Thoughts on Europe

Monday 30th May

Well, as predicted Immigration has moved centre-stage in the Referendum Campaign.  A bit sooner than I had expected, as we still have nearly four weeks to go, but maybe the Leavers think that if they keep banging the drum loud and long enough that they will drown out the economic argument, which they have lost.  And maybe they are right.

I have just watched Andrew Marr (writing this on Sunday) and it was actually very interesting.  We had three contrasting views, Liam Fox for Leave – and he was actually quite sensible and almost persuasive, then Tony Blair – who likewise was very persuasive if slightly evasive too, and Yanis Varoufakis (hope I spelled his name correctly) who actually gave the best arguments of all.

In a way of course the economic argument is pretty conclusive.  Almost every sensible person or organization is predicting that it will a) be pretty damaging if we leave, and b) that it will be a huge leap in the dark to suppose that we can negotiate and trade our way to replace the single market, imperfect as it is today, with something else.  But it may well be the Immigration argument which sways more people, and Liam Fox articulated very well that if we remain in the EU we cannot either predict or control the numbers of people who are able to come here from Europe.  In fact it could happen that if the UK economy collapsed there could actually be an exodus of people from these shores, which would maybe cause far greater problems than the present influx is perceived as creating.  Nobody really began to explain why over half the net migration continues to come from outside Europe and why no Government has managed to control this migration either.

But the most interesting points were made by Yanis, and by the way touched upon by Tony Blair.  Tony, commenting on the extremism evident in Politics today, while avoiding any criticism of Jeremy Corbyn, said that it was important not to cling so much to an ideological position but to understand the way the Modern World worked – in other words choose Pragmatism over Belief systems.  But Yanis, who admitted that he had campaigned, many years ago, for Greece not to join either the EU or the euro, said that leaving the EU was not the same thing as not joining it.

That may not seem to make much sense but how true it is.  He admitted that the EU was a mess and undemocratic and desperately needed reform but if we leave it will not solve any of those problems.  And most importantly that we would not be able to escape Europe if we left, we would still have to deal with it yet we would have no voice within it.  On balance he said it was in our better interests to remain and fight for the organization to be reformed and changed.  Tony also made the point that Norway which has left the EU and has managed to renegotiate entry into the single market have had to accept free movement of people (the main argument for Leaving) yet have no say on the way the EU develops.

And on balance I think they are right.  And yet of course my overriding fear is that just as in Scotland where losing a referendum has only strengthened the SNP; that the arguments will not go away if we vote to remain.  If we vote to leave of course it will be almost impossible to re-join and yet if we vote to remain the leave side will never accept defeat, UKIP will still be there and will probably gain in strength and the leavers, a majority by the way, in the Tory party will vote for any leader who offers them the possibility of another referendum, just as the SNP are campaigning for in Scotland.

Cameron granted the referendum from a position of weakness and has made a huge error of judgement.  He should have given no specific time-frame and a much stronger agenda for changes he wanted in Europe before he allowed us a referendum on such a complex set of arguments. Because of an unsolvable rift in the Tory party itself we are in danger of making a decision which could have huge repercussions for our country and that decision may be based on an innate and subtle form of Racism and a belief that somehow stopping people coming to our country will solve all of our problems.