THERE IS a case to be made for Brexit …. surely. It must be just that I haven’t heard it yet … surely!
Yesterday gave us two more reasons to demand that the Leavers — who are after all those attempting to overturn the status quo and therefore those on whom the burden of proof must lie — come up with something better than scare stories or blandishments.
The first, and the most obvious, was the confirmation by Barack Obama that the Leavers’ pie-in-the-sky claim (do they really believe them? really?) that the UK could happily drift into a trade agreement with the USA on the morning after Brexit was not going to happen. Most of us never seriously thought it was.
And the rapid rebuttal from Dominic Raab that this was Obama “doing an old friend a political favour” doesn’t hold water either. And his suggestion that the British people are being “blackmailed by … a lame-duck US president on his way out” is as desperate as it is childish as it is offensive. If Mr Raab continues his parliamentary career we can only hope that he learns a little diplomacy along the way.
The comment from ‘Leave.eu’ (interesting that Leavers are happy enough to use the EU’s internet suffix when it makes a snappy title!) shows a breath-taking ignorance of US politics. This president will certainly be gone before negotiations on any deal begin but, unlike the UK where undoing everything your opponents do in government has become the defining characteristic of Britain’s yah-boo politics, the US tends more towards a certain stability and it is a fair bet that if this president believes that a quick deal is unlikely things will not change much come next January.
Dragging the Leave campaign even further into the gutter, Boris Johnson — who is rapidly approaching his use-by date if, indeed, he hasn’t already passed it — attempted to make political capital or simply divert attention by a sort of typically confused hash of the old Churchill’s Bust story with racist overtones added by the reference to Obama’s ancestry.
This is a dangerous ploy as Boris is evidently too thick to realise. Polls suggest that my generation is more likely to vote leave but this will hardly be the case if they think that Churchill is being disinterred and used to prop up the Leavers’ threadbare campaign. And that same generation still has a soft spot for America and her people and her president and while some may have reservations about the current incumbent they will note the infinitely more statesmanlike manner in which he conducted himself yesterday.
The Americans do have an interest in the future of Europe, and while this may be selfish in part (what diplomatic position can ever be completely free of national self-interest or indeed should be?) the argument that the EU is stronger with the UK on board and the UK is stronger as part of that bloc is certainly true from Washington’s perspective and also from Moscow’s. And anyone who thinks that doesn’t matter hasn’t been paying attention.
Writing in The Times (£) yesterday, Ed Conway, Economics Editor for Sky News, understood Obama’s problem:
The worry is not just Britain, but the fate of the wider EU. With the euro in perma-crisis, extremist parties on the rise and Schengen all kaput, the project may not survive another decade, even with the UK still on board. If Britain leaves, a slow-motion implosion looks much more probable.
And that brings me to the second reason to challenge the Leavers which is the thrust of that same article.
Entitled By staying in the EU we can help to dismantle it Conway continues:
In the long run, the EU is probably doomed, just as the British Empire looked doomed in 1945, which raises a further thought. No other country in the world has more historical experience of dismantling a crumbling political institution from within, relatively painlessly, than the UK. Might that not be the most powerful internationalist argument for Britain to remain?
Whether you agree with that argument is not something I propose to go into here but it has been said before, including by me, that if the EU is on the skids or likely to be in the foreseeable future the UK (and arguably other countries as well) is going to come better out of the whole sorry mess if it is on the inside helping to oversee an organised break-up rather than on the outside where its influence will be minimal and the blame for the demise of the EU will almost certainly be laid at the door of the country that is perceived to have been instrumental in bringing about that situation — whether rightly or not. Logic and common sense will not be to the fore when the bureaucrats are seeking scapegoats for the failure of their project.
Of more immediate concern are what Conway calls the fantasies of the Leavers the problem with which, he says, “is not merely their incoherence but that they are mostly bunk”.
In spite of what they maintain is the situation:
- Net migration since 1990 from outside the EU has been three times greater than the flows from the EU.
- UK product markets are less regulated than almost any other country in the developed world.
- Britain’s labour market is less controlled than any other European nation.
The unpalatable truth is that Britain is knee-deep in regulations because that’s the way we like it. Why else did we introduce some workplace regulations (on maternity leave, on unfair dismissal, on holidays) that go beyond EU requirements? Why else did we go further than the European habitats directive with our laws on dredging in harbours? Why else did we legislate to reduce emissions by far more than the rest of the continent?
The important thing to remember in all this is that one of the supposedly strongest arguments that the Leavers have put forward is that we will be able to make our own rules. Well, there is the evidence that we already do and we persist in making them more onerous than the EU requires us to. With the result that, as Operation Comfort Blanket tries to convince us, we won’t really notice much difference. We’ll still be up to our eyeballs in the same red tape, the only difference being that we can’t blame Brussels for it!
So where is the logical argument for leaving? I’m still waiting …