Nick Palmer: Europe – Decision Day Coming

nick-_palmerI’ve not posted for a while, and I’m afraid it’s just that I’ve been taking a break from politics – travelling for pleasure, going out to the theatre and movies, sorting out some family issues, winning some poker tournaments. I’m sorry not to have won last May, but freedom has its charms too!

However, with the referendum apparently just months away, I thought it might be helpful to post some comments on that. It’s a pity, in my view, that the debate is focused so much on whether Mr Cameron’s frankly modest renegotiation package is successful or not. It’s always been obvious to anyone in politics that Mr Cameron had a 3-point plan:  

  1. Offer the referendum as a way to bring UKIP leaners back and win the election
  2. Get some sort of token package of reform
  3. Declare victory and win the referendum

Older people remember all this – it’s exactly what Harold Wilson did in the 60s. You may think it’s cynical, though stage 1 certainly worked – if the Conservatives hadn’t offered the referendum, they’d have leaked a few percentage points to UKIP and we’d now have a different government. A good thing or a bad thing, it’s all history.

But quite soon, Mr Cameron will also be history – he’s retiring whether he wins or not. I wish him many happy years, but it would be ridiculous to decide the future of Britain on the basis of whether we approve of a retiring politician and his manoeuvres.

The fundamental issue is this – and it’s something which has struck me with increasing force in my present (animal welfare) job, which has taken me to 25 countries in the last few years. The world is increasingly divided into regional power blocs. Nearly every continent has one now, in different stages of development, each with preferential trade internally and an attempt to form a common front to defend their interests globally.

We do not have a choice of blocs – we can’t sensibly join NAFTA in North America or ASEAN in South East Asia or the African Union. We can be in the EU, or we can be on our own. And to be on our own in today’s world is a risky and frankly unusual decision. If we think we can win global arguments on our own, we are deluded; what will usually happen is that we will bob along in the slipstream of decisions made by others.

This is not to argue that the EU is a terrific example of good governance. It creaks. It’s not very transparent. It’s slow. It’s dominated by big business. But for this continent, it’s actually the only game in town.

That’s illustrated by the difficulty that the Leave campaign is having in identifying the alternative. Broadly speaking, there are two variants. We can join EFTA, like Norway, or we can refuse to join anything. If we join EFTA, we will have almost exactly the same rules as now – for instance, we will still have free movement of labour from throughout the EU. In EFTA, I don’t think we’d see a big exodus of business. The difference is merely that we will have less influence in deciding what those rules are, and certainly no veto. Or we can be entirely separate. But that means being outside the EU free trade area, subject to tariffs. In that case, we really would see the big companies moving out with a big loss of jobs. Their European offices are going to be more important than the British market if we force them to choose.

I’ve heard the comparison that the EU is like an awkward marriage – there comes a point where you feel that the marriage is just too much hassle, and you’d be happier with someone else. But we need to be clear that there isn’t anyone else: the alternative is splendid isolation. To pursue the analogy, we would be choosing to be lone bachelors in a world increasingly dominated by families.

I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think we realistically belong in the European area, and we should work to make the best of it instead of grumbling from the sidelines. But I’m not saying that because I’m interested in Mr Cameron’s package, or any other politician’s stance.

It simply seems to me that we are best off staying in partnership with our neighbours, whether it’s difficult or not. In the end, Europe is going to sink or swim together, and we cannot opt out of that reality – only from being part of the decisions that will decide whether it succeeds or not. Don’t vote for tactical reasons, to annoy Cameron or reward anyone else. Instead, vote for a coherent long-term future for Britain as part of the continent where we live.

Best regards,   Nick

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19 Responses to Nick Palmer: Europe – Decision Day Coming

  1. Graham Taylor says:

    I would like to hear Nick’s opinion about the referendum itself, as he has a great interest in theatre .

    Isn’t the Referendum just that? Theatre?

    Cameron is the focus. Does it matter if it is won or lost? Cameron is going…

    The Referendum has no political standing whatsoever. Parliament will decide , not the people and there is no parliamentary election until 2020 when Cameron will be long gone.

    What we should be concentrating on is “How do we wish Parliament to vote”.

    At present SNP would vote in, Labour would vote in, 75% of the Tories (at least ) would vote in. So a massive majority, in Parliament, will vote for us remaining in the UK

    So in essence, the referendum is irrelevant. Whether in or out, Parliament will vote IN . Will Cameron suffer ? No. Will Tories suffer No because they will have agreed and acted , the same as Labour and the SNP.

    The only ones who will feel hard done by are those who voted OUT, because they are being led to believe that their votes count, when plainly they don’t.

    Agree Nick?/

  2. Fred R says:

    That’s a thoughtful, rational and well-argued post. However, the sad but predictable thing is that the forthcoming EU referendum won’t be won or lost on issues of economy, social justice, future prospects, etc, but by fear and loathing of immigrants and refugees. English people will vote with their gut, and the guts of a major chunk of English folk are conditioned by the barking Press and xenophobic politicos on the make (much like Milosevic and Tudjman back in the 90s, though not as yet on such a tragic scale). This backwards part of the population lives in perpetual fear of the Demonic Other massing across the sea waiting to swarm into this dark and unpleasant land and take what few jobs and little wealth remains for the pasty-faced indigenes. Even child refugees are viewed with dark hostility by this zombie fraction.

    Although the Europhobe camp is currently divided and squabbling over who’ll get EU funding (natch), it’s likely that will emerge from the ruck as the main Brexit body, and of them Farage has said:

    ” [Vote Leave] do not believe that open borders, immigration and our security are key to this referendum. All polling shows that they are wrong,” he wrote. […]. Of course we must debate economics and the business case in order to combat the fears put out by politicians and their big business supporters. But amongst the undecided voters the top issue by far and the one that will influence where their vote goes is our lack of border controls as EU members.” (my emphasis)

    Which is a very clear signal that the anti-EU campaign will be driven by xenophobia. With the far Right on the (literal) march across Europe, and neo-fascism a very real threat in many countries, fear and loathing and irrationality rule – reason has been beaten into a bloody, whimpering pulp and plays no part in popular European politics. Hatred of the Demon Other is meat and drink to far Right movements and propels them into power.

    These are very dark and dangerous times, closely analogous to the 30s. The Left needs to address and combat racism and xenophobia head on, as well as making the rational arguments that you’ve made. If xenophobia rules the referendum campaign then Brexit is a cert.

  3. Barry Morrison says:

    I am an avowed anti EU but as soon as I read this……………………..”.Older people remember all this – it’s exactly what Harold Wilson did in the 60s” I did’nt read anymore. 1960’s? -We joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

  4. Barry Morrison says:

    And apart from that….It’s corrupt…It’s undemocratic and it’s a dictatorship….Need I say more?

  5. Joan Wade says:

    Harold Wilson’s Common Market renegotiations (linked below) did bring some tangible benefits and were more than just a fig leaf. Though, with hindsight he does not appear to have secured the long term future for our coal and steel industry that was claimed. David Cameron’s renegotiations are so transparently a ruse that they may have done him more hard than good. I think we should stay in the EU and that we will be much poorer outside it. However, I also think we should only stay if the eurosceptics are prepared to drop their misguided opposition to having a more democratic Europe and one that is clearly based on a principle of subsidiarity. These are the real reforms that are needed and they are the reforms that are needed within the UK itself.

    • Barry Morrison says:

      All very interesting but what it does’nt mention is Harold Wilson’s famous quote that ”It won’t change anything”

    • Ian Blakeley says:

      I must say that I cannot remember seeing this leaflet, even worse I don’t remember being given the other side of the story at all. However it is noticeable that nowhere does it mention the ever increasing future march of union and loss of sovereignty that Heath, Wilson, Thatcher, Major and Blair knew about. When we joined it was called the EEC/Common Market and the word Union wasn’t even thought of, at least by we ‘plebs’. Our Prime Ministers LIED to the population, and haven’t stopped since.

  6. Graham Taylor says:

    You are all missing the point.

    The referendum is non binding.

    Parliament will never vote for Brexit no matter what the result of the referendum. (75 % Conservatives will vote IN, SNP will vote IN , Labour will vote in, no matter what)

    Lets by all means have a rational discussion but lets be realistic, exit is never going to happen.

  7. Barry Morrison says:

    Quite right Graham..I’ve always said that and Cameron can just ignore it just as the Dutch government ignored the Dutch voters in 2005 when they voted to reject The Constitution for Europe.

  8. Barry Morrison says:

    One referendum but the Dutch government had previously stated they would ignore it anyway..They only had a referendum only because the word ‘Constitution’ appeared in the title which was why it was renamed ‘The Lisbon Treaty’…A treaty does not require referenda whereas constitution would

  9. Barry Morrison says:

    So imagine the situation. If ,in the referendum the voters decide to leave the EU (which they won’t. And Cameron would’nt lead us out of the EU anyway)).Would Mercedes and Volvo stop selling us their cars?..Would Sweden shut Ikea down?..Would Holland shut LIDL down?..Would Germany shut ALDI down?..Would France and Spain stop selling us industrial machinery?. Would Germany stop selling us their wind turbines?
    Of course they won’t as they’ve got more to lose than we have
    And as for employment, well European nationals have been working in each others country’s for decades and this has been based on supply and demand and there’s no reason why this should not continue.

  10. Howard Shakespeare says:

    We must not forget that it was David Cameron, who promised to give the people a referendum, on the future of the United Kingdom and its membership of the EU.
    Ed Miliband refused to allow the electorate to exercise their democratic right.
    What is clear is that the European Union is in a permanent state of crisis. The Euro did little more than transfer capital, from the poor south, to the rich north of the continent.
    Polls by a variety of newspapers point to the ‘Out’ campaign being in the lead. Whilst Bookmakers have odds which show the opposite.
    The United Kingdom has a large trade surplus with the rest of the world, but a huge deficit with the EU. Put another way, the EU need us far more than we need them.
    There is also the fact that the UK is the second largest financial contributor to the EU. Without us, they will need to find some other way of filling the gap in their budget. That is likely to mean that taxpayers in other rich EU nations, will have to contribute more.
    There can be little doubt, that if the UK does leave the EU, it won’t be long before other nations do the same. Some commentators have drawn a parallel with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    • Ian Blakeley says:

      Congratulations Howard, at last you are joining in a debate instead of pontificating about the Tory party; and secondly, I agree with a lot of what you have written above. Keep up the good work.

      • Howard Shakespeare says:

        Ian, try and keep up! My views about the railways and tram, for example, are not just a question of Conservative party policy. Indeed they are just common sence.
        With regards to the European Union, Euroscepticism crosses party borders. I don’t know any fellow Conservatives who support continued membership of the EU.
        There are large numbers of Labour voters who do not support the party’s policy on EU membership.
        For the sake of our nation, we must put aside party politics for the duration of the referendum and work together for a ‘No’ vote.

      • Ian Blakeley says:

        Howard, I do keep up very well, so well in fact that 90% of the time I’m ahead of you. The trouble with your views on the railways is that you don’t realise, or ignore, the fact that we taxpayers still subsidise the railways to the tune of billions of pounds a year, much of which goes to pay nice fat dividends to the shareholders.
        “The planned reprivatisation of the east coast rail line is under fresh scrutiny after figures showed that train operators paid more than £200m in dividends to their shareholders last year, when taxpayers ploughed £4bn into the railways.
        Three train operators – Virgin, Northern Rail and Transpennine – handed almost £100m to shareholders after receiving more than £1bn in government subsidies, including their portion of the grant to Network Rail.” (Guardian 16 April 2014)
        The full report can be found at:-

        AS for the tram, rightly or wrongly it has been built and is here to stay, I get the impression that you would like to see the damned thing ripped up and thrown away. Great use of our money that would be. Mind you I expect that should NET start making a good, healthy profit (unlikely I know) a future Conswervative government would insist that it was sold into the private sector as happened with East Midlands Airport under Thatcher.

  11. Graham Taylor says:

    If in any doubt , trust the bookmakers ! They have more to lose than the pollsters. The bookmakers got it spot on with the Scottish Referendum as they will with the EU referendum.

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