I’m not by nature a political animal. My attitude to politicians is broadly speaking the same as double glazing salesman, ambulance chasers and PPI cold callers. I have long held the view that the mere desire to be a politician should automatically invalidate you from office. So on the whole I have little truck with politicians, local, national or global. But every once in awhile an issue arises that transcends politics – an issue that threatens to change everything in life. I’m talking of course of Britain’s EU referendum next week. One day in which we, the humble electorate, will take probably the most important decision over this country’s future for a century.
So I’m forced reluctantly out of my apolitical cave and forced to play my tiny part in making that decision. Should Britain remain part of the European Union or should we leave it? This is a simple enough question. It’s black or white and whichever shade of grey we may individually be, we are compelled, for the purposes of this poll, to be either black or white. I resent that of course. I resent being forced to take a clear side. I want to discuss it and I feel rather as though I’m having an argument with someone who bangs on that all they want is a yes or no answer. I want to give my reasons. I want my interlocutor to understand why I think a certain way.
So do we remain in the union or secede?
It’s often said that if we fail to learn the lessons of history, were condemned to repeat them. On 20 May 1861, following a vote, North Carolina formally seceded from the United States on the grounds that it placed self-determination above the legislatory primacy of the union. It was preceded by Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and other states. Despite seceding from the union, North Carolina initially rejected joining the Confederate States of America, only doing so when its borders were threatened.
Four years later, in April 1865, after one of the bloodiest conflicts in history with somewhere in the region of 1 million soldiers dying, North Carolina was readmitted to the union following Joe Johnston’s surrender to Gen Sherman. Self-determination had been short lived and high-priced.
I’m being alarmist, right? The UK seceding from the European Union is different surely?
No. It is more similar than it is different. North Carolina seceded because of some fanciful notion of self-determination. This is national vanity of the first order. No nation exists in isolation. Indeed isolation is the route to nonexistence as a nation.
When North Carolina was readmitted to the union, it did so without any bargaining power at all. It was a country broken by the previous four years. Although it left the union with its head held high, it returned with its tail between its legs. In four years time, when our economy is broken by self-imposed isolationism, what terms will we be able to negotiate over our surrender. Will the European Union want such an abject apology for a nation state back in their midst? Will they welcome us back with open arms like prodigal sons?
Let’s look at what might have happened in Europe in those four years.
Europe is by no means without its own inherent instabilities. It is well known that several other countries in Europe, including Denmark and Germany, are also flirting with the idea of referenda. The UK referendum is a litmus test and a decision to secede will almost certainly be followed by demands in other countries for a vote. Although we, as a nation, like to see ourselves at odds with mainland Europe, we are a respected nation within the European Union. Our opinion counts and, in many respects, we are one of the major reasons the union holds together. Some of the most important and valuable legislation in Europe such as the European Declaration on Human Rights was initiated by the British. To leave the union is to initiate a domino effect, with Denmark, Germany and probably other countries voting on whether to leave the union.
Some of the more extreme isolationists take the view that this is of no consequence. Britain will be an island nation, now immune to the vagaries of European politics.
This is risible. We were an island state in 1914. And who would have believed then that a single gunshot in the Balkans could draw Britain into the carnage of World War I and war against Germany. We were an island state in 1939. Chamberlain even secured an assurance that we would not find ourselves in conflict. Yet once again, instability in Europe forced us into war.
Britain leaving Europe will automatically destabilise the financial markets in the UK and Europe. Destabilise the financial markets and you destabilise governments. Couple that to increasing unrest with the notion of union and you have a powderkeg. When you also factor in the significant lurch to the right seen in recent elections throughout Europe, the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise.
Perhaps you think this is impossible. Perhaps you believe that a Britain outside Europe will control its borders better? Perhaps you feel we will be able to police our 2500 miles of coastline for the boatloads of refugees? Perhaps you didn’t think about that – that war leads to refugees. Often in biblical numbers.
We have had no war within the European Union since its inception. If the union has achieved nothing else, that alone should be a source of significant pride.
When we go to the polls next week and the country takes the most important decision in the last hundred years. We stand on the edge of a cliff looking down. For goodness sake, step back.