hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Why the Appalling Brexit Debate Matters

Alphen, Netherlands. 24 February. Let me state for the record; Britain will not leave the EU.  Prime Minister David Cameron is utterly in the pocket of big business, which would happily scrap democracy and Britain for no-tariff pan-European trade.  Labour leader Ed Milliband (pronounced me-ee-bon) is in fact a Belgian Socialist, and like all Belgian Socialists he would happily scrap Britain to create a European super-state, he simply dare not say so.  Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (pronounced clog) is actually a Dutch liberal (and a Euro-federalist to boot).  The Americans think Britain’s only purpose is to do their bidding in the EU - the Special Relationship.  The Germans believe that one day the British will awake to find the Germans were right, all along, about everything, and need to be protected from themselves.  The French desperately want the British in the EU to balance Germany, but only if Britain accepts the French view of ‘Europe’.  Therefore, those that think a) there will be a Brexit referendum; and b) (if it happens) it will be anything but rigged, are a) totally naïve; and b) fail to understand the nature of power in the EU and the elite relationships that hold the Onion together, and how little democracy actually matters.  

Yesterday, the Norwegian Europe Minister (who he?), a certain Mr Vidar Helgesen, told the British people not to leave the EU.  He made his intervention into British domestic politics at the euphemistically-named think-tank “British Influence”.  Led by Lord ‘I-actually-mean-the-opposite-of-everything-I-say-in-public’ (and former European Commissioner) Mandelson, ‘British Influence’ routinely leaves out the key word in its title which should read “Scrap British Influence”.  By the way, Mr Helgesen said he did not want to enter the Brexit debate.  Sorry, Mr Helgesen, but by speaking at “Scrap British Influence” you not only entered the Brexit debate, you dove in at the deep-end wearing lead-lined Norwegian divers boots.

Mr Helgesen seemed to be warning the Brits not to suffer the same ‘marginalisation’ Norway has suffered by being outside the EU.  Mr Helgesen clearly does not understand power and why the relationship between the EU and a non-EU UK would be different from the relationship between the EU and non-EU Norway.  Let me enlighten him. Norway, population 5m, has the world’s 50th largest economy.  Britain, population 65m, according to CEBR (a think-tank) overtook France in December to once again become the world’s 5th largest economy.  Now, I spend quite a lot of time in oil-rich Norway and it never strikes me as a country that is suffering too much from being outside the EU.  Far from it!

Mandelson’s tactic is to line-up a range of foreign pro-EU speakers to present ‘facts’ that demonstrate to the British people that a Brexit would mean the end of British influence, Britain itself, the National Health Service, and even Sheffield United Football Club, but not the House of Lords which goes on forever albeit for no apparent reason.  He also rather conveniently fails to point out that the incompetent and strategically-illiterate British elite have already done a pretty good job at ending British influence even without the ‘help’ of the EU.  Critically, Mandelson offers nothing positive about the EU or Britain’s place in it.  He simply peddles fear.

Mandelson is not alone in peddling such scare tactics.  Nick Clog routinely suggests that Britain would lose 3m jobs and 50% of its exports if it left the EU.  He achieves these staggering figures by counting up every single UK job that is somehow engaged in exporting to the rest of the EU, and then suggests a Brexit would destroy all of them.  As for 50% of British trade evaporating courtesy of a Brexit, only 44% of Britain’s trade actually goes through the rest of the EU, and of that figure 8% is actually trade re-exported via Rotterdam to the rest of the world. Moreover, Britain suffers from a massive trade deficit with the rest of the EU.  In other words, the real trade figure is 36%, and the rest of the EU does far better out of Britain, than Britain does out of the EU. 

Sadly, we can all expect more of this nonsense, and not just from the “Scrap British Influence” brigade.  The Brit-Kommentariat routinely blame Brussels for Britain’s many ills when it has nothing to do with the EU. There is no question that should the British get a referendum, and then actually vote to leave, some level of punitive action would be taken against the British by the EU “pour encourager les autres”. So Nige, no broad sunlit uplands for you mate!

However, the saddest part of the appalling Brexit debate is the now ritualistic Brit-bashing that occurs daily across the Euro-Kommentariat, and the role played therein by British apologists. European Geostrategy (a good thing) this week published a piece by Nick Witney in which he said, “The British are trapped in a crisis of post-imperial national identity and show no signs of emerging soon”.  What complete and utter tosh.  Most Brits do not even know about the Empire (poor education and no knowledge of history before Princess Diana), and even fewer can remember it (it was a long time ago, Nick). There is a lot Nick writes with which I agree, but not this. Such statements are symptomatic of the lazy, intellectual rubbish (sorry, Nick) that the Euro-Kommentariat routinely spawns about Britain.

For most Brits the EU on offer is not the EU they want – plain and simple.  It is not because we are supposedly (and aimlessly) wandering around dreaming great dreams of Kipling, Rorke’s Drift and the Raj.  For the record, I do not like the EU for which I once worked because it does not listen to me, it does not work, is made for others by others, makes ‘Europe’ weaker than the sum of its parts, and I am expected to pay a lot for it. Get it? 

However, my principled objection to the EU, which I share with many Brits born of the tradition of John Locke, concerns the relationship between power and the individual in Europe. Like many Brits I am a pro-European, EU-skeptic.  Yes, I believe in European co-operation but what worries me about the EU is that Brussels is fast becoming the complete opposite of Abraham Lincoln’s aphorism about democracy.  It is government above the people, imposed on the people, and most clearly not for the people and looks ever more like a corruption of another Lincoln aphorism; you can fool some of the people some of the time, but if you really make democracy irrelevant and power far enough distant, you can fool all of the people all of the time…or at least ignore them. The European Parliament? Forget it. The ‘EP’ is a rubber-stamping chamber designed to provide fig-leaf legitimacy for over-bearing power which has little to no legitimacy with citizens.  Look how Jean-Claude Juncker stole last year’s election results to claim a legitimacy that he simply does not possess.

In other words, in the year in which the anniversaries of both Magna Carta and the founding of the Mother of Parliaments are being celebrated, the EU makes me wonder why my British forebears fought for so long for freedom if my leaders are simply going to give said freedom away to a distant bureaucracy in which my country is blatantly under-represented, and/or a Berlin (or a complex mix of the two) that still too often confuses the words ‘Germany’ and ‘Europe’.  Yes, I admit it is better than giving away freedom to Moscow. However, I am sure Comrade Vlad could arrange that as well if the EU makes Europe any weaker than it already is.  This is not the EU in which I once believed.

Furthermore, far from preparing Europeans for a globalised world, the EU is fast becoming one gigantic protectionist racket which champions ‘Europeanisation’ as the denial of globalisation.   Take the proposed Energy Union which is being rolled out by the European Commission today.  On the face of it such a Union makes sense.  The Commission (as ever) claims it would boost consumer choice transnationally, generate pan-European energy infrastructure investment, and integrate energy supply systems on an EU-wide basis. In fact, the Energy Union is yet another opportunistic power-grab by the federalist Commission seizing on international friction to further extend its unaccountable power at the expense of national energy regulators, and by extension the legitimate European nation-state.  

For Britain, Europe’s most open and international economy (see the OECD report on Britain of yesterday), an Energy Union would mean yet more regulation, more protectionism and yet another raft of national public policy that Parliament is no longer permitted to oversee because it is ‘European Regulation’.  Do such concerns make me opposed to intense European co-operation?  No, of course not! Do I have the right to express such concerns as a citizen? It is my duty.

The new paperback edition of my book Little Britain ( poses the real question at the heart of the Brexit debate; how best to use the not inconsiderable power Britain still possesses in the twenty-first century world and, indeed, Europe.  Simply allowing British power to vanish into the mutual impoverishment pact the contemporary EU has become is in no-one’s interest, least of all the British.  As for the idea that the EU magnifies Britain’s place on the world stage I think The Economist for once got it right when it said recently, “European power diminished by two world wars, has disappeared down the rabbit-hole of European integration”.

Britain SHOULD stay in the EU but only if there is a new political settlement that once and for all ends the drift towards EU federalism, and properly establishes a proper balance of powers and competences between the EU and its member-states.  For most thinking Brits that means an EU that is more super-alliance than super-state.  Unfortunately, strategically-challenged Dave has told his EU chums that if they do not like that idea, and even if he does in fact honour his pledge to hold a referendum, he will campaign to stay in an unreformed EU.  Brilliant Dave!  The country is clearly safe in your hands.  Now, why not tell Vlad the Improper that if he goes on sending his nasty bombers over Britain you will scrap the British armed forces?  Oh, you already have. British influence?

In fact, my big fear is that the Brexit referendum does indeed takes place, Britons actually vote to stay in the EU, but do so through fear rather than conviction and thus go on pretending the EU is a ‘foreign’ imposition.  Should a ‘yes’ vote ever happen the Brits would have to finally and fully engage in the European Project (i.e. the creation of a European super-state) and rule from Brussels.  Why?  There is an old Italian joke that goes something like this.  Every day an old Roman goes to pray at the statue of one of the Apostles.  Day after day he cites the same prayer, “Please, Lord, let me win the lottery”.  After several years of this the statue eventually becomes so irritated he comes to life and in exasperation says to the old man, “Ok, Luigi, but please, for once, buy a lottery ticket!”

The issues thinking British EU-scepticism raises go to the very heart of freedom, justice and representation in twenty-first century Europe and for the sake of Europeans cannot and must not be dismissed as the post-imperial bleatings of a few Little Englanders. As for Mr Helgesen, just give your oil money to Syriza if its makes you feel better...and more 'European'.

Julian Lindley-French 

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