EU Referendum: “At the start of the campaign I was relaxed over a Brexit vote.”

Interesting piece in the Guardian from Simon Jenkins who, by his own admission, has “long been a Eurosceptic”.  Although, as he also points out, “that is not the same as being a leaver.”  For a start he is equally critical of the ‘Leave’ and the ‘Remain’ campaigns – an assessment I broadly agree with.

Here’s what he has to say on the ‘Remain’ campaign

When marching to the remain drum, I have been shocked at the mendacity of “project fear”. I simply do not believe Brexit would cost 3m jobs, slash pensions, wreck the NHS or lead to the destruction of western political civilisation. That is silly talk. As for putting 2p on income tax or “endangering London house prices”, what on earth is George Osborne on about? How about threatening not to build HS2?

I have also been baffled by remain’s daily conga of elder statesmen, corporate toffs, bankers, intellectuals and celebrities all wailing that Brexit will damage their various interests. How will this impress an electorate dying for a chance next week to give the lot of them a bloody nose? The rich always find a way to survive. And if a chill runs through London’s property market, that is no bad thing.

I am unpersuaded that Brexit will spell economic catastrophe. We know what will happen. The British establishment will spend two years busting every gut to pretend we voted otherwise. It will wriggle, plead, pay up and concede anything to establish some sort of “associate EU” status. Somehow trade will continue. Somehow a deal will be done on people movement. There will be opt-outs plus, but no Armageddon.

And then on the Leavers

But then equally distasteful has been Brexit’s rhetoric on immigration. Not to mention its Trumpish portrayal of the EU as purveyor of rape, crime and terrorism, and its playing merry hell with statistics. What has struck a chord is its simple message “Take back control”. This has partially sanitised immigration as well as offering an easy win on bureaucracy. No one doubts that immigration and bureaucracy will continue after Brexit, but it is plausible to demand more empowerment rather than less. Project control is a better slogan than project fear.

In reality both projects are impostors. As the arguments have been fought back and forth, they have come to neutralise each other, like medieval knights slashing off one another’s limbs. There are clear risks to Brexit, but I can see it as an updating of 1979, a periodic moment when a modern political economy purges itself of bad habits, monopolies and taboos. Through the murk of potential renegotiation, it is impossible to see light, but I rate the balance of the economic argument as roughly even – but with the stakes not very high.

So what is left of the politics? The message of history is that Britain serves Europe best when it keeps itself semi-detached. It was right to join the common market but not the subsequent European Union, with all the toxic, undemocratic supranationalism that has come in its train.

The EU is clearly ailing. It must in some sense dismantle itself, either by debate and negotiation or by a sequence of copycat plebiscites. Other electorates are itching to do what Britain is doing. Anti-EU sentiment in most of Europe, much of it rightwing, is found in roughly a third of the population, and is growing. This is ominous for European unity.

He arrives at an interesting, if speculative, position

Were economics overwhelmingly on the side of Brexit, I would vote for it. I would advocate that Britain work for Europe’s salvation from outside, perhaps in league with other non-eurozone countries that might take the same path. Since I find the economics neutral, the politics comes to the fore.

Britain is not a big player in the EU game. It has always been a disgruntled bystander. But for Britain to trigger not a “dis-integration” but a dismantling of what is already a tottering congeries of states is most dangerous. It would leave Germany effectively alone at the head of Europe, alternately hesitant and bullying. That has to be a bad idea – as sensible Germans will attest.

This is not the equivalent of 1914 or 1939. It is closer to 1815 and Waterloo. A Britain that votes to stay with the EU would be able, for a crucial while, to wield serious clout, in Europe’s interest and its own. At the start of this campaign I wanted to leave, renegotiate and stay. Now I am for stay, lobby and see what happens next. Whatever anyone says, there is always another time.

But, read the whole thing.