Saturday, March 12, 2016

Whom the Gods would destroy, they first encourage to talk about the EU ...

I don't know what it is about British political activists and the European Union.

I noticed a long time ago that many people involved in politics have a "looney button" e.g. a subject on which a normally sane, sensible and reasonable person feels so strongly that the mere mention of that subject makes them become a little unhinged. I first saw this back in my student days, during the cold war and long before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the subject of nuclear weapons and CND was mentioned. A lot of my left-wing friends were fanatically pro-CND in a manner which sometimes made debate a bit difficult (to be fair, though I did eventually get my emotions under control on the subject, some of my friends and enemies alike from that era will tell you that I was equally passionate in the opposite direction).

I don't think we need to go through a list of every"looney button" issue I've ever observed but it will probably surprise few people if I write that one of the issues which sends a lot of normally sane people into bonkers mode is the European Union.

The Conservatives earned a bit of a reputation in the '90s for "banging on about Europe" but it is not just Conservatives, (nor just Conservatives and UKIP supporters) who have this problem and not just those who support leaving the EU either.

I heard a  debate today which emphasised how much some of those on both sides of the EU referendum debate have lost their sense of balance: two people for whose judgement and integrity I normally have a lot of time (one of them being one of the select band, which can be counted on the fingers of two hands, of Labour MPs I respect) both saying utterly outragious things within seconds of each other.

It is perfectly legitimate for "Remain" supporters to point out that more than three million British jobs are directly linked to trade with the EU and that the EU buys a very large proportion of our exports. It is also entirely legitimate to point out that some "leave" options would put many of those jobs at risk. That argument will remain 100% valid until and unless "leave" get their act together, decide which "leave" option they are trying to persuade Britain to adopt and in the process rule out the options which might involve leaving the Single Market.

It is not, however, reasonable to suggest that nearly all those jobs or nearly all those exports might be lost if Britain votes to leave the EU. Some could be, yes, depending on exactly what deal is agreed, and Brexit is not a risk free option, but suggesting there is a serious danger of losing nearly all our trade with the EU is overstating the case.

So I was surprised and disturbed to hear a speaker I greatly respect and from whom I would have expected better making that allegation as an argument for "Remain."

But the words were barely out of her mouth when another MP who I also normally respect said something even worse on behalf of "Leave." She disputed the idea that it is the responsibility of "leave" to put forward a proposal which spells out what sort of relationship with the EU and the rest of the world they want Britain to negotiate for in the event of a "leave" win.

Of course it is!

Quote apart from the fact that it is precisely because "Leave" have failed to set out any kind of clearly agreed prospectus or business case for a post-Brexit Britain that they are vulnerable to the kind of allegation which had just been made, it misses the point that this failure is letting down the British people.

Although the EU has been steadily evolving since we joined it, and many people in Britain dislike some of those changes, the fact remains that Britain has been a member of this organisation for 45 years and our economy is very closely intertwined with those of other EU member states. I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask those who are proposing to change matters to explain what they want to negotiate instead and what are the benefits they expect Britain to gain as a result.

We cannot have a rational discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of Brexit until this is done.

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