Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Stratford On Avon.
Throughout this referendum campaign, we have heard regular complaints that different groups of Leave campaigners have divergent ideas for the future of the UK. This accusation is intended to make the Leave campaign look disorganised and riven with splits – but it is actually based on a fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the case to depart.
The central reason for the UK to leave the EU is to ensure that our Government will be responsible for making our laws, creating policy, and being wholly accountable for their success or failure. There will always be different ideas for what that Government should do but the British people will vote for whichever party’s manifesto attracts them, and then hold that party accountable for its implementation. That is democracy; it’s how things should work in our country.
This misunderstanding of, and lack of respect for, democracy bleeds into other areas of the Remain campaign. One argument is that some EU laws help provide things we like, ranging from maternity rights to paid holiday, and therefore we must stay to protect these rights. I personally find it hard to accept the argument that a European Union containing seven members who have constitutional bans on gay marriage is required to protect rights in the United Kingdom. But there’s also a certain irony that these arguments have been chosen precisely because these rights are extremely popular with the British people, when the implicit argument is that they might been thrown away if voters have greater control of laws.
It boils down to arguing that because we agree with some European laws, to preserve them we must agree to sign up to everything else. It is an argument that is both paternalistic and patronising to the British people. I wouldn’t put money on a party seeking election on the back of removing paid holiday, but Remainers seem to think these things could be gone the day after we leave.
This is not argument to remain in the European Union – it’s an expression of the lack of trust in democracy. If you are not just scaremongering, and you are honestly of the opinion that voters are only just clever enough to know they like something, but not clever enough to then vote for a party that protects these rights, then what’s the point in a democratic system at all? If you actually think voters are that dangerous, then we may as well just give up and transfer every decision to the bureaucrats in the European Union.
But aside from this apparent confusion about democracy, its necessity and its benefits, when Remain campaigners accuse their opponents of disunity, we should discuss whether they themselves are united in their vision for the future of the EU.
When not forecasting the doom that will come if we leave, many talk about the ways in which the EU should still be reformed from the inside, to justify remaining and convince those on the fence. But different remain campaigners have very different ideas of what form this would take. Jeremy Corbyn has vigorously attacked the Prime Minister for his position and instead described migrant benefit curbs as ‘irrelevant’ and demanded ‘economic reform’ and a ‘real social Europe’. It appear that the leader of the Labour party would like an organisation that increases immigration even further, while creating some kind of socialist paradise (possibly along the lines of the ever-successful Venezuela?). If he believes he can convince the British people to vote for that, then good for him, but such a disastrous vision should not be enforced through ‘reforms’ to the EU.
David Cameron is committed to trying to improve the European Union if we remain, but he clearly does not have the same vision of a reformed EU as Jeremy Corbyn. Leavers might disagree over what policies they’ll put forward to the electorate to decide upon, but Remainers disagree over how the EU should change, and it isn’t guaranteed voters will be given another say when the changes come.
What would we get if we vote to remain? Which of the radically different views of the Inners will come to pass? Certainly, no one believes that the EU we have now will be the EU we have in 10 or 20 years’ time. Despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, over many months and with the sword of Brexit hanging over their heads, the EU showed that it will only change in a way that it wants. This lack of control could be very damaging to us, and will hurt our interests.
We know that big change is coming because it was set out in the Five Presidents Report; the very same presidents, by the way, that Harriet Harman was unable to recognise, despite wishing us still to subject to their power. We know they wish to create a euro area treasury, that they wish to pool greater tax and budgetary policy, and that they wish to harmonise property rights, company law, and social security systems. But will we be asked our opinion again? I would trust our current leader to fight, and ask the voters the question, but we don’t know who our Prime Minister will be when the European Union next tries to grab more powers. It’s feasible they could ask for our rebate back, or for the right to veto income tax changes as they currently can on VAT in the name of fair competition, or the creation of an EU army.
There is uncertainty about what exactly the EU will do next, but we know that we have consistently failed to nudge things in a better direction in the past. Change is coming, as the EU tries to prop up its failed Euro experiment, which has let almost one in two young people unemployed in both Spain and Greece. But we have now signed up to a deal that has further weakened our negotiating position by committing us to not veto further integration, further reducing our negotiating position. We should be worried about this future direction, and I do not believe that any leader will be able to stop it. Indeed a bad leader may encourage it along or refuse a further referendum.
We can’t allow people to believe the European Union will stay the same on June 23rd, that status quo will not exist. We need to be in control of our destiny and that is only guaranteed if we vote to leave.