A union synonymous with austerity and stagnation

The arguments about Brexit are complicated enough without adding new layers of complexity. When invited to take part in the ‘Great Brexit.

Debate’ at Kingston Synagogue on 15 May, I assumed they wanted me to enumerate the ‘leave’ arguments, given that my paper, the Daily Mail has been solidly behind Brexit and I have written extensively on why leaving is not the big deal  the ‘project fear’ stay campaign would have you believe.

Then the flyer arrived with senior barrister and prosecutor Ros Wright QC listed as ‘for’ and yours truly as ‘against’. This has sowed seeds of enormous confusion. The use of ‘for’ and ‘against’ or ‘yes’ and ‘no’ was specifically ruled out by the Electoral Commission to avoid a lack of clarity as to what will be voted on 23 June and to remove any positive and negative connotations.

In spite of some of the hard-core propaganda, we have heard from the Downing Street-backed ‘stay’ campaign, it seems that citizens do deserve to more clearly hear the ‘leave’ arguments. 

There has been much fuss, for instance, about President Obama’s suggestion that it would take ‘five to 10’ years to negotiate a trade deal with the US should we vote ‘leave’. However, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the EU trade deal with the US, is highly controversial. It has not been signed, let alone ratified, and is opposed in one way or another by all the 2016 US presidential candidates. And without a trade deal, both the UK and the US would conduct trade according to the World Trade Organisation rules, which cover almost all physical products. So very little would change.

Much has been made by the ‘stay’ campaign of how the EU has managed to keep the peace in Europe for six decades since it was formed. This is misleading, too. It neglects to mention that the union was originally conceived as an economic, not a security organisation, and has little to do with defence issues. Europe has been involved in wars since the formation of the union and it has been far from unified. When the US and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003, France was on the sidelines and being ridiculed in the US as a ‘surrender monkey’. 

When Europe intervened in the former Yugoslavia after the horrific Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims in 1995, and later in Kosovo, it was largely under the NATO umbrella. Moreover, until the Berlin war came down and the accession Eastern bloc countries joined the EU, there was an Iron Curtain across Europe and a Cold War, which saw large populations oppressed and killed in Hungary in 1956 and regular shootings of people seeking to make the journey across the Berlin Wall.

The most divisive event in Europe now is not the free movement of jihadists across borders (as seen in the Paris and Belgium terrorist attacks) but the eurozone structure. The madcap economics of one size fits all across 19 core Eurozone nations has created divisive forces every bit as dangerous as the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s. 

Let us take Greece, a country I have visited  almost every year of the last decade to attend Athens’ economic and oil seminar. The impact of German-imposed austerity on that benighted country has poisoned its prosperity and politics. Youth unemployment exceeds 50 percent and adult joblessness is endemic. The once delightful streets of Athens are threatened by right-wing fanatics from Golden Dawn. Polls conducted by the US Anti-Defamation League show Greece to be the nation with the most anti-Semitism in Europe.

The rise is right-wing movements across the EU, largely a result of economic dislocation and fears of immigration, is frightening. In Hungary, the rise of the virulently anti-Semitic Jobbik party has pushed the country to the right. In France, Marine Le Pen’s Front National runs high in opinion polls. It claims to be anti-immigration and not anti-Semitic, but much of its apparatus is staffed by anti-Jewish elements who served her father. 

In Germany, we’ve seen the rapid rise of the right-wing AfD party, with its fascist emblems and echoes of Nazism. Even in the normally tolerant Scandinavian countries, Denmark and Sweden, there has been a worrying rise of the political right. 

Far from being the wonderful, peace loving and prosperous union portrayed by the ‘stay’ campaign vision, the EU represents the shattered dreams of many nations. Yes, ‘leave’ would be hard and the economic benefits of the unknown are impossible to measure. But being part of a union that has delivered a decade of stagnation and economic misery to millions is no longer attractive. Changing it from the inside equally is all but impossible because of the democratic deficit. 

But that is a whole separate argument.

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor
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