If only one could wake up one morning and find that the European Union had been nothing but a bad dream! As it is, we shall wake up quite soon and be obliged to come to terms with its destructive power. Prime Minister David Cameron long since promised to hold a referendum in 2017 on whether Britain should stay in the EU or leave. Policy, he said grandiloquently, would be conditional on reforms of the EU, essential reforms to safeguard British control of its own future. He would negotiate with the heads of state within the EU, and carefully refrained from saying what he would do in the event that these heads of state rejected his proposed reforms.
The stay-in lobby rests its case on economics, with the alarmist prediction that otherwise 3 million jobs are at risk — who reached that figure, and how, is not clear.
It is a weird psychological phenomenon that so many people have lost confidence to stand on their own two feet. “Never leave the hand of nurse, for fear of finding something worse,” sums up their approach. The leave-now lobby rests its very different case on sovereignty. The British in this view have set a historic example of self-government, that is to say representative democracy, and have no reason to hand any part of it over to unelected bureaucrats from other nations offering other historic examples.
The EU supposedly was designed to deal effectively with crises, for instance the sudden arrival in Europe of hundreds of thousands of migrants. The refugees are evidence that this self-definition of the EU is fantasy and, as push comes to shove, every country acts for itself. This reversion to reality strengthened immeasurably the hand of the leave-now lobby. Misjudging the moment, Cameron raced round capital cities, in effect putting Britain’s interests into the hands of a score of foreign politicians. He has obtained nothing that answers to reform. Whether out of panic, inner stay-in conviction that had been hidden, or sheer obtuseness, he is nonetheless pretending to have obtained significant reform, and that what is bad for Britain really is good. The crucial referendum looks like it is being hurriedly brought forward to June 21, that is to say before the electorate can twig what is happening to them and might still cling to the hand of nurse.
I happen to be reading the diaries, just published, of Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador in London from 1932 to 1943. A Communist, also capable and intelligent, he was in the thick of things. Important people including Neville Chamberlain and Lloyd George kept assuring him that Hitler was a man of peace and appeasement was only sensible. A man of the world, Maisky knew that this was fantasy and that the price to be paid for it would be very high. It’s part and parcel of the general loss of confidence that the nominally Conservative Cameron now goes in for fantasy and appeasement.