Richard North, 12/06/2016  
 


Booker – like many observers - is getting increasingly fed up of what he calls "this claustrophobic referendum campaign". He is by no means alone.

Lord Ashcroft's focus groups are reporting increasing frustration, where many people's perplexity over the decision at hand is turning not into enlightenment but exasperation. Among the many words people used to describe the contest so far ("unreliable", "unrealistic", "uninformative", "not that interesting", "unnecessary", "a quagmire", "a lot of bullsh*t"), by far the most common was "confusing".

However, postal voters apart – many of whom have already cast their votes – it seems that up to 30 percent of people will change the way they vote or make up their minds in the week before the referendum. Half of those may only decide finally on polling day.

The latest YouGov poll, for The Sunday Times gives the "leave" campaign a one-point lead, 43 to 42 percent while an Opinium/Observer poll shows the "remains" on 44 with "leave" on 42 percent. Significantly in this poll, the "don't knows" stand at 13 percent. Many of those, and the soft fringes of each of the "decideds", could either make up their minds or change them in the next ten days.

An unknown proportion will actually make up their minds in the polling booths, torn between the two broader heads of the debate – immigration and the economy. Fear of having to pay an excessive economic price will, I suspect, have a powerful effect on the day – something that cannot be measured in the polls.

For those who are undecided, though, Booker offers some wider perspective on what we might reflect would be the likely outcome if, instead of being asked to remain or leave the EU, we were voting on whether to join the EU.

Back in 1975, when inflation was running at 27 percent and our economy was such a basket case that Britain was being dubbed "the sick man of Europe", Booker argues that it "was plausible" that we should wish to remain safely locked into what most people thought was just a rather successful trading arrangement, a Common Market.

But if we weren't already in it today, is it conceivable that we would now wish to join the European Union as it has become? What a sad place it now looks.

We see it hopelessly embroiled in that seemingly insoluble crisis brought on it by its hubristic gamble over the euro. We see the chaos into which it has been plunged by its equally reckless "open borders" policy, faced with that uncontrollable flood of migrants, not only from outside Europe but within it. All over the EU we see angry people flocking to join "anti-Brussels" parties.

The "European project" presents a very much less attractive spectacle today than at any time before in its 60-year history. A vote on whether the British wished to join such a dismal enterprise would bring an overwhelming "no".

Instead of which we have yet again reduced our national debate to endless footling speculation about what might or might not happen in some hypothetical future, which cannot be proved right or wrong. David Cameron's Project Fear campaign has gone so over the top that it almost amounts to self-parody. He doesn't even try to offer any positive vision of why belonging to the EU is such a wonderfully effective way for Britain to be governed.

On the other hand, the "leave" campaign seems stuck with little more than its pretence that we could somehow spend an additional £350 million a week on the NHS, despite this having been comprehensively discredited a dozen times over.

Even more disastrously it deliberately refuses to accept that we should remain in the Single Market, although this would be quite possible with an intelligent exit plan – leaving a black hole at the heart of its argument which plays straight into the hands of Project Fear.

There has been no more damning comment on the low-grade fatuity of this debate than the recent report by the Commons Treasury Committee which, after interrogating spokesmen for the two sides, could not have been more contemptuous of the equally bogus claims each had been making.

Says Booker, it might have summed up what all the official campaigners were saying in those words of Hamlet to Ophelia, "we are arrant knaves all; believe none of us".

Altogether recent weeks have brought home the lamentable state to which 43 years in "Europe" have reduced the level of public debate in this country, where our politicians on both sides, let alone the public, scarcely seem to understand even the simplest facts about the system of government we now live under.

As Pitt the Younger famously remarked after Trafalgar, "we have saved ourselves by our exertions and we shall save Europe by our example". Whether we know how to save ourselves any longer is a moot point. "Europe" itself, run by a bunch of dingy nonentities scarcely any of us even know the names of, and seemingly quite incapable of dealing with any of the crises piling in on them from all sides, may be beyond saving.

But at least, Booker concludes, we can step back on 23 June and ask whether this European Union is really still a club of which we would be wise to remain a member.

In a few years time, as the eurozone surges on to that treaty which will lock it into much closer political union, the EU is going to look very different from the one we see today, and not for the better; not least if it consigns Britain and the other non-euro countries to the status of "associate" or second-class members. "Shall we be able to look back then and say that at least we made the right choice in 2016?", he asks.

If this is one way of coming to a decision, however, Christoph Schult in the latest edition of Spiegel offers another. Fears of Brexit are exaggerated, he writes. In fact, it would even have advantages. If the British left the EU, it would create an opportunity for deeper European integration.

What is certain, he adds, is that the British blockade of important steps towards integration would finally be over. This applies, in particular, to common foreign and security policy.

It's London's fault that the policy only exists on paper at this point. EU military operations are becoming more important and the Sophia mission targeting human traffickers in the Mediterranean shows how vital a common approach is for Europe. But setting up a joint military headquarters to control such operations centrally? That proposal failed in 2011, vetoed by the British.

Majority decisions to improve the EU's ability to act in matters of foreign policy? Not with London. A European foreign minister? God forbid!

Thus, says Schult, Brexit would pave the way for deeper integration, which Germany, in particular, has always pursued. Schäuble is already an adherent of the idea of a European finance minister with extensive powers to intervene in national budgets. The European Parliament could also finally receive the upgrade it needs to democratically legitimise EU decisions. None of this can be achieved with Britain as an EU member.

True Europhiles, therefore – those who have the best interests of the EU at heart – should also be voting for Brexit. If the UK feels it is shackled to "Europe", the same goes the other way round. Freed from the "drag" of the UK, the "colleagues" could so much more easily agree the next treaty, ready for the next round of integration.

And on that basis, the single thing that most of us need not do is pay any attention to the official campaigns from either side. When it comes to a decision, the choice is yours. There are good reasons for voting "leave" and there are excellent reasons for voting "leave". Take your pick. 






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