hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Why I Reject Brexit II

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 March. Over the past month I have been approached by a considerable number of people asking me to tighten up and re-post my arguments for rejecting Brexit. Over that period I have become more convinced than ever that my decision is the correct one for a raft of strategic reasons. Critically, I am convinced that Europe stands on the edge of several strategic and political precipices and could well see more change in the next five years than in the preceding fifty. Therefore, it is vital that Britain not only help prevent disaster, but seize the opportunity now afforded London to better shape Europe's future.  

Strategy not Politics

My decision has nothing to do with the political chicanery of late. David Cameron's so-called 'reforms' are at best minor tinkering and at worst pretence. First, there will be no reform of the EU per se under the Cameron plan. Second, with a few window dressing minor adjustments most of the so-called ‘new’ arrangements actually exist under current treaty provisions. Third, the agreement confirms that Britain will not at any point be part of EU structures of which it is already NOT a part, most notably the Euro, Schengen, and ever closer political union.

In other words, this agreement is a least possible on offer agreement to get a line of least resistance politician out of a domestic political corner entirely of his own making. Not only has David Cameron missed a very real opportunity to show real leadership and push a real EU reform agenda, history will now judge him as one of Britain’s lesser prime ministers.   

There will certainly be days when I will regret this decision as there is much about the EU I really do not like at all, most notably the threat to democracy posed by Brussels and ever closer union. The European Parliament is a rubber-stamping supreme soviet packed full of federalists and enjoys little or no popular legitimacy.

However, while I remain a confirmed EU-sceptic I am not, nor have I ever been, a Euro-sceptic. Indeed, I have long been firm in my belief that it is vital European states work closely together in a dangerous world that is getting more dangerous by the day. Nor am I particularly bothered by some of the issues that excite many of the ‘outers’. For example, I see freedom of movement within the EU as one of the freedoms for which Britain fought the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

Therefore, as a strategist, analyst and historian, some say a good one, I simply believe that this is NOT the moment for Britain to leave the EU. Moreover, even though I am only an individual British and EU citizen, which means I count for very little in today’s EU, I still believe that all of us must at times show leadership. This is one such moment, not only for my country, but for the community of which it is a part, be it within the EU or without. 

Strategic Judgements

The simple truth is that I am confronted by a complex set of interacting realities from which no clear course of action is apparent, in a strategic environment which is markedly more dangerous than back in 2010 when I called for Britain to leave the EU.  At such moments the good strategist weighs up the factors, considers their implications over the medium to longer-term, and then relies on strategic judgement to reach a decision. The critical strategic judgements supporting my decision are based on the following assumptions:

The integrity of the United Kingdom: It is clear that the UK remains a fragile political edifice in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. If England voted to leave the EU at the 23 June Brexit referendum and Scotland did not the separatists in the Scottish Nationalist Party would again call for Scottish independence. For those of us who believe it is vital the UK endure for both strategic and political reasons the SNP regime in Edinburgh, which is now fully empowered with devolved authority, must be given both time and opportunity to fail. 

The shifting balance of power within Europe: In December 2013 the Centre for Economic and Business Research suggested that by 2030 Britain could emerge as Europe’s strongest economic power. Britain is already on track to regain its position as Europe’s strongest and most capable military power. The CEBR position may well be over-stated and ever-so-slightly hubristic.  However, it is clear that fears of German hegemony have been over-stated. Germany’s poor leadership of Europe’s now many crises, and the eclipsing of Chancellor Merkel’s political star, allied to the inevitable decline of an unreformable France that simply wants more ‘Europe’ to save itself from itself, clearly point to a shift of power within the EU. If correct the critical future power relationship within the EU will be between London and Berlin.  

Pressure for EU reform will grow:  In his September 2015 “State of the Union” address European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed that in 2017 the EU will begin the long-process towards a new Treaty on European Union to be completed by 2023. Juncker clearly thinks a crisis-hit EU will automatically lead to Europeans wanting more ‘Europe’ and thus less democracy. In fact, a new treaty is more likely to lead to a balancing of powers within the EU between common and inter-governmental structures in favour of the latter. Therefore, if Britain is to leave it should do so in 2023 not now. Indeed, given the so-called 'constitutional lock' that is now enshrined in British law ANY further transfer of powers to Brussels would in any case trigger another referendum. The irony for the British is that whether they vote for or against Brexit Britain will probably end up in the same political place - a kind of associate membership. 

The end of political union: The dream of euro-federalists such as Juncker have been dealt a real blow by the Eurozone, Russia, and migration crises. His efforts to find ‘common’ solutions, i.e. more power for Brussels, have repeatedly foundered on two simple facts of European life: a) there is growing EU-scepticism across Europe; and b) a majority of Europeans and their leaders still remain firmly wedded to their nation-states. Clearly, there are now limits to just how much power Europe’s states, or more importantly Europe's increasingly savvy peoples, are willing to hand over to the distant Brussels elite. 

The Eurozone v non-Eurozone: When I called for Britain to leave the EU back in 2010 it was because I believed at the time that the only way to save the Euro was for the Eurozone to deepen economic, political and fiscal union. Those outside the Eurozone I feared would be forced to 'pay without say' in a Union in which the EU and the Eurozone were effectively one and the same. In fact, efforts to deepen the Eurozone have proven to be extremely complex and difficult causing much resentment amongst the taxpayers of the six western European states who in reality pay for it. Six years on and it is clear that the EU is dividing into a Eurozone and non-Eurozone bloc. Britain’s relative power if used properly (a big ‘if’ given the poor quality of Britain’s leaders) should ensure London emerges to lead the non-Eurozone bloc. Power and the need for Europe to compete or fail will afford the City of London the protections the British seek from the ‘ambitions’ of the Eurozone bloc, and the stifling regulations of the European Commission.
   
Democracy, sovereignty & subsidiarity: The Dutch have a saying, “Europe where necessary, the states where possible”. English political culture has always rightly distrusted distant political power. Born of the likes of Burke, Locke and Mill the English (and dare I say Scots – Hume & Smith?) have traditionally mistrusted continental Colbertian grands dessins which somehow always end up affording excessive power to distant executives at the expense of local legislatures. However, Britain is not alone with such concerns. Dutch Prime Minister Marc Rutte has said openly that the idea of a super-state is now dead. Therefore, in alliance with partners Britain’s growing power and influence could help protect all Europeans from the democracy-crushing ambitions of ‘we know best’ politicised Eurocrats, treaty-pushing Euro-judges at the European Court of Justice, and centralising Euro-bankers at the European Central Bank.

Political distraction: The run-up to the September 2014 Scottish referendum took Britain strategically off-line for two full years. Had the Scots voted to quit the United Kingdom London would still today be mired in squabbles about the minutiae of disengagement and Scottish independence. An easily distractable London that is all too ready to sacrifice strategy for politics would be locked into a process that would be weakening not just itself, but Europe and the wider West at a critical moment. Endless squabbles would doubtless be creating deep mistrust between the English and Scots that no amount of political blandishments could hide. If Britain votes for Brexit not only would London and Brussels also become mired in an extremely complex set of negotiations (the never-meant-to-be-triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty), such squabbles would also cause rancour between Britain and others at a time when Europeans must vitally stand together to face major crises to their south, their east and from within.

Solidarity: The other day I was standing in the snow not far from the Russian border in Lithuania. I had already begun to shift my position on Brexit in the wake of the November 2015 Paris massacre, and in the face of the challenges posed by Russia, Islamic State, and massed irregular migration, none of which existed in 2010. My final strategic judgment is this; the need to stand firm with my Baltic and French friends, and indeed my Greek, Italian and other under pressure European friends, FOR THE MOMENT outweighs my concerns about the future governance of Europe and Britain’s place therein.  Critically, I fear Brexit could also undermine NATO and the wider transatlantic security relationship at a critical moment.

Britain Does Not Quit

There is one final reason why I will not be voting for Brexit: Britain does not quit. Throughout Britain’s history London has never run away from a fight over who controls Europe. The control and direction of Europe is simply too important a critical national British interest. Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Hitler were all seen off because England (and then Britain) stood firm.  Therefore, precisely because Europeans today face serious dangers from without Europe (and serious question within) and because a new fight for the control and direction of Europe is about to begin I believe it vital Britain stand firm and stand tall to deal with them, as Britain has always done, and I hope always will.

To sum up, I am rejecting Brexit precisely because Europe is in crisis. The decision I have made is a big one and a part of me is really uncomfortable with it. Moreover, I have absolutely no doubt that once over the stress of break-up my old, great country possessed of the world’s fifth biggest economy, and a top five world military power, could and would flourish. Moreover, I am also fully aware that I am gambling on Britain’s future. It may well be that the moment the British people vote to remain in the EU Brussels will seek to tear up the Cameron agreement and behave as if nothing had happened to challenge their cherished goal of a European super-state. 

What really matters is that my important decision is a decision arrived at freely by a free-born Englishman. Henceforth, I will fight in all and any way I can to ensure the EU is properly reformed so that my birth-right is protected. No-one has got to me, I have not lost my political nerve, nor am I seeking to assuage political masters as I have none. Moreover, I am in no way seeking to gain opportunistically from this decision. However, on balance (and it is on balance) I am now of the opinion that if Britain really wants to reform the EU it must stay within it and fight for it.  

Julian Lindley-French

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