One gathers David Cameron had been asked to tone down the triumphalism, but it didn’t entirely seem like that when he addressed a press conference following the announcement of the package he finished thrashing out in Brussels on Friday evening. It’s pretty clear to many that the renegotiation process for a new EU-UK relationship was motivated more by party political concerns than genuinely patriotic ones. But he could still win his referendum, which serves as a reminder that there is political virtue, if that’s the word, in being slippery and unprincipled. And of course he had to give it the full John Bull when he addressed the media, given how many people – including party colleagues – have viewed his negotiations with the EU with contempt.
A few of his European colleagues have also been unenthused. One had imagined the recent summit would be a choreographed row, but it genuinely seems to have been in part unscripted, as other leaders made plain they had more important things to worry about than the Prime Minister’s petty window dressing mission. That’s not to mention the premiers of those countries whose citizens were explicitly targeted by the measures Cameron was seeking. It needs repeating that some of what the UK is haggling over involves trifling sums of money, which has added to the undignified nature of the exercise. It also bears repeating that benefits for EU migrants is a wholly unrelated matter to the human catastrophe unfolding in Syria, with effects extending to the north of Europe. Yet those issues have been conflated by those who want to wish immigration as an issue away, an absurd proposition given that population movements are an integral part of human history.
That said, one has certain conflicting thoughts about whether Britain should remain or leave. For many, this writer included, there is disappointment in what Europe has become. The social Europe that the Delors presidency of the European Commission seemed to presage hasn’t really worked out that way. That there is a democratic deficit that characterises the current state of the EU is practically incontestable, while the secretive TTIP negotiations are a reminder of the EU’s cartel-like origins. The apparent lack of genuine solidarity in harsh economic times is further reason to be sceptical, exacerbated as it has been by German hard money fanaticism. None of this augurs well for Europe emerging stronger from the ongoing refugee crisis. It’s enough to make anybody other than the true believers to question the project as it is presently being pursued.
However, while there are a number of principled arguments against the EU being made here in Britain, it would be easier to run with the Eurosceptic narrative if the Outs weren’t so heavily populated by xenophobic nativists and people afflicted to varying degrees by Empire-itis. Moreover, one should have little sympathy for [mainly] older voters who say, “We thought we were just joining a trading area”. Such people try to claim they’ve been the victim of a con job, but they haven’t. Part of the EU’s strength is that it is driven by noble instincts to prevent Europe being stricken by war again. Implicit in that is political integration, and people can’t be helped if they have wilfully stuck their heads in the sand and taken no notice of the historic forces that created the EU and have shaped its evolution. Furthermore, the interdependencies that now exist between nations, in such areas as trade, security, the environment, require the existence of supranational organisations to facilitate that vital cooperation. If the EU was to be disbanded, it is not apparent that alternative institutions could easily be conjured into existence to replace its necessary functions.
Other topics are going to get a hearing as the referendum campaign is joined in earnest. It is not controversial, for example, to say a vote to leave would be damaging for UK science. How would the many collaborations that have been funded and facilitated by the EU be effectively sustained with Britain outside the EU? That conversation isn’t aired much in the ‘popular’ press, but it is highly relevant to any discussion of where Britain can be a genuine world leader. My intuition is that the British people become less Eurosceptic the more they are engaged with the arguments. The problem usually is that they never are. However, they certainly will be over the coming months, not least with David Cameron staking his political capital on a Yes vote.
It is not for me to be concerned with the Prime Minister’s career, but I will wish him this success. Besides, witnessing that image of Nigel Farage and George Galloway practically arm in arm at an anti-EU rally organised by Grassroots Out made the decision much easier for me. So follow me – hold your nose and vote to remain.