I have thought long and hard about the momentous decision that faces our nation on Thursday. Not particularly about how I am going to vote, for I have known that with a fair degree of certainty for well over a decade. Rather, I have agonised over whether or not I wanted to blog on the subject of my decision.
In part at least, I suppose my reticence has been down to the fact that, ultimately, my vote will be but one of many and you will all have your own vote too, so why should it matter to any of you how I vote? But, as a councillor, I have – perhaps inevitably – had a lot of people approach me to ask my opinion. Mostly, I suspect this is because many people feel ill equipped to make such an important decision and many have reported to me that they do not feel in possession of sufficient facts and reliable information and are asking me my opinion precisely because I am involved in politics and they assume I will be able to offer some insight.
This leads me to the other reason I have been reluctant to weigh heavily into the debate. I feel sure we can all agree, the tone struck by each of the two EU referendum campaigns has been universally diabolical. Your point of view may lead you to feel that one side has been worse than the other but neither side has exactly covered themselves in glory, in fact they have both behaved atrociously for the most part, producing more heat than light. The debate has been characterised by claim versus counter-claim, misinformation, some outright lies, and self-interested propaganda, with each side impugning the motivations of the other. It has been pretty unedifying and I have not really wanted to get too involved. I was approached about being a campaign organiser for the constituency but I declined. I already knew how I was going to vote, so I was content to let people make up their own minds without any input from me. But I feel I must now, finally, publicly set out my position.
There is no doubt whatever that the referendum on our membership of the European Union is the single most vitally important decision all of us, as electors, will be asked to make in our lifetimes. Some of you may have been around forty years ago for the 1975 referendum on membership of the what was then called the ‘European Economic Community’ but for a lot of us, including me, this is the first time we have ever been directly consulted on our relationship with Europe and now, thanks to a manifesto commitment delivered by the Conservative Party, we will all finally get to have our say. Special thanks should go, at this point, to our local MP, John Baron, for the central role he played in leading the parliamentary campaign to secure the referendum.
Given what is at stake in this referendum, and how long I have waited for it, I would have expected to be at the epicentre of it. Although I have not always felt a particularly trenchant animus against the EU, it would be fair to say that I am a lifelong Eurosceptic. As a libertarian by inclination, I tend toward a healthy scepticism of all big state apparatus – and they scarcely come much bigger or more statist than the Brussels bureaucracy. I started off life, as a young university student studying politics in the early 2000s, as a relatively mild critic of the EU but one who was, nevertheless, broadly favouring our continued membership. As the years have rolled by, I have become progressively more and more despairing of EU institutions. I have become appalled by the rampant corruption, insatiable avarice, colossal waste, incompetence, protectionism, megalomaniacal levels of interference, shocking arrogance, and imperious disregard for even a pretence of democratic accountability displayed by the various organs of the monolithic EU behemoth. By the time I graduated in 2003, I had pretty much made up my mind that, if I ever got the chance, I would undoubtedly vote to leave the EU.
Now, that being said, I would probably have been open to the idea of voting to remain if the Prime Minister’s renegotiation had yielded a deal that showed Brussels was prepared to consider seriously the case for meaningful reform of the way the EU works. What the Prime Minister came back with, however, was a derisory fig leaf, which paid lip service to reform but really made it clear that the EU is utterly intransigent. It was not worth the paper it was printed on. There is, therefore, no such thing as a ‘qualified’ vote to remain in this referendum. Any vote to stay in the EU, no matter how narrow, will be interpreted in Brussels as wholesale endorsement and as a signal of Britain’s ultimate acceptance of the entire EU project – and the Five Presidents Report makes the ultimate mission for full monetary and political union absolutely clear. Anyone who imagines that we can vote to remain in the EU and then reform it from within is wilfully ignoring the experience of the last twenty-five years. If Brussels were not prepared to make any serious concessions even with the threat of a referendum and potential Brexit looming, they will certainly never agree to anything once we have voted to stay in the EU. At that point, Brussels will know that the British have no bottle. The Prime Minister’s renegotiation was the last chance for the EU to change for the better and they fudged it. We simply cannot ignore such immovability.
I have a lot of sympathy for those people who feel there has been a lack of impartial information on what will happen if we leave. This situation was certainly not helped by the fact that the Prime Minister spent £9m of our money on a scaremongering propaganda sheet for the Stronger In campaign. Of course, the simple fact is that there is not a great deal of information about what will and will not happen because nobody has ever left the EU before. This has caused Stronger In to try and characterise Brexit as “a leap in the dark” but I refuse to subscribe to ‘Project Fear’. Fundamentally, I believe in Britain. I believe we CAN and WILL carve out a bigger, brighter future for ourselves if we vote Leave and take back control. I am absolutely firm in my conviction that a United Kingdom outside of the EU can and will be successful and economically prosperous – because, frankly, if we cannot do it, then no-one can.
The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a leading member of both the G8 and the G20, has one of the largest militaries in the world, we have the best universities, our citizens have won more Nobel Prizes than any other European country, not to mention a long and distinguished history as one of the greatest maritime trading nations in the history of the world. I really resent the way the Stronger In campaign has talked this country down. Do not misunderstand me, I think both campaigns have been pretty shoddy and the standard of debate in this referendum has been little short of abysmal. Both sides have descended into hyperbole and there have been arguments, both for and against leaving, that have been unworthy of civilised debate. All the stuff about immigration, funding for the NHS, arguing the toss over figures, etc, etc, culminating in the disgraceful way that both campaigns seemed incapable of resisting the urge to politicise the dreadful murder of Jo Cox MP, has left me cold. All the aforementioned matters are really just dissembling and distractions. The main issue for me – and the reason I shall vote Leave – is sovereignty. It is a question of whether or not Britain really is a fully-fledged democracy.
Britain is the home of democracy. We invented it (OK, the Greeks have some claim but we perfected it). We are the greatest bastion of liberty on the face of the earth, the home of Magna Carta, of Habeas Corpus, of the right to trial by jury, and we transported the principles of pluralistic representative parliamentary democracy around the world. The English poet John Milton once said “Consider what Nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors: a Nation not slow and dull, but of quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit, acute to invent, suttle and sinewy to discours, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that humane capacity can soar to.” How can a nation such as ours tolerate a wholly unaccountable, unelected, foreign power determining the laws that govern us? How can a people as proud and free as the British accept a morass of pettifogging directives from an organisation as fundamentally corrupt as the EU? This is an outdated organisation, that tries to standardise and regulate when it should be encouraging diversity and innovation. How can we barter away our liberties in exchange for membership of a protectionist cartel, which was created economic misery for some of the poorest people in Europe? This is an organisation that has foisted the Euro and economic harmonisation on people who are now, as a consequence, suffering mass unemployment, and crippling austerity, imposed upon them by a technocratic elite they did not elect and have no power to remove. Why would the British want to be a member of such a sclerotic racket? I for one cannot tolerate it one moment longer and am counting down the hours to Thursday.
Finally, although ‘Project Fear’ has tried to frame this debate in such a way that Brexit is the option that incurs all the risk, it is worth remember that there are significant risks in staying in the EU. We do not know for certain what will happen if we leave the EU but, given our inherent national strengths and mercantile tradition (not to mention the fact we run a trade deficit with Europe), we have good reason to place our faith in Britain and embrace our destiny outside the EU with confidence. The Remain side do not want to talk about the risks of staying in the failing EU. They do not know themselves with any certainly what will happen if we stay in. I would invite you all to take a long, cold, hard look at the way the EU is going – failing economically, basket case economies needing massive bailouts, rampant unemployment, particularly youth unemployment (over 50% in some places). In a decade’s time, 90% of global demand will come from outside the EU. Why would we want to keep ourselves shackled to the diminishing market of Europe when there is a big wide world out there for us to trade with?
Being a Brexiteer is not to be a ‘little Englander’ but to be an internationalist. I want the UK to re-emerge into the world as a fully sovereign nation state and to once again be a properly active member of the community of nations, trading all around the world. That is, I believe, the British destiny. We do not need to be just another star on somebody else’s flag. Sir Winston Churchill once said, that “If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea”. I have thought very hard about it and I am choosing the open sea. This is a great country. I believe we can do this. I believe the EU has had its day. Insular regional trading blocs looked like the future once but are irrelevant now, in the globalised world in which we all live. The time has come for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to embrace the rest of the world. It is not about immigration, it is not about how much money we send to the EU, or what they did to the UK fishing industry, it is not about racism, or an EU army, it is not even really about the economy or any of the minutiae the two camps have spent the last few weeks arguing about so bitterly. It is a simple question. Do we want to be a free and sovereign people? We will never be asked this question again and we should have the confidence to answer boldly and proudly.
When you go to the polls on Thursday to cast your vote in the most important question of our lifetimes, I would just ask you to take a pause, think, and then remember what Nation it is whereof ye are.