Brazil. South Africa. India. All are modern countries, with growing clout worldwide. Norway. Canada. Switzerland. All are among the most progressive countries in the world. Like most other nations throughout the world – including the United States, still the greatest power on the planet – all have one thing in common. They are self-governing – that’s to say, the peoples of those countries elect those who rule them.
The urge to leave the European Union is driven by many different factors, including a revolt against Britain’s establishment and a desire for less immigration. But at its heart is a wish to control the way in which we are governed. One can describe this as a desire for sovereignty or for independence, but that is about the sum of it.
This wish is no more or less legitimate than the desire to have the same control as we do now – or less. There is nothing more moral about wishing oneself to be governed as part of the European Union than as part of an independent Britain. There is no instrinsic reason why those who take the former view should be any more or less patriotic than those who take the latter.
If you are one of that first group and will vote Remain today, we wish you well. However, we’re concerned this morning largely with members of the second – those who want to Leave. If the opinion polls are right (which they may well not be) this group amounts to roughly half of all those who will vote today.
The Remain campaign has sent a twin message to you during the last few weeks. The first part of it is that leaving the EU is bad for your wealth. It is therefore something of a puzzle that the Prime Minister, who in effect leads Remain, himself threatened to back leaving several times – the latest as recently as February. In case you haven’t got the message, the Chancellor threatened, if Britain votes Leave today, to ensure that it is – by raising your taxes in an emergency budget. (Fortunately, it’s a bluff.)
The other half of the message is aimed not at your pocket but at – not to put too fine a point on it – your soul. “Remain kind,” it said in a final appeal this week. “Remain inclusive. Remain open. Remain Remain tolerant. Remain together.” In other words, dear Leave sympathiser, you are intolerant, closed and unkind if you don’t support Remain.
Thanks to Remain’s campaign director, Will Straw, we know that this message was deliberately crafted to exploit the horrible murder of Jo Cox. As Guido Fawkes has reported, Straw told Remain campaigners during a conference call that “they should respond to Cox’s death – “the new context that we’re in” – by claiming only they represent “a decent, tolerant” Britain”.
There are doubtless bad people and racists on the side of Leave, just as there are on the side of Remain. (A big tranche of Labour’s anti-semitic activists are presumably backing that cause today.) The Remain campaign knows that perfectly well, but is unbothered by the point.
For what it is seeking to do is to make you feel that, in preferring self-government to the European Union, you are making a choice that is somehow illegitimate, as you are if you want less migration. Because this case cannot be made directly – for the simple reason that it is self-evidently absurd – an army of straw men, no pun intended, and aunt sallies must be deployed. You are a racist: unworthy of the modern Britain represented yesterday by Alan Sugar.
If a spokesman for Leave had made an anti-immigrant gibe of the kind that Sugar did, he would have been speedily sacked. That he has survived as a spokesman for Remain, without any serious media pressure on him to quit, tells you much you need to know about the course of this campaign.
In short, Remain is trying to bully you out of doing what you want to do. “Do what’s in your heart,” the Prime Minister told MPs sympathetic to that cause after his renegotation – the one which was meant to deliver real reform in our relationship with the EU as the foundation of a Remain vote, but which did not.
In appealing to readers who want to vote Leave, we cannot improve on what he said to people who wanted to vote Remain. Do what’s in your heart today. One of the stories that we like to tell ourselves about each other is that Britain stands up to bullies. We may be about to find out whether or not it is still true.