Let’s make no mistake – with the clock ticking down to 29th March, we have finally arrived at an existential turning point for both the United Kingdom and the European Union. Talk of compromises and cross-party consensus and some kind of semantic fudge that will make the Brexit-negating Withdrawal Agreement pass the Commons at the third attempt is a painful distraction from harsh political and historic realities.
Both the UK and the EU still face a stark binary choice, whether all parties acknowledge it or not. Leave or Remain. Double or quits. In or out. Sitting on the Brexit fence while making the right noises to the right people, in the hope that this decision can be delayed or permanently taken off the political agenda, is an abdication of responsibility that will soon no longer be an option.
For the UK, the choice can be summarised as one between democracy and permanent second-class statehood; freedom to hire and fire the people who make the laws we have to obey and pay for, or the triumph of pessimism due to the mistaken and craven belief that we aren’t mature and sensible enough to run our own affairs, and must cleave to a supranational body with minimal democratic legitimacy because we are too insignificant to defend our right to democratic self-government.
Remainers trying to subvert the referendum result by locking the UK into the EU, even as we are supposedly leaving it, have completely missed the point of the Leave vote. It was a vote of confidence in Great Britain and its institutions, flawed or otherwise. It was a vote by optimists, by people who believe in the regenerative, sometimes messy but always liberating, principle of democracy – which is that you make your own mistakes, and if you don’t like the way the ship of state is run, you chuck out the government and give someone else a turn at the wheel. There are ups and downs, but you always have a choice. And that choice is precious.
People across the world have died in countless wars to be able to have such a choice. It is sad indeed that many of the guardians of this ancient, disruptive, rambunctious democracy of ours are so afraid of it that they dare not stand up for it. Indeed, they would rather abolish it and have us ruled by an unelected European Commission, which continues to assume with Ancien Régime arrogance that the British people can be made to vote as many times as necessary until they sign up to the European Project. One might say when hell freezes over, but one hates to employ such clichés. Except when they are true.
Staying in a customs union with the EU, accepting close regulatory alignment with the EU, joining an EU army with imperial ambitions (as outlined recently by the French), allowing the EU to decide on vast areas of policy-making – as the Withdrawal Agreement does – is not only not Brexit and a failure to deliver on the referendum result. It is to collude in the death of functioning, open, plural democracy, which is the only safeguard against dictatorship.
So the choice is clear: a Brexit that restores supreme law-making powers to the UK, or the triumph of technocracy and the enforcement by a foreign court of perpetual protectionist mediocrity, to ensure that no member state of the EU is ever independent enough to question the power exercised by an unelected Politburo in Brussels, whose mission is to create the United States of Europe, by fair means or foul.
One country’s upsurge of democracy, of course, can be another’s constitutional catastrophe. For the EU, Brexit is no less of an existential issue. That the second largest financial contributor and the oldest democracy in the EU voted to leave is a damning indictment of the political failure that has marked the European Project in the last twenty years. The fury and insults heaped upon Britain after the referendum testify to the total incomprehension of the EU’s political class when confronted with legitimate dissent.
And that nothing has changed since 23rd June 2016 is evidenced by the ludicrous stories peddled by Project Fear in recent days… Apparently the Queen is to be evacuated if we leave the EU on WTO terms. Given that Her Majesty produces much of her own food on her own land, one wonders where she might go to avoid “the cliff-edge” if the Roquefort doesn’t show up in time for the cheese course.
We hear that a third of UK businesses are thinking of relocating to the EU, only to see that the poll conducted by the IoD was of a tiny percentage of its members. Another headline claims that a majority of Chief Finance Officers believe that the UK will be worse off after Brexit – a majority of just one hundred CFOs surveyed by Deloitte. None of these surveys takes into account that a sovereign Britain can take whatever legislative and fiscal measures it deems fit to ensure that goods flow into this country unfettered and that our economy continues not only to function normally, but to thrive.
This acceleration of Project Fear in the media strengthens the belief that there will be no meaningful concessions on the Withdrawal Agreement before the next debate in the Commons. Indeed, EU leaders have repeatedly said that they will not reopen the legal text. Michel Barnier therefore has no mandate other than to listen politely to the Prime Minister and say no.
The EU will try until the bitter end to ram its appalling deal down our throats, because the slightest sign that it is willing to agree a pragmatic, mutually beneficial trade relationship with a former member state will be seen as a green light for other eurosceptic members to flex their muscles and stand up to the Franco-German juggernaut that intends to sweep them up in its imperial embrace.
The ‘Malthouse Compromise’ recently floated by a group of Tory MPs is likely to be shot down in flames – if indeed it is even tabled for discussion by Theresa May. Whatever she may propose to break the impasse, negotiators in Brussels must cling to their position – that a centralised technocratic EU superstate is the ineluctable future.
It is, of course, the past: an attempt to create by red tape and judicial takeover what has not been possible to achieve through centuries of warfare. But it is hard-wired into the EU’s DNA, and it is a question of survival. For them a no-deal Brexit will be preferable to any ‘deal’ that fails to put Britain on the naughty step and keep it there until it begs to be let back into the nursery.
To EU or not to EU, that remains the question.
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