Britain’s Referendum – Leave or Stay? Enough Already!
I live in a divided household at the moment – or at least I will do when I get home. I will vote Remain, and the dog – who barks at all visitors – will vote Leave. As for my wife, it would be more than my life’s worth to second-guess her intentions.
I’ve followed the debate from afar (Riyadh, to be precise) over the past few weeks. I can’t say I’ve picked up every dire warning and fatuous argument while I’ve been away. But I’ve read enough to to know that the damned referendum has paralysed the country. Nobody wants to make decisions because of the massive implications of a potential Leave vote. I will not use the B-word, by the way, unless somebody wants to print it on toilet roll – the best thing to do with overworked expressions, I reckon.
The referendum has brought together the xenophobes and the bulldog patriots. Nigel Farage makes common cause with Ian Botham. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – the bombastic egoist and the frustrated reformer – are thrown together in a grim alliance.
Even from a distance of several thousand miles, I’m fed up with the whole thing. I wish it had never been launched. The only reason we’re going to the polls is that before the last election David Cameron and his opportunistic friends didn’t have the balls to face up to Farage without offering the nation this dangerous sop.
All the referendum has achieved thus far is to polarise us. It’s given the little Englanders a platform they would never have had without it. The sub-plot on the Leave side is kick the bloody foreigners out – they’re destroying our culture, draining our economy and running our country.
On the Remain side, the underlying message is that outside the EU we’ll be like an economic jellyfish floating off the shores of Europe. Subject to tides and winds we can’t control or even influence. No strong ties with anyone. No preferential trade deals. A decimated financial industry. And we misled voters will be the poorer for it.
The big picture, as I see it, is this.
Those who are foolish enough to think that if we leave the EU our national problems will magically go away, and we’ll somehow turn into a kind of Norway – with warm beer, jobs for everyone and chicken tikka masala as the only alternative to Macdonalds and the chip shop down the high street – want their heads examining.
Our big problems, some of our making and some not, are not going to go away just because we retreat into our little island stockade. Climate change, technological change, demographic change, financial uncertainty and global political instability will still lap up remorselessly on to our shores.
In response to the same pressures, the EU is going to have to change whether we’re in it or not. If we leave now, it’s possible that some of those changes will be precipitate rather than orderly. If we stay in, at least we will be able to influence the outcomes.
Whatever we do, the days of the overweening EU superstate are numbered. Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission president, virtually admitted as much in a recent speech.
The rise of the far right in several member states is hastening the roll-back, but for all the wrong reasons – the logic of hatred and fear of the other. Though the nationalists may not achieve ascendancy in countries like France, Holland and Germany, they are exerting a gravitational pull on their rivals, and putting the unelected bureaucrats on the defensive.
The result could be a more flexible, less centralised, more democratic European institution. Perhaps even two institutions – North and South.
So ironically, there’s a real chance that the European order with which we British would be most comfortable will emerge over the next decade. But we, unfortunately, will no longer have the opportunity to be a part of it.
Meanwhile, thanks to our craven politicians, we have to put up with weeks of endless argument on the same very obvious themes. On the Leave side, emotion disguised as logic. On the Remain side, logic in emotional clothing.
We will vote to stay in the Union, and rightly so. The fear factor will win the day, for the simple reason that the Leave campaigners will never be able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the majority that leaving doesn’t constitute a massive, unknowable and ultimately unacceptable risk.
And in case we in Britain hadn’t noticed it, there are no such things as islands any more.