Thoughts on the European Referendum:
A Personal Attempt at Clarity
by Sean Gabb
(25th February 2016)
Because of its charitable status, the Libertarian Alliance takes no view of the European Referendum set for the June of 2016. This is, then, more than usually not an ex cathedra statement. It is purely an expression of what I think. For anyone who is interested, and has no inclination to read my justifications, I will say now that I will vote to leave the European Union. This is notwithstanding the views that I have lately expressed regarding the nature and benefits of our actual membership. I now proceed to my justifications.
I do not believe that the terms of our membership are, in themselves, onerous. So far as I can tell, the various regulations and directives that the Eurosceptics denounce are generally vague, and are studded with derogations. In short, they can be ignored where inconvenient. The Austrians, Slovaks and Hungarians are subject to the same rules as are said to have stopped the British State from dredging the riverbeds. Their management of the Danube is unaffected. To my personal knowledge, the Slovaks do not recycle. The European railways run better than ours. The Germans and Austrians do not extradite their citizens to face trail under European arrest warrants. If these requirements are carried to the point of lunacy in this country, it is because our rulers are incompetent, or because they are in bed with special interest groups that want full and overfull compliance.
As for most harmonisation and product regulation rules, these are nearly all decided by other international organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation, or the various bodies of the United Nations. If they arrive in this country via Brussels, that is simply the most convenient way of bringing them into effect. Leaving the European Union would not free us from these rules, or others like them. Our own rulers might have some direct influence over their making. On the other hand, these are rulers who gold plate everything already. A British seat at the relevant tables might easily make things worse.
I believe that the effect on trade and investment of leaving or staying in would be minimal. We are all subject to the rules of the World Trade Organisation, and neither the British nor any European government would be interested in unpicking the current patterns of trade and investment. There would be little business lost with the European countries, and little gained elsewhere.
And, if this country has become a cultural leftist police state, that has nothing to do with the European Union. There is nothing in the European treaties about feral social workers, or “equality and diversity” rules. No European law requires British citizens to drop their voices when talking in public about certain issues, or the schools to be made into propaganda centres for the ruling class. European law did not take our guns away. It did not cartelise the universities. It did not, in the first instance, ban smoking outside the home. It is not considering plain packaging for cigarettes, or minimum prices for alcohol, or dress codes for children. Nor does it order the police to hound old men to their graves over allegations of sexual assaults committed half a century ago, and made by anonymous complainants. The European Union did not compel us to take part in three Middle Eastern wars that have been catastrophic for the people living there.
Indeed, when European laws do bite, the victims are as often our rulers as ourselves. It is thanks to European law that our communications data is not made available to the authorities on request. It is thanks to European law that the growth of the DNA database has been slowed.
If we vote to leave the European Union, we shall be at the absolute and unaccountable mercy of a thoroughly malignant ruling class. There will be no more appeals to foreign judges, who may think our rulers are off their heads, no more need for these rulers to nag or bribe several dozen foreign governments into slow agreement on common schemes of oppression.
We shall also drift completely into the orbit of the United States. Downing Street has been mostly a branch of the White House since about 1940. Without any counterweight from Brussels, the relationship of overlord and satrap will become total. We shall not get any of the benefits of American constitutional law. All we shall get is unlimited military commitments in areas and on sides that have no congruence with our own national interest. It is hardly surprising that every shabby neoconservative whose name I know – Michael Gove, for example, or Liam Fox – is desperate to leave, and is wrapping himself in a Union Flag that he only wants to soil more than it is.
Why, then, have I decided to vote to leave? One answer is that nearly all my friends will vote to leave. This may not seem a very good reason, given what I have said above. But I do not wish to let the side down. When I denounced the Iraq War, I also upset many friends. The difference then was that I knew most of these were not really friends. My Eurosceptic friends are real friends, and, as said, I will not be seen letting the side down, now the referendum campaign has begun.
A more compelling answer – and this is associated with the above – is that opposition to the European Union has become a shorthand for opposition to much else besides. The scepticism I have expressed so far about Euroscepticism is based on the assumption of no domestic change. I have asked – do we really want to be locked into a vast open air lunatic asylum run by the usual suspects? On the assumption of no domestic change, my answer is to vote to stay in. But is this a valid assumption?
If virtually the whole political class, plus the BBC, plus big business, plus the universities, are so eager to stay in, perhaps they have seen something I have overlooked. This is unlikely to involve any rational consideration of our interests as a nation. It is more likely to be fear of what might follow a vote to leave. A victory for the leave campaign might be the occasion for some kind of genteel uprising. At the same time, a defeat for the leave campaign might not be followed by a return to business as usual. I repeat that actual Euroscepticism includes much more than concerns about “ever closer union.” It may draw most of its strength from a desire to stop and turn back the cultural leftist revolution. So far as I am right, a defeat for Euroscepticism would be a general defeat.
I admit that I am conflicted. I know that what I am proposing is a gamble. Sadly or not, though, it is a meaningless gamble. Whatever way I choose to vote or write, I do not presently believe that the British people will vote to leave. The leave campaign is already a shambles. There is no agreed plan of how to leave, or of what to do next. Official funding of the leave campaign will probably go to some of the most shamelessly useless men I have ever met. They do not even need to be bribed to mess things up.
Also, I suspect that Mr Cameron has a card up his sleeve. The prospect of losing the referendum strengthens rather than weakens him. Until the referendum was called, he had little influence with European politicians more concerned about the refugee crises and another possible collapse of the Euro. He could be ignored or given very little. Now the referendum has been called, and now there is some chance that he will lose it and have to go through the motions of negotiating a withdrawal, he has the leverage to extract apparently real concessions. I shall not be surprised if he comes back from a summit at the end of May, with a treaty that is legally binding and that allows Parliament to make or repeal laws regardless of European requirements. That this can already be done for the most part, and that it will mostly not be done once it is formally allowed, is beside the point. What matters is that, by the end of May, the leave campaign will be even more of a shambles than it is now, and Mr Cameron will have looked strong.
Or, with his secret weapon of the official leave campaign, all he may need to do is sit back and wait for the public to look at him and at his chosen opponents, and vote for the man who does not look unusually incompetent or certifiably mad.
And so, with this possibly specious reasoning, I have joined myself to another lost cause. On the whole, however, I feel relieved. Defeat, and with your friends beside you, is always more honourable than sneering from the sidelines.