. It means we stay broadly where we are, but crucially outside EU membership while staying in the single market with the existing body of EU law initially still entangled with ours. But importantly we become completely detached from the journey to political union (note: not semi-detached through a removal of the three words ‘ever closer union’). That means giving up EU membership and moving to an EFTA/EEA position.
And that will be the first step in our own new journey: to disentangle where appropriate and to steadily become a reinvigorated, democratic, globally-networked Britain with a wider world view. We will have an important network of relations including the EU, EFTA, the Commonwealth, the Anglosphere and continue to make full use of our leading positions in the G20, the G8, NATO, and the UN security council. It is immensely exciting but it will not happen overnight and we will continue to play a big role in the geographic continent that is Europe. There will still be European agreements aplenty — some are very desirable. But we won’t be part of another country nor leashed to one.
It’s a battle of two journeys and it’s time to choose one.
But if we duck this decision and carry on inside the EU, there will not be any further realistic prospect of getting out.
The fork in the road is approaching fast.