I know as the EU referendum draws near, it is easy to get lost in the minutiae of economic benefits and unilateral trade deals with this country or that, but I think it is dangerous to separate the choice from its broad historical context.
On balance, my view is that a positive vision of Europe (and, indeed, the world) is something we must fight for and will be forced to fight for, whether we exit or remain, as totalitarian tendencies rear their heads across the continent. Whether we do this collectively or piecemeal is the question. This referendum is about choosing the battleground; not avoiding the battle.
There are many good arguments for either side of the debate. It is churlish to deny that. But there is a lot of bullshit, too.
For instance, all Brexit scenarios treat the EU post-exit as this inert, powerless, even positively disposed or benevolent entity that will have no choice but to play ball – because, presumably, Britannia. Rather than one of the biggest single global economic blocs, with its own self-interest, which no longer includes the UK, which is now a competitor right at our doorstep, at which we’ve just taken a massive swipe, and whose survival absolutely depends on the UK’s exit being an unmitigated and complete disaster as a cautionary tale.
Anyone suggesting that Brexit is some sort of magic bullet which will solve all our problems and return us to a romantic Jerusalem, which never existed, is quite simply lying. Anyone suggesting that a country breaking a 50-year pact, will be treated just like a country that was never part of it, likewise.
Shaping and reforming the EU is only outside our reach if we decide to exclude ourselves from it. The fate of the Union, however, will be hugely influential on our future whether we decide to stay inside it or stand on the periphery. On that there is little debate.
As a Greek, I have witnessed the brutality that the neoliberal EU establishment can mete out, first hand. Equally, however, I have first hand knowledge of precisely which interests stoke up the language of division and whom it benefits. I cannot ignore the latter, in favour of a general antipathy for neoliberal policies.
Neoliberalism is not the exclusive purview of Brussels. It is pervasive at all levels of government and, in the case of the UK, more so at national level. A future in which we leave the EU and magically turn into a harmonious, socialist utopia is not on offer. Quite the reverse is true. Isolationism reinforces right wing rhetoric and makes states even more powerless against the whim of giant multinationals.
The position: “I am aware that my vote will embolden already dangerous, far-right, xenophobic elements, but I’m nothing to do with them, so I’ll go ahead and make that choice anyway” is utter nonsense. I’m not saying one is not allowed to weigh the pros and cons and still make the choice to exit. I’m saying that one cannot simply ignore the biggest cons and just deflect responsibility.
The truth is that the result of the referendum, to either exit or remain, will start a cascade of events which may turn out to be catastrophic. We cannot ignore that. That is the issue to address. Not what happens to next year’s meaningless GDP or whether we might be able to fish a few more cod from stocks that don’t exist or do a trade deal with Outer Mongolia. But what Europe and the world looks like the day after the referendum.
Decisions have consequences and big decisions have big consequences.
I am tired of a debate which seems to concentrate on whether next year I might have five quid more or fewer in my pocket, while ignoring what will happen to an entire continent’s cohesion, security, political landscape and the lives of those who live within it. Through this column, I plan to address popular misconceptions and logical fallacies regularly used to support an isolationist agenda.