Brexiteers complain that campaigners for Britain to remain in the EU are relying on fear – that jobs, income, wealth, political influence will all be lost if the country votes to leave on June 23rd – to win the vote to stay in.
This fear, moreover, is being roused by some sort of co-ordinated international conspiracy of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK Treasury, the Bank of England, Goldman Sachs and US President Barak Obama, all having their strings pulled by puppetmasters Cameron and Osborne in Downing Street.
If so, it is one terrific tribute to the enduring power and influence of the UK government, muscles which were supposed to have been withered to nothing by the constricting straitjacket imposed by EU membership.
If you choose to believe in the conspiracy of fear theory, then you have to accept that the supposedly EU-neutered UK government is actually remarkably powerful, thus totally undermining a central Brexit tenet – that only by leaving the EU can we regain real sovereignty.
If fact, the argument, if true, demonstrates that British sovereignty is alive and kicking hard. It also illustrates that the out-ers have their own Project Fear campaign.
By voting to stay in, as I interpret Bill’s column last week, Britain will be tying itself to a stagnant low-growth, high-unemployment Europe, condemned to meekly follow America in whatever ill-judged wars it chooses to wage, impotent to prevent the next financial crisis/recession from blowing down our straw houses, and all because sovereignty will be a spent concept.
I find it hard to understand how EU membership forced Tony Blair into joining the US in attacking al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or in invading Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. If memory serves, if we had followed EU opinion, we wouldn’t have done either of these things.
And quite what sovereignty has to do with stopping American banks from selling sub-prime mortgages and constructing an exotic financial derivatives house of cards on them, I also don’t follow.
Never mind. A persuasive factor in this debate is a concern about sovereignty. Nations should be completely free to do what they want short of invading or bullying another sovereign nation.
But the EU, it is said, so diminishes British sovereignty that we can only do things if they are endorsed by Brussels or worse, are forced by Brussels to accept things we don’t want.
Again, I struggle to understand what the problem is. Personally, I don’t feel remotely oppressed by Brussels. I cannot think of any aspect of my life which has been curbed by the EU, indeed I rather enjoy the greater freedom to travel and to be able to use the health services of whatever EU country I am in should I need medical assistance.
I hear loud complaints about such things as the Working Time Directive and other EU regulations which are said to infringe British sovereignty.
But I rather think that if the Working Time Directive was subject to a referendum, the British would whole-heartedly vote for a 48-hour limit on weekly working hours, a 13-hour limit on the working day, and a minimum of four weeks paid holiday a year.
For me, the key sovereignty we still enjoy is that we have our own currency, unlike the EU states in the Eurozone. Having to change pounds to euros is an inconvenience, but it is one I cheerfully accept because of the freedom it gives our policy-makers in reacting to financial crises and recessions.
Britain is, in short, a whole lot more sovereign than doom-mongering Brexiteers make out and will stay so if the vote is to stay.
Peter Jones is a freelance journalist, based near Edinburgh and writing primarily for The Economist and The Times.