They’ve bribed us with cheap international calls, and threatened us with bogus figures about fictitious job losses. Now, the “Remain” campaigners want us to vote to stay in the EU to save Brussels from itself
What to do when the two best weapons at your disposal – bribery and coercion – are not achieving the desired effect?
Well, if you are the “Remain” campaign and you are desperately trying to come up with plausible new arguments to convince the British people to stay shackled to a failed, anti-democratic political union, then it is eventually going to come down to begging, pure and simple.
Cue Mark Field’s latest piece in CapX, which is dedicated not to any of the things that the European Union can offer Britain, but rather to all the reasons why the EU needs Britain to stick around – namely, to save the Brussels machine from its own worst instincts.
Field recounts conversations with some Swedish legislators, who are apparently “terrified” at the prospect of Brexit:
It took some Swedish counterparts to remind me recently just how crucial Britain’s role in the EU is to fellow members who believe in the Anglo-Saxon values of free trade and competition, and share our desire to resist “ever closer union”. The notion of Brexit is terrifying to Northern European allies who look to the UK as an essential bridge between the EU and the English-speaking world, a critical counterweight to the Franco-German axis and the asker of awkward but essential questions over reform. They see an EU which Britain has been instrumental in shaping, citing the expansion eastwards into pro-western countries like Poland, the promotion of the single market, open competition for goods and services, new trade deals and English as the dominant language.
And Field concludes:
I am optimistic that the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of our relationship with the EU can prove the opening salvo in a process of European reform. In this way our nation will be at the forefront, advancing a free trade and competitiveness agenda that promotes growth, jobs, security and stability long after the referendum. If he is successful, it will be the latest in a long line of British achievements at European level, ultimately helping the EU accept change and challenge at a time when its very survival depends on flexibility.
In other words: Britain should remain in the European Union regardless of our own national interest, because the EU needs our help to adapt and come to terms with the modern world. We should put all thoughts of British sovereignty and self-determination on the back burner, and stick around to lend our weight to the (almost certainly doomed) voices of reform in Brussels.
What’s most remarkable in this piece is the extent which Mark Field’s arguments against Brexit are based on fear of what the remaining EU countries might seek to do by way of “revenge” on Britain. For example:
When I recently explained to a Norwegian parliamentarian the enthusiasm of some Brexit advocates to mimic Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland in their trading relationships with the EU, she implored the UK not to go down that route. “We have all of the rules,” she explained, “but none of the influence”. Indeed, EU officials might be inclined to make market access even tougher for the UK, lest other countries be tempted to follow suit and exit the EU themselves.
I am also unconvinced that our standing apart from the EU makes it easier to face the international and domestic challenges ahead. On freedom of movement, to give one example, I suspect French border police would be virtually incentivised to relax Calais controls if the UK were no longer a member of the EU, making the migrant crisis far harder to handle.
I am continually astonished by the extent to which pro-EU campaigners sincerely believe that Britain is a weak, ineffectual nation, continually at the mercy of other European countries, nearly all of them far smaller and less consequential than ourselves.
EU officials might be inclined to make market access tougher for the UK? Even if some of them were so rash as to try, they would immediately be put in their place by the thousands of large and medium-sized European firms who depends on easy, tariff-free access to the UK market. Were the European Union foolish enough to seek to “make an example” out of the UK, they would be immediately brought to heel by a furious coalition of continental corporations and trade unions who would rightly sense a threat to profits and jobs in the event that the EU played hardball with such a major export partner.
And on the border question, Mark Field seems to accept that it would be right and proper for France to retaliate against Brexit by ceasing all border co-operation and actively helping to funnel more illegal immigrants to Britain. If this is really what Mark Field thinks France would do – if he really believes that the French hold this attitude to the British – he should be railing against the French for their supposed immaturity and recklessness in the face of a European migration crisis, not holding it up as a warning to Britons not to provoke the French into doing something so patently unreasonable.
At every turn, Mark Field seems to not only imagine the worst, most apocalyptic response possible from our EU partners, but also then assumes that they would be somehow justified in being so intransigent and punitive in their dealings with Britain, and that it would somehow be our fault for having provoked them.
Where does this dismal, pessimistic attitude come from? Why does Mark Field think so little of his own country, our status and our potential that he sincerely believes that other (mostly smaller) countries would bully us if we vote to leave the European Union, and that not only would Britain not be able to withstand this bullying, but that they would be right to bully us in the first place?
I can only assume that it is a product of his upbringing, and the political era in which he came of age. Field is 51 years old, born in 1964, and so his childhood and early teens would have been spent during that seemingly never-ending period of national decline and creeping irrelevance before Margaret Thatcher started to turn things around. At that time, Britain was indeed the sick man of Europe, much of the continent seemed far more prosperous and exotic, and Britain had not yet even been granted membership into the European Community.
Back then Britain was decaying, with power cuts and the four day week, strikes and industrial unrest, casting around for a place in the world – one which membership of the European Community would eventually offer. I can only assume that a young Mark Field internalised these feelings of national inadequacy and powerlessness to such an extent that they still colour his thinking today, even when the roles have been almost completely reversed and it is now Britain which is dynamic and growing, Europe which is sclerotic and receding.
But is this supposed to be a persuasive argument, encouraging us to vote to remain in the EU?
Does Mark Field really believe that by yammering on about Britain’s relative weakness and unimportance – and the likelihood that our supposed friends in the EU would gang up on us if we were to excuse ourselves from unwanted political union – he paints a positive image of what the European Union can be, or what Britain’s place in that union could yet be, besides a reluctant, bullied passenger?
Field is absolutely right to point out the various ways in which Britain has used our influence to try to keep the EU honest and pointing in a pro-market direction. And he is doubtless correct in his assertion (based on various conversations with European lawmakers) that the countries of northern Europe would be dismayed by a future Brexit because they see the UK and it’s westward-facing, pro-American outlook as an essential counterweight to the Franco-German engine which seeks to pull the EU in another direction. No argument from me at all on those points.
Where Mark Field is utterly wrong is his assertion that Britain should vote to remain in the EU because they need us, because we can achieve some chimerical vision of reform together with like-minded member states, or because the other countries of the EU will gang up on us if we vote to amicably depart from their deepening political union.
None of these things will come to pass. The Franco-German engine of European Unity has zero desire to change course, to renounce the aspiration of “ever-closer union” set out in the Treaty of Rome. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, looks at the problems facing Europe and demands more integration, not less. And even if European leaders wanted to “make an example” out of Britain for daring to say no to political union, they would be constrained from doing so by the reliance of their own economies on free trade with Britain.
Right now, the EU represents almost nothing positive, nothing aspirational. At best, it tries to act as a bulwark, shielding member states from an unpredictable world with its challenges and opportunities. But most of the time it does not even manage to do this. Rather, the EU is increasingly seen as a big basket of difficulties and tribulations – the migrant crisis, the Euro crisis, economic stagnation, geopolitical irrelevance.
It is hard to remember the time when the EU appeared as a shining beacon, pointing the way to a bright future of opportunity and prosperity. Many of us were not even born when Britain lay mired in decline, and EU membership seemed like the last, best chance for salvation. And right now, it is only Mark Field and the fanatics of the “Remain” campaign who are still caught in this 40 year-old time warp.
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