Sir Peter Marshall was Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General 1983-88 and UK Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva 1979-83. He is a former Chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society.
Surprise! The Leave campaign has discovered that its best chance is to play the migration card for all its worth. Its emotive power helps to obscure the blunt truth that, with just over a week to go, we still do not know what form or shape or path our liberation from Brussels will take.
The original idea of the referendum was that we would vote to leave or stay in the light of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of our terms of membership. Leave rubbished these in advance, and has contrived instead to keep the discussion focussed on the shortcomings of the EU, from which they draw their disproportionate conclusion that the only possible answer is to leave.
“We must get our country back and take control”: who’s “we”? What, on leaving, would we go to, and how would we get there? To these and other questions, Leave’s answer is: “we don’t know. We disagree among ourselves. Anyway, all that’s the Government’s job, not ours. We’re not responsible. But not to worry: just vote for us now, and you will be told why later”.
Pot was quick to call the kettle black. Leave swiftly launched the slogan “Project Fear” to undermine any questioning of their own campaign, which itself has become ever-more dependent on inspiring fear. The most craven of their claims is that if we vote Remain, Brussels will regard it as capitulation. Once emancipated, however, our future will be roses, roses all the way. As long as we are in the EU, in other words, John Bull is a mere Reggie Perrin: yet freed from durance vile, he at once becomes a mix of Batman and Walter Mitty.
Leave could of course be relied on to trot out the hackneyed trick question: “If we were not in [here insert name of current hated organisation] would we want to join it?” (During the 1980s, it was the Commonwealth: but Leave isn’t telling you that: it may not even know it. History isn’t its strong suit.) One answer in the case of the EU is simple: “if there had been no 1707 Act of Union, would the Scots want to link up with a Brexit England?”
In his a recent speech, William Hague, himself a well-known Eurosceptic, made two key points: first that, beginning with the actions of the Coalition Government in 2010, and continuing up to the Prime Minister’s renegotiation, the Government won most of the battles of concern to the Leavers. We now have the benefits of EU membership without most of the drawbacks.
Leave does not attempt to contest the point. It ignores it, and hopes that the rest f us will do likewise. Once Leave admits that Britain is being offered a unique position in the EU, its whole myth about the unreformability and implacable hostility of Brussels starts to unravel.
Secondly, the world has changed around us. Amid new uncertainties and threats – climate change, demographic balance, universal mobility, global terrorism, pandemics, crises on the eastern and southern borders of Europe, and Putin – the great danger is of Western fragmentation, undermining the capacity to cope. Britain has a crucial role in preventing it.
Western security and co-operation is a team game. As they are not a team, but rather a job lot, permeated with mutual suspicion, Leave doesn’t get the point. It is no surprise that responsible opinion around the world is greatly disturbed by the implications of a British withdrawal from the EU. Leave dismisses this near-unanimous international concern as a conspiracy of the elitist “permanent governing class”,
“Migration” is a multi-purpose propaganda weapon. It has implications and overtones about far more than mere numbers coming in or going out, for which the EU in any case accounts for only about one half. It is a handy scapegoat for just about all our problems and deficiencies at home, and for our persistent unwillingness to face up to them. To name a few:
- Demographic trends.
- Low productivity.
- Sluggish manufacturing and export performance.
- Shortage of skills.
- Loss of social mobility.
- Welfare dependency.
- Ethnic tensions.
Why do other EU countries, subject to the same Brussels tyranny, manage to do better than we do?
Arising from the referendum, and irrespective of its outcome, we must delve more deeply still into what troubles people most. . What is wanted is a high-level inquiry, perhaps a Royal Commission, into migration, with a mandate to investigate exhaustively its ramifications , international as well as national.
It would be the most important and broad-based inquiry into our affairs since the famous Beveridge Report of 1942 Social Insurance and Allied Services, Beveridge spoke of society’s battle against the five “giants “ of idleness, ignorance, disease, squalor and want. What would today’s “giants” be? Like Beveridge, such an inquiry would be a catalyst for bringing us closer together. It would be the positive outcome to this wearisome campaign which we all most want.
How many of the picnickers in the Mall last Sunday felt that their lives – the time of which they were then having – are blighted by Jean Claude Juncker and his henchpersons? Like the rest of us, that happy breed know that what primarily makes this country such a marvellous place to live in does not stand or fall by where exactly our laws are made. It springs from the way we treat and trust one another, and the importance we attach to being “fair”. Our democracy, unsurpassed anywhere in the world, is organic, rather than legal or administrative. That goes for the Commonwealth too.
We have learned the hard way that eternal vigilance is the price of safety. Eternal participation is the basis of that vigilance. Don’t let anyone fool you into believing that quitting the EU will make us any more prosperous or secure or influential or even “democratic”. It would mean we had fallen for demagoguery.