Picture credit: Britain Stronger In Facebook page
While there has rightly been analysis of an often incoherent Leave campaign, perhaps some scrutiny is needed of some common Remain tropes â€“ those focusing on why we should stay rather than why we should not Leave – and what they might mean for the referendum result and the UKâ€™s longer term relationship with its European neighbours.
1. We will be in a reformed EU and can continue with further reform.
This is the Remain campaignâ€™s equivalent of whistling to keep oneâ€™s spirits up, even when thereâ€™s no reason to. No-one believes youâ€™re really happy but they admire your determination. The EU is not reformed in any sense the UK would understand and, to the extent that it has made some changes to accommodate the UK, it has no real desire to do any more, will do so only unwillingly and certainly sees no need to reform itself into something the UK might feel comfortable with. Any change in the EU will be towards further integration, a more centralized EU, a more political EU not the a la carte EU principally concerned with trade the UK might prefer.
2. We will have influence.
Setting aside the initial and unworthy thought that this is no more than politicians and FCO-wallahs wanting a stage to strut on, there are two types of influence being confused here: (a) how much actual power we can wield â€“ through votes, reliable alliances or groupings; and (b) â€œsoft powerâ€ influence which comes from being thought of as worth listening to, moral authority, someone whose views cannot be ignored. The UK has relatively little of the former, partly because of QMV and partly because it has failed over the years to build effective and long-lasting alliances (and may never have succeeded even if it had really tried). It also has relatively little of the latter. Much of its approach to both the political and legal issues arising within the EU is so at variance with how the majority of other countries approach matters that is hard to see how such influence could succeed or, indeed, where it has succeeded in the past. Ironically, the one basis on which it could claim â€œinfluenceâ€ â€“ the level of its contributions â€“ is not deployed. Remain are deluding themselves if they think the UK will have any meaningful influence while it remains determined to stay out of the EUâ€™s primary purpose of political and economic union. This is in the EU’s DNA; it is not in the UK’s.
3. The â€œJavidâ€ argument â€“ or â€œI wouldnâ€™t have joined but now weâ€™re in weâ€™d better stayâ€.
Why this should be so is never really explained. It is not so much an argument for staying but rather a justification for why it would be too much effort to leave. Likely to be effective since laziness is much more widespread than courage. But an essentially fearful and passive argument.
4. A new deal for Britain.
Not now heard much of since the announcement of the deal. While this may have been the best that could be obtained (arguable but letâ€™s given Remain the benefit of the doubt on that) overselling a package which amounted to not very much has harmed the PMâ€™s credibility with his party, may have done so with the public and has wasted such credit as the UK has within the EU for very little. Not so much Paris being worth a Mass as London being worth, well, what? The right to pay Bulgarian children a bit less benefit. Perfidious Albion indeed.
5. We would be turning our backs on Europe.
Possibly the most dishonest trope of all. Europe is not the EU. Conflating the two is to assume that a particular statist, centralist, bureaucratic and essentially French political model is what Europe is and should be about. France has given much to European civilization but stable, democratic, liberal and long-standing polities are not among French strengths. Many who love Europe and the idea of a free, liberal, democratic, peaceful Europe are aghast at how the EU has sought to appropriate that idea to itself, to leave no space for any other idea of Europe, any better idea of Europe. They are even more aghast at how doing so has woken some of the nastier dragons which are also part of European history. Turning our back on the EU is not the same as turning away from Europe, any more than not voting Tory is not the same as turning away from Britain.
There are many other tropes which other PBâ€™ers will doubtless be quick to identify. Underlying all of the above is an assumption that a vote for Remain is a vote for the status quo, a mistaken assumption as far as the EU is concerned and even more so for the UK, given that it will become even more marginal as the EU integrates further.
Will this work? The likely answer is yes. Those who are infuriated by such arguments are likely to be Leavers in any case. Many others may discount these arguments and vote Remain out of concern about the alternatives.
What will this do for the longer-term relationship between Britain and the rest of the EU, if Remain wins? This merits a whole thread of its own. But, in essence the failure over the last 40 years of membership to set out clearly what the EU project is about and what this means for Britain has been at the heart of the disconnect between the establishment and voters about EU matters and the disconnect between Britain and the rest of the EU. Nothing in the way the Remain campaign is being run has addressed these issues and may indeed exacerbate them.
CycleFree is a long standing poster on PB