(An open letter to any of my friends who still thinks leaving is a good idea)
You say you want your country back. I wonder what you mean by that. You are probably not old enough to remember the 1950s or ’60s – there aren’t many of us left. So I’m guessing that maybe you have in mind an image of the 1970s.
A time of strikes and hyper-inflation, of wage freezes and credit squeezes, of unstable government with Labour surviving only because of a pact with the Liberals. Troops on the streets of Belfast and Derry, IRA bombs in English cities. That’s what you want back?
You don’t remember it? I see. It’s the 1980s, when you were in your 20s, that’s the Britain you remember and want to return to. More strikes, mass unemployment, engineered by the Tories to get inflation under control. The poll tax,
more trouble in Northern Ireland and bombs in England. Cuts to public services. The privatisation of BT, British Gas and Water. Police corruption and cover-ups.
Never mind any of that, you say, at least it was democracy; we chose who governed us. Did we, though? Perhaps you don’t remember how the SDP and Liberals took votes from Labour so the Tories kept winning elections with 42% of the popular vote.
No? That’s not what you had in mind? But that is how it was.
Perhaps you were thinking of the 1990s. Only a couple of decades ago (yes, really, it’s that long since Tony Blair re-invented Labour and swept to power). Let’s see; more privatisation (Labour didn’t win an election until the second half of the decade). More cuts. The nations of Eastern Europe freed from Soviet domination and joining the EU. Coming here as cheap labour, filling our supermarket shelves with their strange foods. Oh, wait a minute, isn’t that what you don’t like? The things you hate about the way Britain is now?
But you can’t turn back the clock. Not even Michael Gove is proposing to send back those EU migrants already here.
Maybe you are thinking of a time when we could trade with the rest of the world? That’s an interesting concept. Maybe you would like the Japanese to set up car manufacturing here? Or to have cheap clothing available in our shops, not minding the conditions of the workers in Vietnam and Bangladesh who make them? Perhaps you’d like an Indian billionaire to take over our ailing steel industry, or the Chinese to start manufacturing Rover cars?
What’s that you say? All that’s happened already? Whilst we were members of the EU? But I thought … Oh, I see. The Japanese set up here because of access to a market of 500 million people in Europe. And they had financial assistance from Europe, too. And the EU didn’t stop us buying cheap textiles from South East Asia, or cars from South Korea and our electronic goods from China? But I thought …
You mentioned democracy earlier, and I pointed out how undemocratic our British way of electing a government is. But there’s another aspect to democracy. The influence of lobbyists. They don’t only operate in Brussels, you know. Westminster has them too. And those ‘elites’ people talk about. You think the EU is run by and for ‘elites’? Some think Westminster is too. And people like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are a part of it. So are the people who own our newspapers. And some of the other media, too.
So, really, this country you want back, it never existed outside Nigel Farage’s imagination.
Do you seriously think that all the things you detest about modern Britain are the fault of the EU and will simply go away if we leave? If you do, then I feel sorry for you and for the country we are likely to become. Believe me, it will look nothing like the one you imagine.
We’ll still have to worry about climate change and international terrorism. Drug and people trafficking will still go on. But it will be so much harder for us to secure the co-operation of our neighbours in combating these problems, none of which respects international borders.
We’ll still have an underfunded NHS and a housing crisis. We’ll still have a Tory government – and if Boris and Michael have won and Cameron resigns, do you think it likely they will increase public spending and raise taxes on the rich?
I want my country to stay the way it is, and always has been: outward looking, cosmopolitan, co-operating with its neighbours. I don’t recognise the fantasy land you think you will get back if we leave. If it ever existed I would certainly not wish to live there.