For most Britons, life is not too bad; for some, it’s doubtless quite comfortable. So we can understand that the referendum does not engage everyone’s close interest.
If the polls are correct, about one third of Britons are generally in favour of continued membership of the European Union; one third are opposed; and the remainder are undecided. And two-thirds may not vote in any case. Vague and mendacious references to trade, GDP and household prosperity may sway waverers; but arguments about sovereignty may seem too abstract and distant.
Until it’s too late.
We have progressively and substantially ceded the power to govern our own affairs to the European Union. This process cannot be reversed as long as we remain ‘member states’. Unless we extricate ourselves from this outmoded and anti-democratic structure, British citizens will in the end discover — when it really finally matters — that we are powerless to control our own future.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
Could… could… could… Might… might… might…
We have referred before to the unpredictability of the future. Nevertheless, Cameron’s Project Fear persists in predictions of possible gloom and doom… death and disaster… plagues of frogs and locusts…
Today’s so-called analysis by the Treasury of the long-term economic impact of EU membership and the alternatives has been thoroughly — and rightly — trashed. But it is important that the debate should not get bogged down in trivial arguments over possible percentage points of GDP decades in the future. That is to play the Remain game. The economic argument is a a deliberate distraction and an attempt to ramp up the fear.
This is not what this referendum is about. It is about on whom we confer — temporarily and conditionally — the power to govern us. And it is about whether they have, or have had, the right to sell our birthright as free-born Britons.
“I know not whether those who did our Rights betray,
And for a mess of Pottage,
sold away our dear bought freedoms,
shall now trusted be as conservators of our Libertie”
Benjamin Keach 1689
On top of the lies carelessly broadcast by Project Fear we now have emotional blackmail. Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, warns us that:
“if Britain leaves Europe it will be young people who suffer the most… everyone who casts their vote must understand that. If parents and grandparents vote to leave, they’ll be voting to gamble with their children and grandchildren’s future.”
On the contrary. Nicky Morgan was hardly born at the time of the last referendum, and clearly has no conception of what she is talking about. It is those parents and grandparents who by their vote 40 years ago conspired to surrender Britain’s independence. The least they can do now — for the future of their children and grandchildren — is to help atone for that historic error, and reclaim the sovereignty so shamefully compromised.
And on the subject of lies… Des anyone know if Cameron’s “legally binding” (ie worthless) agreement has been deposited as promised at the United Nations? We can find — unsurprisingly — no mention of it on their website.
Yesterday in the Daily Telegraph, Mehreen Khan reported the Dutch bank ING’s claim that Britain leaving the European Union would ‘wipe off’ up to 0.3 per cent of GDP from the euro’s 19 economies in less than two years.
0.3 per cent! Three parts in a thousand! It is difficult to express the horror that that such a prospect evokes. Perhaps.
Governments do not create growth in GDP, still less does the EU. Economic growth results from free agents — corporations and individuals — contracting agreements to purchase and supply with each other. The best that governments can do is facilitate a level playing field for free exchange, and minimize economic distortions — through tax for example.
According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Britain will become the world’s fourth largest economy — ahead of Germany and Japan — in the next twenty years. According to IMF estimates, UK GDP will increase from $2.7 trillion in 2015 to $6.0 trillion in 2035. Our children and grandchildren will be — more or less — twice as wealthy as we are in twenty years’ time.
0.3 per cent off GDP in the eurozone is rather beside the point.
We often see complaints — from pundits, journalists and private individuals — that they don’t have sufficient facts to inform a decision on whether or not Britain should leave the European Union. This is curious, since there is a massive amount of information available to those who care to do their own research and form their own conclusions. But it is also true that fundamentally there is only one fact and one judgement which matter.
The fact is that the future is uncertain. Whatever the result of the referendum, we shall never know whether the alternative route which could have been taken would have been better. GDP up or down a bit? Trade deals more or less advantageous? Border control stronger or weaker? Who knows? The fundamental judgement, however, is that managing this uncertainty to the benefit of Britain will be more effective if the British people rather than the Brussels apparatchiks control it.
There’s a great deal of research about the interaction of rationality and emotion in decision-making. In routine, everyday decisions, it makes sense to use rational evaluation. But in the big decisions, emotions should and do carry the day. Do you want to be governed by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels or — despite their many faults — by your own elected representatives? Simple, no?
*Apparently, Joe Friday never actually said this line in Dragnet.
It is important to stay focused on the big picture, on the principled reasons for leaving the European Union. However, many people are — understandably — concerned about the potential impact on them personally.
We have close contacts with a number of British expatriates living in continental Europe. They are worried about whether they will still be able to live in France or Spain; about their continued access to healthcare; about whether they might even be forced to sell up and return to Britain. Cameron and his cronies are trying to exacerbate those fears, but without going so far as actually to endorse them. Because the fact is that those fears are groundless.
The key principle is that of executed rights, or acquired rights, as established in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This provides that “Withdrawal from a treaty does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination”. All current ex-pats will continue to enjoy all the rights and freedoms which they chose to exercise before Britain decided to leave the EU. There will be no change to their situation, whatever the result of the referendum.
What of our children and grandchildren? What rights will they have? No-one can predict how the law might evolve in the future. But continued access to the EU Single Market will imply continued freedom of movement. And Britons have lived happily in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy for generations past. Why otherwise is the Promenade des Anglais in Nice so-called?
If Project Fear prevails, and we lose this referendum, the issue of Britain’s relationship with the European Union will not go away. The Crown in Parliament will remain sovereign, and will sooner or later reassert that sovereignty — either because the British people will finally demand it, or because the European Union will collapse, as all supranational empires do.
But there will be other unfinished business. Principally, this will turn on how to reconstruct our democracy so that our political class serve us rather than aspire to act as our masters; so that they respect rather than despise the heritage they should serve; so that they can never again surrender. And further, on how we can replace the now-unsustainable post-war European social-democratic consensus before it destroys our economic and social existence.
On Sunday 28 February, The Observer published a thoughtful article, which concluded:
Project Fear may well be the right strategy for the Remain campaign to secure victory, but it does not answer the question of how mainstream politicians can speak to those disaffected voters who helped trigger this referendum. How do you help people cope with the unequal impacts of globalisation, demographic change and technological progress? How can people begin to trust again in a market economy that seems, in places, to be rigged by ever larger global firms that have an uncanny ability to reduce their tax liabilities; how can they feel confident again in a form of late capitalism where benefits seem to accrue unevenly to a smaller and smaller number of people?
These issues will remain to be addressed whether we win or lose the referendum. Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France, famously argued, “La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires.” This is usually rendered as, “War is too important to be left to the generals.” We can say too that politics is too important to be left to the politicians.