What would be the worst consequence of Britain leaving the European Union?
Ask your average, garden variety pro-European this question and they’ll have a number of rote answers to hand – the sudden disappearance of three million British jobs in a puff of smoke, the imposition of punishing new tariffs on British exports, Frankfurt replacing London as the capital of European finance, large multinationals upping sticks and moving to France, the sudden irrelevance of a declared nuclear power and the world’s fifth largest economy, and Vladimir Putin’s imminent invasion of eastern Europe, to name but a few.
Each of these absurd scaremongering warnings, ranging from the wildly pessimistic to the downright laughable, is taken seriously enough to be a mainstay of the threadbare pro-European case for remaining part of the EU. But none of them are the real reason why so many within the political and media class are desperate to avoid Brexit.
These overblown macro-level concerns are, in fact, little more than window dressing, designed to make pro-Europeans feel better about the real reason for their support of the status quo. For in truth, their pro-EU stance has little to do with high-minded ideas about social democracy or statecraft, and everything to do with something far more personal – the protection and advancement of their own narrow, self-serving interests.
Mary Riddell accidentally gives the game away in the Telegraph, in her response to the Queen’s Speech:
Ten years ago this summer, I rode a motorbike through the eight countries newly welcomed into the European Union. As I travelled the 1250 miles from Estonia to Slovenia, a flourish of a British passport took me through frontiers closed for half a century by the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. New motorways were replacing farm tracks, and it seemed that hope had triumphed over repression.
A decade on, the European dream has soured so fast, for some at least, that Britain stands on the road marked EU exit. With an In/Out referendum enshrined in this week’s Queen’s Speech, our relationship with Europe will be one of the defining issues of this Parliament and this century [..]
Unless the opposition can argue convincingly that our peace, stability, power and wellbeing are contingent on staying within the EU, as well instilling in British citizens a pride in being European, then the battle will never be won.
And there it is. Hidden in a throwaway anecdote about Mary Riddell’s cross-continental European motorbike jaunt is the truth that so many pro-Europeans are desperate to hide: Britain’s membership of the EU provides them with coveted career and leisure opportunities which they are loathe to give up, regardless of the EU’s corrosive effect on our democracy and the welfare of Britain’s less prosperous citizens.
Ten years ago, Mary Riddell took off on a European road trip, flaunting her British passport at the borders of the the newly-joined EU countries as she indulged in her very middle-class, middle-aged gap year of a holiday:
When eight Eastern European countries joined the European Union in 2004, it suddenly became possible to travel from the Gulf of Finland to the Adriatic through open borders. The tour, roughly 2,500 miles, would start in Estonia (my son rode my bike from London to Tallinn) and weave south through Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, with a night in each capital.
The goal was to ride up to 300 miles a day, which sounds feasible for an international biker. Except I am not an international biker. I am a novice, townie biker. Until 18 months ago, I had sat on a motorbike once, as a pillion passenger from Islington to Covent Garden and back. The round trip was three-and-a-half miles, and I was so cold afterwards I had to sit on the kitchen stove for an hour.
Good for her. But it is incredibly telling that when grasping for reasons to be concerned about the impending reality of a Brexit referendum in this country, Mary Riddell’s mind immediately flashed back to her eastern European great escape, and the terrifying possibility that such international jaunts might be trickier to plan in the future.
Nothing about what’s best for Britain. Nothing about the way that the costs and benefits of the free movement of people fall differently on different segments of the population. Nothing about politics or economics at all – just an overriding concern about how Britain’s independence from the European Union might impact her own leisure activities, her own self interest.
We see this emphasis on narrow self-interest in other areas too, such as the EU’s plan to ban mobile phone operators from charging exorbitant roaming fees for making calls from other member states, as though the ability of predominantly middle class holidaymakers and business travellers to call and text more cheaply somehow makes up for the erosion of our democracy and national sovereignty.
Of course, there’s nothing necessarily wrong about voting for your self-interest. But it is intellectually dishonest to do so without admitting (even to yourself) that this is your motivation. And it is intellectually dishonest to preach pro-Europeanism for the good of the country when you are really only motivated by what’s good for your own bank balance or future career prospects.
Given that the parties of the Left were resoundingly defeated following a general election campaign in which they wrapped themselves in the cloak of altruistic concern for the country while really seeking only what was best for themselves, one might have hoped to see a little more self-awareness taking root on their side. But apparently this is not to be.
The Left’s anguish over the prospect of British secession from the European Union has nothing to do with any overriding concern about Britain’s future, or the plight of the unemployed or the working poor. No, it’s simply a collective howl of outrage from a cosseted and sheltered middle class clerisy, terrified at the prospect of losing out on a raft of perks which disproportionately benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else.
The working or underclass kid from a derelict housing estate, perhaps born into a workless family and let down by Britain’s shoot-for-the-middle education system, is statistically highly unlikely to seize her fair share of the benefits of Britain’s EU membership by, say, embarking on a motorbike tour of eastern Europe or accepting a plum secondment to her minimum wage employer’s Brussels or Prague office.
By contrast, the university-educated, middle class sons and daughters of today’s Labour MPs, as well as their circle of well-to-do friends and neighbours (for few of them retain any affinity with the working class) are well positioned to seize these European opportunities. So on whose behalf are our politicians – including the majority of supposedly virtuous Labour MPs – likely to govern?
This is the moral rot at the heart of the establishment’s relentless pro-Europeanism. Labour in particular talks a lot of nonsense about governing for the benefit of the many rather than the few, but the European Union is by definition an anti-democratic, artificial construct conceived by the European elite to work in favour of the European elite. In an age of globalisation, the EU represents government of the well-connected, by the well-connected and for the well-connected.
Meanwhile, Labour’s blind devotion to the free movement of people means that Britain’s relatively dynamic economy will always attract large numbers of motivated migrants, while their warped desire for equality of outcome dooms our education system to continue churning out many young British people simply unable to command the kind of wages in this highly competitive labour market needed to live a good life. And the Labour Party knows all of this but doesn’t care, because the status quo works just fine for them, thank you very much.
The EU’s toxic blend of enterprise-killing regulation, heavy-handed social paternalism and democracy-sapping bureaucracy may be causing acute pain at the poorer end of British society, among the working poor and those people struggling just to subsist on low wage jobs – but we can’t possibly leave the EU and pursue our own national interest, because this would deprive affluent establishment journalists like Mary Riddell of the opportunity to swan around eastern Europe on a motorcycle tour.
Never mind the factory worker barely subsisting on the minimum wage, or future generations of all socioeconomic groups who have an strong interest in Britain remaining a sovereign, democratic country – so long as Britain’s EU membership allows Mary Riddell to bike round Europe making cheap phone calls all the while, let’s stick with the status quo!
The Labour Party and vast swathes of the British Left really don’t care about people who actually work for a living any more. By their policies they shall be known – and their instinctive, increasingly desperate pro-Europeanism is nothing more than shallow personal self-interest masquerading as enlightened, compassionate internationalism.
How much more plainly do they need to spell it out?
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