APART from Hitler’s occasional forays, Cameron’s EU referendum has singularly failed to catch fire so far. Indeed it’s reported more as a struggle between Boris and Dave rather than a decision on the nation’s future which the nation doesn’t feel qualified to take.
I’m beginning to think that “Remain” will win partly because referendums usually support the status quo, but mainly because David Cameron’s fear creation machine has gone into overdrive. A “Brexit” win means war, cuts in the health service, terrorists pouring in, the collapse of sterling and a collapse in house prices.
What could be worse than that?
But what’s the prospect on the other side if “Remain” wins and we’re allowed back into the promised land? After all, the Prime Minister has told us that the EU isn’t just for Christmas (or, in Greece, even for Christmas) but it’s for life.
Will we be in the land flowing with milk and honey that’s been promised? Or is it back to the old bickering acceptance?
We’ll be in a weaker position in the prolonged haggle which is the essence of the relationship. Having exploded our major weapon and seen it go off with an embarrassing phut, like someone breaking wind in church, we’ll have signed on for whatever the EU cares to do to us.
David Cameron will be welcomed back but his negotiating cards will have been chucked away. He may even be punished for being such a nuisance and distracting the rest from Europe’s major problems for so long.
Many voters who solaced their doubts by persuading themselves that Britain should stay in to change, or even lead, the EU will be disappointed. The Franco-German duopoly will continue to dominate and Britain will be relegated to a periphery.
All the Euro action will now be focused on developing central institutions, and a common budget in the desperate hope of making it work. In all this we’ll be irrelevant and impotent.
We’ll continue to lose out. What was a surplus in our trade with the EU before we went in, has become a large and growing deficit which has produced the biggest process of de-industrialisation of any member, reducing manufacturing to a pathetic 10 per cent of GDP.
Nor will we be able to rebuild it as we should to rebalance the economy since EU membership precludes state aid to industry, most of the methods used by the developing dragons to build powerful exporting sectors, and any attempt to stop foreign takeovers of British firms.
As for help with our problems, forget it. Europe is a market – not a union. In markets, the strong prevail and the weak go to the wall, vide Greece. There is nothing to stop Germany accumulating huge surpluses which drain demand and jobs away from this country.
Redistribution is for the Eurozone, not us, and all the vaunted EU aid is our own money back with their heavy costs taken out.
Worst of all, we will have to pay heavily for the privilege of staying in the club which is doing us down.
The net budget contribution is now up to £11bn and still rising. Add to this the CAP costs of buying dearer EU food rather than cheaper food on world markets, and the cost of the fish and jobs lost through the CFP, and you get a figure perhaps a sixth of our annual deficit of around £90bn.
In other words we’re borrowing to pay our dues like someone borrowing on one credit card to pay the debts on another.
What we get for that is membership of a market in which we’re losing out, and attachment to an organisation which can neither solve its own problems or break out of the deadlock of a euro which they can neither make work nor escape from.
It reduces the EU to the high unemployment low growth, black spot of the advanced world. Tied to that, Britain will become a grumbling, grudging accepter of an encumbrance which does little for us but which we’re hanging onto because years of comparative decline have made us frightened to give it up.
That looks more like Linus with his blanket to me, rather than any real enthusiasm for Europe, but it will keep the vested interests happy because a vote to remain is a blank cheque to them. We’ll put up with it with a few drops of the Dunkirk spirit.
Austin Mitchell is the former Labour MP for Grimsby.