A guest slot by Cyclefree
It was Socrates who said that the “unexamined life is not worth living”. By the same token, one might also say that the unexamined EU is not worth being a member of.
And – despite all the claims and counter-claims, exaggerations, half-truths, figures plucked out of obscure studies or the air and celebrity or heavy weight endorsements – it often feels that all the referendum campaign has amounted to is little more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Well, the referendum will signify something. One side will win. There will be an answer to the referendum question. To the question – yes. But if Remain win, will there be an answer to the more important – and so far largely ignored – question of what Britain’s role in the EU will be, should be, what it can be and, even more critically, what the EU is and is likely to become? And if Leave win, what will Britain’s role within Europe and with a different EU be?
Judging by the campaigns so far: no.
There are two principal reasons for this. The first is that both sides have concentrated on why people should not do what the other side wants them to do. So Remain is all about the reasons for not Leaving – the costs, the uncertainty, the risks, the isolation, the effects on government here, the apparent complete inability of any British government to legislate in the future on matters currently subject to EU law. Leave is all about how ineffably ghastly the EU has been, how condescendingly supercilious Remainers are, the general ghastliness of Cameron & co., the appalling interference by foreigners in offering a view coupled by a vague statement that Britain will be free to do what it wants. There are very few grown-ups visible in this debate.
The second is that the entire debate has been about the economics of the project, what it will cost us if we go or stay. But this is to miss fundamentally what the EU project has been about ever since its start. This has been Britain’s original mistake: its failure to understand what has always been clear to and desired by the other states. And those who have understood it have compounded this original mistake by not being honest with the voters about this. It’s always the cover up which gets you. And this dishonesty or fear of the consequences of being honest is poisoning the current debate, making it largely meaningless.
So rather than rage at outsiders telling us their view, rather than declaiming that other states should not opine on domestic matters, rather than telling other EU states and the EU itself to keep quiet until June 24, here’s my modest proposal.
Let’s invite the EU Commissioners to tell us what they think the EU should be, how it should develop in their areas of competence. Let’s hear from Francesca Mogherini on her view of how the EU should deal with the instability on its borders, how it should handle the migration issue. Let’s hear more about the EU Army and the proposed budget.
Let’s hear what a common Justice policy means in an organization with states with no habeas corpus and the practice of trials of people in their absence and states with trials by jury. Let’s hear from Hollande about what the French view of Europe should be, let’s hear from the 5 Presidents (whoever they are), let’s hear from the Poles and the Latvians and Germans and Italians and Spanish and Irish. Let them come over and tell us frankly what sort of EU they want and why. Let us ask them: what is this organization we’ve been a member of for the last 40 or more years? How do you want it developing and why? Do you think it should be reformed? And what do you mean by “reform”?
A risk: yes – a big one for Remain. We might not like what we hear and vote to go. But if Remain wins after all this then the issue really will have been put to bed for a generation. A risk and an opportunity for Leave: risk because the EU may not turn out to the bogey man too many in that camp think; opportunity – because it will force us to think intelligently about life outside the EU. Migration is not going to go away even if we leave the EU.
Britain’s approach to and relationship with a large and powerful Continental neighbour still needs thinking about. And if we go after an honest conversation with our neighbours we may be more likely to get a worthwhile relationship with them after we’ve gone. The current petulant “You’re all like Hitler” approach is not grown up and is not likely to endear us to countries who have had rather more experience of us of what it’s like to live under genocidal maniacs.
Let’s hear from the EU. Let’s stop talking to ourselves. Let the European dog bark.