In a fortnight’s time, Britain will find out whether it will continue to be a member 0f the EU or be looking to a different future outside the EU. As someone who’s spent most of their career advising on a load of different areas of EU law I’m naturally quite interested in the issue even if for most of that time few other people were. In the abstract, I agree with Leave campaigners who point out that there isn’t really anything that we get from the EU which we couldn’t choose to do were the UK not to be a member. Indeed, one of my first blogs was about why we didn’t need to be a member. However, as the Referendum date 23rd June 2016 has approached, the issue has gone from one of theory – what we could do – to one of practicality – what we will do. For me, this means that my decision on how to vote is going to be strongly influenced by what things will look like in the immediate future and how they will develop from that in the years to come rather than to skip straight past that to a more distant future where all the right things have happened to deliver utopia without bothering ourselves with what those right things might be.
This is where a Leave vote becomes problematic for me. The Leave campaign or rather campaigns, sets out such widely divergent possibilities that nobody can have any clear idea what would start to happen from 24th June. Some of those possibilities appeal. Some of those possibilities fill me with horror. It is not even clear whether any of the possibilities being put forward by people as different in outlook as Dennis Skinner and Nigel Farage could possibly attract enough support after the referendum to be the basis for a UK government. Even where the proposals are coming from possible leaders of the Conservative Party (who by reason of having a majority in Parliament are always going to be the first to get a chance to implement things), they conflict or are too broadly sketched to make much sense of. There is a very big difference between eg seeking as Michael Gove seems to suggest, to rely only on the WTO rules on international trade and to do everything else on the UK Parliament’s own terms and ability to negotiate relationships with other countries and something like joining EFTA/EEA as I think Boris Johnson suggests.
I’m not convinced that it doesn’t matter. That, as someone said last night, they’d take 5 years of full blown communism they could vote out at the next election if it was in the context of not being bound by EU membership. Perhaps I’ve been corrupted from high principle but 5 years of such policies would cause huge damage to my life and those of those around me and I’m not ready to sacrifice reality for an abstract conception of what could happen at some undefined point in the future. By then I’d might have lost my job and home and my son’s education been destroyed. I don’t think this is too far off the feeling of dismay that moderate Labour supporters have about the impact of Jeremy Corbyn – even if they rather like him and some of the things he stands for, they like it a lot less than they like having an actual Labour government.
So, over the next few posts, I’m going to explore a few areas in the debate over EU membership and what the options are. The reality is that nobody really knows what will happen in the future either way, so it does have to come down to individuals’ assessments of how likely different things are and not everyone will agree. The status quo is never an option because life changes and the world changes, sometimes quite unpredictably, but that doesn’t mean that the future is uniformly uncertain regardless of the outcome of the Referendum.
The small c conservative in me is somewhat resistant to change unless there’s a very compelling positive reason for it. That naturally inclines me towards Remain even though it is something I’d have resisted when the issue was more abstract because we were not then being asked to make a choice (similarly, I can opine to my heart’s content about wildly experimental things Brentford FC could do, but were it to be my decision, I’d have to be much more careful about assessing the value of what it was already doing before waving Kerschbaumer off and putting in a cheeky bid for Lionel Messi). The big C Conservative also baulks at the idea of dismantling institutions without good reason.
At the moment, I think the balance of risk favours Remain, but I don’t know whether I’m on my own in this. Comments and suggestions for topics to cover over the next few days are very welcome!