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Power, peace and prosperity – three reasons more important than Boris Johnson’s ego to stay in EU

Posted on 23 February 2016 | 8:02am

As I arrived at Hong Kong airport a few hours ago, there were three TV channels playing above our heads as we queued to go through immigration. On one, a Chinese presenter appeared to be explaining what was happening in world markets. On the second, pictures of a smiling Hillary Clinton to illustrate new polls suggesting she is well ahead of Bernie Sanders in South Carolina. And on the third, CNN, David Cameron above the headline ‘British MPs take sides on Europe.’ The EU referendum, to cite the language of comms, has had ‘global cut through.’

But just as most people outside the U.S view Donald Trump as a rather bad international joke, and ask ‘how on earth is this happening?’ so I think most people outside the UK are asking ‘why on earth is Britain thinking of coming out of the EU?’

In our personality obsessed political coverage, the hit on sterling yesterday was widely being put down to Boris Johnson’s open defiance of David Cameron, and the fear that the man the media keep telling us is ‘popular’ will be able to swing the vote against Britain’s membership of the EU.

The very fact of holding the referendum is creating the kind of uncertainty and instability about Britain’s future that cause concern among investors. So a hit was virtually inevitable once Cameron came back from Brussels, held his Cabinet meeting, and then announced the date. The Boris show, which is exactly what it is, doubtless added to the uncertainty, but it was already there.

This is a referendum we are having for the wrong reasons, and with a lot of the debate currently focused on the wrong things. The wrong reason in that it was announced by David Cameron partly because he lacked something to say at an important moment in the last Parliamentary calendar, and more so because he saw it as a tactic to halt the rise of UKIP and quell the noise of the Tory right. And the wrong things in that Cameron, tactical again, set up his negotiations for a new deal for the UK in Europe in grand, epoch-making terms when he knew that, no matter what he achieved, it would not be enough for UKIP and the veteran Eurosceptics in his party.

However we got to where we are though, here is exactly where we are, a few weeks away from a vote more important even than the one to choose a government or a Prime Minister.

Given its significance, hopefully it will move soon enough from a personality/process debate in which Boris Johnson’s ego and ambition are centre stage, and from Tory MPs dancing on pinheads about what David Cameron did or did not achieve in line 3 of paragraph 7 of the statement issued after yet another all-night EU summit. Once that happens, we are then into the real meat of the debate, and the only question that has ever really mattered – In or Out.

For all my criticisms of Cameron on the route to this point, I think that in his Downing Street statement on Saturday, his interview with Andrew Marr, and yesterday in the Commons, he has done well when getting the message focused on that big, fundamental question.

The ‘leap in the dark’ point is a phrase we can expect to hear again and again. Unlike many of the Cameron soundbites we hear again and again and again, it has the merit of truth, and nobody from the Out side has yet to explain how we will glide effortlessly from full EU membership one day to full membership of the Single Market the next, even though we are no longer in the EU.

I liked too his line on how Brexit would lead to ‘the illusion of sovereignty, but less power.’ Sitting here in Hong Kong, looking out at the venue of the ceremony at which the place was handed over to the Chinese, this is not a bad place to reflect on the fact that Britain is not the power it was. And a lot of the power we do have comes from the role we play in major international institutions. The EU is one of them. NATO is another. The Commonwealth is another. Our permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council is another.

Here is another leap in the dark point. If we leave the EU, we lose power anyway. Then we can expect a second referendum in Scotland, and this time I think the independence campaign will win. So UK out of EU, Scotland out of UK. I think at that point we can wave bye-bye to that Permanent Membership of the UNSC.

So power. Vote Out for less power. Two more Ps worth thinking about. Peace and Prosperity. The EU has helped deliver both for decades across a Continent historically defined by war and poverty. With a resurgent Russia and new depths of terroriusn being mined, we are going to need strength and solidarity to deal properly with both. We get that through the EU.

The prosperity, as business leaders are arguing today, will be put at risk if we are restricted, as we will be, in our access to the single market.

Power. Peace. Prosperity. All worth fighting for. All more important than whether Boris Johnson manages to swing a few more Tory constituencies his way in the battle to succeed David Cameron, and more important too than whether Cameron did or did not manage to get everything he wanted from his negotiations.




  • Dai

    Here is a fourth ‘P’, population, and it pulls strongly in the opposite direction. If we stay in the EU then population will hit 75-80 million very quickly. That will put enormous pressure on UK infrastructure, public services and housing, and significantly erode the quality of life for many ordinary people. As Jonathan Portes said recently, we will be voting on whether we want free movement or not, and won’t be able to say in the future that we were never asked if we agreed to mass immigration. The nature of the incoming population is changing after 2004 and 2014, meaning that a lot of the earlier findings from migration researchers at UCL etc are out of date. The government’s latest figures show that the 6% of the working population who are EU migrants take 10% of in-work benefits, and the Bank of England’s recent study shows that migration is constraining wages for the lowest paid. Studies from Germany and Sweden show very high levels of unemployment among ‘humanitarian’ migrants (who in a few years will have free movement within the EU in large numbers), and a frighteningly high life-time cost for social security and healthcare services. The only reason we are rushing towards a June referendum is that things will get much worse in Europe by next winter.

    • Ehtch

      Considering the explosion in the World population, UK is doing OK. But does have it’s effects, as in growing immigration.

      World pop. 1960 – 3 billion
      World pop. 2016 – 7 billion

      UK pop. 1960 – 52 million
      UK pop. 2016 – 65 million

      Give or take a few hundreds of millions(World)/thousands(UK).

      • Michele

        Main problem for NHS is one its very own existence has caused 🙂 average age …. people living longer (mostly due to that wunnerful NHS which I’m sure most of us don’t mind supporting financially whether we need it much ourselves or not, it’s lovely just having it there for everyone).
        That brings with it an older average age than that in countries where 6,8,12 children per woman is not unusual.

        What I DO mind about our NHS …. the fact that so much of its security is farmed out to private ‘providers’ – usually G4S (of which one T May’s spouse is a major shareholder). I have never worked for an organisation or company where I (or a family member) would be allowed shares in a supplier company.

        Why is she?
        Slack slack slack Dave

        • Ehtch

          Case in point is my father Michele. He is in hospital at this moment, in bad shape. Had a bad stroke a month ago, will be there for a while again, then care home it looks, since his mind is too far gone for home caring, body functions affected as well. He recovered from his bowel cancer more or less, ten years ago. Eighty he is now. Just a couple of decades ago he would not be still around. It can be said that health care advances is costing in more ways than life saving at a crisis point. And costs are exponential. We are lucky he has quite a few pensions coming in, so will only need topping up by us by a few hundred quid a month to pay for eventual care home costs from his assets.

        • mightymark

          If the worst one an say about the NHS is that its relatively peripheral security function is farmed out to the private sector the NHS is doing even better than it is usually credited as doing!

  • KDouglas

    Peter Mandelson, Alan Johnson and now AC demonstrating an ability to praise the devil for the good of the country. I admire that. Cameron is so utterly obnoxious, and so thoroughly useless, it takes some self-discipline to do the patriotic thing and support the cause which also happens to be his. Many people would like to see his arse fry, but it can’t be at the country’s expense.

    That said, what does Labour do for its campaign? After Scotland it cannot share a platform with the Tories again – can it?

    • Ehtch

      Kate Hoey seems to have been given the role as Labour’s token Out. And it will be tempting to many that their choice in the referendum is for frying Cameron’s arse in an Out vote, rather than the real issues.

      • Dave Simons

        Kate’s in the wrong party. I don’t understand why she doesn’t just leave and join the fox-hunting party. I asked her by e-mail recently for her reasons for supporting the latter, but I didn’t get a reply.

        • mightymark

          Tony Benn and Michael Foot were for leaving the EU, Lenin went duck shooting and Picasso – a CP member for much of his life – enjoyed bull fighting. It is hard to believe anyone could seriously believe such positions would define one out of the “left”.

  • Dave Simons

    The ‘No’ campaigners include an assortment of Tory Euro-sceptics, UKIPers, fascists, Little Englanders, Democratic Unionists – and the Socialist Workers’ Party. The latter will argue that the EU is a capitalist club, but you can argue that the UK is a capitalist club too, so really they ought to consider reverting to their position of the late 1960s when it was ‘a capitalist decision’ whether to join or not join the Common Market, so what was then the International Socialists stayed neutral. One point I’ve heard little of so far in the ‘debate’ is what happens to the farming industry in the event of ‘No’. EU grants and subsidies keep rich and poor farmers in business. Before the UK joined the Common Market in 1973 the UK taxpayers kept the industry afloat, but that was in a different era, before the 1973 oil crisis. And though farming is Tory country in every sense it will be harder for them to argue for special status for the farming industry when they are reluctant to buoy up other industries like steel.

    • Ehtch

      Farming will be turned upside down in the UK. It took ages for the EU to run farm produce common market efficiently. Remember the food mountains, butter, cheese and wheat etc.? What the UK has been poor at is some sort of healthy protectionism, as what France, Germany, Italy and also post-Franco Spain did and does. Same applies to UK fishing industry. Farm gate prices have dropped significantly in real terms in the UK, but that maybe due to supermarkets taking advantage of poor protectionism and with the way the EU works. The quality of milk is interesting, France and Italy it’s sweet tasting, but UK’s tastes industrialised, been homogenised to the point of thin water, from cows not eating enough green grass (or silage made of), clover and other healthy plants. Too much cow nuts is a cop-out, lazy farming.

  • Ehtch

    Enjoyed this by yer’sel Ali last Monday, on LBC, just watched and listened. Boris is a, umm, a Bojo, a monkey in a yellow wig…

    • Ehtch

      Let’s talk footie. Swans have had a fabulous few days. Francesco is still in hospital with a bad chest infection – he should have been warned that Welsh weather batters the lungs – “if you keep on coughing like that, you will soon be in one! (sic)” He should have had it in his contract – allowed to leave to go back to the Med if his lungs give in up here. : )

      Never told you Ali I am quarter English, bit of Yorkshire father’s side, bit of Gloucestershire mother’s side, coal mining travels caused. That is why I like things like this, but I keep it quiet around ere like mun, this simple vid I did a few weeks ago, great folk prog rock from the early 1970s, Gryphon from North Kent, Canterbury based mainly,

  • Skellan

    Not long now Al until Satan gets your soul on his spit roast.

  • Skellan

    So, Al, these weapons of mass destruction then, you say they are ready to use in just 45 minutes? That sounds scary. Is there any chance they could reach the UK at all? It sounds to me as if we need to go to war to stop this scary evil stuff. Can you arrange that – I’d be ever so grateful?

    • Michele

      Hah, no reappearance from this gutsy chap to acknowledge recent news from Syria about chemical weapons having been used on his own people by Pres Assad.
      Who knows eh? They might be the very ones that Dr Kelly suggested Saddam Hussein had got his Syrian neighbour to hide for him.

  • reaguns

    So Alastair, you don’t think anything should be done that might “frighten the horses” as it were in terms of investment. Well that is interesting. I knew you were a Blairite, but surely this is going a bit far? I mean, the rest of us, even on the right, the centre, or the centre right, we can still see the point of having left wing parties to stand up for the poor, for social justice, for better schools for poor children etc etc. EVEN THOUGH, none of those things are the best way to martial funds if we care most about investment. If you are worried about investment, then surely you know the best way to get more of that is not even with the tories, but with a US Republican style party.

    So pipe down about investment please. I wish the EU debate could be won by the side that tells the fewest porkies. For sure Farage tells a few, and Boris will tell many, but this investment pish is the second biggest one after Clegg’s “3 million jobs” nonsense. Ie just because a job involves trade with Europe, does not mean it will stop if Britain exits the EU. The Germans will still want to sell their cars here.

  • reaguns

    Hold on… so if Russia wants to attack an EU member… Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Holland and everyone else will be able to repel Russia, and will be able to agree to cooperate to do so. However if Britain leaves… then for some reason this will not happen? There is no such thing as non-EU alliances, no such thing as Nato? And what about America, will the US not help because it is not in Europe or the EU?

    Now… it may or may not be the case that the European countries could stand up to Russia. It may or may not be the case that they could stand together. It may or may not be the case that America would join in if not attacked herself. It may or may not be the case that Nato members would honour their pledge that “an attack on one is an attack on all”. But it has nothing to do with whether Britain is in the EU or not.