Over the past couple of weeks I have made a nuisance of myself on Twitter, messaging anybody who I thought worth the effort to remind them that the propositions on the referendum ballot paper are “leave” and “remain”—and that, for the sake of clarity, committed Brexiteers should stick to using only these terms to refer to the opposing campaigns. Following the launch of The In Campaign and two “leave” campaigns—Arron Bank’s Leave.EU and Matthew Elliott’s Vote Leave, Get Control—I now think that I may have been a little overzealous.
A “remain” campaign that self-identifies as the “In” campaign and which does not feature the words ‘European Union’ or ‘EU’ anywhere on its website is an even bigger triviality and distraction than I was cautioned to expect. Likewise, a pair of “leave” campaigns that focus on the unholy and divided trinity of “eurosceptic” campaigning—immigration, regulation and cost—are not going to be anything other than noise-makers that put people to sleep with the same old arguments that have seen Britain’s political and economic institutions merged ever closer into what was first a Market, then a Community and, finally, a Union.
Senior figures who claim to represent both the “leave” and “remain” campaigns accept that “reform” is their first priority. Whether it is Business for Britain or the Labour Party. Nigel Lawson or David Cameron. There is general agreement that Britain’s present relationship with the EU is inadequate and unsustainable and that EU “reform” is the answer. It could be argued that this is progress of a kind, but, this has in fact been the status quo view expressed by parliamentarians for at least 30 of the last 40 years.
Such is the way in which the various campaigns are lining up, the division between “leave” and “remain” is not as clear as it should be. What we face instead is an irrelevant “remain” campaign and a division within the “leave” campaign between Leavers/Brexiteers and Whingers/”eurosceptics”. Practically the entire “political class” accepts that the EU must “reform”—even europhile grande dames like Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson will say so—but there are very few (if any?) among the parliamentary parties and their associated hangers-on who will state explicity that Britain should leave the EU.
In other words, we face a situation in which David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Alan Johnson are parroting almost the exact same soundbites as John Redwood, Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell—and being applauded by different audiences. The later have made nice careers out of whinging about the EU, and whinging, rather than productive solutions for achieving Britain’s EU exit—Brexit—are all that they have to offer now. The niches these and similar men and women have carved out would disappear should we embrace the opportunity to correct an historic mistake and set course for a future founded on national independence, democratic governance and intergovernmental co-operation. Perhaps that explains their lack of conviction.
The question that those who wish to contribute towards the “leave” side of the referendum campaign need to ask themselves therefore is: Are you a Leaver or are you a Whinger? If you are a Leaver then you had better think of a more productive way of contributing to the debate than retweeting Farage’s/Carswell’s/Hannan’s mindless euro-whinging.