12 reasons why Cameron will lose on Brexit di Denis MacShane
Commentators on British affairs spend much of their time dwelling on Brexit these days; and while acknowledging the passion and verve of the Out camp, their consensus appears to be that the British are too pragmatic a people to tear down the European status quo. Here’s why the pundits are wrong, and why Britain will vote to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum called by Prime Minister David Cameron.
1) British history is different
Britain has not been invaded or occupied, or lost sovereignty to any foreign power, in centuries. When people like Alexander Stubb, Finland’s finance minister, tell the BBC that the EU has brought “peace, prosperity and security and there’s no price tag on that,” such soaring rhetoric may play well in countries that once were taken over by the Nazis or Soviets, but it sounds much too far-fetched and continental for the average Brit.
2) No-growth eurozone
Britain was pro-European from the 1950s to the 1980s when continental Europe had growth rates double or triple those of the U.K. Since the launch of the euro, however, the EU has been the slow coach of the global economy, comfortable but out-performed by North America and the BRICs, with all the exciting economic energy coming from Silicon Valley, Singapore, Apple, Samsung, and anything made-in-China. U.S. universities add economic value. European universities give us cause for philosophical introspection.
3) Britain’s off-shore media owners
Britain is unique in allowing its major newspapers to be owned by men who pay no tax in Britain and who dislike the EU. That’s their right, but as a result, the news coverage of Europe over 25 years has been skewed to crude misreporting and propaganda. Even the Guardian regularly runs pro-Brexit columns from its stars like Simon Jenkins or Owen Jones, the rising young-left writer. The BBC has turned Nigel Farage into a national hero by giving him unimpeded access to all major political discussion programs.
4) Tony Blair
The former Labour prime minister was pro-European, but he dodged all difficult European decisions. He offered a referendum on joining the euro, which meant the pound would never fold into the single currency. He offered a referendum on the EU constitutional treaty, which forced Jacques Chirac to do the same, and thus, with the help of a divided French Socialist Party, brought European integration to a full stop in 2005. Cameron has copied Blair by offering a referendum on Brexit. At least Blair was smarter. He bought time with referendum pledges but never actually held one.
5) The Tory party
From Churchill’s United States of Europe speech in 1946 through Edward Heath’s joining Europe in 1973 to Margaret Thatcher adopting majority voting and thus sharing sovereignty in the European Single Act of 1985 — initiatives all opposed by Labour — the Conservatives were the European party in Britain. Today, all top Tories proclaim themselves Euroskeptic. It has been impossible to be selected to be a Tory MP without swearing an oath of Euroskepticism to party militants.
6) Pro-EU campaign muddles
A dismissive Napoleon said England was a nation of shopkeepers, so the U.K. has found one: Stuart Rose. He began selling underwear in Marks and Spencer and rose to become Britain’s Number One shopkeeper and thus was seen as a natural choice to head the anti-Brexit campaign. But a few months before he featured as a star in the pro-Brexit “Business for Britain” organization, so the double-messaging is confusing.
The Vote Leave campaign is drowning in cash, with £20 million raised already. Rich City types, Mayfair hedgies, online betting billionaires, and others sitting on cash piles who like access to top political personalities have funded endless Euroskeptic campaigns since the 1990s, ranging from Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party to Lord Rodney Leach’s Open Europe think tank. By contrast the Remain or In campaigners are badly underfunded. Under the law on political donations, FTSE 100 firms that oppose Brexit cannot give money to political campaigns without a special shareholders’ meeting which CEOs do not want to call for fear of infiltration by UKIP and other anti-EU fanatics.
8) Brussels and Strasbourg
It’s not their fault, but the bigwigs of Brussels and orators of Strasbourg cut no ice in Britain. They are seen as over-bossy, over-greedy, and over there. Nigel Farage boasted on TV in 2009 that he had collected £2 million in expenses as an MEP, and ever since, MEPs have been seen as being on a rolling gravy train. At every meeting on Brexit someone asks why the U.K. should belong to an organization that cannot even audit its books properly. Most top EU leaders speak fluent “EU-nglish.” It is perfectly understandable. But in a nation that is taught by Shakespeare to mock foreign accents, being told to love Europe by non-natives doesn’t work.
9) Brits can have two votes
The most seductive line from the Out campaigners is that nothing much will change. The ambitious mayor of London, Boris Johnson, constantly tells anyone who will listen that the U.K. will “flourish” outside the EU. Others say that a Brexit vote will have a catalytic impact on a sclerotic EU that will finally accept British demands for reforms which return Europe to its earlier condition of sovereign nation-states. And then when Britain is offered a Europe it likes, a second referendum can take it back in.
Employer outfits like the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, or the Institute of Directors have produced report after report in recent years criticizing the EU for red tape and supporting dialogue with trade unions. Business has told the prime minister he must get concessions from Brussels to weaken social Europe or special protectionist measures for the City. The sound of the CBI, BCC or IOD on Europe this century has been one long moan. Now they are panicking as they realize that their non-stop complaints about what Cameron calls the “bossy and bureaucratic” EU have been absorbed by their members, who may decide to vote down an outfit that British business has been so hostile to.
11) The liberal Left
It’s not just classic little Englander xenophobes who find fault with Europe. The Labour Party in Scotland last weekend voted to oppose TTIP, and for many of the leftish intelligentsia Europe is a wicked conspiracy to promote globalized capitalism with all power flowing to multinationals at the expense of workers. The Guardian recently gave a page to a leading TV economics reporter, Paul Mason, to denounce the treatment of Greece by Europe. Another totemic veteran of British leftism, Tariq Ali, gravely informed his readers that he would vote Out in Cameron’s plebiscite to show solidarity with the Greeks and their Syriza government. He did not seem to know that in the July referendum and September election, the Greeks voted Yes to Europe and then Yes to staying in the euro — so for British lefties to vote the U.K. out of Europe is solipsistic self-indulgence even by British leftie standards.
The Brits, over the years, have been shaped by foreigners arriving from persecution or poverty — Protestants from France, Jews from Tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany, Poles and Hungarians from Communist tyranny, peasant laborers from Ireland and black, Muslim and Hindu citizens from the Commonwealth. But the enlargement of the EU to poor east and south-east European nations has seen a massive influx of 3 million new inhabitants in little more than a decade. They work hard, pay taxes, pay rent and fill churches. But for the average Brit, too many have arrived too fast, and so the cry to “regain control of our frontiers” resonates.