Theodore Dalrymple; Sell your birthright for 50p

No doubt we all use dubious arguments to defend our cherished ideas but those in the leaflet from the Britain in Europe (The ‘in’ campaign) Ltd. that was pushed through my door today were particularly weak or dishonest. In the first place they were all economistic in nature. There was nothing about the constitutional problems of ‘ever-closer union,’ problems that would be soluble only by authoritarian means. But even the economic arguments were feeble, as in the following:

On the balance of probability, it is more likely we’ll have less money in our pockets if we vote to leave.

Or they relied (where the claims were specific) on the old theoretical trick of suggestio falsi, as in the following:

Over 3 million jobs are linked to our exports to Europe – that’s one in every ten UK jobs.

The first of these arguments hardly carries conviction, even that of the person who expresses it, quite apart from its assumption that the whole question is whether we have more or less in our pocket after the referendum. If it is really true that we are prepared to abandon our sovereignty for the sake of 50 pence a week in our pocket, then it would be true that we do not deserve any sovereignty. We would indeed be a nation of slaves.

The second of the arguments implies that the 3 million jobs ‘linked’ – a weaselly word, if ever there was one – to exports to the EU would all be lost in the event of our departure from the EU. But this is abject nonsense. The EU has itself more to lose in a trade war with Britain than it has to gain, even if it were not prevented by international obligations from waging such a war. The Germans will not be prepared to lose one of their largest car export markets on a matter of some kind of principle (whatever it might be).

The campaign seems to think that what amounts to a lie, or misrepresentation, becomes true by repetition:

Over 200,000 businesses trade with the EU, helping to create jobs here in the UK.

Again, the intended impression is that these jobs would be lost without membership of the EU. But the jobs depend on trade, not the EU, and trade would not cease without the EU in the event of leaving it. None of this means that jobs would actually increase in number if we left the EU: but as Pascal said (before the EU existed), ‘Let us work to think clearly: such is the principle of morality.

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