On leaving

News Published June 26, 2016

The EU referendum has turned out not to be about the EU at all. That, I think, is why the arguments have been so vicious. Those who would like us to remain in the EU keep trying to frighten or tempt us with economics. Staying in will make us richer! Leaving will make you poorer! But nobody cares about economics. The debate now is existential: this is a national conversation about national identity, something the British as a whole have not had for decades, if ever. ‘Who are we?’ is the real question under discussion. The supplementary question is: ‘ where are we going?’

I wasn’t sure whether to vote in the referendum, but I have done, by post. I voted to leave the EU. There are a couple of reasons for this. One of them is rational, the other one is more instinctive.

The rational argument is simple enough: I’m in favour of small government, local culture, local economics and workable democracy. These are old-fashioned green principles, which most greens seem to have abandoned these days in favour of liberal globalism. But I’m sticking with them. I think that governments, like corporations, are a pox on humanity, and we should have as few of them as possible. When we do need them, they should be as small as possible, so that we can affect their decision-making and rein in their inherent lust for power. We should be able to decide the direction of our own culture, and we should create as much of that culture as we can at the local level. We should not allow our economies to be run by banks and international institutions in the interests of global capital. The EU militates against all of this. I have no idea what the impact of leaving would be: nobody does. But at the very least it would make a statement, and the statement would be a good one.

My instinctive reason for leaving is that the people standing up in favour of staying in are the people whose hands are on the levers of the global machine which I happen to believe is wrecking the earth. When David Cameron, George Osborne, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Christine Lagarde, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, the CBI, Bob Geldof and The Economist are all in favour of doing something, I’m inclined to do the opposite. This is not just bloody-mindedness (though it is a bit of that). Keeping the EU show on the road, however much damage it does to Greece or Spain or the oceans or the economies and cultures of individual European countries, is clearly in the interests of a global capitalist economy which continues to eat the world and call the result ‘progress.’

Unfortunately, the sides being taken in the referendum represent the usual tribal politics of left and right. It seems to be assumed that remaining in Europe is ‘progressive’ and ‘internationalist’, and leaving is ‘small-minded’ and ‘right wing.’  I think it would be easy enough to make precisely the opposite case. I’m not going to do it here, but I am going to say that I don’t believe that huge, top-down institutions, run by political elites in the service of corporations and banks look very ‘progressive’ to me. We will see very soon how many people agree. Either way, we are in interesting times.

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