BREXIT WOULD cause an immediate recession and the poor would pay. The pound, wages, consumption and GDP would plummet; cuts in welfare, pension, health and education would follow. In the long-term, the economy would continue to suffer as we find ourselves locked out of the European market and global trade deals.
But this is about more than money. It would be expensive, the Brexit argument concedes, but we would be buying something priceless. Actually, the freedom, peace and democracy that we already have is priceless and the Brexiteers are risking everything for a mirage.
Europeans were once seduced by totalitarianism; and we Brits remember that the willingness of Americans to kill and die for us was decisive in the maintenance of our freedom. As Europe emerged, it built the EU to set in stone its renewed liberty and peace. Southern Europe embraced human rights and joined the European community; later, Eastern Europe grasped democracy and the EU. As Yugoslavia emerges from genocide it, too, reaches towards the EU. The EU is a machine for cementing former slave peoples into democratic Europe.
With modernity, buying and selling became a dominant way for strangers to relate to each other. It’s no accident that freedom of movement, freedom to work where you choose and freedom of trade are linked to the rule of law and human rights.
But we know it is necessary to regulate markets to prevent monopolies and to protect the vulnerable. EU regulation prevents Vodafone stinging you because you cross a border; it prevents British Airways restricting air travel to the wealthy; it stops McDonald’s competing over the length of the working week or the annual holiday.
If there is trade, there must be rules. How do we agree rules? It is not true that unelected commissioners make decisions. Elected governments
negotiate within the Council of Ministers and come to consensus. If we were outside the EU, we would still have to obey the rules to trade and we would still have to pay, but we would have no say.
Democracy is not sufficient. Democratic peoples have to deal with injustice, inequality, loneliness, homelessness, illness, meanness, addiction, everything. But democracy is necessary.
In the USA, too, voters are itching to smash it
all up. There, too, people are thrilled by the big mouth blaming foreigners and blaspheming against civilised values. This bout of fury with the Beltway, Brussels, or last year with Westminster, is infantilising. On the British left, the childish fury is directed against Israel, and the Jews and the grown-ups who look on, with fear in their eyes.
Remember when some students peeled off a demonstration and surrounded Charles and Camilla’s car? One participant was so angry that the police did not stop them. He’d experienced himself slipping over the line between teenage protest and something irreversible. If you run with Trump or Brexit or boycotters, you are putting something into motion that might become unstoppable. You are the grown-up now.
We live in a time where democratic states and democratic culture are under threat and, ironically, this threat is often articulated using the appropriated language of democracy.
Our grandparents knew the difference between totalitarianism and democracy, as do the people risking all to get to the free world on rafts. But we have won battles too. Racism, sexism and homophobia are now violations of our laws and of our cultures. Official buildings flew the rainbow last week. But still we have trouble valuing what we have built, what we have won.
Imagine Trump in the White House and Islamism threatening democratic movements and minorities across the Middle East. Now is the time for Europe to stand strong and united in peace and in democracy. Some, in a faux inverse nationalism underestimate the importance of Britain.
Brexit could collapse the whole European project and it could lead to the rise of the racist and protectionist right across Europe. The walls could come up, people designated as foreigners could more and more be swept back and forth across frontiers and totalitarian movements could rise promising order in the chaos.
If you want to be naughty, have an affair, start smoking again or buy a Harley. Don’t run with Trump, Brexit or boycotters. It may be Europe’s turn to lead the free world for a time.