One of the most striking things about the debate on Britain’s future relationship with Europe is that the case for staying is couched overwhelmingly in negative and pessimistic terms, while the case for leaving is positive and optimistic. Those of us who want to Leave believe Britain’s best days lie ahead, that our country has tremendous untapped potential which independence would unleash and our institutions, values and people would make an even more positive difference to the world if we’re unshackled from the past.
In contrast, the In campaign want us to believe that Britain is beaten and broken, that it can’t survive without the help of Jean-Claude Juncker and his Commission looking after us and if we dare to assert ourselves then all the terrors of the earth will be unleashed upon our head. It treats people like children, unfit to be trusted and easily scared by ghost stories.
Indeed, if you listen to some of those campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union, you would think that for Britain to leave would be to boldly go where no man has gone before. In fact, of course, it would be to join the overwhelming majority of countries which choose to govern themselves. The In campaign ask repeatedly ‘what does out look like?’ – as if the idea of governing ourselves is some extraordinary and novel proposition that requires a fresh a priori justification. Democratic self-government, the form of Government we in Britain actually invented, has been a roaring success for most of the nations who’ve adopted it. While we enjoyed democratic self-government we developed the world’s strongest economy, its most respected political institutions, its most tolerant approach towards refugees, its best publicly funded health service and its most respected public broadcaster. Under democratic self-government countries such as Australia, Canada, the USA and New Zealand all enjoy excellent economic growth, global influence, the ability to control their own borders, to act independently either to close their borders or open them to more refugees, and strong, durable, trusted security links. And democratic self-government has manifestly brought benefits to India, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, South Africa, South Korea and scores of other nations all making their way in the world.
Indeed the truth is that it is membership of an organisation like the European Union which is an anomaly today. The former President of the Commission himself, Manuel Barroso, likes to describe the EU as an ‘empire … because we have the dimension of empires’. The facts suggest he has a point though not quite the one he intended.
It is a fact that the EU is a multi-national federation with no democratically elected leader or Government, with policies decided by a central bureaucracy, with a mock parliament which enjoys no popular mandate for action and with peripheries which are either impoverished or agitating for secession.
It’s a fact that also describes Austria-Hungary under the Habsburgs, the Russian Empire under Nicholas the Second, Rome under its later Emperors or the Ottoman Empire in its final years. It is hardly a model for either economic dynamism or social progress. Which is why we should not be surprised that the countries of the EU are proving neither particularly economically dynamic or socially progressive. It’s a fact that youth unemployment in Spain is 45.3%, in Portugal it is 30.0%, and in Greece it is 51.9%.3 It’s a fact that in Spain, Portugal and Greece eurozone austerity policies have meant cutting spending on health, welfare and public services.4
It’s a fact that not a single one of the world’s top 20 universities is in the Eurozone. It’s a fact that euro bailouts have meant taxpayers money from across the EU has gone into paying off the bankers who got European nations into a mess in the first place. And yet we are somehow expected to believe that if Britain left the organisation which gave us the economic disaster of the euro and turned the world’s richest continent into its slowest growing, that it’s this country which would be acting irrationally.
The only thing that’s irrational is the picture the In campaign paints of life as an independent nation. Some of the In campaigners seek to imply, insinuate and sometimes just declare, that if we left the EU we would not be able to take the train or fly cheaply to European nations. If, by some miracle, we somehow managed to make it to distant Calais or exotic Boulogne we would find that – unique among developed nations – our mobile telephones would no longer work. And heaven help us if we fell ill, as citizens from a country outside the EU we would be barred from all of Europe’s hospitals and left to expire unmourned in some foreign field.
But the consequences wouldn’t end with the Continent becoming a no-go zone. According to some In campaigners, independence also means the devastation of large areas of our national life. Our football teams would be denuded of foreign players, so Premier league matches would have to become – at best – five-a-side contests. And we’d better not schedule those fixtures for dark evenings because there’d be no electricity left for the floodlights after our energy supplies would had suffered a shock akin to the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. The City of London would become a ghost town, our manufacturing industries would be sanctioned more punitively than even communist North Korea, decades would pass before a single British Land Rover or Mr Kipling cake could ever again be sold in France and in the meantime our farmers would have been driven from the land by poverty worse than the Potato Famine. To cap it all, an alliance of Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, emboldened by our weakness, would, like some geopolitical equivalent of the Penguin, Catwoman and the Joker, be liberated to spread chaos worldwide and subvert our democracy.
I sometimes think that the In campaign appears to be operating to a script written by George R.R Martin and Stephen King – Brexit would mean a combination of a Feast for Crows and Misery. It’s a deeply pessimistic view of the British people’s potential and a profoundly negative vision of the future which isn’t rooted in reality.
The idea that if Britain voted to leave the European Union we would instantly become some sort of hermit kingdom, a North Atlantic North Korea only without that country’s fund of international good will, is a fantasy, a phantom, a great, grotesque patronising and preposterous Peter Mandelsonian conceit that imagines the people of this country are mere children, capable of being frightened into obedience by conjuring up new bogeymen every night.
This is an extract from a speech made by Michael Gove today.