7 February 2016

Who will speak for the sane, well-informed eurosceptics?


After years of waiting, the British people are finally about to have their say on one of the great issues of our time: who rules our country.

With all eyes set on 23 June as the most likely date for the EU referendum and the latest polls suggesting growing support for the Leave campaign, Eurosceptics like me should be cheering from the rafters.

But we aren’t. Instead we are shaking our heads in despair.

Why? Because there is barely anyone speaking for us. Barely anyone who looks vaguely normal, anyway.

In just over four months’ time, millions of Britons will go to the polling booth to decide whether to remain under the deadweight of Brussels or to leave and assert our democratic supremacy as a sovereign nation. And that means time is running out.

The Remain camp is effectively headed by the Prime Minister, one of the most consummate politicians of our time, with a broad electoral appeal. He has signed up most of the Cabinet, including supposedly eurosceptics like Theresa May, as well as most of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP to the Remain cause, not to mention many big names in the business world. He even has, whether they admit it or not, the tacit support of the most powerful media force in the country, the BBC.

Yet, days after we learned the laughably poor terms of David Cameron’s big “renegotiation” of Britain’s relationship with the EU, when the tide should be turning in our favour, there is still no unified campaign all singing from the same hymn sheet promoting the perfectly rational and sensible arguments to vote to Leave.

Instead the Leave campaign is dominated by the bickering and infighting between two rival camps, both virtually unheard of by most voters and derided by everyone else.

Instead of putting the cause of democracy and national sovereignty to the fore, the Leave.EU and Vote.Leave campaigns have decided to spend their time battling egos rather than winning over hearts and minds.

This pathetic squabbling is wasting valuable time. While this lot are busy shouting at each other, they aren’t talking to the people who really matter: the voters who will decide the outcome on referendum day.

The mud-slinging serves no purpose other than to allow the Remain campaign to dominate the argument with their absurd scare tactics over how the UK economy will collapse overnight if we dare to leave the EU.

And, perhaps more importantly, the bickering plays into the hands of the long-standing perception that eurosceptics are all jibbering nutters.

That, after all, is the image that has been portrayed for years about anyone who has dared to confess their euroscepticism. The media and political classes (in Britain and across Europe) are dominated by europhiles who think that anyone who wants Britain to leave Europe is either a lunatic or just too ignorant to know any better.

I know that’s what they think because they tell me that to my face. I have lost count of the times journalists and MPs from all sides of the political spectrum have looked at me with undisguised amazement – and rather less well disguised horror – when I tell them I want Britain to the leave the EU.

According to the received wisdom in Westminster and the BBC, all eurosceptics come under one of these categories: they are bonkers hang ’em and flog ’em Tory backbenchers, swivel eyed and backward-looking UKIP voters, the ignorant, poorly educated, or the xenophobic working class poor – the white van man of Emily Thornberry’s nightmares – who are scared of anything that looks, sounds or smells foreign.

No wonder they are so disdainful of us.

Well, I’m not mad or stupid or xenophobic and yet I’m still a eurosceptic. I’m not ignorant either, as a well-informed, well-educated professional woman who has spent years researching and writing about the EU, and who wants Britain to embrace the 21st century not return to the 1950s.

And you know what, there are millions more just like me. People who simply believe that the UK government has had no right to hand over our Parliamentary sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable body in Brussels and we want those powers back.

People who believe that the right to control who comes into our country and how our hard-earned taxes are spent – and on whom – should be a matter decided by our own Parliament and not by foreign governments.

People who believe that the fifth largest economy in the world will – like most other countries on this planet – manage just fine as a trading partner of the EU rather than a fully paid up member of the EU political club.

People who believe that the pro-EU fanatics who say Britain could not survive outside the EU are the same people who claimed the UK would lose out if we didn’t join the eurozone – and they are just as wrong today as they were then.

People who, above all else, believe in the principle of democracy: the right of the people of Britain to control their own destiny.

There’s nothing weird or extreme or xenophobic or ignorant about that. On the contrary, it is the Remainers who think the British people are not capable of running their own country who are the delusional ones.

Yet, with no one to speak for us, those arguments are being left unheard while the Eurosceptic campaigns turn on each other.

If the eurosceptic campaigners don’t get their act together soon, they will betray the millions of Britons who, like me, just want to bring our democracy back home. Shame on them all.

Julia Hartley-Brewer is a journalist and broadcaster. A former political editor and LBC Radio presenter, she is a regular on TV shows such as Question Time and Have I Got News For You, and on Radio 4’s Any Questions.