Monday, 26 September 2016
There was never a good case for remaining in the EU
The above tweet from Andrew Lillico triggered and interesting thought experiment this evening. Lillico has it that Remain lost "cos the case for staying in the EU was weak". I'm not entirely sure that is quite true. They never made a case for staying in the EU beyond how horrible leaving would be. For that reason it deserved to lose. But what case would you make for staying in the EU?
For more or less every stated advantage of being in the EU, you can have the same as part of the single market. There are marginal advantages to membership but they are somewhat bland and procedural and mainly apply to business. So how would you sell the idea to an average voter?
And there's your problem right there. Firstly you have to be honest about what the EU is. It's no good selling the advantages of freedom of movement since most do not take advantage of it, nor does the notion of cheaper holidays make much difference to those who have forgotten what a holiday even is. Nor can we expect people to suffer the democratic deficit for the sake of abolishing roaming charges. Where's the big idea? Where is the vision and what is the direction?
And that immediately puts the remain camp on the back foot. The big idea is a supreme government for Europe with an eventual destination of a single market throughout along with a uniform social policy and deep defence cooperation. The direction of ever closer union has only one destination - the abolition of the nation state. In that regard, had the Remain camp made that case, Mr Lillico would be absolutely right. The case for staying in something like that is weak indeed.
But since they could never be honest about that they could try a different tack. The strongest pragmatic argument for remaining was so that the UK continued to be a frustrating factor in preventing full integration. That is almost a compelling argument but it's a negative premise. What they needed to do was prove that the UK could be a leader in Europe.
To that end, they needed to make good on their acknowledgement that the EU "needs reform" and actually specify what those reforms need to be and how they intended to get them. Throughout the referendum we were told that there was no Brexit plan, but there wasn't a plan for making good of EU membership either. Had Cameron not already blown that by attempting a bogus renegotiation then that might have been a credible avenue. Since Cameron attempted to fob us off, any notion of leading in Europe would have fallen flat. The EU made it quite clear that even basic reforms were off the table.
The basic fact is that there isn't much that's likeable about the EU. There's no real wow factor and there's no energy to it. It's a staid and antiquated project whose champions are long dead. The main cheerleaders for the EU now being the die-hard federalist zealots who manage by some miracle to be even more unlikeable than Brexiteers. When you take a cold hard look at the EU it is a bland managerial device promoted by distinctly uninspiring and uninteresting people along with narcissistic virtue signallers.
Strip away all the technocratic notional benefits that make no real difference to the man on the Clapham omnibus and there isn't much to be said for it. The fact that the local museum is propped up by EU funding is neither here nor there. We all know where the money came from to begin with.
Having thought about it, I can see why they went with Project Fear. Brexit most certainly is fraught with risk and complexity and it very well could have a seriously damaging effect if mishandled. That's the only case I could honestly argue. And that is what they did. In this they can't claim that the message didn't get through. They had every channel open to them. We got the message from every arm of the establishment that Brexit is universally bad and there are no upsides to it. The problem is, the public didn't agree. Brexit complexity simply isn't a good enough reason to stay committed to an unloved political orthodoxy that nobody really ever asked for.
And this is really why the remainers don't get it. They did everything they were supposed to do in the only ways available to them. It just doesn't occur to them that people simply don't want to be in the EU. They invent all the reasons under the sun as to why we voted to leave but in the end, Mr Lillico is in the right ballpark. There's not much to stick around for.