Not much longer to go. This wretched campaign, which could foul our future, will soon be over – leaving behind, I hope, the recognition of what a crude, populist device a referendum is: a real threat to parliamentary democracy. After membership of the European Union, why not try a referendum on capital punishment next?
Archbishop accuses Farage of racism and ‘accentuating fear for political gain’ – EU referendum live
Live coverage as prime minister and Ukip leader appear on ITV debate, and Vote Leave draws up list of offenders who it says cannot be deported
By polling day what else will we be left with at home? Above all, if the remain campaign wins, having to cope with the swelling of a sour, xenophobic English nationalism masquerading as the liberation of the nation’s mojo (to use Michael Gove’s language).
In their Trumpish rhetoric, how do Boris Johnson and Gove actually differ from Nigel Farage? Only perhaps in this. Farage has at least always believed what he is saying; for Johnson, in particular, you need to take principles and policies a week at a time.
But there are five points that surely should not be too difficult to grasp.
First, when we joined the European Economic Community, back in the early 1970s, we were the “sick man of Europe”, behind France, Germany and Italy. Because we were not a member from the beginning, the EEC in the 70s reflected French interests above all in its spending programmes and protectionist instincts. In four decades we have helped to transform it, in ways that suit us and the other members very well.
We have kept out of Schengen and the eurozone, grown faster than most of the others, created more jobs than them, and now face the prospect in the next 20 years of becoming the biggest and most successful economy in the union.
All that has happened despite the nonsense about us being held back by Brussels bureaucracy and red tape. We are in fact one of the two least regulated economies in Europe; in our labour market we are on a par with Australia, Canada and the US. What more do the Brexiteers want?
Of course we could scrap more regulations, like those that make our food safer, our environment cleaner and our workplaces fairer for women. That seems a prospect that sends a shiver of happy anticipation through Iain Duncan Smith, once the self-styled quiet man of British politics (oh, happy days).
So why, second, would we want to turn our back on an economic success story and on our biggest market, the product of one of the Thatcher government’s greatest achievements? There is hardly a reputable economist or economic organisation at home or abroad who thinks this is other than crazy. The lack of any intelligent endorsement for this is taken by Brexiteers as a sign of virtue. Never believe experts. Oh really? This is simply not adult behaviour. Yes, experts can get things wrong – just as Gove was wrong to think as late as 2008 that the Iraq war was a terrific idea. But all of them? The denial of any evidence you don’t like is a disorder, not something to boast about.
Moreover, the alternative to Europe’s single market has never been spelt out. The main proposition now is that Europe would give us better terms than we have today because we have such a large trade deficit with our partners. This ignores any notion of proportionality: 44% of our exports go to them; 7% of theirs come to us. So we’d face a leap in the dark with a very steep fall at the end.
But third, in return for big economic costs, wouldn’t we at least get back control over our lives? Where do we not control things already? Housing, welfare, health, defence and foreign policy are all in our hands. In fact, the biggest problems we face as a country are in areas such as housing and health, where we call the shots. But aren’t many problems really the result of immigration? Can’t we pin the blame on those foreigners? This is what the “control” argument is really all about: Portuguese nurses, Polish plumbers, Romanian pea-pickers.
The largest numbers of migrants, all of whom come because our economy is booming, are from places other than Europe – yet apparently we’re only going to stop the Europeans. And not the ones with skills, just those who come to stack shelves or work in the fields of the east Midlands. How many – 5,000? 10,000? 20,000? More? If we do that, I suppose, as one leading Brexiteer argued, our own pensioners can pick the potatoes.
Wreck the economy, and you can certainly slow the immigration that has helped us to boom and to give jobs to more men and women born in Britain than ever before.
And fourth, that mojo stuff is about the young. It’s our hi-tech startups; it’s our research scientists and our universities. In every one of these areas, the big majority want us to stay – not least, in the area I know best as chancellor of Oxford University, because of the importance to our research community of our EU sponsors and collaborators. Vote to leave and we blight the future of our younger citizens. No wonder the Brexiteers are hoping they won’t turn out to vote.
Finally, if we leave the EU – an important if imperfect part of the world order that has made us and others more prosperous and safe – how much else will then unravel?
The European Union is an extraordinary creation in which countries that believe in pluralism, democracy, welfare economics and the rule of law gain extra leverage in the pursuit of their national interests by sharing sovereignty. So what is Brexit’s message to the world: two fingers? Or maybe as Ferdinand Mount, the former head of Thatcher’s policy unit, says, we’ll catch the Brexiteers belting out that Millwall chant, “No one likes us, we don’t care.” Like the football team, they’ll sing it all the way to the third division.
By: Chris Patten
Source: The Guardian