by Alex Story
FOR BORIS JOHNSON, voting Leave is a Great Escape. Referring to the EU in March 2016, before the June 23 vote, Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that “the jailer has accidentally left the door of the jail open and people can see the sunlit land beyond… And everybody is suddenly wrangling about the terrors of the world outside.”
As Jean Claude Juncker’s recent “state of the union” speech indicates, the terror in fact lies inside. His was a roadmap for “more Europe”, and more centralisation: Internal borders are to be completely abandoned; the Euro is to be imposed on the entire European Union; a common corporate tax base is to be decided in Brussels and Strasburg, with the money raised coming under the control of a European Minister of Economy and Finance; in addition, a European Defence Union is envisaged by 2025 along with a more “efficient” foreign policy set up.
In an Orwellian twist, Juncker went on to state that for the sake of European democracy, only pro-EU parties would receive funding. The Commission, he declared, was proposing new rules on the financing of political parties and foundations. “We should not be filling the coffers of anti-European extremists”. In other words, henceforth, no opposition towards the big federalist drive is to be permitted; only squabbles on the margins of technicalities will do.
All of the points made by the President of the European Union will have important ramifications for the domestic affairs of each of the 27 remaining member states. What he seeks is centralised direction of the EU economy, defence and immigration, predicated on the notion of a supranational Europe that few people across the EU desire or recognise. By forging relentlessly ahead with the project without the consent of the peoples of Europe on any of these topics, Juncker’s EU is bound to stoke the very forces of nationalism which it claims is its task to put to rest.
It is just as well that the UK voted Leave, given that this is the direction of EU travel. Outside the EU, our political masters will have to focus on domestic matters first and foremost, rather than build coalitions within the EU in search of sub-optimal solutions for all member states.
What is amazing is that the lesson has not been learnt earlier. So far, three Conservative Prime Ministers have sacrificed their careers on the EU’s altar: Thatcher with Maastricht, John Major with the Exchange Rate Mechanism, and, lately, David Cameron with the referendum. Theresa May may yet be the fourth.
All the energy spent on EU policy will be freed up to focus on improving the internal functioning of the UK. May and the current leadership have a “once in a life time” opportunity to recalibrate the government’s priorities and serve the British public, without needing to refer back to Juncker and co. This evidently poses difficulties for Remainers who have grown to love the UK’s jailers, but for most of us our leaving is a great deliverance.
A deliverance is an opportunity. Nothing more, nothing less. The vote was simply about making the UK once again a self-governing country. Much needs to be done. We need to repair over 40 years of constitutional vandalism, where EU membership allowed Whitehall to run rings around elected representatives in the House of Commons. The economy is skewed heavily to London at the expense of the regions. Vital interests, such as fisheries, have been cynically betrayed. Confidence in British institutions has been sapped.
We must however look across the Channel with a beady eye. As Johnson suggested the jailer accidentally left the door open. We took our chances and made our Great Escape. But the jailer has noticed and slammed the door shut as we left.
With the UK out of the EU, the smaller nations of Europe face a more hostile environment. Berlin, with Paris in support, will use the veil of Brussels to bully neighbours into conforming with their preferences. This possibility was affirmed when Juncker recently threatened darkly that Poland would find itself “more lonely after Brexit”.
Germany might feel itself qualified to intervene, yet again, in the internal constitutional affairs of Poland and Hungary, backed by EU institutions. Merkel’s smaller Eastern neighbours have already experienced her unilateral decision-making abilities on Middle Eastern immigration. As far as they are concerned, she has already demonstrated that their opinions matter very little.
As for Ireland, Juncker’s plan to push for an EU-wide harmonised corporate tax rate will strip the country of it’s ability to make itself more attractive to foreign investors and move another key pillar of national economic planning from Dublin to Berlin and Brussels. In effect, it will give re-elected Frau Merkel an added opportunity to interfere in Ireland’s internal affairs and rig the game in the interest of German corporates.
Yesterday she decided on immigration, tomorrow on corporate taxes, in a few years, on defence and foreign policy.
Whilst the UK leaving the EU was the only sensible thing to do given the circumstances, by doing so, we must recognise and not forget that we have left allies behind who benefitted from the philosophical and physical counterbalance that the UK provided to Europe’s smaller, but no less proud, nations.
Lord Heseltine was right in one crucial regard: the UK was in the EU, not just for reasons of business, but to keep the European balance of power. But is wrong in considering that sacrificing our constitutional arrangements in an EU built along Napoloenic lines by France but now run by Germany was a price worth paying.
Once the process of leaving the EU and our country’s rebirth is completed, the UK must set itself up as the champion and defender of a different and much more appealing Europe, rooted in the reality of our complex and diverse continent: A Europe of Constitutional States, based on the respect of each nation’s parliament, culture and history.
If the UK can pick up that mantle, rediscover its centuries old instinct for a proper European Balance of Power, and provide a compelling and alternative vision of Europe, our flight from the EU jail, to use Boris Johnson’s words, will be remembered as the most uplifting event in 21st Century Europe.