12 January 2016

What a mess the Tory high command is in on the EU


Among government loyalists in the UK, pragmatic business people and pro-EU commentators, there seems to be a fairly settled view that for all the potential for aggro and excitement, the referendum on British membership of the EU expected this year will probably be ok in the end. By ok, it is meant that the UK will vote to stay in because ultimately the mass of voters don’t care all that much and will opt for safety and security.

That analysis may turn out to be correct. The Leave campaign could end up sounding too much like the SNP in the Scottish referendum if it shouts down legitimate questions and cannot give coherent and believable answers to concerns about what would happen after an “Out” vote. But I do wonder if it is quite as in the bag as the Inners believe, when one studies the case that the Tory leadership will be making in the referendum. How robust will that case seem in the heat of a campaign? Is it likely to sound appealing?

My dear friend Bruce Anderson wrote a piece for CapX earlier which illustrates the workings of the Cameroon mind on this question. I am a big fan of Bruce’s writing, even if he did ask me yesterday who David Bowie is. But on this occasion, in his latest piece, it is all much too jesuitical for me.

If I am understanding it correctly, the pro-Tory leadership case is that this vote will be won for Remain by the Tory leadership on the following grounds:

1) The EU is pretty rubbish really. Terrible mess. Wouldn’t start from here, but there you are.

2) Britain is not exactly rubbish, but it is a bit rubbishy, or rubbishy enough to be incapable of self-government as practised by those crazy people in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India. More importantly, leaving would only make the EU worse. So, sorry, we have to stay.

3) Afterwards, oh boy, then Britain will really sock it to those Eurocrats, say the Cameroons. And then the EU might fall apart of its own accord, but at least it won’t be the UK’s fault. Oh well.

This may be enough, if voters listen to a wide range Remain voices and conclude it is a simple, pragmatic decision in which the risks of Out are too great. Perhaps some voters will be asleep, or drugged, and not notice how dreary and dismal the case for In is, as pushed by the Tory leadership. But you can see the Tory Establishment’s dilemma. They sense that they cannot make a positive case, because the voters watching the migrant crisis, with the Eurocrisis bubbling underneath, are not inclined to have faith in a transnational undertaking that can’t handle basic economics and border control. That leaves the Tory high command having to campaign as “Eurosceptics for In.” It is going to be fascinating to watch.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.