Michael Portillo: "We don't share Europe's vision, so I want out"
Published on Sun, 10/01/2016 - 14:38
Michael Portillo has been saying for a long time, 'we must leave the EU'.
We don’t share Europe’s vision. So I want out
Cameron’s promise of renegotiation is just an insincere ploy. Let’s hope the voters have more guts than their leaders.
Nigel Lawson says that he would vote in a referendum for Britain to leave the European Union. So would I.
I have not been impressed by Mr Cameron’s pledge. Given his party’s electoral prospects I doubt if he expects to have to deliver on it. But in any case, he seems to have decided already that Britain should stay in. As Lord Lawson says, it is to be a repeat of Harold Wilson’s 1975 manoeuvre: a minimal renegotiation with our EU partners, and then a recommendation to us the public to vote to remain members.
It’s interesting that while the Conservative Party has changed a lot, the change makes no difference. When I was in government, senior ministers such as Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke and Geoffrey Howe were deeply committed to European integration. Now the senior leadership is hostile to the idea. Yet even today’s senior ministers cannot contemplate withdrawal. They whinge about Europe but don’t have the self-confidence to pull out. Their referendum strategy is based on the belief that the British public is the same: happy to harrumph about the EU, but likely to shy from the abyss if given the vote.
The default position of the political class is defeatism: the belief that Britain could not survive outside the union; and the political class assumes that the public shares its defeatism.
It’s almost enough to say that the tactic is borrowed from Wilson to appreciate that it is cynical and lacks conviction. To put it mildly, you could not imagine Margaret Thatcher approaching the issue in such an insincere and political way.
If senior Conservatives were proved right about the British electorate, and we were cowed into voting for continued EU membership, the British Establishment would claim that the issue was settled for all time. Over the following few years, defeatism would run its full course and the political class would deliver Britain into the euro.
So the referendum, were it to occur, would not be simply about withdrawing from the EU or going on as we are. It would really be about pulling out, or in due course entering political union.
That is why I would vote “no” and fervently hope that the British have more guts than those who govern us, and more than those who govern us think we have.
The euro is a disaster. It has created hardship, unemployment and division on a dangerous scale. It is the result of an ideology; and the ideologues who pursue the goal of union do not count the cost in human misery. Why should they, since it is paid by others? Europe’s political elite is so self-satisfied with its self-proclaimed virtue in uniting Europe that it never doubts itself nor tolerates those who point out the damage that it does and its sheer incompetence. We are on a one-way ratchet to a federal state of Europe, and any populace that votes against the onward march is simply told to vote again.
The eurozone will be intellectually absorbed by its currency for 20 years. Either the euro will gradually collapse or member states will enter economic and political union. Either way, Britain should be nowhere near, and as the eurozone expends its energy on integration, it will slip further behind the competition from outside Europe.
Integration is a word easily said. Its implementation would be vastly more difficult than creating the single currency, which the EU has so manifestly botched. The task can be compared with Germany’s adoption of a single mark after unification. It required East Germans to uproot to West Germany in search of work, while West Germans had to subsidise the East, holding back their living standards. But at least they were all German, they established shared German institutions and believed in a single Germany.
In the case of the eurozone it is not two countries that must integrate but seventeen. There are no convincing democratic institutions at European level. There is no clear sense of Europeanness that bears comparison to Germany’s sense of shared destiny.
Southern Europeans will need to swarm north in search of jobs. Northern taxpayers will need to subsidise their southern neighbours. Whether Europe’s peoples will bear the price, as their ideologue masters assume, remains to be seen. How — even whether— democracy will survive the process is an open question.
The UK is unhappy in the EU. We do not share its vision, partly because we are not visionary by temperament. We are not so easily convinced that the EU is a necessary response to the horrors of the Second World War because our experience of that war was different. We did not endure revolution, dictatorship or invasion. Other countries may look to institutions at the European level because they doubt the durability of national institutions that perished in that conflict. We do not, because ours survived.
The British were fooled into believing that they were joining a European club. We understand clubs: they have enduring rules. The EU is not a club but a process, so the rules constantly change. As they do we resist as best we can, or cling to exemptions, or give way out of good manners. But our unhappiness mounts. It’s disingenuous to suggest that this fundamental mismatch can be resolved by a little renegotiation. It can be settled only when Britain departs the Union or is absorbed.
I have no doubt where my vote would go.
Michael Portillo was a Conservative Cabinet Minister, 1992-97
The Guardian, 20th Dec 2015: Most Tories leaning towards Brexit, click here.
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