As promised, here is my dissection of the second part of the Economist’s tiresome anti-Brexit tirade.
Building upon its warnings about the economic consequences that could result from a vote to leave, the Economist avers: “Brexit would deal a heavy blow to Europe, a continent already on the ropes.”
Let me try to get this straight. Britain is too poor, too weak and too stupid to be an independent country and would face economic and societal ruin without EU support, yet Britain is also such a vital member of the European Union that withdrawal would fundamentally weaken the Western alliance and destabilise the entire global economy. Are you following this? I’m not.
These assertions are so far from reality that it is genuinely difficult to know where to begin. “Poorer, less secure and disunited, the new EU would be weaker; the West, reliant on the balancing forces of America and Europe, would be enfeebled, too,” remarks the Economist. Yet there is nobody suggesting that leaving the EU and forging a new relationship based upon trade and intergovernmental co-operation would mean an end to long-standing alliances across the West.
In all likelihood, there would be policy continuity for a long time to come. Britain and the rest of Europe share all sorts of common interests and would continue to work with one another on a multilateral basis at the global level, working together where it is appropriate and diverging in areas where it is more important to preserve uniqueness. Leaving the European Union would increase Britain’s options in that regard, it would not cut us off from the rest of the continent, let alone the rest of the West.
Even the Prime Minister has long argued that Britain needs a “new relationship” with the EU—that was the purpose of the so-called “renegotiation”—to agree a deal that would keep Britain in a “reformed EU”. Yet, even with the very real prospect of one of the EU’s largest members leaving the supranational union, EU institutions and other EU Member States decided that “reform” was not on the agenda. David Cameron’s promissory note changes absolutely nothing about the relationship between Britain and the EU, as the Economist obliquely recognises by not even mentioning Britain’s “new settlement”.
The Economist sets up yet another straw man in the form of an argument against using the Norway Option as an immediate staging post for a post Brexit Britain. The leader writers state: “the union would also demand the free movement of people and a big payment to its budget before allowing unfettered access to the market”. To which one can but answer, “So what”?
Freedom of movement is not going anywhere if Britain remains in the EU so it is hardly a credible hit against the Leavers that EU withdrawal will not bring an immediate end to the arrangement. Furthermore, while a majority of people polled say that they think immigration should be reduced, opinions about freedom of movement are much more nuanced; people like that they can hop on a jet to France or take a job in Germany without having to apply for visas or fill out additional paper work.
What Britain’s immigration policy should be post-Brexit will be a matter for the British people to decide and with domestic politicians unable to hide behind the “EU competency” shield, our elected representatives will have to confront the trade-offs we will face, regardless of the approach that is eventually decided upon.
As for the comment about “a big payment” into the EU budget, presumably voting to remain will result in Britain paying less into the EU budget? No? So, why then are europhiles raising this as a bone of contention? International co-operation costs money. Get over it.
Then the Economist wheels out this tired old canard. “Worse, the EU would have a strong incentive to impose a harsh settlement to discourage other countries from leaving”. Having said that leaving the EU would be a disaster, the Economist now tells us that the threat of a harsh leave settlement is necessary to discourage others from making the same mistake. Am I reading that right? This is akin to a prison with guards posted outside the gates, which insists the inmates are free to leave at any time, but will beat anybody found outside the prison walls to a bloody pulp.
The next point that the Economist makes, noting that those Brexiteers who argue that the EU needs Britain more than Britain needs the rest of the EU are foolish, will find no argument from me. I have never understood how asserting that the rest of Europe is a “declining trade bloc” helps the Brexit cause. Europe is home to many of the most economically, technologically, socially and culturally developed countries in the world. Britain and the rest of Europe have a shared civilisational outlook and the fact that our economies are at similar levels of development means that our trading partners on the continent cannot be ignored. Indeed, they should be valued.
However, I do not see what economic or cultural exchange has to do with Britain’s membership of the political EU. International trade and co-operation does not need political integration or supranational governance any more than buying a sandwich requires me to marry the girl behind the check-out.
Finally, the Economist descends into an Orwellian nightmare in which the conventional meaning of words is inverted and the only way to establish what is true is through dogmatic adherence to Party doctrine. According to the Economist: “In a globalised world, power is necessarily pooled and traded: Britain gives up sovereignty in exchange for clout through its memberships of NATO, the IMF and countless other power-sharing, rule-setting institutions”.
Yet it is only the EU which demands that Member States accept the supremacy of EU law over domestic law. The idea of enhancing sovereignty by pooling is akin to the idea of increasing virginity by having sex. Some of the international agreements and global conventions to which Britain is party do constrain the framework within which it is appropriate for the government to act. Britain signs those agreements because, broadly speaking, it is in our national interest to do so. That is not an argument for continuing with a relationship that does not serve our interests.
This is not a distinction that the Economist seems able to make. Instead, its writers suggest that leaving the EU would lead to “a purer but rather powerless sort of sovereignty”. Nope. Me neither. Answers on a postcard.
Finally, there is the usual blackmail about Scotland leaving the UK if Britain leaves the EU, to which I am inclined to say, “go ahead”. If that is what the Scottish people choose, then so be it. The rest of the UK cannot be held to ransom on the back of what the SNP wants. And, then there is a plea for people to support Britain’s continued EU membership on the basis that leaving would weaken the EU.
To my way of thinking, there is something oddly parochial and condescending about the notion that the EU needs Britain to keep it on the straight and narrow and that without us the EU would be “more dominated by Germany; and, surely, less liberal, more protectionist and more inward-looking”.
David Cameron has ably demonstrated just how much “influence” Britain has within the EU. Faced with the prospect of Britain leaving, Mr Cameron’s fellow Heads of State and Government would not compromise on anything of substance. If the oh-so-clever writers for the Economist cannot see what is staring them so plainly in the face, rest assured that the rest of us can.
Britain does need a new relationship with the EU and the only way to achieve that is to leave.