It should come as no surprise to anybody that today The Times formally came out in favour of the Remain argument in the referendum campaign that will culminate on Thursday. Its sister paper, The Sun, has come out solidly for Brexit, because it is now clear that most of its readers, along with those of the Mirror, the Express and the Star, are of that inclination.
But The Times is different. Its readers – 75/25 for Brexit, if you go by the on-line comments, but of course that’s just the minority of sad old gits with nothing better to do – see themselves as intelligent and informed folk who will not go off in a huff if it makes the wrong call – as long as their newspaper of choice continues to flatter them with respect for their views.
In this regard the top leader encouraging them to vote Remain was a masterpiece, for it listed all the evils of the EU and ‘balanced’ them with the hyperbole of which Vote Leave has been guilty (our net contribution to the EU is only 165 million a week, not 350 – so that’s all right then). But this left it looking even less enthusiastic about Britain’s EU membership than Jeremy Corbyn, who has no grasp at all of facts and figures. And the principal line that Britain should remain in the EU in order to lead and force radical reform to reflect the democratic instincts of Europe’s peoples was wafer-thin. We’ve been trying that, and it hasn’t worked.
On the other hand, if Britain were to return a 51/49% verdict in favour of Remain, the strategy of Britain kicking its weight around in the EU would be the only one that made sense, for the good of the whole continent. It wouldn’t exactly be a wake-up call, but rather the fifth repeat on the snooze function, the one that says “OK, it’s really time to get up now” to the smug masters of the European project who have hitherto regarded the popular voice as an inconvenient irrelevance. But if that’s a reason to vote Remain, there is a much more compelling one to vote Leave.
For this summer or the next there will certainly be popular demonstrations against the EU all over Europe, and how serious they get – 1968 0r 1848 – is up to its politicians, to whether they abandon and repudiate the dream of ever closer union or entrench and accelerate its imposition. Even the institutionally pro-EU IMF has warned of rising sentiment against it. The fever has already taken hold in Paris, and the water-cannon and tear-gas have been out. Oh, you might say, but that’s about proposed French employment laws, and nothing to do with the EU. Well, yes and no. Those employment laws are against the socialist instincts of the weak and vacillating Hollande, but necessary to keep France pulling its weight in the EU. And he is still, as President of France, a cornerstone of the EU, and the rioters make no distinction between the different policies of a single politician they have come to despise. Hollande has discredited the EU in France just as much as Angela Merkel, who is also facing ignominy at her next election, has in Germany. David Cameron is now, having been a successful prime minister with no effective opposition, a dead duck just because of his advocacy for Remain (oh, politics is a cruel business). Italy, Spain and Portugal will have to cope with the same tide of opinion, that the elite have conned the people. Greece has been mad as a box of frogs for five years. It’s going to get nasty, no matter how Britain votes; though, of course, everyone, especially Merkel, Hollande, Tusk and Juncker, will blame Britain when it happens, not themselves.
But Britain doesn’t have to be part of this. In 1848 and 1968 the continental virus mutated to a mild cold as it crossed the Channel, and if we vote Leave popular sentiment will have got the whole thing out of its system, with a decisive break from the European project and a radical change in the composition of a Conservative government. To our continental friends this looks like a milk-and-water revolution, no fire, no spirit; but it’s enough for us, and it doesn’t involve the shedding of blood.
But if Britain votes Remain we will catch the continental flu big time. There will be water cannon and tear-gas in Trafalgar Square, instead of just comical, harmless demonstrations and a daft sculpture on the fourth plinth. It will be very European. Is that what you want? I don’t. Vote Leave.
Footnote: Today the Sunday Times has come out for Brexit.