DW2Let me offer you an unwanted perspective. Let me explain why, after the past few messy, muddled, and deeply manipulative weeks of the EU debate, I’m set to vote against Brexit. Not that I expect you to agree with me. I recognise the difficulty of the question before us. Which is why I want to at least describe my fears and explain why I think fear is our most important, honest, and compelling motivation going into the forthcoming referendum.

Boris Johnson wrote this past week in The Daily Telegraph about the ‘insidious erosion of democracy in this country’. He talked, too, about ‘the sausage machine of EU law-making [extruding] more laws’ and ‘how contemptuously we will be treated if we vote to remain’. It was all dizzying stuff from a man who is, no doubt, in championship winning form. Yet I found myself asking if any of his showboating meant anything beyond drawing attention to the handsome forward with the comb-under stare. Boris Beckham might ping them in from forty yards but so too does Cristiano Cameron whenever he takes to the field. Both teams have gifted front lines and are equally weak in defence. It feels like we’re set up for a replay because, as the leader in The Spectator puts it, when it comes to what’s best for the nation: ‘the truth is we just don’t know’.

The Brexit question will condense into some really simple questions we will each be asking ourselves in the remaining weeks. Who has the best information? Who stands to lose the most? Who has the most to gain? More essentially: which one of these careerist, self-aggrandising popinjays do I distrust the least?

In the absence of verifiable facts, trust is important. If Brexit goes wrong, I’m pretty certain that it will be me shuffling along at the back of the dole queue. I suspect Boris will not. Unlike Boris, I don’t have a publishing contract. I don’t have a column in The Daily Telegraph. I don’t have income for being London Mayor and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. I don’t even hope one day to have Prime Minister stitched on my Turkish slippers. Instead, I have what might vaguely (and laughably) be described as ‘a life’. And, viewed from inside this quite ordinary life, Europe has always felt like a force for good.

I will pause a moment to allow you to scoff. Despite what the Brexiters might say, you still have every right to do so. Scoff away. It all comes down to a matter of perspective.

From this north west corner of England’s green and pleasant, I see very little that’s either green or pleasant. The Northern Powerhouse remains a laugh of derision wrapped in a snort of contempt. Instead, it is the word ‘Europe’ that stands for investment at a time when central government has pulled the plug on everything but our tattoo parlours in the name of austerity. New developments usually have the magical ‘E’ word written in some corner of the building site notice that also warns visitors to wear hard hats and not to feed the night shift. And speaking of hard hats, Europe is the word that also means protection in the workplace and, if you dismiss that as mere leftist dogma, I can only say that, having done horrible jobs that Boris Johnson would never dream of doing, I am sorry if you think it wrong to care about workers getting crushed by cement lorries. I feel safer knowing that European protection is there, as I also feel better knowing there exists a bill of human rights. The very fact that the European Human Rights Act offends a few high profile politicians is surely a good sign. It is already curtailing the powers of people that would push the rest of us towards the sharp end of press censorship, web surveillance, and the suppression of thought and expression.

There are, I readily admit, problems with Europe. I don’t need prescription lenses to recognise the flaws of the EU. I could easily find them bumbling in the dark, though thankfully, EU regulations about safety lighting prevents my needing to bumble anywhere. Much of what I’ve just described could be implemented by national government and, surely, you would say, if our government doesn’t support, say, the rights of workers, it’s because the electorate doesn’t care enough to vote for a government that does. Similarly, the funds flowing in from Europe originated in our pockets and that money could equally be sent directly to the regions without the need for a middle man skimming a slice to butter his baguettes. Again, if national governments don’t support the regions, it’s because the electorate doesn’t care enough to vote for a government that does.

I accept all of that. I accept that Europe is flawed, obese, and walks with a mischievous gait. It has two parliaments, one quintillion rules and regulations, and it spends millions on multi-ethnic spiritually inclusive hetero-trans-lesbian wellness climbing instructors that don’t even know how to tie a knot in a organically free-trade sourced hemp rope.

I know it all. So why do I remain loyal?

Is it because I think it an ideal that is still worth preserving? The crowning achievement of the post-war reconciliation? Is it because I still believe that Churchill was right to ask that we ‘re-create the European Family […] and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.’ Is it because I don’t even fear Churchill’s phrase ‘United States of Europe’?

You do not, I notice, see Churchill’s name spelt out in bunting, despite every conceivable cliché of British patriotism being strung up to persuade us to leave the EU. And that, perhaps, is what concerns me the most. The puerile yet patronising patriotism that chimes among Brexiteers is but a few discordant semitones away from the nationalisms that can be faintly heard swelling across Europe. What begins with somebody forcing a party horn in your mouth ends with them stuffing a gun between your teeth. These, surely, are the kinds of testing moments when Churchill would have wanted us to stand firm. These are the very challenges that the European Union was meant to counter and resolve.

It is simply too easy to give in and pop a few party poppers to Pomp and Circumstance, even if you would have to be a callow hater of our nation not to feel something stirring for four lions standing tall, the Union flag, the Queen, the Battle of Britain march… Yet simple love of country does not make Brexit right. Even if I wanted to shout ‘screw you, Europe! We can do this on our own!’, I would merely be pandering to the very worst instincts I have as a human being. ‘Change’ is a powerful message but often it is too powerful. I know I would regret it later because — and here’s the clincher — it is simply not British.

There is a maturity, certainly, in standing in your long trousers for the first time and proclaiming that you can fasten your own laces. Yet there’s a greater maturity in recognising the stability of community, shared culture, and in civility. Britain is stronger when united against common enemies. Brexit would make us weaker. It would also herald the dissolution of the Union, which I cherish even above European unity. I am British foremost because my grandmother was Scottish. Such is the nature of our intimate nation. The Britain that the Brexiters claim would be stronger would be smaller than it has been in 300 years. All those people proudly flying the flag would need to buy new flags.

This is why asking about trust is so important. Can I trust that we can be stronger outside Europe? Do I trust that our national spirit will be resolute enough to counter the force of the world’s trading blocks? Stronger even than the predatory practices of China? Do I trust our leaders to protect us from the interests of elites? Boris may talk about the ‘elites’ that support Europe but I hear very few voices from the leave campaign that aren’t themselves speaking for one or more vested interests. When Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel, and Michael Gove talk about Brexit, I am reminded of the laws and regulations they have championed and continue to champion. I think about disability rights, employment rights, privacy laws, working tax credit reform, boundary changes, and corporate tax aversion. I also think about Gove’s antiquated education regime that prevents many children from getting the education they need – for example, lessons in basic reading skills – and instead inculcates them in highbrow literature, much of which they are incapable of understanding, simply to appease a politician’s warped notion of pedagogy and British identity.

Brexit feels like it too would be an appeasement. It would be an appeasement to the canal boat loving, pottery collecting, tea-towel hoarding, Jerusalem singing advocates of a mythic Albion. They would have us turn our spring-wound travel clocks back to the days of Bakelite Empire so we emerge in some Billy Butlin idyll where we would lose every advantage afforded to us by being part of a modern progressive Europe.

And if that sounds to you like the politics of fear, then I agree. It is about fear. To those lucky enough to live in comfort, Brexit might well be compelling. Sovereignty is a luxury if you can afford to wallow in its illusions like you’re sinking into a deep bubble bath. To those of us that struggle on suppressed incomes in workplaces where every right is hard won, Brexit is a looming threat to remove many of the protections we enjoy, funding we need, and stability we require. For every threat to business that proves real, I worry that ordinary lives will suffer.

Fear is perhaps the only honest response to the choice we’re given. The challenge to those supporting Brexit is to quell such fears, assure me that I am wrong and to convince me that Brexit is not a gamble to all but the rich. Because, at the moment, it is striking how many of those extolling the virtues of Brexit are in positions best placed to avoid the effects of our parting with Europe. Many are retired and well off. ‘I love Europe! That’s why I live in France. But the EU has no purpose’ says Nigel Lawson. It is a view shared by quite a few émigré Britons spiritually languishing in the utopia that was the land of their youth. None of them speak for me, even if many, like Boris, are engaging, witty, and articulate. I admire his use of language. I am charmed by his character. Yet I am not won over by his argument any more than I think he understands the danger his eloquence poses to the lives of ordinary people.

Nothing convinces me that Brexit is anything but a fantasy and those that would walk us back into the incandescent glow of Britain’s idyllic past would be walking us into a nightmarish future from which there is no immediate escape. Just a chance to forget the lessons of history that we always swore would never be forgotten.

 

 

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16 Comments on "Brexit Viewed from Nowhere"

  1. I like your arguments, they’re very interesting. You may or may not know Professor Patrick Minford researched the topic in depth for many years and published a *book… worth a read. It’s unbiased and makes detailed logical arguments – nothing to fear!

    *’Should Britain Leave the EU? An Economic Analysis’ There’s a pdf version online, and an updated book especially for the referendum.

  2. Peter Kennedy | 12th May 2016 at 9:56 am | Reply

    I am with David on this one but there is one point which he has omitted to make. The last two world wars originated in Europe and it has now been a generation since the fighting ended. European Union has helped maintain the peace and, for that. I am profoundly grateful.

    However…..

    It disturbs me when I see the current UK position of half in and half out of Europe. Not in the Schengen agreement, not part of the Euro, various opt-outs in place that go back to the time of Thatcher, yet quite willing to enjoy the benefits of European harmonisation including the peace. To some extent Hungary are adopting a similar position, they are quite willing to accept European money but when it comes to adopting European rules including those on accepting refugees and fighting corruption they are very reluctant. If you want to join a club then you accept the clubs rules, all of them.

    The only criticism I have of Europe is their tendency to expand too quickly, either in the number of regulations or a rabid eagerness to accept new countries into the fold. Greece and (maybe) Romania were mistakes, especially when Greece was urged to join the Euro, and I really do think that Europe should sort out its existing problems before new countries join.

    I have been absent from the UK too long to be able to vote at the end of June. I am however strongly in favour of the UK staying as part of the European family.

    • Just wanted to say many thanks, Peter. I expected (and still expect) complete disagreement on this piece so it’s nice to have at least one positive reply and to feel like I’m not alone.

    • “The only criticism I have of Europe is their tendency to expand too quickly, either in the number of regulations or a rabid eagerness to accept new countries into the fold”
      Really? That’s your only criticism? You’re not worried about economic stagnation and levels of youth unemployment above 50% in many countries? Rising debt and deflation in the whole of the southern Eurozone? You’re not concerned that democratically elected governments have been replaced by EU stooges? You’re not bothered that the EU is protectionist and deliberately restricts access to, for example, our food markets by African producers? Energy policy? Antagonising Russia in the Ukraine? Misinvestment in grandiose projects? Encouraging multinationals at the expense of small business? Destroying the fishing industry? Applying “one size fits all” policies in waste management?
      There are hundreds more, but I sense my tin foil hat needs a polish….

  3. I would take the opposite view David in that a remain vote is a vote to retain the status quo. If you are doing well it is in your interests to vote remain, if you are doing badly then you are voting to continue in the framework that has you doing badly. The two million or so EU migrants in the country are not pushing down wages for the well off, are not competing for housing with the well off, are not driving up rents for the well off and are not competing for appointments in the same surgeries as the well off, all this is visited on people at the lower end of the earnings spectrum. I’m well off and in truth shouldn’t be voting leave therefore, there is absolutely nothing in it for me personally but I look at the EU and way it is increasingly dominated by German interests, how it is the slowest growing economic block in the world, how it increasingly bullies the smaller nations and circumvents the democratic will of it’s peoples and I just can’t swallow it. If we vote remain it will be the last meaningful vote the British public gets to partake in and will mark the end of us having even a remote say in our future, we will be ruled going forward by an unelected commission who it will be impossible, even if we all stood as one, to remove.

  4. mahatmacoatmabag | 12th May 2016 at 11:18 am | Reply

    The cloud on your Wolkenkuckucksheim fantasy of remaining in the EU paradise is that Islam has a different agenda than that of the EU elites & that plan is being rapidly implemented via the wombs of their womenfolk.

  5. David,

    I understand your fear. But as much as you cite problems in the North East – I happen to like the Northern Powerhouse ideal, and its not a 5 minute job, it will take a long time for its efforts to be visible. I worked on YTS in the Thatcher years, and the things they did at the time were often scorned, but you do see how they eventually did bring changes.

    I think that fear cuts both ways as well. The EU economically has gone from 30% of world GDP to 17% and is falling. Its a protectionist market that somehow managed to achieve shifting to getting everything made outside of it. Youth unemployment may well be very painful in the north east, and is not an acceptable place to be, but in large, far too large, parts of the EU like Portugal, Spain, Italy, there is raging 50% youth unemployment.

    And no plan. I’ve watched now for years as the no plan rolls on being ‘the plan’. The current mass immigration was hailed in Germany as raising GDP by a percentage point. Why? Because the laudy ideals of the EU now require a new blood slave class to work for peanuts and with a complete lack of innovation drag some positive GDP somehow? How does a European square 50% youth unemployment and mass immigration?

    You cite lots of issues with the UK. Fair enough. I understand. But as I loosely understand, the UK has created in a few short years more jobs than the rest of the EU managed to do combined. I don’t say that cheaply either.

    I think it is deeply irritating, irrational, and highly questionable that when the UK went to talk with the EU, fundamentally, its a broken situation. We can’t find common ground and you only see jarring failure. The UK that has a genuine dynamic outlook, and a strong desire and capability to go for growth – met an arrogant, unmovable, deaf EU.

    I think it is now extremely important that the EU properly gets awakened from this arrogance. Its becoming clear to me that the current situation cannot possibly stand. It may be a very important step that Britons make in taking this historical breakpoint and challenge where things sit,and not just for Britons. I say this quite clearly. Britain and its people have a place in history and a voice and in latter years in the EU certain poorly placed powers have the EU pointed in the wrong directions.

    My question to anyone contemplating voting in either way is this. Take a hard look at where either vote will take you if you carefully look at courses. If you vote to stay – you have answers on the table for the dire economic stagnation that you see? You have a plan beyond slave class for GDP and no answer to the monster social problem tsunami it_is going to create – Your youth unemployment problem thats going to become a generational problem has an answer?

    Many people focus on the risk and their questions if you vote leave. That is without a doubt entirely true and valid. Yet there seems to be a blind alley on staying, and no one has an answer. The EU of tomorrow looks to be a future of economic stagnation, massive social problems, very poor governance, poor security, poor co-operation, and in a general sense a very real block of states running on analogue ideas in a digital age.

    You cited Churchill on Europe. But you did not quite get it right.Churchill was one of the founders of the EU. He used to use the words ‘We’ and not ‘They’. And he used to talk of working towards moving Europe back to prosperity and greatness.

    Mr Churchill is unlikely to sit with you today, where ‘We’ don’t play a part and our views are generically ignored. Nor would he be impressed with moving in a direction that isn’t prosperous and certainly moving away from any form of greatness. He is likely to have been astonished to have one of the planks that he was a great fan of, that of being secure and free movement of people being torpedoed by disasterous mismanagement on a scale that is piss up in brewery level stupid.

    To anyone who might hold a pro EU view. I understand. But you’ve actually had decades to do the things you only talk about. ‘Democratic deficit’. ‘Budget’. Its pitched that we have influence and an ability to change things by being ‘in’. And yet the PM went into serious areas to do that and frankly was given the finger. So, a confirmation then of Democratic deficit, and a confirmation that being in gets you no real influence anyway.

    The vote will be an event unusual and hated in Brussels. A people get a real vote, on a real thing, with real consequences. Personally, I will be voting to leave. Not so much that I am black and white in that. But if we were to stay, it can only be in a thing where our voice matters, where our energy has a value, where our enterprises can grow, and where all Europeans nominally are indeed heading in a good direction. I don’t see any of that today, and I think Britain walking is exactly fitting for us to play exactly our place and part in the great european story. We may yet be arbiters of a rethink that is very badly in need for Europe as a whole.

    I do have one curiosity in this. And that is Mr Cameron’s grand miscalculation. If he is to be quite believed – one would think it our end should we leave. OK, but in such a case, why did he ever begin down this road. (I am personally thankful, I beleieve deeply many Brits for a very long time wanted this vote. Its a shame the EU was too stupid to comprehend change was required leaving such a poor position for itself and its argument)

    Cheers

    • Adam, My take on Camerons position is that he thought this would be a lot easier than it has turned out to be. When he announced his policy to hold a referendum I believe the polls were showing over 60 per cent in favour of remaining, he probably thought his European colleagues would offer up more concessions than they have and of course it was before last summers migrant debacle. I think it has puzzled the remain campaign and I must admit it has surprised me too that their scare tactics have failed to translate into support for their cause and in fact some of their espousals such as Camerons nonsense about the risk of war has simply undermined their credibility. It’s only going to get more desperate at we get closer to the vote and today we have Mark Carney, a man who can’t even correctly predict what his own bank is going to do with interest rates, warning of a recession if we leave.

      • Really in a rush so I haven’t had time to reply to all the other posts but quick comment: I don’t think Cameron thought easy or not. I think he promises things without thinking through the reality. He is a short term thinker. Win the election at any cost and damn the cost. Promise people anything in month so long as he wins in a week. I think the referendum was an immensely stupid move borne out of the political necessity of saving his own skin.

  6. Anne Raynaud | 13th May 2016 at 6:16 pm | Reply

    Bravo David
    Born British I have lived in France for 50 years.

  7. mahatmacoatmabag | 15th May 2016 at 12:02 am | Reply

    Expect a Russian invasion of Europe as retaliation for EU states voting the rubbish Ukrainian song the winner of the Eurovision song contest

  8. “as the leader in The Spectator puts it, when it comes to what’s best for the nation: ‘the truth is we just don’t know’”

    Well, actually, we do. We know for sure that if a majority vote for Remain, sooner or later there will be NO nation. There will be a superstate, run by an unelected elite for the benefit of that elite and associated corporate and non-governmental institutions. This state will micro-manage our lives and our businesses, and thus destroy our freedoms (the few that we retain) and any spirit of individual initiative, creativity and entrepreneurship. The only redeeming feature of this structure is that if we are lucky it will continue to be so badly managed that it will collapse under the weight of its misgovernment. If we are unlucky, it will continue to follow the USA’s present policies of antagonising Russia, and bring war and ruin on our heads.
    A vote to Leave brings with it the faintest of faint hopes that we may be able to rescue and revive our moribund democracy.
    As for the “popinjays”, I can only suggest that we all ignore them, and do our own research. They are all ignorant of the real issues, and their personal agendas will feature more and more in the next few weeks. They are not to be trusted or even listened to.

  9. Saw the donors to the remain campaign today, notably the 4th, 5th and 6th biggest donors are Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley all firms who are known to have the interests of the ordinary people closest to their heart (sarcasm). Interestingly they were also the 1st, 3rd and 4th biggest donors to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

  10. Paul Corrick | 17th May 2016 at 2:38 pm | Reply

    David I am one of those perhaps sad people, who will listen to the Remain arguments and find myself nodding and then listening to the Leave Arguments and start Nodding and I often sway back and fore not knowing who to believe so I might just toss a coin on the day ! I must admit my heart does overall sway to the leave camp but I am not entirely convinced or feel super confident I am right. I wish I had the conviction of a Farage or Cameron. I agree with you that many on both sides have personal agendas and are looking at their legacy or future career. One of my big worries is the ever bigger growth of the EU which now has 28 members and another 5 or 6 may want to join .One of those is Turkey with a population of 75 Million people and a country not geographically or culturally a part of Europe.
    It is very rare I would quote the late Tony Benn but his famous quote said “If one meets a powerful person – Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler – one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”
    I know Turkey and others would have to meet certain criteria to be admitted but how accountable are these EU politicians and Bureaucrats using Benn’s terminology? I know I can vote for my local Councillor, MP and Government but I have no control over politicians in far flung Eastern Europe and beyond. Beyond Turkey who next Russia, Syria, South Korea or Australia or is that the point the bigger the better?

  11. The EU is undemocratic, incompetent due to its structure and its agents venal. I have worked within its structures and have seen it operate from the inside. It is often insidious and corrupt.
    The EU is subject not to the ballot box, but to larger industries that lobby most effectively. Consequently its effects strongly advantage large corporations and as a consequence small businesses, particularly family businesses within its sphere of influence are disadvantaged. This is fine in the short term for the best educated, the best connected and the time servers who have climbed the greasy pole to the top of the largest euro businesses, but it is a recipe that stifles innovation, suffocates competition and generates unemployment, or at least low paid under-emplyment.
    The hallmark of any society is not the number of millionaires it can produce but the success of the less advantaged, the middle ground, the average Joe. By reducing the number of “middle of the road jobs” all the average Joe in Dresden or Dumfries can aspire to is the lottery fantasy of pop stardom or football success. Their reality is low paid retail, service or screwdriver technical jobs.
    Robin Williams in a riff about apartheid South Africa said in a monologue “does the name Custer mean anything to you?” By which he meant that “why are you doing this shit – there are a lot more of them than there are of you”. The EU would do well to remember Custer. The majority may not be silent for much longer and unless reform takes place soon there could be some rather unattractive consequences. You can see the smoke signals in Eastern Europe, Greece, Holland, Finland, and Sweden already. I am voting Brexit as a service to my European friends to hasten the day the EU takes reform seriously.

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