|For some reason I wanted a picture of Charlemagne to go with this post.|
Obviously human customs and customary ways of doing things can and should be changed for a sufficient reason. So there is a sensible debate about possibly sufficient reasons to consent to the progressive destruction of British political institutions as bearers of real power. The importance of environmental legislation covering the whole of the EU, the need for a common response to various other challenges - this is what we need to talk about. The difficulty many have with these arguments is that it is precisely the continent-wide problems that the EU seems too often to have made worse, or even created, the refugee crisis and the euro/financial crisis being Exhibits A and B.
On the other hand, I have been frustrated by the debate I've seen in the media, and above all the social media, by totally irrelevant, confused, or counter-productive arguments. Most of all is the argument constantly made that the UK government after Brexit will be bad: it won't do the good things the EU is currently doing for us with our own money which, obviously, a future UK government could do if it wished to do. This is suspicion of the political elite which seems to eating itself. Most people suspicious of the political elite want to have some way of holding them to account, and the best and, for practical purposes (at the current stage of the development of EU institutions) the only way of doing this is by national elections. What the anti-elite Remainers want to do is to override national elections, because they don't trust the results, and give power to much less accountable elites in the EU. Haven't they noticed that the elite in the UK which they don't trust is a paid-up component of the elite in the EU which they do trust? And what would happen if the EU elite's wishes began to diverge from their own preferences? The idea that we can trust the EU because we are 'progressive' and the EU elite is 'progressive' is not only anti-democratic, but treats a long-term question as if it were a short-term one. By all means vote in the government of your choice. But don't give them perpetual and unaccountable power: that's just a silly thing to do to any government, however enlightened.
Another strange argumnent is about the possible break-up of the UK. With the Scottish referendum we came very close to an independant Scotland. If the UK leaves the EU, the argument goes, Scotland and perhaps other parts of the UK will want to break up with the UK to re-join the EU. The problem with this argument is that it is precisely our membership of the EU which created the movement for Scottish independance in the first place. Yes, obviously: since the EU undermines the ability of national governments to govern as the population wishes, since it encourages regional autonomy as a matter of policy, and since leaving the UK is vastly less scary if an independant Scotland and the rest of the UK remain members of the EU guaranteeing free trade, free movement, and heaps of subsidies to poor regions.
The crucial argument of the Scottish independance campaign was whether Scotland would make a smooth transition to membership of the EU as a separate state. It was EU officials saying 'no' to that which proved decisive.
It may be that, as the UK negotiates withdrawal from the EU, the Scots may make a bolt for the door. If that's what they want to do, good luck to them. But the door for which they will be bolting is a door which would be closing. Leaving the UK in order to join the EU will become a very different prospect once the UK is established as a non-member. The possibility of border checks and taxes on cross-border transactions leaves the realm of fantasy at that point. To say that the Scottish economy and people are closely tied to England would, of course, be an understatement. Leaving an independant UK would be a very scary prospect indeed.
Something similar needs to be said about the UK's relationship with the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world. We are appreciated, the Remainers say, because we in the EU: we are their door into the EU. Some of these countries may see it that way. But the reason our ties with all these countries, ties of centuries of culture, language, and shared history, have been getting progressively weaker over the decades is precisely because of our membership of the EU. Above all, we have not been able to use trade policy to maintain and develop these ties. No wonder India and the US see us in many ways as an irrelevance. When they want to talk about trade, they don't talk to us, they talk to the EU. The EU of course is not very friendly, because it is dominated by people who don't have our ties to those countries. Today we have perhaps the last chance to revive our connection with this vast and rapidly growing region of the globe, before these connections wither away completely.
After Brexit, we will remain a part of Europe: obviously. Our geographical location is not going to change. Furthermore, we will remain the overwhelmingly largest English-speaking country in Europe, and the one with the biggest defence budget, as well as the one with by far the most open attitude to free trade. These characteristics mean that we will continue to be a bridge between many parts of the world with the European continent. Our trade with the EU, even in the least-rosy scenario, of 'WTO rules', will be generally and by historic standards pretty free.
What will change is that UK policy will no longer be coordinated with those of the other EU states, in the detailed way it is today. Remainers should spare us the horror-stories, and tell us why that would be a bad thing.
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