Project Fear, as the official campaign for a Remain vote in the imminent British referendum has come to be called, hit a new low of desperation this week, as both David Cameron and his sometime adversary Gordon Brown told us that a British withdrawal from the EU would lead to instability in Europe, raising the spectre of continental war that we would, once again, feel obliged to sort out, at enormous and damaging cost. Much better to stay in and stop it happening in the first place. Oddly, for someone who has traditionally been so inept on his feet, Brown did it rather better, and elegantly appealed to our patriotic pride as citizens of a country whose power and stability is vitally needed in a union of nations that might otherwise fragment and release the safety-catches.
It was a curious change of tack for a campaign that had previously been trying to convince us that Britain is so small and insignificant that it can’t possibly survive outside the EU. But all the speculative figures about the economic impact of Brexit or staying in – from both sides – have been met with admirable scepticism by the public, because it is quite obvious that nobody really knows, but that the truth is that, as our tactically Remainer Home Secretary, Theresa May, wisely said, “of course the sky won’t fall in” if we leave. So now Remain has taken up the line that has been held by our European neighbours all along, namely that it would be self-centred and irresponsible of huge, benignly powerful Britain to turn its back on a European Union in economic and demographic crisis.
And the thesis is correct, as far as it goes. Britain leaving the EU will undoubtedly give a spur to the far-left and far-right across Europe, as they exploit the populist impetus for the exit referendum among peoples who are fed up, for all their different reasons, with EU regulations and diktats that neither fit their national models nor respect their individual democracies and local economic interests. And the fringe parties will seize the opportunity quickly, before their national constitutions are amended to remove it, as they surely will be, thus bullying dissent beyond the constraint of constitutional means. For while the cosy club of integrationists in Europe continues to pursue ever-closer union, it will continue to alienate more and more people from mainstream politics, until they conclude that the ballot-box is a con, and take to the streets instead. It’s already happening.
And before very long the centrist politicians who have nailed their careers to the European project of ever-closer union might be strung up from lamp-posts in their capitals – unless they wrench the whole machine into reverse, and scrap any further plans for hammering the remaining 27 round pegs into one, great big square hole, with the interstices filled by terrorists, gangsters and institutionalised fraud. But to do that they would have to admit that they were wrong; and such is the ego of the professional politician that most of them would rather blow their off-shore savings on a pad in Brazil and a berth on the last submarine out of Hamburg than acknowledge and act on the popular will. Better the U-Boat than the U-Turn.
It’s a grim prospect, but there is no evidence that Britain staying in the EU would do anything to avert it, for our warnings about the negative effects of ever-closer union have consistently gone unheeded. The best thing David Cameron managed to extract from his negotiations was an opt-out from a policy that is otherwise assumed to be inexorable – and even that is meaningless, because the more the EU regulates and harmonises the more difficult will be Britain’s position within it, so we’ll end up giving in point by point anyway. And even so he was tersely informed that this was it – you’ve had your renegotiation, now shut up, for good. He was drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, and all he got was a half of warm Pilsner.
So it is absolutely clear that Britain in the EU will be powerless to stop it careering smugly towards disaster. Indeed a Remain vote on June 23rd will only encourage the madness; whereas if we vote Leave we will give heart to democratic rebels all over the continent, and there is at least a chance that the establishment politicians of the other main EU states will take the only course possible to stop their extremists capitalising on popular dissent – which is to embrace the principles of national sovereignty and economic diversity in Europe, and abandon their supranational ambitions before it’s too late. It is a slim chance, but it’s the only one there is.