Guess who's still alive?
This June, the UK will vote upon whether to leave or remain in the EU. This vote will be momentous. It will decide Britain’s place in the world for generations to come.
There are many positive reasons for membership.
When we joined the EU we were the “sick man” of Europe: today, as a result of our domestic reforms and membership of the European Single Market, we have the best performing economy in Europe.
The above was written by no less a figure than former British Prime Minister John Major. Some of you may remember him as the guy between Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Don't blame yourself if you don't. Even astute observers of British politics occasionally forget about the self-effacing interregnum that was the Major years. Sandwiched between two of the most charismatic politicians of the late 20th century, Major was a minor player in world events, a place holder while the Tories and Labour grappled with the consequences of Thatcherism.
That the former PM is pro-Europe is hardly a surprise. His leadership of the Conservatives was threatened on various occasions by rebellious eurosceptic backbenchers. At one point his majority was effectively destroyed by a large dissent block that - within months - had brought No. 10 to its knees. One has to reach back into the depths of Victorian politics to find comparable precedents. Even Edwina Currie - with whom Major had a lengthly affair - described him as a nice man though essentially unfit to serve as First Lord of the Treasury.
With all this in mind even our more generous readers will be inclined to heavily discount Mr Major's opinions on anything, excepting of course cricket. Yet his article in the Sunday Telegraph provides an excellent summation of the flawed case against Brexit. My own views on Britain ditching the EU are quite simple: I would be delighted if Britain rejected the transnational rent seeking con game that is the European Union. Free trade deals are all well and good, failed quasi-federal states are something else entirely. If the Germans, Belgians and Italians wish to tax, welfare and regulate themselves into geriatric oblivion, please be my guest. Britain should do business with everyone but trust only its true allies: The Anglosphere. The British taught the world the virtues of capitalism. Let them return to those virtues and demonstrate their efficacy again to all those willing to learn.
This isn't to say that those who oppose Brexit are cowardly traitors who deserve to be flogged through the streets of Dover. I'm not that ruthless. There is a reasonable and pragmatic case to be made against leaving the EU. John Major gives about as good a defence as possible. That said his arguments are primarily couched in nostalgia and misassumption. Contemporary British defenders of the EU recall those hardly souls in the post-war era who murmured wistfully about the Raj and the Fall of Singapore. One Empire collapsed - mostly a tragedy - and another empire is about to collapse - mostly a comedy.
In an uncertain world the UK, as part of the EU, is better able to face up to the aggressive policies of hostile nations. We are safer, because the EU has brought together former enemies to face common perils. In the last thousand years of history, no previous generation has been so fortunate.
It would be sheer folly to put this all at risk.
Of all the pro-EU chestnuts this is the most venerable: The EU saved Europe from another World War. The argument has a passing plausibility, so long as you forget the presence on the European continent of large numbers of heavily armed American and Soviet troops for more than forty years. How exactly was Germany going to invade anyone again when it was covered with foreign military bases and divided in two? Europeans stopped fighting because non-Europeans - Russia is neither European or Asiatic but a unique Christian culture - made sure they stopped fighting. It requires a serious leap of the imagination to believe that Brussels bureaucrats are all that stand between peace and the armies of the Fourth Reich making their way through the Ardennes.
Consider this: as a Member State, the UK can (and does) influence European policies – often to our advantage, and sometimes simply to minimise damage to our own domestic interests. Outside, we would not be able to influence them at all. And yet, if – as a non-Member – we wish to retain access to the Single Market, we will be compelled to follow EU rules, over which we would have no influence at all. This is not only demeaning, it is a recipe for economic self-harm.
Signing any free trade deal with another country requires at least a partial surrender of sovereignty. The meshing of different labour and environmental standards; the general haggling that goes on in a modern mixed economy. Yet oddly Switzerland, Canada and other nations have struck workable and beneficial deals with Brussels. London has far more heft in Europe that either Canada or Switzerland. The EU needs the City of London desperately. Much of the continent's hi-tech innovations come from Britain. Despite being a nation of only 62 million the UK has several key advantages which - if properly wielded - will allow it negotiate a better deal out of the EU than in.
The simple fact of the EU is that the vast majority of the member states - and all the key members - are essentially statist in their economic and social outlook. Britain is significantly - if not sufficiently - market oriented by comparison. Placing a capitalist economy at the mercy of envious and bankrupt socialists is not a workable long-term strategy. For much of the continent the EU is a choke chain to restrain the horrors of "Anglo-Saxon Capitalism."
As a result of a UK exit, the political influence of the EU would be diminished – especially when considered against the power of the United States or China. Without the UK, Europe – the cradle of modern civilisation – would fall to a lower significance. I cannot believe that any sensible Briton wishes to divide Europe, and thus divide the West: only our enemies could gain from that, as Senator [John] McCain has made clear in recent days. No doubt the “leave” campaign will accuse him of “scaremongering” too.
Certainly the EU will be weakened by Brexit. That's part of the point. The EU is an irredeemably corrupt and contemptible organization. Smashing it to bits and rebuilding a loose trade federation - the single market without socialism - would be an enormous benefit to the peoples of Europe. Only the British have the money, strength and gumption to kick the blasted thing to the ground. The defenders of the EU often confuse it with Europe. While Prime Minister John Major said he wanted Britain to be at the heart of Europe. So do I. But the EU has long ceased to be the heart of Europe. On the contrary it is cancer upon the productive energies and talents of an entire continent. In seeing what the EU is today - and will likely become in the future - we must come to understand that being pro-Europe means being anti-EU.
Repeatedly over the last three centuries Britain has saved Europe from it's own statist madness: Absolute monarchs, militaristic emperors, racial supremacists and communist mass murders. Having belatedly rejected the more pernicious forms of collectivism and statism they eventually opted for a genial and bureaucratic vision of an all encompassing state: The Phantasm of Brussels. While the bloodshed has been kept to a minimum this time round the utopian circus, the long-term consequences are likely to be far more pernicious. Surviving two world wars is one thing, surviving terminal demographic and economic decline is rather less feasible.
Europe has one last chance to save itself. That chance - as has happened so often in the past - comes courtesy of a British ballot box.