At a private briefing at the start of the campaign, the Remain team described the issue of Control as being at the heart of the EU referendum.
They have not been wrong. Whether it is immigration, regulation, sovereignty or cost, the core appeal of Leave is that the United Kingdom would be a safer, simpler, more prosperous place outside the EU.
Leave do have arguments on their side. Compared with 1975, when the European Community was a visible success story and the UK economy was heading for an IMF bailout, the EU looks like a project in difficulty. Many factors account for the rise of populist movements across Europe, but the pressures created by the single currency are among them. No one wants or dares to leave the euro. Few today do not regret that it was conceived and implemented as it has been.
Of course, leaving the EU would restore absolute Parliamentary sovereignty, and the notion of Britannia proud and alone, of casting off the old world of Europe to embrace the challenges of the new tiger economies, is seductive. Seductive but dangerous, because the tigers have lost some of their roar and sovereignty is not the same as success.
Remain have faced the problem which has beset Britain’s European policies since the 1950s: we joined because we realised that we were not strong enough politically or economically to go it alone. Joining the countries which we had fought to liberate was an admission of failure, not a badge of success. Successive British Governments, insofar as they have made the case for Europe at all, have done it on the basis that we would be much worse off outside, even if, inside, we have felt uncomfortable in our not so European skin. And even that case was easier to make when public opinion in the other EU member states was enthusiastically supportive of the project. Now, dissatisfaction rates across the EU are at historic highs. Hence the fear of our partners that, if Britain votes to leave, there could be a dangerous contagion. Hence the strong probability that our partners will drive a very hard bargain to demonstrate that the ship is not sinking and that we are the only rat to be deserting it.
I spent over twenty years of my career dealing with and negotiating with other EU Governments. In this campaign, I and others have failed to get across that the EU is not a bureaucratic monolith run by unaccountable institutions. On the contrary, it has never been more intergovernmental than it is today. It was and remains the vehicle we and other independent nations have chosen for managing what are often quarrelsome relationships. We each fight hard for our national interest. Of course, the institutions of the EU can be a pain but that is in part because, unlike other international organisations, the EU has embraced majority voting so as to be able to take decisions. Unlike in the UN Security Council, there are no vetoes. That has been the key to agreement on the laws that make the single market work. And the Commission and the ECJ are necessary guardians against the natural temptation for all Governments to cheat to secure national advantage. The rules protect the small against the large. The economic support given by the rich Member States to the poor gives those poorer countries the incentive to bring their political institutions and their economies into line with European norms. We all share some of our sovereignty to achieve more than we could accomplish alone. That is not true of trade alone but of energy security, safeguarding the environment, securing peace in Kosovo and the Balkans, taking sanctions against Russia, negotiating with Iran to control nuclear proliferation.
If we leave the EU, we will be leaving the framework of law and policies we have helped create over the last 40 years. The single market, EU foreign policy and EU enlargement have all been led by Britain. The hope of some on the Leave side that the whole European project will crumble once the British brick is pulled from the edifice is, I believe, an illusion. But it is also mind bogglingly irresponsible to think that instability in Europe would be in the British interest, in terms of our prosperity or security. What will happen is that we will have decided to take ourselves out of the existing framework of law, policy and economic interdependence, in exchange for the illusion of sovereignty as we struggle to negotiate a second rate trade deal which will compel our compliance with laws over which we no longer have any say.
If I am wrong, and staying in the EU is a mistake, then our sovereign Parliament can at any time reverse a decision to remain, though there is now, as there has always been, no majority in Parliament in favour of leaving. It seems to be the baby boomer generation that is most hostile to the EU. If we vote to leave, for the whole of their working lives anyone now of school leaving age will have to confront the consequences of that decision.
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