Saturday, 18 June 2016

#EUref – time to choose

There are now only five days to go until we in the UK vote on our continued membership of the European Union.  Frankly, it can't be over soon enough.

Whilst the campaign seems to have gone on forever, and the quality and tone of the debate has often been nothing short of cringeworthy, this is a big and important decision to make.  I can honestly say I've not been so conflicted about a political issue for a long, long time – I have been genuinely undecided for the majority of the campaign, and it is only really in the last week that I have begun to marshall my thoughts, and make up my mind.

I am planning to vote to 'Remain in the European Union'.  This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, because I feel any ideological attraction to the EU.  I am no fan of the European project, and there is much of it that I view with considerable suspicion – I am voting out of pragmatism, rather than any principled commitment to the EU – so I think it is worth explaining how and why I finally decided that I am leaning toward 'Remain'.

There are cogent, sensible, respectable reasons for wanting to leave the EU.  There is a very attractive vision of Britain outside the EU.  But sadly, I think the chances of a 'Leave' vote resulting in a Britain like that is practically nil.  The majority of 'Leave' supporters do not share my vision of post-EU Britain; the majority 'Leave' view is of an insular, curmudgeonly Britain which, liberated from the shackles of EU regulation, is free to be as bitter, intolerant and cantankerous as it pleases.

For me, if voting in the referendum included an opportunity to register my opinion on what direction the country should take post-Brexit, choosing 'Leave' would be much easier.  Without that option, I fear that any 'Leave' vote will automatically be taken as an endorsement of what we might term the 'Farageist' vision for the country after leaving.  That, I am afraid, is not something I am willing to put my name to.

Writing in the Guardian yesterday, Marina Hyde sums up one of the biggest issues I would have with voting to Leave:
There are many people I respect and admire voting leave – there are people in my family voting leave. I understand their reasons. But they must stomach the reality that a vote for leave will be taken by Farage and countless others as a vote for him, a vote for his posters, a vote for his ideas, a vote for his quiet malice, a vote for his smallness in the face of vast horrors. Is it worth it?
I'm really not sure that it is.

The EU has more than its fair share of faults and foibles.  It is certainly not an institution to which I feel any kind of emotional attachment; if I felt there was a good chance things would turn out OK afterwards, leaving it would cause me no pain.

'Remain' is the safer option.  'Remain' is a vote for continuation, not upheaval.  Despite what prominent Brexit activists might say, it is not 'scaremongering' to say that voting to 'Leave' is taking a leap into the unknown.  None of this means that Britain 'could not survive' outside the European Union, of course; 'Leave' campaigners who take a leaf out of the Scottish Nationalists' playbook by accusing those who point out these risks of 'talking Britain down' as being 'too small, and too poor' to prosper on our own, are tilting at straw men.  (And they probably know it, too.)

But just as I wrote last month that Jeremy Corbyn does not get to distance himself from the rest of the 'Remain' campaign and still be 'Remain', neither would I get to specify that my 'Leave' vote were somehow different from most of the people voting the same way.  No, my vote to 'Leave' would be lumped in with the votes of people from UKIP and Britain First – and it would be assumed that I had voted for the same thing they did, and that I want Great Britain to be the same the country they want it to be.

I don't.  And I don't hold out much hope for the voices of people like me being heard, in the event of a vote to leave the EU.  And that is why I think it will be best if I vote 'Remain'.

Of course Britain would prosper outside of the EU. Of course the EU isn't perfect. Of course it isn't racist to acknowledge that. But if you are voting 'Leave' for a more open, inclusive, positive, globalist Britain – as I would be, if I were to vote 'Leave' – you won't get it. We won't get it.

What we will get will be Nigel Farage and his ilk smugly parading around, pointing to the referendum result and declaring "See? We said most people in this country agreed with us! And look…!"

How ever little love I may have for the European Union, I really don't think I am prepared to vote for an option which will empower Farage and those like him to posture and preen and proudly hold my vote aloft as proof that the public shares their vision for Britain.

I don't share it. I don't endorse it. And I don't want – even accidentally – to get mixed up with those who do. I may not like the EU much, but I would rather vote to 'Remain' than see this brilliant nation turn into the type of country UKIP would like it to be, and know that I had had a hand in that.

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