For the Leave campaign to succeed on 23 June it must rely on some dramatic, last-minute deus ex machina, some shock that will turn the polls around. Unfortunately, the gods are increasingly demonstrating their favourable disposition to the Remain campaign. As if having the establishment and big money on the Remainians’ side was not enough, in the third week of April St Barack Obama descended from the skies and declared: ‘I, Barack, command ye to vote to stay within the embrace of your beloved step-mother, Europa. For if ye do not, fell things will befall ye.’ Like being sent to the back of a (non-existent) trade queue. And with these dread words of wisdom, he returned to the skies whence he came.
This is yet another exemplification of Obama’s languid, lazy presidency, camouflaged by the easy eloquence of his grandiose rhetoric. (One can imagine him going off on a sonorous hour-long soliloquy every time he’s asked whether he’d prefer a Digestive or a Custard Cream with his cuppa.) For a start, there is no queue: there is no list of countries lining up for trade deals with the US. And if there were to be, with the UK and the US each other’s primary investors, we obviously would not be at the back of it. Oh – and Obama won’t be president by then anyway.
Obama seems a nice enough chap, but one is tempted to ask: ‘What does he actually do?’ He seems to spend most of his time making cameo appearances in comedic You Tube postings. Perhaps this explains the remarkable phenomenon of how easily ensorcelled people are with his soft tones, even when he is dispensing minatory de haut en bas instructions to peoples other than his own.
America has more than one dog in this fight and doesn’t care much about the well-being of Britain’s pooch. Obama, and American-based multinationals, wish to see the full implementation of TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Plan) between the US and the EU later this year. Then there is the matter of America’s strategic interests. It very much wants to see Britain, possessor of the EU’s most effective and advanced army, playing its full part in European defence. Europe also provides American forces with bases from which it can project its power into the Arctic, the Middle East, the Mediterranean (and hence North Africa) and, arguably most disconcertingly, the Russian borderlands, thus increasing the possibility of accidental confrontation with Moscow.
Perhaps his most aggravating comments from his visitation were those attributing the European Union with ‘underwriting more than seven decades of relative peace and prosperity in Europe’. This indolent equation of the EU with peace, so readily proclaimed by the ill-informed, is not only galling but dangerous. The EU is now causing massive geopolitical destabilisation in Europe, with continued aggressive and tactless expansion into the Russian sphere of influence and provoking Putin’s belligerent responses in the Ukraine and elsewhere (not that he needs much encouragement.) It is a little known but alarming fact that the EU’s 2007 Lisbon Treaty stipulates that accession countries (most of which border Russia) must align their security and defence policies with those of NATO – another reason for America’s interest in the issue.
Obama has his legions of useful idiots here at home. George Osborne’s Treasury-backed claims that Brexit would cost British households £4,300 a year marked a new low in the campaign and yet another high for the government’s aspirational dishonesty. These figures were quickly exposed for the hysterical hyperbole they were, and it was especially gratifying to see Andrew Neil destroy them on The Daily Politics. The ludicrous, crystal-ball equation the government provided to support its fantastical prediction –
In(IFDIijt) = αij +α1In(Yjt) + α2In(Yjt) + α3In(DISTij) + α4POPit + α5POPij +α6COMLANGij + α7COLONYij + α8BORDERij + α9EMU2ijt + α10EMU1ijt + εijt = αij + αXijt + εijt
– might as well have been Heston Blumenthal’s recipe for his New York cheesecake. Not that Dave and George care. They are well aware that this is yet another egregious rigging of the referendum. The whole point was simply to pitch a scary headline that voters will remember.
The hollowness of the Remain campaign’s fear-mongering is that it is entirely speculative of what may happen hypothetically in the future. It is deploying the same hysterical defeatist arguments that were palpably proven untrue over Britain and the Exchange Rate Mechanism and the Euro. At least on the Leave side the fear is generated by events that are actually happening now: the Eurozone financial crisis; the war in Ukraine; the waves of mass migration; the loss of sovereignty and lack of democracy – these are all real and ongoing. They exist in the present. Indeed, they exist precisely because of EU policies.
Which books offer the best in-depth intelligent evaluation of the EU question without an obvious bias? Not, in general, accessible introductory guides on the European Union. These are overwhelmingly written by those fully embedded with – and paid-up members off – the European project (eg, John Pinder, Michael Maclay, Alasdair Blair). These tend to offer token criticisms, omit challenging counter arguments and recommend further integration as the catch-all solution.
Roger Bootle’s The Trouble With Europe (2015) offers the best economic argument for Brexit. He and his consultancy won the prestigious Wolfson Economics Prize for their work evaluating potential effects of leaving the EU. Restrained, balanced and deeply informed, Bootle has the invaluable added merit of knowing his history.
Au Revoir, Europe: What if the Britain Left the EU? (2012) is written by David Charter, former Brussels correspondent for The Times. He offers an excoriating exposé of the EU’s corruption and undemocratic processes and demonstrates the EU’s onward drive towards federalism. He is equivocal about the economic case for Brexit.
On the euro crisis, you know Europe’s in trouble when éminence grise David Marsh berates the EU’s role and offers a gloomy prognosis: Europe’s Deadlock: How the Eurocrisis Could be Solved – And Why It Still Won’t Happen (2016), while controversial Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis exposes the deeply undemocratic nature of the how the EU operates with his insider’s account told in And the Weak Suffer What They Must? published in April.
But nowhere is the danger to the political and democratic process better examined than in the still essential Democracy in Europe by Oxford University’s Larry Siedentop (2000), arguably one of the single most important books ever written on the European project.
(Copyright: Referendum Watch)