The world should be our oyster, not a federal Europe where we increasingly lose control of our own affairs, says Paul Finch
The forthcoming referendum on EU membership is not an architectural issue, even if the outcome has an effect on architects. So this column is not offered as impertinent advice on how readers should vote, but simply as a reflection on the re-run of the first and only UK referendum, in 1975.
It has become apparent that ‘Project Fear’ is not having quite the effect its inventors had hoped, probably because the public is more sceptical about claims by politicians and business leaders than it was four decades ago.
Mr Cameron’s dodgy dossier, the propaganda sheet being pushed through the nation’s letter boxes, is a mixture of facts, half-truths, whoppers and untestable predictions. The word ‘could’ crops up a lot. No doubt the same could be said about some Brexiteer propaganda, but that is not being paid for by the taxpayer. As is often the case with EU affairs, we are being bribed with our own money.
For every scare story there is a contrary view – to my mind generally more convincing because it is based not on fear, but on confidence. That confidence stems from being the world’s fifth largest economy, and one which trades at a surplus with non-EU countries, but at a deficit with EU members. That is why we shouldn’t worry too much about ‘Europe’ being beastly to us if we leave. Other countries, though not members, trade perfectly satisfactorily within the EU.
Since 1975, globalisation has transformed business and culture, leaving the EU looking like an analogue invention struggling for relevance in the digital era. Isolationism has been banished by communications technology which has collapsed time and distance; you can feel closer to India, Australia or Japan than to France (or vice versa), whatever the map looks like.
However, globalisation does not mean the end of nations, despite the EU’s cultish belief in the ‘free movement of people’. The biggest change in sovereignty that has taken place since the last referendum concerns our absolute inability to exclude EU nationals we don’t want from entering our country. This objectionable condition represents an attack on the idea of national rights because, like the medieval papacy, the EU claims supra-national authority.
We can do without an overweening bureaucracy bent on expanding its power
Also like the medieval papacy, the EU has its own system of taxation (VAT), and its own laws. Another parallel is the corrupt nature of an institution whose accounts are qualified every year by auditors who cannot account for billions of Euros that have gone missing. With its unique system of book-keeping, we were bound to end up with the Augean stables Neil Kinnock promised (but failed) to clean up. Instead he sacked the brave whistle-blower who dared to tell the truth.
We can do without an overweening bureaucracy bent on expanding its power and influence, dictating to a free parliament and judiciary which have little to learn from neighbours who in living memory have been run by Nazis, fascists, collaborationists or plain old dictators.
In arguing for the continuing role of nation states, I am putting an internationalist case. I don’t want to stop people from other countries coming to the UK, but I want them to be here by invitation (including refugees), not as of right. One-size-fits-all is no guarantee of success, as the recent history of the Euro, the Soviet Union and the Balkans shows only too well.
The world should be our oyster, not a federal Europe where we increasingly lose control of our own affairs. In 1975, as an internationalist, I voted to stay in the EU; this year, still an internationalist, I will be voting to leave.
1975 EEC referendum Hellman cartoon