The Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) campaign messed its collective trousers when Leave.EU announced that it is working on an EU exit plan.
There is, after all, nothing more likely to lead to the rapid and involuntary emptying of bowels among the anti-Brexit crowd than the thought of Brexiteers finally getting their house in order.
To be clear, the only people who think that Britain could withdraw from the European Union without a plan are the profoundly ignorant, the misinformed and the malign.
The Scottish nationalists produced a 700-page doorstop that nobody read and came unstuck on the issue of the currency. But, without a plan, nobody in Scotland would have even taken the independence proposal seriously.
The depth and the breadth of the political, economic and social integration that has occurred between Britain and the EU over the past 40 years is so much greater than most people understand. Talk about a “simple free-trade agreement” from anybody with any real knowledge of the EU role in Britain’s national policy-making framework is facile at best.
Why then are a vocal minority of UKIP supporters (active on Twitter) so opposed to the idea of a Brexit plan?
There are several possible reasons. The first and the dumbest is the fact that Leave.EU is working with Dr Richard North—the foremost expert on EU affairs in the eurosceptic community—to produce a Brexit plan. The second is the fact that the Flexcit plan (co-authored by Dr North and Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group) advocates a six-stage process for achieving Britain’s EU withdrawal involving an interim compromise on freedom of movement so as to facilitate a mutually acceptable trade deal between Britain and the EU immediately post exit. The fact that the second stage of the Flexcit plan centres on the means by which an independent Britain could use its new-found agility (outside the EU) to address the migration issue is something that these critics neglect to notice, choose to ignore or deliberately misrepresent.
Neither of these are credible reasons for opposing the idea of an EU exit plan or the Flexcit plan, specifically. To see comparatively high-profile figures like UKIP’s Suzanne Evans wading into the debate on the side of those who appear to advocate a “hard exit” rather than a pragmatic negotiated settlement does her and the cause of leaving the EU no credit.
The fact that this referendum is even taking place is evidence that there is widespread discontent regarding Britain’s relationship with the EU. The Prime Minister himself accepts that the status quo is not an option when he says that his aim is a “new relationship” for Britain in a “reformed EU”.
If the European Commission plan goes to schedule that will likely mean second-class membership in a two-tier EU—what Cameron calls his “British model of membership”—with all of the encumbrances associated with supranational governance and ever less say for Britain at the top tables of international law-making.
In other words, Mr Cameron has a terrible hand, which he has so far played rather well, in no small part due to the “leave” campaigns relying on all of the same tired old mantras that have failed to arrest—let alone reverse—even a single slither of EU integration: “control our borders”, “cut red-tape” and “save money”.
The “leave” campaigns could and should be doing so much better. 1) “control our borders”. There are more important and more effective means of reducing immigration than border control. What Britain needs is policy control—across the board—so that governments can respond rapidly to political problems, before they become crises. The supranational tier of governance—above the nation-state—limits the ability of national policy-makers to adapt administrative efforts to suit local conditions. 2) “cut red-tape”. The fact of the matter is that most of the “red-tape” old-fashioned eurosceptics associate with the EU originates in technical standards-setting bodies at the global level. Inside the EU, Britain adopts the compromise position of the EU28. British citizens, businesses and NGOs do not have the same influence as their equivalents in countries with an independent voice, veto and right of reservation. 3) “save money”. International co-operation costs money. End.
The “leave” campaign needs to ditch the eurosceptic baggage and embrace the dash and swagger of Brexiteers. That means presenting referendum voters with a bold 21st century vision for an independent Britain, engaged at the highest levels of global governance, representing the views of a democratically-minded electorate with a clear say in the national policy-making process and full international representation.
That means putting forward a plan to assure people that the proposition you support is serious and that due care and attention has been given to the associated complications. Frankly, anybody who opposes Britain’s phased EU withdrawal because it impacts their ability to have everything their own way all of the time (and immediately) might just as well join the “remainers”.