Be careful what you wish for
Even if you approve of the UK’s current relationship with the EU, a Yes vote will take us far away from the status quo.
I will allow, for the sake of argument, that there might be something positive to say about our current relationship with the EU. It is true that we enjoy some of the benefits of membership without a number of the burdens many of our fellow EU members have to bear. Of course, I would argue that most, if not all, of these benefits could be had without membership, but let’s assume you don’t believe me and feel that Brexit is too great a risk. The question you have to ask yourself is this: what further changes to our membership would you deem acceptable?
The reason this question matters is that if Yes win the referendum, the result will be used to legitimise a whole host of future changes. You may think this is entirely speculative, but I would ask you to consider the 1975 referendum. At the time, the British public were asked to choose whether they wanted to stay in the European Economic Community (EEC) or leave. They voted to stay. Since that time, the EEC has ceased to exist, and in its place we now have the European Union. This is a fundamentally different body. The EEC was, as its name suggests, an economic union: it was built on the idea of free trade and the single market of goods, services and labour. The European Union, by contrast, is a political union in which all laws made at the European level take precedence over any law passed by our own parliament. This is a fundamentally different relationship from the one that was voted on in 1975, but politicians ever since have used the result of the ’75 referendum to back up this relationship. Thirty years later, we are finally being given the chance to have our say again: and if we choose Yes, we will not be choosing the status quo. Instead, we will be saying that, whatever happens to our relationship with the EU over the next thirty years (or more), we implicitly agree.
That means if a future government decides the time is right to join the Euro, we will not be given a chance to express our view. If the EU elites draft another treaty, binding the UK into ever closer union, we will be dragged along regardless. The point is, our relationship with the EU is not a fixed point, it is an ever changing, evolving status that embeds us deeper and deeper into political union with each new treaty. And there really is only one direction in the EU: more Europe, never less. Reform is a dirty word in Brussels, because it is seen as being synonymous with giving power back to nation states. The history of the EU shows that power only ever flows in one direction: away from members and towards the institutions of the EU. At no point since it came to be has the EU ever given powers back; nor is it about to start.
So when you come to cast your vote in the referendum, don’t think about the here and now. Instead, ask yourself whether you really want to live in a United States of Europe, with its own unelected government, armed forces, flag, anthem and the full regalia of statehood. This is not a fanciful notion or the far-fetched dream of a swivel-eyed Europhobe: this is what the EU founders have always wanted. If we say we’re happy with our existing membership, we are also saying that we’re happy to continue under the existing arrangement of power transfer.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not something to which I’m prepared to give my assent.