Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The road to self-government

In this week’s edition of Eurofacts, Ian Milne presents a novel piece entitled "The Road to Self-Government", sketching out the hypothetical scenario of a Britain that has just rejected membership of the EU after a referendum on 21 June 2007.

Using this as his "peg", Milne then sketches out some of the measures, in the form of a letter to the heads of states and governments of the remaining 24 members, that the then government would take to restore the UK to the status of an independent sovereign state.

Necessarily brief – giving the publishing medium – this is nevertheless precisely the sort of work that the Eurosceptic movement should be undertaking and, for that, Milne should be commended. The work is needed for two separate and distinct reasons.

The first and more immediate reason is to provide a "safety net" for the EU constitutional referendum campaign. Here, although the "no" campaigns (or most of them) will seek to ensure that only the EU constitution is put before the public, the "yes" campaign – and some factions in the "no" camp – will undoubtedly seek to present the issue as an EU "in-out" battle.

Although few people might believe this, enough doubt might be sowed for them to fear that a "no" vote might be the first step towards withdrawal and that, given an overwhelming rejection of the constitution, it could create an unstoppable momentum toward the UK leaving the EU. Fed with a diet of scare stories from the "yes" campaign, there might then be a sufficient number who would vote for the constitution, not from any conviction, but simply for fear of what might follow a rejection.

The purpose of the "safety net" therefore, is to present to the public a positive picture of the consequences of withdrawal – should that eventually happen – in order to demonstrate that, far from an event that is to be feared, the overall outcome would be beneficial. Thus, while not actively making the case for withdrawal, the argument serves to reassure voters that, if the post constitutional rejection scenario did lead to withdrawal, there would be nothing to worry about.

As to the second reason, this is essentially a longer-term requirement, addressing one of the central defects of the Eurosceptic cause, in that advocates of withdrawal have never been able to present a coherent, fully-worked out alternative to membership of the EU. This allows critics of the movement to claim that Euroscepticism is a negative philosophy, and enables them to capture the high ground with a "positive" agenda".

While some may argue that Euroscepticism does not need to address alternatives in any detail – on the basis that the alternative to committing suicide is simply not committing suicide - in the real world it must be recognised that, after thirty years of integration, we cannot simply turn the clock back to the state of play before we joined the Communities. Time has moved on, and we need to look carefully at what Britain would look like once we had regained our sovereignty, and how we made the most of our newly restored freedom to govern ourselves.

In this context, much of what Milne has to say is superficial, but we do not criticise him for that. He has offered what was called in the TV game show University Challenge "a starter for ten". It is us to us, now – all of us – to take up the baton (if you will accept the mixed metaphor) and develop Milne’s themes, and add others, to create a workable template for a post-EU Britain.

We, on this Blog, have been mildly criticised for dealing with the negative aspects of the EU – in our concentration on the EU myths – but we do not apologise for that. This work, and creating a new template, are not mutually exclusive. But we do accept that we should pick up where Milne leaves off, and add our views of what should be done in the event that the UK does leave the EU, if for no other reason than this might hasten the eventuality.

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