What are we actually voting for in this referendum? To answer that, let’s suppose the IN vote wins. What happens then?
Well the one handbrake on EU integration – the building of a country called Europe – will have been released as the club’s most awkward member state falls into line. The UK Government and all of Westminster will declare with one voice that “we’ve had two votes in 40 years – the matter is now settled for good”. The EU will be cock-a-hoop; there will be high fives in Brussels and in several cities around Europe. The takings in the Belgium Capital’s bars and restaurants will surge. All those news stories in British newspapers – crazy regulations, unwanted taxes (and fraud) from Brussels, unexpected demands on the UK taxpayer to cough up an extra £1.7bn by Christmas, arguments over mass immigration, the whole corporatist racket – those stories probably won’t disappear but they’ll become entirely academic & inevitable. Like an unwanted tax bill or weeds in your garden. The people will have voted for it, you see.
The EU will then press hard on the accelerator towards political union. And the UK will be a part of the historic journey into that new country, whatever shape it may take. Indeed the whole process of the last 40 years has been a stealthy journey towards this destination, with Westminster in denial at every step of the way. If the UK votes IN, the process won’t only continue but it will speed up. “The UK hasn’t voted out”, the narrative will go, “so it never will”.
This is the point: A vote for IN is not a vote for the status quo. It is a vote for a wild journey – a journey that finishes building a country called Europe, into which the UK will be absorbed and in which the UK will eventually adopt the euro, just as respected writers like Wolfgang Munchau in the FT have suggested. Absurd? Who could have guessed in 1975 that voting on a ‘common market’ would bring us to this point 40 years later, with common policies on almost everything including a mooted EU army (despite those Westminster denials)?
To fight this journey, we first need to step off the ‘EU train’ where it is now. That doesn’t mean we are suddenly magically transported somewhere else. It means we stay broadly where we are – in the single market with the existing body of EU law entangled with ours but importantly not on the journey to political union. That means taking a step back from full EU membership and into EFTA/EEA.
And that will be the first step in our own new journey: to become a reinvigorated, democratic, globally-networked Britain with a world view. We will have an important network of relations including the EU, EFTA, the Commonwealth, the Anglosphere and continue to make full use of our leading positions in the G20, the G8, NATO, and the UN security council. It is immensely exciting but it will not happen overnight and we will continue to play a big role in the geographic continent that is Europe. There will still be European agreements aplenty – some are extremely desirable. But we won’t be part of another country.
It’s a battle of two journeys. Time to choose OUT.