For Jean-Claude Juncker and many in Brussels who share his view of the world, June 23rd could be a quietly auspicious day. If events break their way, some of Britain’s most implacable opponents in the EU institutions will accomplish that which escaped Napoleon himself: They will have driven the British from the Continent.
Tragically, there are those in Brussels who would quietly celebrate such an outcome. It would at once strike from the ledger the modest reforms secured by Mr. Cameron, and simultaneously see the most implacable opponents of the excesses of Brussels bureaucracy – British euro-sceptics – leave forever.
The truth is that a permanent Brexit has been the dearest dream of the enemies of European democracy, and the enemies of Britain, since the time of King John. Starting with their opposition to the freedoms granted in Magna Carta, tyrant after tyrant has tried to unite the continent, as one, against this troublesome island. Time after time, they have failed. To hand such a victory now, at no cost, to her Continental competitors, would be a mistake of almost unprecedented historical magnitude for Britain.
Like many mistakes, those who ask the British people to walk away from the European Union do so from the best of motives, and for very understandable reasons.
I share their disdain for the torturous and self-serving edicts of Brussels. The solution to every problem, contrary to the prevailing wisdom in Brussels, is not intervention by Brussels. Although the Berlaymont building is certainly home to some talented individuals, the repeated suggestion that every issue and challenge may only be successfully addressed by their collective wisdom is both the source of Europe’s problems, and the public’s disaffection.
The Prime Minister, to his credit, has attempted to challenge this. Many elements of his renegotiation are targeted directly at the power grabs that Brussels engages in. The deal he has secured will certainly limit some of the more egregious examples of unnecessary centralisation – and that is to be welcomed.
It’s unfortunate, however, that he did not go further. The Prime Minister negotiated with domestic political concerns foremost in mind. Rather than delivering real change, it delivers only a series of concessions to the current political climate. It could, and should, have been much different.
The institutional arrangements that sever the leadership of the Union from the people who are governed by it have been untouched. The vast reservoirs of power that reside in the hands of the unaccountable have been preserved. The dissent and dissatisfaction growing dangerously across Europe remains unaddressed. Institutions that desperately need reform have been allowed to escape unscathed. It is a missed opportunity, and on its own merits, it strengthens rather than weakens the short term argument for Brexit.
But this is where I part ways with my Brexiteer friends. Like Monty Python’s brave Sir Robin, they would concede defeat and flee with all haste from Brussels’ empty suits. To do so would be wrong in the longer term.
It is true, as proponents of departure say, that Britain has a future outside the European Union if that’s what she chooses. Britain is fortunate to have many allies, markets, friends, and the respect of the world. It is also true though, that whether in or out of the EU, Britain will have to live with the consequences of what happens just 20.6 miles from the coast of Dover.
This week, even as the campaign for Brexit gathers pace, the London Stock Exchange confirmed that it is in merger talks with Deutsche Boerse – just the latest reminder of the myriad of ways in which British economic life is inextricably linked with the Continent’s. In or out, ignoring the laws that emerge from Brussels is not an option for the UK.
This year, even as my Brexiteer friends propose the erection of a white picket fence between themselves and the Continent, a million desperate and determined migrants were charging through the barbed wire on the Bulgarian border. This is a crisis Britain will not solve without the co-operation of Europe, and vice versa.
This decade, even as some Britons have tried to claim that the destinies of Europe and Britain are different, we have seen the blood of our innocents pool together in the streets as jihadists proclaim themselves committed to our collective destruction. Our response to this challenge, too, will require a united front, not a separate path.
Europe’s response to each of these challenges, and many more, is enhanced by British decency, determination, and steel. Throughout history, it has been the British, more than anyone else, who have resisted and opposed the most misguided instincts of continental elites. It has been British leadership that has turned the tide in some of the most consequential moments of European history.
Without Britain, the danger is that Europe will wilt, and fail. But a failed Europe will remain just 20.6 miles away. Britain can leave the EU, but it cannot escape Europe – that is history’s lesson.
The fight that we should be having is not with each other, but with the defenders of the status quo. It is not as if the problems the Brexiteers so rightly identify in Brussels are invisible to everyone else. In country after country, running against Brussels is an increasingly profitable way to garner votes. In every nation, in every corner of the Continent, the appetite for fundamental change is growing. That desire for change should be directed toward a fundamental transformation in the governance of Europe.
Ask a bureaucrat in Brussels to explain Euroscepticism, and they will tell you that opponents of the status quo “hate Europe”. As evidence, they cite the desire to leave. The truth, of course, is that it is Brussels and its broken institutions that are held in disdain. The people of Europe like each other just fine.
A massive entrepreneurial opportunity lies before those of us who care about Britain, and care about the world. When this referendum campaign is done, Britain will either have withdrawn and abandoned the Continent, or chosen to fight those who are wrecking it. In the event that Britain chooses to remain in the European Union, I hope that the Brexiteers will pick themselves up and join those of us who would wage one more assault on the citadels in Brussels and the vested interests who hold them.
I believe in a European Union where decisions are made at the most local level possible. I believe in a European Union where those in power are accountable to those they would govern. I believe in a European Union where innovation and entrepreneurship are encouraged – a Europe that fundamentally recalibrates its relationship with risk and never again embraces the corrupt and twisted ideology of the bailout.
This will not happen until Brussels has a coherent and radical opposition committed to the cause of fundamental reform. Such an opposition cannot emerge without a strong and clear British voice. When Brussels thumbed its nose at the people of Europe – as it did when first France, then the Netherlands, and finally Ireland rejected Giscard D’Estaing’s constitution in its various forms – it has been the Eurosceptic voice that stood firmly for democracy, and with the people. As long as that voice remains committed to dismantling the Union, however, it will not gain traction – because it poses no threat to the unaccountable power structures that govern the Union.
Brussels’ greatest fear is not that their opponents will walk away, but that their opponents will commit to dislodging and replacing them. Brexit, however, will not replace them – in fact, it will entrench them.
So given the choice, I believe that Britain should stay in and fight. Fight not to insulate itself from the schemes of the mandarins, but to remove them from power altogether. A Eurosceptic movement that repurposed itself as a Brussels-sceptic movement would be the greatest threat ever faced by those who have hijacked the European Union for their own ends. After June 23rd, I hope that such a movement will emerge. Then, and only then, will Britain and Europe achieve the change we so badly need.