Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is Why Vote Leave.
In North Antrim, voting Leave goes pretty much without saying. I spent part of the weekend campaigning in those green and gorgeous glens. It’s a place that can feel more like West Virginia than Virginia Water: a place of country music and tiny nonconformist churches, of denim and of square dancing. Many country people here speak Broad Scots – that wry, terse idiom that has sadly become rare in Scotland.
When I asked folk at the Ballymoney Show whether they’d be voting to quit the EU, they blinked in surprise that anyone should need to ask. “Oh, aye. We’re all for Leave here”. For these stubborn, patriotic, undeferential people, voting Leave was just doing their duty.
The same is true at the opposite end of the United Kingdom: if the bloody-minded voters of Kent (and, come to that, the bloody-minded Kentish voters) don’t use 23 June as an opportunity to register their support for self-rule, then I have misread the mood of my own region so badly that I should find a new line of work.
These are the people who, in Remain demonology, want to start World War Three, place a bomb under our economy, degrade the environment, help Putin, intimidate foreigners and bolster Daesh.
The idea that conscientious citizens in Ballymena or Broadstairs might have weighed the competing claims of the two sides and plumped on balance for Leave is evidently beyond the comprehension of some Remain campaigners. On the BBC’s Sunday Politics, I asked Emma Reynolds, recently Labour’s Shadow Europe Minister, what arguments she saw on the Leave side. She replied that there wasn’t a single one. I was reminded of Bill Buckley’s observation that the people who congratulate themselves on seeing other points of view often struggle in practice to accept that there are other points of view.
Do I see arguments for Remain? Yes, of course; I just think they’re outweighed by arguments for Leave. Oddly, the best and most honest argument for Remain is one that isn’t being made at all. If you believe that the nation state is passé, and that our future is as part of some kind of amalgamated Europe, then it does indeed make sense to go in properly.
There are people in Britain who feel this way and, while I disagree with them, it’s a perfectly honourable stance. A vote to Remain will indeed bolster the integrationist cause in Europe. The view in Brussels would be that the most stand-offish and sceptical member state had finally embraced the project and that, as the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, puts it, “Britain belongs to the European Union”.
All the integrationist measures that have been put in the fridge pending our referendum would come tumbling out. First, the directives that have already been drawn up: import licensing, which will wreck London’s art market; the ban on high-power electrical appliances; the Ports Services Directive, vainly opposed by every British port operator, trade union and MEP.
Then, soon afterwards, we’ll get to the bigger things: the budget hike, the harmonisation of taxation and social security provision, the gradual creation of an EU military capacity. There’ll be no point protesting: we’ll have voted to stay in knowing that they were on the agenda.
As I say, some people will vote Remain precisely because they want a political merger, which is fair enough. But don’t imagine that you can somehow cast a qualified Remain vote. Every Remain ballot will be interpreted in Brussels as a wholehearted endorsement of the European dream.
There are people who want to stand aside from the collapsing EU, but are struggling with the change-aversion that is deep in the human genome. If you’re in this category, you are the person the Remain side is targeting with its incessant gloom and pessimism.
Frankly, though, it’s not the prospect of Brexit that is spooking the markets; it’s all this talk of war and disaster and bombs under the economy. Look at the fundamentals. We’re the fifth largest economy on the planet and the chief projector of soft power. We’re one of five permanent seat-holders on the UN Security Council and have the world’s fourth military budget. We have the world’s capital city and most widely learned language. We sell tea to China, naan bread to India, kayaks to the Inuit. How much bigger do we have to be, for Heaven’s sake, before we can prosper under our own laws?
In politics, as in life, it’s generally the things we don’t do that we later regret. We have a unique opportunity to stand amicably aside from the merger of Europe’s states, to deal with our allies through a common market not a common government. Are we truly going to be bullied out of doing what we know to be right?
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by;
And that has made all the difference.