Thursday, June 23, 2016

The best article of the campaign

Until a day or so ago I thought the best article I had seen during the EU referendum campaign was by former International Development secretary Andrew Mitchell MP.

The Establishment may be repulsive but on this it is right

Mitchell compares the two sides in the EU debate to the description in Sellar and Yeatman's parody of history, "1066 and all that" of the Roundheads and Cavaliers from what was then usually called the Civil War.

Sellar and Yeatman described the Cavaliers as "Wrong but Wromatic" and the Roundheads as "Right but Repulsive."

Mitchell made a brilliant case that the Brexit side were the "Wrong but Wromatic" side of the EU argument while Remain, though sometimes repulsive, is right.


But yesterday my attention was drawn to an even more powerful article, Robert Colvile's

A Eurosceptic case for Remain.

Colvile is very aware of all the failings of the EU and recognises that those who want out are not people who hate Europe, but those who have concluded that the EU is broken and cannot be fixed.

He had expected to be one of them. He argues that

"For most people — the ones in the centre, over whom the campaigns are fighting so ferociously — there’s actually a pretty clear consensus. All the evidence shows that most Britons think we’re better off trading freely with other European nations; that it makes sense to pool our sovereignty in certain other areas too, but that this process has gone too far; that the single currency was a drastically stupid idea; that we’re happy about being able to go to Europe and happy for Europeans to come here, but that the numbers arriving have been too high for too long and that we need more control over who’s coming in."

However, he has serious doubts that Brexit would work in practice. I have already reproduced above as my quote of the day Colvile's concerns about the economic damage he is afraid of. Following from this Colvile goes on:

"Vote Leave’s claim that we give £350 million a week to Brussels is utterly inaccurate (although, according to the polling figures, diabolically effective). But if we leave, we wouldn’t get back a single penny — because, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, increased borrowing costs would wipe out any gains at a stroke.

Brexit, in other words, isn’t a recipe for saving the NHS from the costs imposed by immigration. It’s a recipe for putting a creaking service under even more severe strain. That’s without considering the fact that we’ll probably have to agree to keep paying the EU a significant amount anyway, either as a goodwill gesture during negotiations or as to fund the things that we do end up agreeing to cooperate on.
 
The next objection is the nature of the deal we strike with Europe. There has been lots of nice talk about how it would be in our mutual interests to strike a good one for both sides. On the contrary: there is absolutely no possibility of improving our position."
 
Having explained this argument, and poured a few more buckets if the cold water of common sense on various other leave fantasies, Colvile concludes:

"As a writer, I’ve always envied those of my colleagues blessed with a sense of certainty — those whose columns applied their principles to the facts, rather than the facts to their principles. It seemed so much easier, so much quicker, than my habit of indecisively puzzling through the evidence, being swayed by this argument and that.
 
The Brexit argument, too, has been dominated by certainty — shining diamond-hard and diamond-bright in the eyes of its advocates and its enemies.
 
In the face of such certainty, I can only retreat to probability. Probability that, as every respectable economist has said, Britain would suffer a severe economic shock. Probability that a country with no expert trade negotiators, in a world increasingly hostile to free trade, could not get the better deals it dreams of. Probability that our eventual relationship with the EU would be on a more antagonistic and far less advantageous basis. The probability that a post-Brexit Britain would be poorer, meaner and less able to fix its many problems because of the many new ones that exiting the EU would bring.
 
Brexit, in the end, is a form of shock therapy. The problem with such therapy is that the pain is certain, and the cure is not."

No comments: