Politics is politics – The EU referendum
Monday, June 20th, 2016
Britain will decide this week on whether it should stay in the European Union. This is an important political moment. How should we vote?
Should Britain leave the EU?
The two strongest arguments for leaving are that Britain would free itself from European legislation which would mean that businesses would be freer to compete in the global market and that we would have much stronger control of our borders. Britain can therefore chart its own destiny in a new world. This argument has Boris Johnson and Michael Gove as its leaders. They know that the Brexit argument can easily be painted as narrow-minded and so opt for a more internationalised expression: freeing us from the European Union means that we can compete in the global market without being tied down by European bureaucracy.
I am not so enamoured by this proposition. It looks like camouflage. The actual position of the Brexiters is that Britain should be outside of Europe and no longer involved in an ever-developing European project. This is to uphold some form of national sovereignty which in our new globalised world always feels under threat. It is a weak argument and its key proponents are not so convincing.
The world is certainly changing and it will be a different place in fifty years’ time. China remains on the rise, India is strident, the Middle East is reformulating, the US stands at a crossroads. The world is in flux and the question for the UK is how can it maximise its position? Will Europe as a political, economic and cultural bloc have any influence in the next few decades? If so will the UK be stronger acting independently of Europe in all of these areas of work or as a major player inside the European Union when acting on the global stage? I am not convinced that we will be taken seriously in twenty years’ time if we decide to step outside the European Union now.
Economically, clearly we haven’t suffered too badly while being a member of the European Union and I think the case for being part of a much larger negotiating block is a strong one. The increased legislation is infuriating but is not insurmountable. There doesn’t seem to be a clear business or economic case and even if there is, it is heavily disputed by economists and business leaders and so the case can’t be a strong enough one to leave.
But this is not what worries me. What worries me is that the people leading the Leave argument are Boris Johnson (a political opportunist), Michael Gove (an ideologue) and Nigel Farage (also an ideologue). There is very little from their political lives so far to indicate that these are genuine internationalists who will lead this country on wonderful life-enhancing trips to other parts of the world. Boris Johnson thinks it is okay to use the word ‘picaninnies’ (though he later apologised) and refers to Barack Obama as ‘part-Kenyan’, all in jest you understand. Cleary the political joke is on us. Can you imagine Boris Johnson leading a business delegation in ten years’ time to a resurgent and confident African nation? Actually, I’d rather not. Michael Gove was the political hand at the helm of the Trojan Horse affair. Can you imagine him in some part of the new Muslim world trying to make a deal for a West Midlands-based business consortia? Do we think that foreign leaders don’t read our papers?
If Chris Patten (a Tory internationalist) and Gordon Brown (a Labour internationalist) had lead the Leave campaign then perhaps we would have something to think about. They could lead the UK on the global stage. No, the leaders of the Leave campaign seem to me to want to take an internal struggle about the future of the Tory party in to the referendum debate. And this is perhaps the most immediate and most urgent argument against Leave. Vote Leave, get Boris. Vote Leave, get Gove either as Home or Foreign Secretary. Think about that for a minute. Politics is politics, and politicians shouldn’t complain when the average voter reads their political manoeuvring as such.