Alphen, Netherlands. 3 October. Those of you who are regular victims of my musings will know I am a pro-European Eurosceptic, i.e. I believe deeply in close co-operation between European states and I am implacably opposed to democracy-destroying, freedom-frying, liberty-lacking European federalism in which power is ever further removed from the people. No sooner has the Scottish referendum been sorted (for now) than the battle over the Brexit referendum has recommenced. Indeed, in many ways the Scottish referendum was a dry run for the Brexit referendum and here is why.
There are two lessons from the Scottish referendum which will be pertinent for the Brexit vote when it eventually comes in 2017 or 2022. First, the elite Establishment in both London and Brussels will warn of grave economic consequences for Britain should the British leave the EU. Second, hard commitments should be exacted from the EU Establishment BEFORE the referendum.
The battle-lines over the Brexit are already apparent. This week Sir Martin Sorrell, Chairman of WPP a ‘media conglomerate’ (whatever that is), warned the British against even holding a Brexit referendum. Sorrell’s comments are pretty much the same as those employed by the political Establishment and big business in the week prior to the Scottish vote as the latter threatened to decamp south en masse in the event of secession.
Now, I know little of Sorrell or his wider views and he may be a model democrat. However, on the face of it at least his comments appear to reflect contempt for democracy that is apparently shared by many captains of industry and commerce. The simple truth is that big business does not give a damn about democracy and liberty.
The strange thing about Sorrel’s argument is that it collapses under its own weight. The EU is the only region in the world that is not growing. Much of this has to do with EU over-regulation and the political irresponsibility implicit in the economic, financial and fiscal contradiction that is the Eurozone. And yet Sorrel believes Britain should remain marginal part (in fact the EU and the Eurozone are one and the same thing) of what has become from even the most cursory strategic and structural analysis a European mutual impoverishment pact.
Given the close relationship between the leadership of the Conservative Party and big business some level of cynicism with Prime Minister Cameron’s promise to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU is not only justified, but entirely healthy. And yet here is the paradox; Cameron's bid to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU is probably the best chance of a pre-referendum deal particularly if the Brussels-elite can be convinced there really is a chance the British might vote to quit.
However, for Cameron to succeed he must confront two dangerous contradictions in his own position. First, Cameron will need to fight less for Britain and more for the principle that the ever onward march to ever closer political union and eventual federation must be stopped. In this he will find a growing number of allies across Europe. Indeed, a clever Cameron is about the only thing that frightens the euro-fanatics about the Brexit. Second, he will need to convince EU leaders that if he fails to get EU reform he will recommend a Brexit.
This is what will happen prior to a Brexit referendum. Firstly, all talk of ever closer political union will be banned in Brussels. However, eventual political union will remain the purpose of the EU. Secondly, the European Central Bank will instigate a short-term re-inflation of the Eurozone economy to give the impression of economic growth. Thirdly, a sustained campaign would be commenced involving the likes of Sorrell designed to intimidate the British people in very similar ways to the intimidation to which the Scots were subjected.
Therefore, those wanting real change in Britain’s relationship with the EU should not simply wait for the Brexit referendum that may or may not happen and which may or may not be rigged. Instead, they should push, cajole and support Cameron to press for real EU reform and help him to construct the necessary Europe-wide alliance necessary if future Europe is to be an alliance of nation-states rather than an EU confederation or federation.
There is of course a game-changer that would move the goal-posts on a Brexit; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). A transatlantic free trade zone could permit Britain to join a non-Eurozone super-European Free Trade Area AND permit the Eurozone to pursue deeper political and economic union. In effect, the TTIP would render moot all the dire warnings about Britain having no access to the EU single market in the event of a Brexit, which would in any case be illegal under World Trade Organisation rules.
There is also a potentially dangerous twist that those desperately keen for a Brexit referendum should consider. Any such vote would not in fact be considering the EU of today but the EU of tomorrow. If the vote in the end goes in favour of Britain staying in the EU then the Euro-fanatics will immediately claim a false mandate for Britain to join the Euro just like Jean-Claude Juncker claimed a false mandate from May’s European Parliament elections to become President of the European Commission. Indeed, far from protecting Britain’s status as an independent nation-state a referendum could actually hasten its demise and open the door to a truly federal European super-state. In other words, euro-sceptics beware of what you wish for. Just food for thought.