Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt – a Campaign of Dissimulation and Distortion
I think it’s time to poke my head over the parapet.
First, apologies if this comes across as a little rambling. It is a work in progress, as you will see.
First of all, I love Europe. I love France, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Greece, and would love to visit many other countries. I love them because of their individuality, the variety of foods, countrysides, cities, and peoples. However, in recent months I’ve suffered a certain number of insults from friends. Mind you, it’s nothing compared to what the politicians who “represent” me have said. To many of them, I’m a Little Englander, a Xenophobe or a fool, because I have the temerity not to immediately agree with europhiles who are keen to see Britain remain in Europe.
This is an understandable aspiration. They say we should remain in the world’s largest single market. It is one of the things Britain has fought for over centuries. For us, one of the oldest democracies, it makes sense for us to fight to remain inside this great project?
Perhaps. But for every world statesman, for every banker, for every business leader who tells us with contempt why we should stay in Europe, I feel my resentment growing, and with it a developing cynicism.
First of all, let me state: I have not decided whether to vote to stay in or to leave Europe. The reason why I have been condemned is because I have not wholeheartedly thrown my hat into either ring. The reason is simple: I am still considering how I should vote. However, I am not confrontational, and find debates (especially internet shouting matches) exceedingly tedious, so I’m not going to participate in disputes here.
However, I will say this: I won’t be persuaded by a country’s President, for whom I may not vote, who tells me with truly breathtaking hypocrisy how I should vote, especially since it means giving up the very system of democracy and law that his own country emulates. I will not be persuaded by the head of the IMF, whose background as a politician and banker does not inspire confidence, that she holds Britain’s best interests at heart; likewise when a number of past American world statesmen tell that they know what is best for me – well, at the nub of it, I smell self-interest. Not the interests of the British.
Why such suspicion?
Well, America is exceedingly good at looking after her own interests. She does not allow shared sovereignty. She will support free trade, come what may – until it affects domestic interests, at which point free trade ends. Canada and Mexico know this all too well.
So where do I think America’s interests lie? I believe that America would love to be able to reduce the cost of foreign negotiations. The State Department has expensive ambassadors to uphold the dignity of America in all European nations. I am sure that the Department looks at the savings involved in having one single point of contact with enormous enthusiasm. One contact to negotiate treaties, so one American contingent where currently there are twenty eight, a number that will grow as Europe expands. Likewise, Australia, New Zealand, and other foreign countries who will find access to European markets possibly affected if Britain were to leave Europe, also advise Britain to remain in the safe cocoon of Europe. It makes their lives easier.
Yet I doubt any of these democracies would agree to join a similar organisation.
So what are the choices in pro-Europe or pro-Brexit?
Many cogent arguments have been put forward as to why Britain should remain in Europe or come out. They include the prediction that family incomes may not grow so fast outside (although the numbers are nonsensical; the Treasury’s ability to forecast six months into the future is pathetic, and Osborne’s credibility predicting one or two years hence is, for me, vanishingly small); the pound may drop, so holidays abroad for the wealthier may grow more expensive, but exports will be cheaper and smaller businesses will flourish; foreign residents may be forced to return to England, which is unlikely, but let’s stick with it. There could be far-reaching consequences for big business, although the majority of Britons work for smaller firms which would likely benefit from greater flexibility. To every economic statement of disaster there is a logical counter.
So I don’t really care about the financial case. It has long been a rule of thumb for me that economists are proved wrong more often than they are proved right. It is not an exact science, as one economist told me.
However, Britain does stand at a cross roads. To one side there is the EU and greater European integration; to the other, British exit from Europe.
What does further integration mean? It means we agree wholeheartedly to the ambitions of the EU. Does that mean we allow free movement? Yup. We cannot control immigration from Europe any more than Alabama can control immigrants from Texas. That is one of the key principles of Europe, as Chancellor Merkel has reminded Call-Me-Dave. This is a problem. Down here in the west country our schools already suffer from too many languages, and we are having to expand our towns beyond the servicing capability of the water supply and treatment companies. Britain has a diminishing power capacity, yet we’re increasing our population and demands on the National Grid. Be that as it may, we need nurses, doctors, and other workers, so immigration will continue, whether from Europe or elsewhere. I would prefer to see immigration based on merit rather than residence in Europe, but we will have immigration.
However, the other implications of throwing ourselves headlong into Europe are more key. They are almost diametrically opposed to what we were told in our last referendum, which, we were told, was to join a common market and no more. The pound was safe, the pint and gallon secure, our legal system inviolate, we were told. This time, if we vote Remain, make no mistake, the British people must accept the end of much that makes their countries unique. The pound sterling will go. The British legal system of common law will go. The British army will go, and with it our independence. Perhaps these don’t matter in the 21st Century, but they have served Britain well. Our legal system now serves America, Canada, Australia and many other countries equally well. I would miss it. In its place we will have the Napoleonic system. It is no worse, probably, but it is different.
Next, there is the argument of “shared” sovereignty making Britain stronger, allowing her to “punch above her weight”. This is nothing more than fatuous dishonesty. It is a ridiculous invention. The idea that giving up our independence and allowing our views and national interests to be blocked by foreign nations in Europe somehow enhances our position in the world is a contemptible falsehood. The independence of Britain depends on her place in the Security Council of the UN, her large economy and power, both hard and soft. If we remain in Europe, our military will be subsumed by an ever-growing European government, our economy will, I think, probably reduce as more and more control is taken by Germany, and our permanent seat at the Security Council will go. We will be significantly diminished in the world.
Perhaps that would be good. We should accept that we are only a small territorial offshoot from a great continent, no longer an empire, and give up the remaining trappings of power: cancel Trident; reduce our army; stop supporting American policy as a matter of principle (the “Special Relationship” is a one-way street and only exists when America has a need for our military, generally); and throw our lot in as a senior, influential part of a new European state. There would be logic to that.
However, it does mean that we will be forced to support one of the great disasters of the Union: the Euro. There were clear rules of entry to the Euro, and it was stated that no country would be able to fudge them. Except they were fudged.
It was blatantly obvious that Greece did not meet the entry requirements, but as soon as the Euro was launched Greece was included, and German bankers flew to Greece waiving the strict German regulations on banking loans, lavishing money on clients who would never have been allowed such generosity in the days of the DMark. When the banking crisis hit, and Greece could not pay her debts, the EU put in an administration to guarantee that Greece paid German interest. The cradle of democracy taken over by bureaucracy. Greece might as well not have bothered with her battles for independence from the Ottomans.
If we stay, we will join the Euro and we will become jointly responsible for that currency.
What is the alternative option for Britain?
It would mean returning to the big, wide world, where we can decide to trade with America, India, China, or any other nation. Instead of being bound to a European Union that is declining, or at best growing only lethargically, we could deal with countries that are growing. And, like anyone who is self-employed, that means taking a punt. It means gambling. It is a big, unknown world out there. But a small, agile country can react to world trade faster than a bureaucratic monster.
So, that, for me, is the main implication of the referendum: we need to choose between full membership, which means engaging fully in Europe and not whinging about every decision we don’t like, or comi
ng out completely and returning to independence, whatever the risks.
Would Britain outside Europe be immediately stronger and safer?
No. Outside Europe we may have more control over our destiny. We will be able to choose which markets which we wish to deal in. Would that make us stronger? No one knows. I may not be an economist, but I do know, as I said before, that economists are very often wrong, no matter what they argue.
I certainly do not believe the ever more panic-stricken campaign of terror being waged against Brexit. I most certainly do not believe the Cassandras warning that cataclysm and international collapse followed by World War Three will inevitably follow. The EU will not cut off its nose to spite its face. It will be irritated to see such a large amount of annual income disappearing, but Europeans are pragmatic. They won’t want to lose access to the fifth largest economy in the world. Nor will America, whether under Trump or Clinton.
If Britain votes against remaining in Europe, the first result will be that Europe will sneer that we are too ill-educated, that we didn’t understand what was at stake, and that we need to be asked to vote again, as were the French and Dutch when they rejected the new EU constitution in 2005, or the Irish when they rejected the Lisbon treaty in 2008, after suitable reeducation. Then, hopefully, they may renegotiate, and this time seriously (Call-Me-Dave’s pathetic chat earlier this year was embarrassing).
And that is the problem I have with Europe, I think. The patronising attitude towards their electorates. It is the nineteenth century conceit: the aristocrats knew best, the plebs are too uppity to know what’s in their own interests. I still remember my rage when I heard the patronising tones of the arch-europhile, Ken Clark, telling a reporter that he couldn’t imagine anyone bothering to read the Maastricht Treaty because it was so long and boring. He voted for it, which was surely an abdication of responsibility, if he spoke the truth.
In the Victorian era, the grand advances of empires meant statesmen looked for ever larger units of trade. The British Empire was superseded by the American, and European nations eyed their wealth jealously. After the two World Wars, Europeans looked to the model of larger, safer trading areas, and the idea of the European Coal and Steel Community was born. Later this became the European Economic Community.
This is a very European solution to a problem that existed over a century ago. Europeans, traumatised by two hideous wars, made a firm decision to avoid conflict. To do so they created a superstate run by a all-powerful bureaucracy of officials. But those officials are not held to account. Even when whistleblowers (Dorte Schmidt-Brown, Marthe Andreasson, Paul van Buitenen etc) highlight failings, fraud or corruption, they are as likely to be punished as those who were guilty.
Corruption is hardly new behaviour. Dishonesty and misbehaviour in public office are not new. God knows, Britain has its fair share of mendacious politicians and bureaucrats.
Still, my own tipping point is coming down to the politics. In essence, how much safer or less safe does Europe make us and the world?
Some years ago, Edwina Currie spoke about when she was an MP. There was a government policy at the time to close down lunatic asylums and introduce care in the community. These were good aspirations (and made a lot of money from sales of land, of course), but Edwina was surprised when she was met with a blank silence when she asked what was the minimum number of beds that were needed? Not all mentally ill patients could be safely thrown on the streets: how many would need to be kept incarcerated? No one could answer her.
Europe has at its heart the opposite problem: a determination to expand. But there has to be a limit. What is it? Has anyone actually thought of this? Should the limit be political, geographical, cultural?
And meanwhile this ambition, I believe, is making the world vastly less safe. Putin is keen to recover the national pride of Russia, and he has achieved a great deal. When Europe entered negotiations with satellite countries of the USSR and brought them into the EU trading zone, Russia was not happy. When Europe and Russia confirmed the territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine giving up her remaining nuclear stockpile, that was before the EU started to bring the Ukraine into the EU’s sphere. Russia could not swallow that. Consequently we now have the disaster of an on-going war in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s theft of the Crimea. Russia will not accept being hemmed in by the EU.
Am I therefore convinced that we should pull out of the EU? No. I’m still weighing up the potential benefits of both options. But I’m not going to be swayed by the increasingly inflated, outrageous, facile or blatantly dishonest comments of politicians who are determined to fight a campaign based on Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.