What if we had lost?

It’s now over 10 months since the referendum. After the initial euphoria at the result, we enjoyed a brief and well-deserved break before plunging in to the next campaign – ensuring that we end up with the best Brexit deal possible. With Article 50 now triggered, however, the negotiations about to begin in earnest and memories of the referendum itself beginning to fade, it’s easy to forget how hard we had to work to achieve last June’s result.

Suppose, however, that it we had lost.

David Cameron had spelt out in no uncertain terms that this referendum, like Scotland’s vote in 2014, was a “once in a generation” decision. Admittedly, Nicola Sturgeon is straining every nerve to try to engineer a second vote on Scottish independence, but given that it was 41 years since our previous referendum on EU membership, we all knew that if our countrymen had voted to remain in the EU last June, we would have faced many more years of campaigning before a third vote would ever become even a remote possibility.

But just suppose a further vote had eventually been held in, say, 2025, what sort of state would our country – or indeed, the EU – be in by then?

We know that there was a great deal of unease on the Continent following the Conservatives’ 2015 General Election victory, which meant Cameron was going to have to make good his promise to hold the referendum. Laurent Fabius, France’s Foreign Minister, called his pledge “dangerous”. Until last June, Cameron had been described as a “lucky” Prime Minister, winning the 2015 General Election when many pollsters were predicting a hung parliament and securing the results he wanted in both the AV and Scottish independence referendums. Perhaps his track record helped calm nerves in Brussels and Berlin. After all, if remain had won, the implications for the EU would have been enormous.

A vote by the most consistently eurosceptic member state to remain in the EU would have been a green light for a further push towards federalism. Such a move may have initially been focussed on the Eurozone, especially given the victory of the enthusiastic federalist Emmanuel Macron in last Sunday’s French Presidential Election, but we would have inevitably found ourselves swept along in the federalist slipstream. Furthermore, even if voters in other EU member states voted the “wrong” way in any subsequent plebiscites, the EU could have pressed on confident that opposition could be muzzled. If even the truculent UK ultimately had decided to submit to the yoke of Brussels, the EU would have felt emboldened in the pursuit of its objective of creating a superstate. To put it another way, all 28 member states would have themselves been locked into an EU where the Jean-Claude Juncker mindset would have reigned unchallenged. “’If it’s a Yes we will say “on we go”, and if it’s a No we will say “we continue””, he famously said.

Now, however, there will be much nail-biting whenever a new treaty is put to a popular vote. The Brexit vote has shown that electorates are happy to defy a powerful combination of their own political leaders, businessmen and senior figures from both Europe and the wider world. The results of the Dutch general and French presidential elections may have been greeted with huge sighs of relief in Brussels, but it is worth remembering that in the first round of the French elections, 46% of voters opted for an EU-critical candidate. Macron’s victory does not imply a renewed love for the EU in France.

A remain vote would have bolstered the EU’s credibility in the wider world. It is doubtful whether it would have altered the course of events in Turkey, where accession to the EU now looks highly improbable following President Erdogan’s revisions to his country’s Constitution. It would, however, have strengthened the pro-European forces in Norway and Iceland. Maybe even the Swiss would have felt that sooner or later, they would have to join up. Instead, our vote to leave essentially buries the prospect of membership for Western Europe’s non-EU members and also makes the EU a harder sell in the Balkans and the former Soviet republics.

After all, although many of us are aware that one country, Greenland, had earlier left the EEC (as it then was), how many of us can actually remember it happening? It was a pretty minor piece of news at the time whereas the Brexit vote was splashed over front pages across the world, complete with pictures of either Donald Tusk or Angela Merkel looking distinctly gloomy.

The EU was never going to be the same after our referendum, however we voted. Its credibility would either have been boosted or dented.

As for how our country would have been affected by a remain vote, as Rupert Matthews pointed out, defeated leavers would have accepted the result with far more grace than the appalling behaviour we have witnessed from remainiacs like Gina Miller, Richard Branson and Tony Blair. We would have vowed to continue the fight but would not have accused voters in the opposite camp of being stupid. Nor would we have been cry-babies saying that the people didn’t know what they were voting for.

However, within a matter of only a few years, we would have seen much of our remaining distinctiveness gradually eroded. How long would we have been able to remain outside the single currency? How long before our armed services would have been absorbed into an EU army? What of the safeguards of our common law-based criminal justice system, so superior to the Napoleonic inquisitorial system of continental Europe, which the EU eventually would have replaced with a single criminal justice code? Would metrication have been pushed with renewed vigour?

Thankfully, instead of this nightmare scenario, we voted to leave and in so doing, besides the eventual benefits to our own country, we may well have put a big spanner in the works to the whole federalist project, for the good of the whole continent. As William Pitt the younger famously said 200 years ago, “England has saved herself by her exertions and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.”

A monopoly on virtue?

It was the “right” result in Austria but the “wrong” result in Italy. Who says so? Well, a number of German politicians for a start.  The victory of the Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen over the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer in yesterday’s re-run Presidential Election was, in Martin Schulz’s words,  a defeat for “anti-European, backward-looking populism.” Quite a few other European worthies agree with him. His German compatriot, Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said that, “a load has been taken off the mind of all of Europe.” He called the result “a clear victory for good sense.”

By contrast, the reaction to the defeat of Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in a referendum over a revision to the Italian constitution was very different. The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the result was  “not a positive development in the case of the general crisis in Europe.” Another German, Manfred Weber, the head of the main conservative group in the European Parliament, told ZDF television that the result was a “setback”.

No one is suggesting that Renzi’s resignation followng his defeat spells the end of the EU and furthermore, pro-EU sources insist that there will be no crisis in the Eurozone in consequence, although yesterday’s vote will not do anything to address the plight of some Italian banks. What these two referendums have underlined, however, is the extent to which the prevalent attitude in the EU is – to paraphrase George Orwell – “Pro-federalist good, pro-nation state bad.”

Those of us who debated with remainers during the referendum found ourselves crossing swords with a mixture of opponents. Some, one has to say, misled, spun and were thoroughly unpleasant people. Others were genuine believers in a project with whom we would beg to differ. No reasonable person would disagree with the objective  of preventing a third world war, which was one reason why the EU project gained such traction in the years after 1945. Some remainers still genuinely believe that a federal superstate is still the best war of preserving peace, but at least they will be civil with you if you think their reasoning is faulty.

Furthermore, such people do not claim a monopoly of virtue or common sense. It is this arrogant attitude, epitomised by people like Schulz and Gabriel, which is so sickening. It would be naive to deny that there are some decidely nasty people who are vehement opponents of federalism. Take the Golden Dawn party in Greece, for example, which is claimed to include overt Nazi supporters among its membership. Even in this country, it has to be admitted that not everyone who voted for Brexit was an angel.

Nonetheless, there were many people who supported Brexit on June 23rd and many people in EU-27 who are uncomfortable with the federalist vision and who are not in any way violent, racist or stupid.  There are many rational, sensible reasons for believing that nation states with robust democratic processes offer a better hope of peace than a federal monster which concentrates so much power in the hands of a remote, unelected élite. There are good reason for believing that in the long term, there will be economic benefits from leaving the EU and regaining the freedom to control our international trading arrangements.

Even touching that knotty subject of immigration, there are good reasons for wanting a greater degree of control over who enters this country. Even the claim that we need immigrants to fill jobs is actually very short-termist. Advances in robotics are likely to see 10 million low-skilled jobs  – the type largely undertaken by immigrants – replaced by machines in the next 20 years in this country.

None of this matters to the self-righteous europhile élite. They are the good guys, the forward-looking people and we are dinosaurs. In this country,  the Brexit vote has so traumatised academics at the University of Nottingham that they are being offered “wellbeing workshops” to cope with “stress and anxiety” caused by the Brexit vote.

We can be thankful that, whatever the machinations of some hard-core remainers in this country who still refuse to accept the people’s voice, the EU at least seems happy – indeed keen – to see us go. If, however, its leading advocates continue, with no real justification, to claim the moral high ground while treating everyone without exception in EU-27 who shares our reservations about the EU project as backward-looking and malign, such behaviour will only ensure that sooner or later, another country will follow us through the exit door.


Photo by KMo Foto