In the run-up to the Brexit vote both sides put forward only their side of the argument, which is surely what campaigns are supposed to do. There’s no need for a balanced argument since the other side will see to it that the counter-arguments are put forward as convincingly as possible.
This week one of my colleagues said he thought the Leave campaign was based on scaremongering, and that fear of immigration from non-EU countries was being falsely associated with that of EU migration. What he meant with the latter was that Ukip, which was not actually part of the official Leave campaign, unveiled a poster showing lines of African, Asian and Middle Easterner migrants flocking into Europe. This, my colleague thought, had nothing to do with whether we should stay in or leave the EU.
The first objection first. I don’t really remember much scaremongering from the Leave side. I actually thought they ran quite a positive campaign, claiming that things were going to be just fine afterwards because Britain had traditional ties all over the world. Apart from that I don’t know what there was to fear. It was surely just going to be more of the same. We had been in the EU for 43 years and though we didn’t like it, we were used to it and didn’t ‘fear’ it.
However, I do remember various people being wheeled out to warn the British people what would happen if they were foolish enough to vote Leave: George Osborne claimed we would all be so many thousands of pounds worse off each year; Barack Obama came to England to tell us we would have to go to the back of the queue for trade deals with America; Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, said that the economy would suffer; Christine Lagarde warned of impending doom; Jean Claude Juncker said Armageddon was approaching and David Cameron and Tony Blair piled on with their own dire warnings. Basically the whole establishment minus six politicians predicted that the UK economy would crash the day after a Leave vote because the markets would lose confidence in Britain and the financial institutions would up-sticks and go somewhere else. All these warnings would have been fine if they had been correct but they have turned out to be false. One or two of the people who issued those warnings have since come out and admitted they were wrong. Yet my colleague still believes that it was the Leave campaign in particular that was built on fear! I suppose he might say that he wasn’t excluding the Remain side from his accusation of scaremongering but he sort of was by not mentioning them. Either way we saw things quite differently.
As for the infamous Ukip poster, it was a call to take back control of our borders. Migrants were flowing over borderless Europe and there was little anyone seemed able to do about it. Many of these migrants had been invited in by Angela Merkel who, once recognising her mistake, tried to persuade other EU countries to take their ‘fair share’. These migrants, most of them fit young men, were generally described in the media as ‘refugees’, though most of them turned out not to be. To be sure, they came from poorer, more corrupt, more violent countries than our own but if that were the criteria set by the Geneva Convention for taking in the people of the world there would be no one left in Africa, the Middle East, South or Central America or many Asian countries. And Europe, as we know it, or at least knew it, would have ceased to exist. It is a already halfway along the path of abolishing itself. Just read this terrific but depressing book.
I think the majority of people voted Leave for two main reasons. One was that Britain seemed powerless to stop some things which to us looked clearly unfair. For example, it is ridiculous that an unemployed man in Romania can travel to Britain and become an unemployed man there where benefits are better. This was just one among many things which annoyed people about the EU.
The other main reason for wanting to leave was that we hoped getting our borders back would enable us, somehow, to reduce both EU and non-EU migration into Britain. Quite how this might happen even I don’t know and my colleague may be right in thinking that non-EU immigration has absolutely nothing to do with our membership of the EU.
Even so, I’m not so sure. For one thing we will no longer have to accept quotas from Angela Merkel. Also Britain might act as an example to other EU countries who would like their borders back. And once countries are in control of their borders again they might, individually, have more of a stomach for dealing with out-of-control Third World immigration. One thing is for sure, the EU bureaucrats were never going to do anything about it. I think only nationalism can now save individual European countries from being overrun by migrants and the EU is clearly an anti-national organisation.
The problem that the EU faces is a form of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons‘, which is when something belongs to no one in particular so no one bothers to look after it. The EU is a commons. Yet give people ownership of parts of it and they will look after it. Most of my hope for salvaging something of the old Europe lies with the old eastern bloc countries. Western European countries are already too far gone down the progressive liberal, multicultural road to be saved.
To be fair to my colleague, his were just off the cuff comments and given time I’m sure he could marshal some convincing counter-arguments. But this is my blog not his and I can’t make his arguments for him.