‘Brexit’ and the Unappealing EU
Tim Black observes that even supporters for staying in the EU can’t muster any enthusiasm for it:
Just listen to someone make the case for Remain: they’ll admit the EU is flawed; they’ll say it could be more democratic; and they’ll even acknowledge that, despite some left-ish postures, it has screwed whole peoples over, strangling the life out of Greece, economically colonising Italy and Ireland, and causing chaos in Ukraine. It makes for a dispiriting sight. When Remainers make their furtive pitches, their hearts don’t swell; they sink, weighted down by caveats, bad faith and dead-eyed pragmatism.
As I’ve said before, a major reason why the Remain camp can’t make a positive case for the EU is that a distant, dysfunctional, transnational organization can’t inspire any loyalty or affection. That is why the case for staying has relied so heavily on appeals to economic interests and fear-mongering about the dangers of withdrawal. The EU today already is a disaster for tens of millions of people that live in it, and the simplest way to keep people from voting to flee it is to paint an even darker picture of what life would be like outside of it.
Fear of the unknown may end up winning the day, but if it does it will be the most grudging sort of victory for Europhiles. A narrow victory is all they’ll need to claim that the question is now “settled,” but Leave voters aren’t going to be satisfied with that. The referendum campaign has made the supposedly “unthinkable” option of withdrawal a plausible, debatable option, and if Leave doesn’t win today it may not be very long before there is another vote. If Leave wins (and my guess is that it will), it will be a fitting rejection of Remain’s attempt to terrify voters into submission.
There really is nothing appealing about the EU. As a pragmatic, political arrangement, which has done terrible damage to whole nations, it is steadfastly rebarbative. Its supporters cannot be attracted to it. They see its flaws, the way it treats people, its flight from accountability. So, no, they’re not attracted to the EU – they’re repelled towards it, repelled by the sight of ordinary people being able to determine their political future, by the spectre of the democratic will, in all its grubby uncontrollability and aspiration. It is fear of people, not love of the EU, that makes Remainers’ hearts beat that little bit faster.
The conventional wisdom is that most voters end up preferring the status quo option in votes like this, but I think this could be one of the exceptions. When so much of a deeply distrusted political class is on one side of the debate, and when the status quo option involves something as unappealing as the EU, it would be very tempting for most people to repudiate both by backing the other side. If the referendum is a contest over the country’s identity, Remain is at an even greater disadvantage. They are trying to defend a political arrangement that inspires no one, while the Leave side believes they are protecting their country’s traditions and self-government. Given that choice, it would make sense if voters reject the devil they know for the chance of something different.