PHOTO. Professor Alan Johnson speaking at the European Parliament.
My friend David Rose, the journalist, asked me to explain why I am for ‘Leave’. I agreed, and in something of a rush, put this together. Needless to say, I write in a purely personal capacity.
I am for Leave because the EU political project has four built-in and fatal flaws: it is undemocratic, neoliberal, corrupt and a bad foreign policy actor in a dangerous world.
I believe the EU project to create an ever closer union of many separate nationalities in one political structure is fundamentally misconceived, doesn’t work now, and can’t work in the future. As Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics at the University of Oxford puts it – in the essential book Is the EU Doomed? – ‘the EU has turned into an embarrassment … a symbol of austerity and conflict’ and despite ‘obtaining ever more powers at the expense of national parliaments and governments’ when the 2008 crash hit ‘proved unable to cope’.
I am also for Leave because I believe that the Remain case rests on two fallacies: ‘No EU, no prosperity’ and ‘No EU, no peace’.
And finally, I am willing to Leave because I think there is a better alternative: we can fight for – in a democracy you can do no more, there are no guarantees – a social democratic country modelling democratic internationalism and responsible global citizenship as an independent nation-state cooperating with its neighbours.
So, four flaws, two fallacies and a better alternative.
Part 1: The EU’s four fatal flaws
Fatal Flaw 1: The EU is anti-democratic
Paul Mason puts it succinctly:
The EU is not – and cannot become – a democracy. Instead, it provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organised crime. It has an executive so powerful it could crush the leftwing government of Greece; a legislature so weak that it cannot effectively determine laws or control its own civil service. A judiciary that, in the Laval and Viking judgments, subordinated workers’ right to strike to an employer’s right do business freely.
The EU, politically, begins to look more and more like a gerrymandered state, where the politically immature electorates of eastern Europe can be used – as Louis Napoleon used the French peasantry – as a permanent obstacle to liberalism and social justice.
And the situation is getting worse. Europe’s leaders still do not know whether they will let Greece go bankrupt in June; they still have no workable plan to distribute the refugees Germany accepted last summer, and having signed a morally bankrupt deal with Turkey to return the refugees, there is now the prospect of that deal’s collapse. That means, if the reported demand by an unnamed Belgian minister to ‘push back or sink’ migrant boats in the Aegean is activated, the hands of every citizen of the EU will be metaphorically on the tiller of the ship that does it. You may argue that Britain treats migrants just as badly. The difference is that in Britain I can replace the government, whereas in the EU, I cannot.
I came into politics reading Paul Foot’s book Why You Should Be A Socialist, aged 16. In his magnificent and final book, The Vote: How it was won and how it was undermined, written before the Lisbon Treaty made all this much worse, Foot noted – in that matter of fact way we used to talk about these things before we drank the Euro Kool-Aid – ‘The bureaucrats who put together the Treaty of Rome were at best uninterested, at worst downright hostile to extending democracy’, the new political structure enshrined ‘an appointed Commission, with a huge supporting bureaucracy far out of the reach of any electorate’, ‘The plain fact [was] that membership of the European Community meant a transfer of power from elected Parliaments to the unelected European Commission’ while the European Parliament was actually completely powerless, ‘the MEPs power and authority went down almost as fast as their salaries and expenses went up’.
The centre left decided to stop talking about the ‘democratic deficit’ when it released they could do nothing about it. But that does not mean the deficit was made good. It just meant the left began to ignore it, apologise for it, even found something in it worth celebrating: protection from the – elected – Tories.
When the proposed European Constitution was rejected by voters in France and Holland (most government did not even allow a vote) this meant nothing to ‘the Project’. A few cosmetic tweeks, and it was imposed anyway; now it was called ‘the Lisbon Treaty’. The leaders admitted that this was what happened. As Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president who drafted the EU Constitution wrote in The Independent (‘The EU Treaty is the same as the Constitution’):
The legal experts for the European Council … charged with drafting the new text … have not made any new suggestions. They have taken the original draft constitution, blown it apart into separate elements, and have then attached them, one by one, to existing treaties. The Treaty of Lisbon is thus a catalogue of amendments. It is unpenetrable for the public.
In terms of content, the proposed institutional reforms – the only ones which mattered to the drafting Convention – are all to be found in the Treaty of Lisbon. They have merely been ordered differently and split up between previous treaties.
The ‘Lisbon Treaty’ turned the EU ‘from a loose confederation of independent states into a unitary state with its own legal personality and the right to act as a single state’ argues Alan Sked. ‘All this was done without any popular mandate—indeed, had to be done in this fashion after the voters of France and the Netherlands had rejected virtually the same document. So the new treaty was rammed through national parliaments by party whips.’
Except in Ireland, which held a referendum – the only referendum to place on the Treaty in the EU’s 27 member states, itself a fact of huge shaming significance for Remainers if they cared about democracy – in which the people said no to the Lisbon treaty. What happened next was instructive. Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the French Europe Minister, said, ‘The most important thing is that the ratification process must continue in the other countries and then we shall see with the Irish what type of legal arrangement could be found’ Nikola Sarkozy, said it the Irish would simply be ignored. The Irish were told to vote again. A journalist reported: John and Annette Drum, shopping on Dublin’s Grafton Street, were unhappy with Mr. Sarkozy’s attempts to force Ireland into a second vote. ‘How dare he tell us what to do,’ said Mrs. Drum. Still, Mrs. Drum was made to vote again, until she got it right. The John and Annette Drum’s of Europe simply do not count to the EU, have never counted and will not count in the future.
What the former Labour cabinet minister Peter Shore called the ‘uniquely integrationist and supranational institutions and commitments of the EU’ mean that this country is now subjected to the supremacy of Community Law, to decisions taken by Qualified Majority Voting, to the European Court of Justice rulings and to the many recommendations, guidelines and instructions of the European Council regarding budgets.
And the journey is not over.
Every time the Brits are asked to decide on the European project we are told that there will be no more integration. Each time, like fools, we believe it. In our English way, we just can’t grasp what the project is. This little, but oh-so-telling anecdote from the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt in 2011 might help us:
Last week in Portugal I was discussing the plight of the euro with the head of equities at an international bank. In her view the only answer lay in progressing towards fiscal union. I questioned whether such an important step would need the active backing of the voters. She looked at me and said ‘you’re British aren’t you?’
Yes, we are.
As for the ‘European parliament’– it is not a Parliament in any meaningful sense. It is not a legislature. The MEPs are not legislators. They do not offer manifestos. They do not implement the ideas they propose to electors. The ‘European elections’ change nothing. The Commission carries on. As one staffer from the European Parliament told the European Research Seminar at the London School of Economics: ‘The only people who listen to MEPs are the interpreters.’
The crisis of the eurozone from 2010 even led to the removal of elected governments and their replacement with compliant technocrats—by the troika of the EU, the European Central Bank, and the IMF. The markets were kept happy, and the euro was kept intact, but the price was high: democracy was ‘discarded like unwanted clothing’ as the BBC Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, put it in his valuable book The Lost Continent. More: the European welfare state was eroded; deflation, mass unemployment, poverty, and ugly and sometimes violent political populisms disfigured the European landscape.
The political meaning of the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the president of the European Commission (which can draft laws and impose penalties on governments and firms) was this: the European political class and its bureaucracy has decided that the answer to the uprising is –as Angela Merkel says –‘More Europe!’ Jean-Claude Juncker is Mr. More Europe.
A former prime minister of Luxemburg, he is the consummate Euro-insider, a super-centralizer, a true believer in ‘ever-greater union,’ and a man without any record of pushing for more democratic accountability or for reform. He is the man who once attacked Germany as ‘very un-European.’
Journalist Iain Martin thinks ‘the federalists are … effectively taking reform off the table and signaling the end of the EU as a club of distinct nation states.’
And the push for a federal Europe, for ever closer union, for a country called Europe, is about to be hastened. Why? The survival of the Euro.
The European political class and bureaucracy are going to pick up the pace of the push for political union because only political union will preserve the euro. They have understood that the crisis in the eurozone is a systemic one, the fruit of having monetary union without having political union, and so, if the currency is to be preserved, they must push on toward political union. Immediately, they want more integration—‘a quantum leap in integration’ is what they plan, says the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt—and a radical weakening of national governments. The ‘five presidents’ report’ says as much: the United States of Europe via a banking union, then a common budget and finally political union. (You can’t say you were not warned: they wrote it down and published it.)
Hewitt reports that David Marsh, one of the authors of the euro, was quoted as saying that ‘in the euro area, no government is completely in control of its economy. They have progressively handed it over. The euro is at a cross-roads – it either has to go down the road of more solidarity or more chaos.’ ‘More solidarity’ means political union.
The politicians say the same thing. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on a visit to London in 2011 said ‘In an interview he said that ‘in order to consolidate the euro we will need gradually to harmonise our economic, fiscal and social policies, hence we are going towards greater integration.’
Angela Merkel has not been coy either. EurActiv.com reported:
Angela Merkel said the euro zone was moving inevitably towards a ‘political union’ requiring nations to cede more sovereignty, and that would lead to more of a multi-speed Europe, with non-euro states in the slow lane.
‘We need more Europe, we need not only a monetary union, but we also need a so-called fiscal union, in other words more joint budget policy,’ Merkel told ARD on Thursday (7 June).
‘And we need most of all a political union – that means we need to gradually give competencies to Europe and give Europe control,’ she added.
Well, maybe Merkel is right? I think not, for three reasons.
First, it is the opposite of what the European people say they want. In that respect the drive for political union has a Brechtian quality: having ‘forfeited the confidence’ of the European political class, the European political class has decided to ‘dissolve’ the European people as a coherent polity able to hold the political executive to account.
Doubling down on Euro-centralism will only make worse what Perry Anderson, in a brilliant essay, has called ‘the degenerative drift of democracy across the continent.’ As Anderson points out, ‘The oligarchic cast of [the EUs] constitutional arrangements, once conceived as provisional scaffolding for a popular sovereignty of supranational scale to come, has over time steadily hardened. Referendums are regularly overturned, if they cross the will of rulers. Voters whose views are scorned by elites shun the assembly that nominally represents them, turnout falling with each successive election. Bureaucrats who have never been elected police the budgets of national parliaments dispossessed even of spending powers.’
And so we are witnessing the emergence of something at once very new and very old in Europe: governance by elites without democracy. But do we Britons care? That is less clear. In time, I suspect we will find out that all the peoples of Europe will not stand for it. Let’s hope that by then every mainstream politician has not been discredited by their lying about ‘the project’, leaving only the extremes to represent the anger of the people.
The second problem with a push for political union was best explained in Larry Siedentop’s book Democracy in Europe. He warned against a ‘rush for political integration which turns federalism into little more than a mask for a unitary superstate’ saying that such a thing would ‘put at risk the complex textures of European societies’.He explained why:
The strength of democratic sentiment and its ability to resist oppression is, in each of these countries, tied to a particular bias. The history of Europe, the formation of these nation-states, survives in their distinctive political cultures. To attempt to change these cultures too rapidly – subjecting them to rule from a single centre in fact, if not in theory – would risk destroying the very forms of civic spirit which exist in Europe today. … the loss to democracy would be enormous, perhaps crippling.
By forcing all the nations of Europe into one polity and one economy, with no European identity or loyalty, no European demos, no European democratic structures, the charisma is drained from the nation-state, the social contract that sustained the national welfare state is frayed badly, the anger about the results of free movement finds no echo in the mainstream political parties (where it is dismissed as racist, to be shunned as the product of ‘just some bigoted’ people, as former Labour Leader Gordon Brown famously put it in an unguarded but honest moment).
This is a mix that the far right are exploiting. Austria has just escaped a fascist victory. As Paul Mason’s argues, ‘The EU’s economic failure is fuelling racism and the ultra right.’ He points out that ‘Boris Johnson’s comparison of the EU with the Third Reich was facile. The more accurate comparison is with the Weimar Republic: a flawed democracy whose failures fuelled the rise of fascism.’ Mason’s question is this: ‘do I even want to be part of the same electorate as millions of closet Nazis in mainland Europe?’
The Liberal Left are vaguely aware of this but are paralysed and unable to do anything about it because they are committed to the EU political project and the EU Ideology as an article of faith now. (Also because social democratic parties they have somehow got themselves in the ludicrous position of believing that even to raise questions about the good sense of mass, rapid, semi-controlled, and seemingly unending immigration is, in and of itself, unspeakably racist, even though more or less their entire electoral base wants to have that very conversation.)
The third reason a push for political union would be a bad idea is that it is a colossal error for the left to think of nation states as embarrassing anachronisms, hostile to democracy. For the first time ever, the majority of mankind lives within the political structure of the nation state; the great empires are no more: the irrepressible demand for self-government has pushed them aside. Outside of the EU, these nation states are cooperating in all kinds of ways, including by striking trade deals, but they are not abandoning their independence and merging themselves into the political structures of their neighbours. Only in Europe do we see what Hannan calls the ‘Ming-Mogul-Ottoman road to uniformity’ being pursued. (372)
More: the nation state is, far from being a threat to democracy – prepare for a mind-melt, here – the only stable underpinning we have to sustain the commitments and sacrifices and levels of trust that a democracy requires. Writing in Democratiya, the democracy-promotion expert David Lowe, quoted the Georgian political philosopher Ghia Nodia, who pointed out that ‘Democracy has always emerged in distinct communities; there is no record anywhere of free, unconnected, and calculating individuals coming together spontaneously to form a democratic social contract ex nihilo. Whether we like it or not, nationalism is the historical force that has provided the political units for democratic government.’
(ii) The EU is neoliberal
I think the biggest mistake made by my friends is to think that the EU is an alternative to neoliberalism, when the true is that neoliberalism is written into its constitution. The EU is – as Richard Tuck argued in ‘The Left-wing case for Brexit’ in the US democratic left journal Dissent – ‘a constitutional order tailor-made for the interests of global capitalism.’ Paul Mason observes: ‘[the EUs] central bank is committed, by treaty, to favour deflation and stagnation over growth. State aid to stricken industries is prohibited. The austerity we deride in Britain as a political choice is, in fact, written into the EU treaty as a non-negotiable obligation. So are the economic principles of the Thatcher era.’
Left-wing economist Larry Eliot, once of the Guardian, writes of this neoliberal EU:
The structural adjustment programmes forced on those countries that have required financial bailouts have involved savage attacks on workers’ rights, including collective bargaining. The EU has not taken the fight to multinational capital. Rather, Brussels has become a honeypot for corporate lobbyists demanding deregulation and the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP).
One of the great ironies of the UK’s referendum debate is that Europe, with its austerity programmes and its drift towards neoliberalism, has been moving in a direction that rightwing Conservatives would tend to support. Just as in the UK in the 1980s, unemployment has weakened the power of organised labour and the trend is for more competition and for free markets … Bad economics leads to bad politics. Always has, always will.
The UK Left was won over to the EU project by the eighth president of the European Commission Jacques Delors in the 1980s. Thatcher was regnant and this charming man promised that the EU would ride to the rescue. Battered by defeats, the Labour movement turned 180 degrees and became EU loyalists. But as Tuck notes in Dissent, ‘The same structures that Delors promised to use in the interests of the working class turned out by the time of the 2007–08 financial crash to have been used instead to push through a variety of neoliberal economic and social policies that have only damaged the European working class.’ Hence the near silence on the left during this campaign about the abject misery of Greece, or the trauma of 50% youth unemployment in Spain, or the remarkable pursuit of TTIP.As for leftist Ulrich Beck’s suggestion in German Europe that Southern Europe should consider German neocolonialism a good thing because, hey, this is the ‘best’ generation of Germans ever…well, we have passed over that sort of thing in silence too.
And here is something else we don’t talk about on the left: the impact on workers wages and rents. Listen to The Guardian’s – yes, that’s right, The Guardian’s – money expert, Patrick Collinson, explaining why he is voting Leave:
I know a painter/decorator who has not been able to raise his wages for 15 years. There’s always someone else, he says, willing to work for less. A driver who arrived from Turkey 18 years ago, who says the bus companies used to pay more than £12 an hour, but can now pay £10 or less because they have so many takers (and yes, the irony is noted). A care-home cleaner in a rundown seaside town who reckons her hopes of ever getting more than the minimum wage are zero. Each blames an influx of workers from the EU. Each of them are voting out. Tell them the EU protects workers’ rights and they just laugh.
When companies launch recruitment drives in eastern Europe they blame skills shortages in Britain. Really? If a big business wants to hire, say, drivers on £25 an hour, it will find it can do so easily; what they really mean is that they can’t find people willing to work for £10 an hour or less, with antisocial hours to boot. Meanwhile, workers here rejecting low wages are told they are lazy, chavvy and feckless when they refuse to be part of the so-called ‘jobs factory of Europe’.
Meanwhile, as wages for people in low-income groups are pegged back, rents rise. Many times I interviewed Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord, Fergus Wilson, and many times he told me how well he was doing from eastern European migrants, who filled nearly all his properties and kept his rental income booming. Rents in parts of the country are at catastrophic levels, snatching as much as 60% of pay. Migration is only part of the reason why that is happening. But when George Osborne declares house prices will fall by 18% if Britain quits, he’s giving the game away. He is saying membership of the EU keeps prices and rents much higher than they would otherwise be. Young people struggling with ludicrous rents, take note.
That the principles of the Thatcher era are written into the EU constitution matters to me not just for these ‘micro’ reasons – wages and rents. There is also a bloody great big ‘macro’ reason: the neoliberal hegemony we have lived under since the 1970s is taking the world to hell in a handcart.
Global capitalism is fantastically productive, but it is a threat to both the biosphere and social ecology, it is destroying the environment and destroying the very social structures of human society: the nation-state, community, shared society, social justice, family, morality. We live in a self-deregulating and ultimately suicidal world defined by what Gregory Elliott calls the ‘ongoing transnationalisation of a heedless free market capitalism’.
Most will be uninterested in all this, as they think neoliberalism is just fine (or in that spectacularly lazy way that is the fashion, dismiss the very idea of ‘neoliberalism’ as a swear word, or it is dismissed as – and here we see the language of the right embedded so deeply in the minds of the left that they dont even realize whose words it is they spout – ‘class war’.
But we social democrats have to be interested if we want a future. As Sheri Berman showed in The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century, we are the people who are supposed to know – and once did – how to do something that no one else can: bring capitalism, democracy, and social stability into a more or less harmonious relationship. We should know from bitter experience that if markets really are ‘free’ and are left to ‘self-regulate’ then society is devastated; that in addition to degrading the environment, what Marx called the cash-nexus, the reduction of human relations to naked self-interest and cold exchange, would erode communal life and the common good, installing greed and possessive individualism in their place; that merely contractual relations between spectacularly unequal, anxious, and deeply untrusting individuals – acquisitive, philistine, and competitive – would triumph.
But in the 1980s European social democrats lost their nerve. As part of the collapse into the arms of Delors, they also fell into a suffocating consensus that says there is no alternative to neoliberalism: marketization, deregulation, privatization, financialization, an assault on the bargaining power of labor, regressive tax regimes, cuts to welfare. The accepted the EU as the protector of some workers rights in return for encoding neoliberalism in the constitutions of the new expanded Europe.
The fruits of this radical transformation of European social democracy into a political force pursuing a slightly kinder and a slightly gentler neoliberalism—which some dub ‘social neoliberalism’—have been bitter. At the top of any list would have to be the erosion of the links between the social democratic parties and their working-class base and the ‘hollowing out’ of social democratic parties until they became little more than coteries of leaders, staffers, and wannabe MPs, relating mostly to each other and to media and lobbyists. (Hence Corbyn’s takeover: Let Us Be Social Democrats!’ was the desperate plea he answered, not ‘Let Us Be Friends With Hamas!’)
The neoliberal economic kampf unleashed in the 1980s incapacitated the organized working class, the traditional support base of social democracy. While capital is global, mobile, and regnant, organized labor is increasingly deindustrialized, indebted, and precarious; often temporary, part-time, insecure, and, quite frankly, unorganized.
But – says Yannis Varoufakis, he former Greek Foreign minister, and the writer Slavoj Zizek – all the social democratic parties could make a better EU if they really tried. But could they? As Tusk argues at Dissent, ‘Even if Europe’s left parties do succeed in forging a common program, the EU is not the kind of political entity whose approach to the world can be altered by popular politics. Popular politics is precisely what the EU was designed to obstruct.’ To change the EU in the way Varoufakis desires ‘would require sweeping institutional change of a kind nowhere on the agenda.’
(iii) The EU is corrupt
Corrupt in two senses: straight up venal corruption and a more subtle but even more corrosive structural corruption of the integrity of the political class (i.e. they have to lie to keep the show on the road, causing an alienation of the people from the politicians that is exploited by the far right).
The late Paul Foot wrote that ‘one result of this undemocratic structure [of the EU] was an almost continual Euro-corruption on a scale far more revolting than anything that took place in the member states.’ Certainly, the crisis of the eurozone from 2010 led to revelations of industrial scale misspending and corruption. In a brilliant essay in the London Review of Books, Perry Anderson made a start at a taxonomy of the whole shocking malavita. Reading the BBC Europe Editor Gavin’s Hewitt’s The Lost Continent, a superb page-turner about the crisis of the European Single Currency, I found the corruption so jaw-dropping that I added my own entry in the index: ‘WTF! moments: best of.’
I learnt that ‘Two journalists from Corriere della Sera discovered there were 72,000 official cars [in Italy], costing 1.85 billion euros annually.’ In Spain, ‘the airport of Ciudad Real boasts one of Europe longest runways. Its vast airy light terminal is designed to handle 5 million passengers a year. It cost nearly a billion euros. Yet there are no planes.’ During Ireland’s property boom, ‘In the space of 10 years, 553,000 houses had been built. Nearly 300,000 of them lay empty.’ One city, Valencia in Spain, ran up a debt of 25 billion Euros.
The single currency – monetary union without fiscal union, let alone political union – not only helped get European countries into crisis, it has also stopped them getting out of it. Introduced prematurely – and there is an understatement! – in 1999, the Euro was a political act by a political class-cum-bureaucracy that saw itself as the vanguard party for a European super-state. It was always about politics not economics. It was supposed to be the next stage to an ‘ever-closer union.’ Unfortunately, the single currency was also an open invitation for countries with very different economies, and very different economic and political cultures to Germany’s, to get into serious trouble.
As interest rates tumbled – and in some southern european countries they halved –borrowing and spending exploded and debt rocketed. The financial crash of 2008 brought the hang-over: exposure, markets pushing up the cost of borrowing so high that only EU/IMF bail outs could prevent a default; and then the grim troika of the EU, the IMF and the ECB enforcing a new religion of austerity on the sinners. The results of that have been recession, riot, and the rise of some ugly populisms.
Hewitt’s book exposed a culture of cheating (everybody, it seems, knew the Greeks were cooking the books to meet the criteria for entry to the single currency in 1999), crony capitalism (‘crucially, there were always friends in government,’ he writes of the networks of politicians, developers and bankers that organised the spectacularly ridiculous Irish property bubble), corruption (‘Politics was built on favours’), dodgy accounting (Greece was ‘a modern European country anchored in the European Union, but it was not keeping proper accounts’), tax evasion (In Greece ‘paying tax was regarded as almost a lifestyle choice … the State was fair game to be ripped off if the opportunity arose’) and vanity projects. My favourite is the 70,000 Euros of tax=payers money spent on restoring the penis to the statute of Mars that adorned the entrance to Palazzo Chigi, Silvio Berlusconi’s official residence.
Having helped get Ireland, Greece and Portugal, to name only the worst hit, into trouble, the single currency, and the regime that enforced it, then stopped them getting out of trouble. When you can’t devalue your currency, or default on your debt, all you have left is growth. But you can’t have that either because you can’t grow while slashing and burning pensions, wages and social services, deflating your economy, and seeing your tax-take shrink. Austerity has brought only stagnation, falling revenues and more debt.
Hewitt’s book is a stinging indictment of all the hubris and elitism of a project that has been ‘driven not by the dreams and hopes of the people, but by an elite that believed destiny lay in building an ever-closer European union.’
One last story sums up where we seem to have landed, if you will forgive the pun. The 700 villagers of Villanova d’Alcolea in the province of Castellon in Spain, where olives and almonds have been grown for a very long time, saw 155 million Euros spent on building an airport nearby with an 8,856-foot runway (though Valencia airport was only one hour away). According to Hewitt, the project was forced through over their objections by a local politician, Carlos Fabra, who then spent another 300,000 euros of public money commissioning a statue of himself to grace the entrance to the airport. No plane has ever landed there. The locals, Hewitt records, ‘shake their heads at the madness’.
The slow corruption of political integrity
‘It’s a lie! Turkey will only get round to joining in about the year 3000.’ (David Cameron speaking during the referendum campaign.)
‘We work on a wide range of issues including Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, the economy, energy policy and international security. We have a dedicated team working on projects to improve Turkey’s prospects of joining the EU.’ (British Embassy Ankara Website.)
Being pro-EU depends upon a double-speak. There is the private discourse amongst the Believers and Remainers, and then there is the public discourse with the voters. That’s why Gordon Brown ‘was rude and scornful of a voter, moments after embracing her warmly in public’ reported the Guardian in 2010. Gillian Duffy, a voter, had raised concerns with him about the scale and speed of east European immigration and the pressure it was putting on local services. Brown pretending to listen to her concerns, then dismissed her as ‘just some bigoted woman’ to his staff when he thought his mic was off.(It wasn’t.) To this day, Labour members gathered in private, will mostly say ‘Well, she WAS a bigot’ but they know not to say that out loud, to the voters, as voters share Gillian Duffy’s concern.
Only because his mic was on did Brown apologize and say he was a ‘penitent sinner’. Labour let it be known that the party thought she was ‘so clearly not bigoted’. But few believed Brown or Labour. They thought it was spin and damage control. And they were right. In this way, a structural political corruption of the integrity of politics takes place – and the legitimacy of politicians drains away.
David Cameron promises that immigration will fall to the tens of thousands knowing it will be over 300,000 every year. Why? Because he knows the demos has repeatedly expressed its view that they want immigration levels to fall but he also knows that he is powerless to use the democratic structures of Westminster to make that happen. So he says what he says to pretend that he can. But as the years go by people notice that it is a pretence. And they are angry. And more legitimacy drains away.
Actually this structural political corruption of integrity was built into the project. The British political class has been lying to the British people about Europe from the start. Ted Heath knew he was lying. The British people were left with the impression that entry meant ‘there is no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty’ whereas Heath had been told by Lord Kilmuir, the Lord Chancellor,- himself a supporter of entry – ‘I must emphasise that in my view the surrender of sovereignty involved are serious ones.’.
All the way to New Labour in 1997 this kind of trimming was the norm. It was Peter Shore, the former Labour Cabinet Minister, who noted ‘the fundamental dishonesty of New Labour’s whole approach’. The 1997 Manifesto stated that ‘Our vision of Europe is of an alliance of independent nations choosing to cooperate to achieve goals that they cannot achieve alone’. But as Shore pointed out, ‘What is incontrovertibly special about the European Union and its treaty base is precisely its supranationalism, its declared purpose of ‘ever closer union’ and its unique institutions that set it apart from all others.’ Shore continued: ‘The words in Labour’s Manifesto are chosen to deceive simply because the authors know that the electors, to whom the manifesto is addressed, do not want to be integrated into a European Union – do not want to lose their birthright of democracy and self-government.’
Today, the Euro-leaders play fast and loose with democracy and the rule of law to advance ‘the Project’; every set back to ever closer union is met with a politically corrupt fix.
For example, when the Euro could only be saved by ripping up the rules, then the rules were ripped up. Christine Lagarde, then French Finance Minister boasted that ‘We violated all the rules because we [had to] rescue the Euro. The Treaty of Lisbon was very straighforward. No bailouts.’ Gavin Hewitt of the BBC reported that ‘when a permanent bail-out mechanism was being discussed, Chancellor Merkel insisted that the new structure had to be supported by treaty changes. Huge effort went into ensuring they could be called ‘limited’ to avoid referendums; vox populi is seriously mistrusted in Brussels.’
Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato explained that EU leaders had deliberately decided about the ‘Lisbon Treaty’ (i.e. the European constitution recycled as a treaty to avoid the referendums they knew they would lose) that ‘the document should be unreadable . . . Should you succeed in understanding it at first sight there might be some reason for a referendum.’
(iv) The EU is a bad foreign policy actor in a dangerous world
The president of the EU Commission said in a 2015 interview with Welt am Sonntag: ‘in terms of foreign policy, we don’t seem to be taken entirely seriously.’
Indeed. And there are three good reasons for this: the EU is structural incapable of formulating and pursuing a single coherent foreign policy; the EU is increasingly pacific and unwilling to spend on its own defence, and so unable to project hard power; and the EUs use of soft power is often naïve and irresponsible, sometimes even empowering authoritarians.
The EU is incoherent
The EU blunders around in foreign policy, gestural and unserious, but impatient to be a player, so also quite dangerous too. It almost ever agrees a common policy – it erred badly in the Balkans, it was split on the First Gulf War, the Second Gulf War, the Libyan intervention, the refugee crisis, and so on. Chris Bickerton of Cambridge University talks of the ‘Groundhog Day’ character of EU foreign policy:
The EU does have a foreign policy but it is stuck in a time loop.
If one goes back 20 years to 1995, the kinds of questions being raised about Europe’s role in promoting peace related to whether it would speak with one voice. This was the time of the Yugoslav war when European divisions meant that the United States got heavily involved in the Balkans. People wondered if the EU would finally become not just an economic giant but a political one, too. People described 1995 as a crossroads and a watershed moment.
Fast forward to 2005 and the very same clichés are being used. Two years after the US invasion of Iraq had divided Europe, people asked when it would speak with one voice. The EU was again at a crossroads. This was two years after the EU’s first Security Strategy, intended to give Europe a sense of direction in foreign policy.
Today, we hear much the same thing and Europeans are once again drafting a new security strategy. The war in Ukraine led commentators to lament the divisions between EU member states. The rise of Islamic State in the Middle East has made people wonder if the EU will ever become a regional power or whether it will always have a ‘lowest common denominator’ foreign policy.
As in the film Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray is stuck in a time loop, the European Union is forced to relive its foreign policy frustrations time and time again. Groundhog Day has a Hollywood-style happy ending; the EU may not be so lucky.
The EU is pacific
Europe does not like spending money on defence. It free-rides on America and then denounces ‘American militarism’. It spends so little on defence that it is questionable if it could project serious hard power against a genuine and sustained military threat anywhere. When the Dutch army recently ran low on bullets it instructed soldiers to shout ‘Bang! Bang!’ And because the EU has no hammer, nothing ever looks like a nail. Hence the third problem.
The EU’s soft power can be a loose cannon
The EU uses soft power as an alternative, not a supplement, to the hard power it lacks. So it grossly overestimates the capacity of soft power to achieve goals in foreign affairs. Partly this is the result of the ‘rationalist naiveté’ that is more influential today in European intellectual culture. Partly it is an expression of the money-grubbing belly-politics that dominates the thinned out ‘culture’ of the European political and financial elites (and which has been on display in this country in this campaign). Back in the days of the Arab boycott, the Europeans threw Israel under a bus. It caved to Arab threats. Today, it drifts with the authoritarians at the UN, often legitimizes their obsession with bashing Israel, and so on.
Part 2: The two fallacies about the EU
‘No EU, no prosperity’
I am no economist, but I am struck by the fact that research published in 2000 by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) stated ‘In conjunction with the potential gains from withdrawing from the Common Agricultural Policy and no longer paying net fiscal contributions to the EU, there is a case that withdrawal from the EU might actually offer net economic benefits.’ Can things really have been so transformed since 2000 that apocalypse would be the result now?
As 6.5 million jobs in Europe are directly associated with the export of goods and services to the UK, I struggle to take seriously the threats of a tariff war launched against an independent Britain.
For one thing, Europe would be cutting off its nose to spite its face. For another thing, while the global average tariff is less than 3 percent, and the European figure is 1.04 percent. For yet another thing, the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) say member states can’t impose arbitrarily high tariffs, so a trade war would be illegal. No, a trade agreement – and many other agreements – will surely be negotiated between the EU and the fifth largest economy in the world. And when they are, won’t that be a more natural relationship between these islands and the Continent, allowing their Euro project to continue without our constant foot-dragging opposition, if we are honest with ourselves?
‘No EU, no peace’
Again, I struggle to take seriously the idea that then EU has kept the peace in Europe since WW2. These arguments of Chris Bickerton a lecturer in Politics at the University of Cambridge seem persuasive to me.
We hear very often that the EU played a key role in building peace after World War II. For all its faults, the argument goes, the European Union is the best peace project Europe has.
There are three reasons why this is wrong. The first is that European integration contributed very little to the building of peace in post-war Europe. The second is that the EU’s record in keeping the peace on its external borders is poor. The third is that the Euro has aggravated conflicts between the members of the Eurozone: between north and south, creditor and debtor, exporter and importer.
It may seem crazy to suggest that the EU is not a peace project. This is, after all, its founding narrative. But history suggests otherwise for two reasons.
One is that in the late 1940s and 1950s there were many more powerful forces leading to peace in Europe. The shift from warfare to welfare states, made possible by the class compromise put in place after World War II, was crucial. European cooperation was really just an extension of that deeper change in European societies.
Central to post-war peace in Europe was also the Cold War and the support given to Western Europe by the United States. Most important of all was the post-war boom. After the war, people wanted a better life and it was to their own governments that they turned.
(…) We are right to ask if Europe can keep the peace. The answer is ‘no’. Peace in Europe owes much to other factors and the EU has done little to build peace beyond its borders. Peace within Europe has become fragile as the euro unleashes competitive pressures that pit national economies against one another.
Part 3: The Alternative: internationalism and responsible global citizenship as a democratic nation-state
Look, June 23rd is not a general election. The question is not ‘PM Cameron or PM Johnson?’ It is, as The Labour Case for Brexit pamphlet puts it: ‘do the British people want to be a self-governing nation in control of their own destiny or governed by a European superstate designed to become a United States of Europe?’
In a self-governing nation, the social democratic left would argue its case, seeking to unite the best of the inheritance of the Anglosphere with the beautiful promise of the democratic revolutions of the 18th century, the social democratic revolutions of the 19th century and the feminist, anti-racist and egalitarian revolutions of the 20th century. I want it all.
So: the rule of law, liberty and representative government; religious and civil freedom; religious toleration and political pluralism; independent courts; free conscience, free parliament, constitutional government, free elections, habeas corpus, an uncensored press, the dignity and self-ownership of the individual and their personal freedom to pursue happiness; free trade unions, racial equality, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, disability rights, a generous welfare state; a fight for the common good, and what Michael Walzer calls left internationalism in foreign policy. While ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not a bad maxim, ill-conceived neoconservative interventionism of the Iraq kind is to avoided. We can be internationalists that do not walk by on the other side. We can stand with the democrats fighting the Islamists and with the human rights campaigners fighting the authoritarians. We can accept the responsibility to protect and seek ways to cooperate with others to make it real.
These are not the dog-eat-dog neoliberal fantasies of Daniel Hannan and Boris Johnson. They are the dreams of social democrats. Can they be realized? If we can persuade the demos, yes. And if we regain control over our affairs, we will have a demos to persuade. And we will then have a sovereign House of Commons from which we can to work to ensure that, as the Levellers proclaimed at Putney in 1649, the poorest he – and she – that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he, and has the opportunity to live it.
And that’s why I am for Leave.