Why Boris is wrong and I (reluctantly) will vote to stay in the EU
The trouble with intellectuals is they can be too clever for their own good.
The fundamental problem, the Old Etonian mayor of London wrote, is that European Union countries have an ideal that we do not share. “They want to create a truly federal union, e pluribus unum, when most British people do not”.
Boris did not offer a translation, assuming, possibly correctly, that most Daily Telegraph readers would find it almost an insult to have Latin explained to them. The literal translation is ‘out of many one’ and the wording can be found on American coins and on the country’s Great Seal.
Somehow, I’m always reminded of the late comedian Peter Cook’s ‘Sitting on the Bench’ sketch whenever Boris and his chum Michael Gove start spouting Latin:
Yes, I could have been a judge but I never had the Latin, never had the Latin for the judging, I just never had sufficient of it to get through the rigorous judging exams.
I managed to get through the mining exams — they’re not very rigorous, they only ask one question, they say, “What is your name?”, and I got 50 per cent on that.
I digress of course to make a point about the calibre of the Brexit campaign. You have to say that any movement that has Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, George Gallaway and Nigel Farage as members is going to be eccentric, not to say off the wall.
Instinctively, like me, a great many people in this country retain a healthy scepticism about the EU.
We don’t like the idea of British courts being subservient to EU law and we don’t want regulations made in Brussels that we disagree with to be imposed in this country. We recognise the huge advantages of a trading deal with Europe, where half of UK exports end up, but we most certainly don’t want a political union.
We recognise the historical significance of the European Union which was born out of the ashes of the Second World War with the intention of bringing Germany and France together as trading partners and political allies, making a future European conflict less likely.
Europe’s latent nationalism, never very far away, would have exploded with disastrous results by now with much loss of life were it not for the commitment of EU countries to trade and live together.
And yet, and yet…..many of us in this country continue to regard the United Kingdom as not quite part of continental Europe, separated as it is by sea and bolstered by other trading partners across the world in America and Commonwealth countries.
If we could turn the clock back to 1972 and knew then what we know now, I would certainly have opposed British entry to the then European Economic Community on the grounds that the offer was actually based on creeping political rather than economic union.
But we cannot go back in time. We cannot and must not continue to obsess about Ted Heath and his less than truthful attempt to explain away joining the EEC as simply a trading agreement, or about Harold Wilson and his sham renegotiation.
We are where we are and have to deal with the limited options open to the UK. David Cameron’s renegotiation delivers important reforms on the welfare system for migrants, keeps Britain permanently out of ever closer union, and gives us full say over the rules of the free trade single market while remaining outside the euro zone.
This will not be good enough for die-hard Eurosceptics, who simply want out at any cost.
The question is, what would the cost be?
This is where I fundamentally disagree with Johnson, Gove and Duncan Smith. They are prepared to take a huge gamble on the economic fallout from Brexit, although Boris Johnson interestingly has suggested a ‘no’ vote in the referendum could set up yet another renegotiation with Brussels and might yet keep Britain in, subject of course to a second referendum.
Unsurprisingly, this notion has been dismissed as “for the birds” by the prime minister. He might have used stronger language, for anyone who seriously believes EU member countries would be prepared for yet another gruelling renegotiation in order to placate the UK is quite mad.
A vote for Britain to leave the EU – even the possibility of a vote to exit – would trigger turmoil on the stock markets and contribute to a plunging pound. Sterling has already fallen by almost two per cent simply off the back of Boris Johnson’s announcement and the finance agency Moody’s has threatened to downgrade the country’s credit rating.
If Britain votes to leave the EU, the exit will not happen immediately. The terms of withdrawal will have to be negotiated and the whole process could take up to two years, during which time the uncertainty about what happens next and the process of reaching new trading agreements with the EU would feed the frenzy of the City, as there is one thing markets dread and that is uncertainty.
There would be a short and medium term cost to people approaching retirement dependent on money-purchase direct contribution pension schemes. There would also be a cost in terms of inward investment and job creation in Birmingham and the West Midlands because it would not be as easy for companies from EU countries to relocate here.
Even Boris Johnson felt it necessary to address the risk to the economy of leaving the EU, and this is what he had to say:
We will hear a lot in the coming weeks about the risks of this option; the risk to the economy, the risk to the City of London, and so on; and though those risks cannot be entirely dismissed, I think they are likely to be exaggerated. We have heard this kind of thing before, about the decision to opt out of the euro, and the very opposite turned out to be the case.
If the Leave side wins, it will indeed be necessary to negotiate a large number of trade deals at great speed. But why should that be impossible? We have become so used to Nanny in Brussels that we have become infantilised, incapable of imagining an independent future.
We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen, and with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny Civil Service. Are we really unable to do trade deals? We will have at least two years in which the existing treaties will be in force.
Magnificent rhetoric from the mayor, but the historical allusion to the British Empire rather gives the game away. Boris and his pals are living in the past. They glory in the world as it existed 150 years ago and wish to travel back in time.
I shall be voting, reluctantly it must be said, for Britain to remain in the EU. But vote to stay, I will.
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