Today I voted to ‘Leave’ the European Union.
I feel the need to lay out my key reasons for doing so.
I – Refuse to Remain
I decided some time ago that I could not vote ‘Remain’ because what was on offer was effectively unchanged membership of a political club that is arrogant, corrupt and dominated by a class of people who think they know best but demonstrably do not and are terrible at admitting mistakes.
The collective actions of all three core EU institutions (European Council, European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank) for the last decade have been a catalogue of serious misjudgments leaving a trail of avoidable destruction across the continent. The refusal to learn from or acknowledge policy disasters is bad enough, but the inability to plan for entirely predictable problems is inexcusable. For example:
Ever since the Euro currency zone was first implemented economists warned about the contradictions inherent between national sovereignty, collective risk and economic unity but nothing was done to rectify this.
Ever since the Arab Spring the mass destabilisation of the Middle East and North Africa was on the cards and yet nobody in the EU appears to have formulated a plan to deal with the millions of refugees this would create. It’s not like there was no precedent for this with the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Likewise, the expansion of EU political and economic influence into the former USSR appears to have been pursued with a kind of reckless utopianism by people completely disconnected from geopolitical thinking. Had nobody done a basic assessment of the demographic makeup of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, or studied Russian actions in Georgia just a few years before? Clearly not, yet this is the same unreformed, unrepetent organisation that is pushing for centralisation and integration of European defence policy.
Fundamentally, I cannot cast a vote in support of an institution that appears to be completely unaccountable, that rewards failure and whose answer to every misstep appears to be more integration and more centralisation. This is not just recrimination about the past. More concerning to me is that whilst current challenges, though large, are just about manageable even for an incompetent organisation, there will be much bigger ones to come – more migration, more authoritarian bullies to handle, more economic shocks and inequality.
The main argument in favour of Remain for me is one of climate and environment. Environmental matters are as important as any other matter of state and the British government’s historical record on these is appalling compared to that of European governments. However, this is a country that established the first national park, a country where the biggest private member society is the National Trust, a country where the young generation are as environmentally aware and active as they have ever been, so I hope and believe that we will have the political will and organisation to keep to international (not just EU) climate change and environmental standards, and continue to play a leading role in conservation, recycling and sustainable energy campaigns if we end up outside of the EU.
II – The temptation to destroy my ballot
Ruining my ballot was very tempting because this is fundamentally a Conservative Party-engineered referendum and the two options on the ballot were selected purely to placate the Party membership. I voted Labour in the 2015 election who offered no such Referendum and thus would have been satisfied with not having this vote at all. Although I firmly believe the issue had to be addressed sooner or later by the government of the day, my preference would be for it to be addressed by a government more attuned with my own political leanings. This is certainly the opinion of Paul Mason; a leftist-led Brexit would be a glorious thing but waiting for that would be like waiting for Godot. The day when the Labour Party wakes up to the potential of a radically decentralised, flexible, democratic-socialist system as an answer to the inequality and insecurities of a globalised capitalist world and as the real basis for international co-operation still seems a way off.
III – Voting Leave
I am voting for Leave partly because I do not believe the main argument offered by Remain – that we would be ‘better off’ In. Not only does this seem focused on those who are already ‘better off’, but seems deliberately pessimistic and misleading. We are a rich nation with control of our own currency, a growing, talented, law-abiding population with vast amounts of cultural, technological and military power. The main threat to our prosperity would be domestic mismanagement or international cyclical downturns, which is something we will face In or Out. Indeed, continued integration into the EU makes us even more susceptible to the whims of economic institutions that we have no control over and are completely inflexible when it comes to the concerns of the ‘periphery’. Even experts on the Remain side such as Paul Krugman concede this economic argument, whereas the leading money manager in the country effectively said the decision is an economic irrelevance to broader issues.
Which brings me on to the political concerns about voting Leave. There is a suggestion that this will mean the unstoppable rise of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. However, a reality check is needed here. Nigel Farage under perfect conditions still failed to get elected in 2015 and Michael Gove was locked in a cupboard for the campaign because he was so unpalatable to middle England. Boris Johnson could feasibly become PM at some point in the future but several things would need to happen first: he would have to win the Conservative leadership election (far from a given) and would then only be able to govern with the same thin majority that Cameron has now. It is hard to see this lasting for four years given Conservative recriminations around the result so another election would likely ensue and Boris would have to come up with some clear policies and take them to the country. So ultimately the only way Boris becomes PM in a meaningful sense is if the country votes for him and his party platform.
Now I will take the results of a free and (reasonably) fair general election any day over the suggestion that no matter how many Tories we vote in that somehow the EU will ‘soften’ our decision by tying one hand behind their backs on things like workers’ rights. This leads to soft thinking and acts like a comfort blanket to those on the Left suggesting that things can never get too bad no matter how badly Labour (or the Lib Dems, or Greens) perform electorally. Not only is this dangerous for the future of a sustainable, engaged left-wing movement in this country, it is a strange way of viewing the EU given that this government has completely changed the nature of the welfare state whilst remaining in the EU. Indeed, the EU is now pushing for more ‘competition’ and labour market ‘flexibility’ so is not really a leftist comfort blanket at all. The only difference politically between Cameron’s government and the European Council is that we can do practically nothing to change the EU’s political direction but can do plenty to change that of our own government.
Simply put I am voting Leave because I am more comfortable and more confident in our ability to change the UK government than the EU one so I want the UK government to have sovereign power, as a necessary step to further decentralise that power across the UK, in particular across the English villages, towns, cities and regions which have been ignored for too long by politicians from all parties. In an ideal world this process would take place in a progressive, democratic, decentralising EU led by active citizens but we do not live in an ideal world so in the words of Voltaire, ‘let us take care of our garden’.