Lately I’ve frequently found myself disagreeing with people I both like and respect. As the EU referendum campaign gets going I find myself more and more drawn to one side of the argument. I wanted to remain more or less neutral for much longer. I wanted to explore the merits of both sides of the argument. But it was as if I was forced to pick the side I would debate and within days I found myself trying to counter the Pro EU arguments while at the same time trying to put forward the best Brexit arguments. The debate has quickly become black and white, while in reality it is much more nuanced. There are some good arguments on both sides.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’m quite sure William Hague and David Cameron could come up with some very good anti-EU arguments if they wanted to. We all know that Boris Johnson left his decision to campaign for Brexit very late. He might have gone the other way. It’s perfectly possible to imagine him making pro EU arguments in just the same style as he campaigns against. There are Eurosceptics who can see no merit in the EU and there are Europhiles who can see no fault in it, but that’s not how most of us are. Most of us see some merit in staying and some in remaining. Whatever happens, Britain will be a sort of half-way house, not quite in and not quite out. Few indeed are the Brits who want to be in the Euro and in Schengen and who are in favour of "ever closer union". The most ardent Brexiteer accepts that we want to have full access to the single market and that doing so means accepting at least some of the rules that we do at present. In reality the difference between these two positions is not that great.
I’m a rather strange sort of Eurosceptic in that I share the ideal of the European Union. If I thought that the EU would soon become a United States of Europe and that it would be fully democratic, I would want the UK to be a member. The reason for this is that I look across the Atlantic and see the United States and see something that is close to my ideal, at least in theory if not always in practice. The US has a huge internal market. It has local and state levels of democracy that work well. Power is devolved to the extent that the smallest communities can change things they dislike and kick out politicians, judges and sheriffs who they no longer want. At the same time there is a powerful, fully democratic tripartite national government, with excellent checks and balances so that no part can become too powerful. Americans have both a strong state and national identity and they take part in free and fair elections where everyone chooses between the same two main parties. There is one American people, even though their ancestors came from all over the world. There is one identity. There is one Supreme Court that is appointed democratically. There are therefore the three things that we need for prosperity: Democracy, free markets and the rule of law. If the EU were offering me something similar I would grab it in a second.
What matters to me is that I am part of a democracy. It doesn’t matter one little bit that I might be outvoted. For this reason if the UK were part of a United States of Europe, it wouldn’t matter to me at all that we voted Labour while the rest of the EU voted Conservative. To suppose that it does matter is to say that the whole of the USA has to agree with Rhode Island and if it doesn’t, Rhode Island is justified in leaving the USA. But this really is to demand that whatever way Rhode Island chooses the whole of the USA must follow. Taken further whichever way I choose everyone else must follow. This is not democracy, but rather tyranny. I have therefore never been convinced by the Scottish nationalist argument that secession is justified by the fact that Scots vote differently to the UK as a whole. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic argument.
My problem with the EU is therefore not the ideal, but rather the way that it is being implemented. It matters not one little bit to me that the UK might be outvoted in the EU, but it matters fundamentally that the decisions in the EU are made democratically. If the same level of democracy as we have in the UK were present in the EU, I would vote to remain. But they are not. The majority of decisions are taken by unelected bureaucrats in the European Commission, or by an unelected European President, or still more disturbingly of late they are being taken by Angela Merkel.
The EU has long been dominated by France and Germany. This at least provided a sort of counterbalance. But even this has become less important as Germany has become the overwhelmingly dominant economic force in the Eurozone. The decisions that have so affected countries like the Republic of Ireland, Portugal and Greece have been taken by the paymasters in Germany. National governments have been overruled. Political and economic decisions have been made without the consent of the people. I am in no way blaming Germany for this. It is a consequence of monetary union, which implies some form of shared decision making. But the quasi political union that has been imposed on so many countries in the EU is fundamentally anti-democratic. It has got to the stage where at times it matters not one bit which party Greeks or Irish, or Italians vote for. Whoever they vote for they are told what to do by unelected European officials.
Last year when faced with migrants entering the EU from Syria and Iraq, Mrs Merkel decided that she wanted to offer any and all of them who made it to Germany political asylum. But soon after, she demanded that everyone in the European Union should accept their share of those who she had invited. If she had been an elected European Union president, this might have been reasonable. But only Germans elected Mrs Merkel. Why should Poles, or Czechs or Brits have to give into her demands, or take responsibility for her unilateral decisions that she later regrets?
The EU has a poor record of making decisions of late. The decision to create the Euro has been an economic catastrophe. It is directly responsible for record rates of unemployment and poverty in southern Europe. The decision to remove internal European borders (Schengen) while failing to defend Europe’s external borders means that the EU has no real control over who enters. This affects the UK even though we are not a member of Schengen. Eventually anyone who has leave to remain in one EU country will have the right to live and work anywhere else. If the EU cannot defend its external border, in effect it will have no external border and neither will the UK. We have a duty to help people in trouble. Moreover immigration is beneficial. But we cannot help everyone and there must be limits. Until and unless the EU secures its external border, there is no limit to the people who may soon have the right to live and work in the UK. The only way to secure our own UK borders is to leave the EU.
None of us can guess what the future will bring. The EU faces two main challenges. How to maintain or alternatively dismantle open borders between the Schengen states? How to maintain or alternatively dismantle the Eurozone? In order to keep these things they are going to have to move towards a much deeper political union. They will also need a fiscal union and a transfer union, whereby money is transferred from the richer parts of the Eurozone to the poorer parts. This will turn the Eurozone/Schengen states into a sort of nation state. Alternatively they will break up. There isn't a third alternative. But while they may make progress towards becoming a nation state is there any sign of the EU becoming ever more democratic, ever more dependent on the will of the people? Judging from the past the answer must be No.
Whatever decisions the EU makes, we already know that they won’t be made democratically. None of the important decisions of the past twenty to thirty years were made democratically. They were all made at various summits and behind closed doors. Most people in the EU didn’t have the chance to choose whether they wanted the Euro or Schengen. Some of those who rejected aspects of the EU that they disliked in referendums found that the results of these referendums were either disregarded or overturned.
If we remain in the EU we are accepting that many decisions that will influence our lives will be made by people no-one elected. As the EU moves further towards a closer union it is becoming less democratic, not more democratic. Even if the UK is not involved in the closer union, we will still find that decisions made undemocratically will affect us and constrain us. It's not possible to be part of an undemocratic organisation without that tainting our own democratic processes.
On the other hand if we choose to leave the EU, it will be one step on the way to bringing decision making back to the people of the UK. There is altogether too much emphasis at the moment on what would happen if the UK left the EU. I’m afraid we just have to accept that there is uncertainty. But there is uncertainty if we remain also. Who knows what decisions the EU might make? They might decide to allow Turkey to join. They might decide that a condition for EU membership is that all members have to help bail out the Eurozone. In the end they might decide pretty much anything. The UK might point to pieces of paper which are supposedly legally binding. But who decides if they really are legally binding? In the end UK law at present is subordinate to EU law. EU courts and bureaucrats will always be able to reinterpret any opt out we supposedly have to mean that we in fact have to opt in. Unelected EU officials tell us what the law is and our elected Parliament has no choice but to obey. They have done this before, they will do it again. But now we have a brief window of opportunity that may never come again. We can tell those unelected officials that the UK parliament is no longer subordinate. We can say that we are a democracy not a vassal state and we will choose those laws that suit us and reject those that don't.
I don’t believe that Brexit would damage the UK in the long run. There are indeed great long term benefits. Even in the short term the risks have been grotesquely overstated. We would be reverting to the position we were in until the 1970s. We would re-join the long list of sovereign nation states which are not ruled by anyone else. The United States would not allow its laws to be subordinate to the laws of anyone else. To subordinate them to someone who is unelected in the end makes democracy a farce.
Brave people across the world have frequently had to fight for democracy. When you do so you don’t count the cost. When we fought the Cold War we didn’t think about trade with the USSR. What mattered to us was defending our freedom. How often has Britain been willing to endure privation for a few years because of a principle that was worth fighting for? No doubt trade suffered during the First and Second World Wars because certain markets were closed to us and because of U-boats. Imagine if someone had said we should surrender because of mere trade. This is the argument of a scoundrel.
Here in the end is the only argument for leaving the EU. Cease your rather lurid threats. I don’t care if Brexit would lead to a few years of trade difficulty. I don’t care if markets would react unfavourably. I want to leave the EU in order to defend UK democracy and because it would be worth it.