Supranational governance is fundamentally unacceptable for Britain regardless of EU “reform”. The “renegotiation” will not change that. Yet legacy media outlets are still mired in a “renegotiation” debate that is more concerned with what “reform” the “leavers” would accept than it is with how Britain should “leave” the European Union.
In order that the British public are able to make an informed choice about whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union, various lines of argument need to first be disentwined. To that end, blogging colleague, Red Cliffs of Dawlish, recently published an excellent piece that gives a clear and concise answer to one very simple question: What is Brexit?
For those who follow the debate with care, this may seem redundant—Brexit refers to Britain’s exit from the European Union—but, over recent days, I have come across people in both the “remain” and the “leave” camps who are not clear about what Brexit means. There is a tendency to associate Britain’s EU exit with all sorts of policy objectives that have little or sometimes nothing to do with leaving the European Union and which should not prejudice what is in essence a constitutional matter.
The conclusion at which Red Cliffs arrives is as follows:
Brexit = Withdrawal from EU Treaties, Institutions and Representation: “Not A Penny More And Not A Penny Less.”
In the first instance, this definition clarifies that any arrangement that keeps Britain is a “reformed EU” is not Brexit. That being the case, “renegotiation” is a matter for the “remainers”. The aim of the Brexiteers is to “leave” not to “reform” the EU.
Likewise, Red Cliff’s definition does not specify how Britain should leave the EU. Personally, I favour Dr Richard North’s Flexcit plan, which describes a structured process of phased withdrawal during which national independence is recovered and enhanced as part of a six-stage process.
In other words, the legacy media focus on “renegotiation” skews discussion towards the “remain” outcome—in quite a profound way—before the referendum debate has even begun. The assumption that Britain should only “leave” the EU should the “renegotiation” fail to achieve sufficient “reform” is unawarranted given that the propositions on the ballot paper will be “remain” or “leave” not “remain” or “reform”.
The legacy debate reflects the “renegotiation” but not the referendum.
Do “leavers” really need to wait for the conclusion of the “renegotiation” in order for the referendum debate to begin? The principle that supranational governance is fundamentally unacceptable for Britain and that who governs Britain is a matter for the British provides a sound basis on which to campaign, regardless of the “renegotiation” and its uncertain outcome.
The established “leave” campaigns have not helped themselves in this regard. As recently as June 2015, Vote Leave CEO, Matthew Elliott told the London Evening Standard that: “If the Government gets a two-tier Europe, we’re very much in”.
The assertion that he would accept a “two-tier Europe” places Mr Elliott and his campaign in an extraordinarily weak position, especially given that a “two-tier Europe” is precisely what the Prime Minister is likely to deliver.
The refusal of Vote Leave to clarify whether Mr Elliott would support Britain leaving the EU regardless of the outcome of Mr Cameron’s “renegotiation” also raises serious concerns about the organisation’s suitability to lead the officially designated “leave” campaign.
Moreover, Vote Leave Campaign Manager, Dominic Cummings, has yet to outline a serious Brexit plan. Indeed, his most notable contribution to the debate so far was to distance Vote Leave from what Civitas associate, Jonathan Lindsell, describes as Britain’s “most moderate Brexit choice”, the so-called Norway Option or Norway Interim as some supporters of the Flexcit plan have taken to calling it.
This has the unfortunate consequence of creating confusion rather than clarity, which, I am sorry to say, is the method of communication favoured by Britain’s legacy news-media and political class.
The declaration of six Tory MPs that they will support the Vote Leave campaign—has there ever been a more tedious piece of political rhetoric than Vote Leave spokesmen urging people to “Vote Leave”?—muddies the water still further, as evidenced in a piece written by James Cleverly for Conservative Home.
Although, read carefully, Cleverly’s piece is quite clear about where the Tory MP’s true loyalties lie. Notably, Mr Cleverly does not declare his unequivocal support for Brexit or for Britain leaving the EU. Indeed, his rhetortic echoes Mr Cameron’s call for a “new relationship” for Britain in a “reformed EU”.
Mr Cleverly clearly states that his aim in coming out in support of the Vote Leave campaign is to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in his EU “renegotiation”. “It may feel like a stone in his shoe and it will be reported as disloyal,” he writes, “but it is massively to the Prime Minister’s benefit for there to be a credible and active Vote Leave campaign.”
Furthermore, just in case anybody is any doubt, Mr Cleverly also takes the opportunity to reassert his support for the Tory Party and its leader:
Over the course of the campaign all Conservatives should remember that there would be no renegotiation without the referendum, no referendum without a Conservative victory, and no Conservative victory without David Cameron.
The “new relationship” line is a stock phrase in Mr Cameron’s EU speeches and in statements made by Tory cabinet ministers and it makes another appearance here:
The case for a new relationship with European and global economies is overwhelming.
It scarcely needs saying that a “new relationship” does not necessarily mean support for leaving the EU. A “new relationship” could just as easily mean remaning in a “reformed EU”. This is David Cameron’s stated aim, after all.
Finally, the article concludes with the heavily caveated assertion that:
We need new relationships and, without that fundamental change in the EU, the only way that will be possible is for the UK to leave.
This is as close as Mr Cleverly comes to supporting the proposition that Britain should leave the European Union, but the crucial qualifier “without fundamental change” changes the meaning of his concluding statement.
As I have striven to describe in previous posts, I think we should anticipate that David Cameron will agree a “new relationship” for Britain in a “reformed EU”, precisely because that is part of the EU plan.
The only reason for a “leave” campaign to be concerned about labelling the “renegotiation” as “trivial” is if a “non-trivial” renegotiation could satisify its demands. The prospect of “fundamental change” to, say, a “two-tier Europe” would not concern a campaign that is centred on the convinction that supranational governance is fundametally unacceptable for Britain—and that it always will be.
The Vote Leave campaign and many of its most prominent supporters, however, focus on specific policy outcomes, such as lower costs and reduced red-tape. This creates an enormous hostage to fortune that David Cameron will—at the very least—aim to exploit. Should Mr Cameron return from his “renegotition” with a deal for a “new relationship” that creates “a British model of membership”—acknowledging our shared “European values” but outside of the eurozone and exempted from “ever closer union”—it will be an uphill struggle for a campaign that has repeated, time after time, that his “renegotiation” aims are “trivial”, to convince people that Mr Cameron has not achieved the “reform” he has promised all along. Indeed, under those circumstances, there is every possibility that Mr Cleverly and his fellow Tory MPs will stand back in awe at the remarkable achievement of their inspirational leader.
What the “leavers” need to do is to “move the goalposts”. The idea that “reform” or “fundamental change” are synonyms for “good” should be rejected. Reform means change and change means different. Not necessarily better. Indeed, the “reform” that Mr Cameron agrees may very well be worse. The “leavers” need to be able to offer a better alternative that is both credible and safe.
I am aware that this piece has been repetitive in places, but the aim is to draw attention to a system of rhetoric that (Tory) politicians have introduced into the debate as a means to “frame” the outcome as a success should Mr Cameron agree a “new relationship” intended to keep Britain in a “reformed EU”. The pattern recurs with unerring frequency and is something that Brexiteers should bear in mind.
The Tory Party and David Cameron, in particular, would very much like the British public to have a renegotiation debate about EU “reform”. Please let us get on with the referendum debate about whether Britain should “remain” in or “leave” the European Union.