The EU Referendum: Wake Me after the Defeat
by: Sean Gabb
Though I no longer read newspapers or watch television, I see the British Government has published its Bill for a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union. I suggest that anyone who believes in eventual withdrawal, and who sees a referendum as a means to that end, needs to have his head examined.
Let me explain.
First, my own belief in eventual withdrawal is tempered by an awareness of present benefits. I agree with Richard North that complaints about harmful regulation from Brussels are often misplaced. Much regulation comes via rather than from the European Union. A growing number of regulations – the Codex Alimentarius, for example, or further laws on money laundering – are agreed at a higher international level before being transmitted to Brussels for incorporation in Directives. If we left the European Union, perhaps we might have more control over the making of these regulations. Perhaps we might have more scope for quietly ignoring them. But leaving would not in itself free us from giving effect to these agreements in our own laws. This being said, the economic benefits of leaving may be overstated.
Turning to the present benefits of membership, there is no doubt that leaving would subject us to the unrestrained power of our own ruling class. Our constitutional arrangements have proved inadequate over the past century for the protection of our historic rights. The Judges are working hard to provide us with one. As yet, however, we still have no body of fundamental law that can be used to strike down incompatible Acts of Parliament. Therefore, if we want to stop the Government from turning the country into a freakish police state, we must look ultimately to the European Court and to the separate but associated European Court of Human Rights. I want eventually to leave the European Union – but not with our current political arrangements still in place.
But let me now address those who want to leave the European Union, regardless of how this might empower the British ruling class. The overwhelming probability is that any referendum held in the next five years will be lost. This is partly because the referendum will be fixed in various ways. Business and the mainstream media will line up for continued membership. The Conservative Party will ultimately join the Yes Campaign. Somehow, ways will be found to give the Yes side more money than the Noes. The referendum question is already slanted, so far as anyone wanting to leave must vote for a negative rather than a positive.
However, the real imbalance is entirely fair. The Yes campaigners will be united on essentials. Doubtless, they will disagree on matters like membership of the Euro and on the meaning of legislative subsidiarity. But they will be united on the need to stay in and to argue for whatever they conceive to be in British or wider European interests. If we look at the Noes, there is no agreement on anything except the need to leave.
How are we to leave? Should we simply repeal the European Communities Act 1972, and then denounce the Treaty of Rome as amended? Or should we use the leaving mechanism set forth in the Treaties? If the former, what will be the status of all the delegated legislation made under the 1972 Act? Should this be allowed to lapse with the repeal of its enabling statute? Or should it be retained for phased amendment or repeal? What should be amended or repealed? Once we are out, what trading arrangements should we seek with the rest of the world? Should we try for the relationship Norway or Switzerland have with the European Union? Should we try to join the North American Free Trade Association? Should we follow a policy of unilateral free trade? Should we bring in selective protection of key industries? What kind of country do we want once we are out of the European Union? Do we want a fairly libertarian place – a sort of Hong Kong? Do we want a British ethno-state? If the latter, do we want an ethno-state like Israel – liberal on all matters not regarded as existential? Or do we want something rather Burmese? Supposing England votes to leave, but not Scotland? What new and hastily-made arrangements will this require?
The problem is that everyone who wants to leave has his own preferred answer to these questions. Even before the possibility of leaving came onto the agenda, most Eurosceptics were barely on speaking terms. After decades of agitation, nothing had been agreed. I doubt if anything will now be agreed. There is certainly no agreed leadership for the No Campaign. A leadership will probably have to be imposed by the Government if the referendum is not to become an open scandal. Doubtless, the leadership will be a pack of thirty-something apparatchiks obviously in it for the money and fame. But, even otherwise, it will be denounced by its supposed followers for alleged treason and incompetence.
You can read the rest of this edition of Seans blog over here.
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