Although the official campaign has just begun, I am already struck by the negativity of the Remain campaign. Although their ranks are full of proficient and intelligent people, and their belief in Europe is (for the most part) sincerely held, they have yet to even attempt to make a positive case for Europe as it is now. Instead, they would rather attack the capabilities of our own country.
For the Remain camp, Britain is a beaten country; once proud, but now incapable of surviving without the rule of Brussels. It is left to the Leave campaign to carry the banner of hope, and with it the idea that directly elected British parliamentarians will prove better lawmakers than the anonymous bureaucrats of the European Union.
It is frankly shocking that the other side is proving so readily dismissive of the success of democratic self-government. This principle was once seen as Britain’s gift to the world, yet now the leaders of our country are willing to sacrifice it to the interests of bankers and continental politicians.
Yet the real danger lies in blindly voting to remain within the EU. Make no mistake; the status quo is not an option on the ballot paper. The small concessions that Britain has been able to extract from the EU, including our rebate, have only been possible because the threat of Brexit was always there. If the European Commission see us voting to remain, they will view it purely as a vote for ‘more Europe’; a confirmation that Britain will roll over and accept every law, directive and diktat that they wish to impose on us. The old men of Brussels will believe they have been vindicated.
As my colleague Michael Gove pointed out on Tuesday, the European Union has all the hallmarks of a modern empire. Indeed, Manuel Barroso the former President of the European Commission, likes to describe it as such. Like an empire, the EU’s policies are dictated by an unelected central bureaucracy, it has a democratically unaccountable leadership, and a powerless parliament bereft of a popular mandate. And like the continental empires of the early twentieth century, it finds itself unable to react or adapt to external pressures in a rapidly changing world.
To vote to leave is to make a fresh start. Since Britain joined the Common Market in 1973, we have sent almost half a trillion pounds to Brussels. Over the next decade alone, we can expect to give a further £200 billion. Yet with this money we could shore up our public services, our armed forces, our schools and our hospitals. Or we could use it to lower taxes, allowing everyone in the country to take home a little more of their pay cheque. Whatever the government chose to do, what matters is that it would be our decision.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Brexit would serve as a much-needed wake up call to a sclerotic and inflexible European Union. Across the continent, voters are crying out for reform in the way that the EU is run. Yet Britain could show them another path, one of co-operation, not subjugation. We can prove to those countries labouring under the yoke of EU directives and financial instability that it is possible to have a relationship with other nations on your own terms, and that trade and partnership can exist without a controlling central power. The simple fact is that the EU is failing millions of its citizens. These same people supposedly give the EU its mandate, yet perhaps those in Brussels should ask the unemployed of Greece or Spain how bureaucratic control has improved their lives.
The European Union is in a downward spiral. Britain has a chance to escape, and there is a real chance that a simple cross on a ballot paper here could precipitate change across an entire continent. The people of this country have the chance to liberate Europe for the third time in a century. We cannot let it slip away.