The pro-EU lobby is wrong on the economic argument. But their lack of concern for democracy is far worse
Over the past week, a lot of scaremongering warnings and cautionary tales have been flung around by the “Remain” campaign, talking down Britain and painting the risible picture of the UK as a small, insignificant country that would be overwhelmed and destroyed if we tried to follow the examples of Norway, Switzerland, Singapore or any other country (all less powerful and consequential than ourselves) and re-engage with the world as an independent power.
We have seen the Prime Minister travel to Iceland and lie about the Norwegian option, misrepresenting facts and figures to make it seem as though Norway has to pay almost as much per capita for access to the Single Market as Britain, while having no influence over the rules. Both of these claims, of course, are false. Much of Norway’s contribution is voluntary and goes directly to the recent accession countries in eastern Europe, and are in no way a prerequisite for trading with the EU. And Norway has far more of a say over global rules because unlike EU member states, they retain their own, voting seat at the World Trade Organisation and other key global standard-setting forums.
We have seen Michael Froman, the US trade representative, seek to bully the British electorate with equally laughable claims that the United States would not be interested in pursuing a free trade deal with its strongest and closest ally in the event of Brexit. Again, this is pure nonsense – the US may prefer negotiating trade deals with large blocs, but so crucial is UK-US trade to both parties that a free trade agreement could be hammered out in minutes, were it absolutely necessary. Besides which, we need to learn to distinguish between what the US would like us to do and what is actually best for Britain.
And we have seen the CBI continue to misrepresent British business in general and its own membership, claiming that majority want the UK to stay in the EU based on highly selective and manipulative sampling methods.
Each of these assertions in favour of continued British EU membership is easily debunked (though the mainstream media’s seemingly wilful overlooking of Flexcit as a viable, stepped process for Brexit is utterly appalling). But of course being comprehensively proven wrong will not stop these same dead arguments and scaremongering tactics being resurrected, recycled and redeployed over and over by pro-EU forces who think that the British electorate is stupid.
The pro-EU crowd know that their project is massively undemocratic and that they have no response to this charge, hence their daily attempts to shift the focus back to economics, where it is far easier to trick people with bogus arguments and dodgy statistics. But putting aside the “Remain” campaign’s utterly false economic arguments intended to scare people into voting to in the EU, the political and democratic case for Brexit is unassailable.
As the economist Roger Bootle notes in his excellent book “The Trouble With Europe” (p39):
For most of our history, human beings have had virtually no say over how they were governed. They were governed the way they were because that was how it had been before – until some other arbitrary power came along and usurped the original one. Dynasties and empires came and went without much of a rationale, except the exercise of brute force, alternating with the passive power of tradition, law and custom.
[..] the point to emphasize here is that governance really matters, not only for human freedom and happiness – surely the most important objectives – but also for economic growth.
The founding of the European Union was the first real shift in the way that the people of Europe were governed to take place during the age of democracy and universal suffrage. Nearly everyone could vote after World War 2, and for the first time people had both the right to shape their own future and the expectation that they would be allowed to do so. Why had the war been fought, after all, if not to enshrine and defend this principle? And this spirit of self-determination was perhaps never more powerfully expressed than by Britain’s rejection of wartime leader Winston Churchill in favour of Clement Attlee’s Labour Party in the first post-war election.
For the first time, a major change to human governance was to come about in the age of democracy, and yet supranational organisations like the European Union were built as explicitly political projects, with no democratic legitimacy. There were no protests on the streets of Paris for a European Parliament to be superior to France’s own National Assembly. There was no clamour in Italy for a European judiciary whose decisions would be binding on national courts. There was no sense that Europe was all one big happy family, yearning for common governance – indeed, a war had just been fought to defend the principle of national self-determination.
And yet here we are with a European Parliament, an unelected government of Europe in the form of the EU Commission, and a European Court of Justice to enforce EU law in member states. Legislature, executive, judiciary – the three main pillars and trappings of an autonomous country, and the European Union possesses all three. And yet the people wanted none of this. These institutions were not created because of bottom-up demand from the streets of Europe, they were created because political elites in each member state were determined to create something without the slightest concern for public opinion. And yet, if the “Remain” camp are to be believed, we are supposed to accept that this creation is just about “free trade” and friendly co-operation between neighbours.
It strains credibility to breaking point and beyond. Anybody with eyes, ears and a functioning brain can see (when presented with this evidence) that the European Union is an explicitly political project, a creation which has taken on a life – and interests – of its own, and which is only ever going to move in one direction: that of increased union, or “more Europe”, not less.
But as this blog warned at the beginning of the year:
The new, emerging institutions which will replace [the nation state] are being designed behind closed doors by small groups of mostly non-elected people, as well as the most influential agents of all – wealthy corporations and their lobbyists. We have almost no idea, let alone influence, over what they are building together because instead of scrutinising them we spend our time arguing over the mansion tax or the NHS or high speed railways, which are mere distractions in the long run.
If we want to have a say in designing the new institutions that will govern our politics, trade, foreign relations and other issues, we need to put the brakes on the demise of the nation state while we take stock and think about the future that we want, so that we do not end up in the future that our leaders and elites are building now in secret, without our consent.
The “Remain” campaign and the pro-EU lobby don’t care about any of this. Their childish, two-dimensional view of the world sees the EU as unequivocally good and “progressive”, and any public concern about what happens to democracy when nation states are undermined as tantamount to backward, little-Englander xenophobia or even racism.
As for what happens to democracy when all of the decisions that matter are taken in Brussels – while the majority of us feel no allegiance to the European Union – the pro-EU camp have nothing to say. They may hope that in time we will start to feel European instead of British, in a kind of perverse “if you build it, they will come” kind of way. But if we don’t, that’s fine too, the juggernaut continues. The realisation of their vision matters more than our right to self-determination.
And the danger is that they may well win. The “Remain” camp may prevail, Britain may vote to stay a member of an unreformed European Union and the whole question may be settled for another generation. When forty more years have passed, the European Union may well be the accepted model for trade and co-operation, fostering similar initiatives in Asia, Africa and South America.
The success of the “Remain” campaign hinges on whether we think of ourselves first and foremost as consumers or citizens. If we think and vote as citizens, we will do the right thing and preserve democracy against the forces of corporatist internationalism represented by the European Union. But if we think primarily like consumers, caring only whether our international mobile phone calls and iPhones are cheaper, we open ourselves to the economic scaremongering of the “In” campaign.
So each of us has a choice: are we citizens or consumers first? Do we care about democracy and the type of country we leave our descendants, or are we solely motivated by base, selfish concern for our wallets and access to cheap flat-screen TVs?
History will judge each one of us and the decision that we make.
Top Image: zurichsalon.org
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.