One of the problems with being a confirmed Remainer is that you have to like the EU. Or pretend to. In fact, you have to act like you think the bloody thing is verging on infallible.
How the tables have turned. Before the referendum, it was the Leavers who were forced to strike an absolutist pose. Nothing good had ever come from the EU, and nothing good ever would. To say anything less, to admit membership has some beneficial and useful aspects, was a sign of weakness that would be ruthlessly exploited by the Remain camp. Now it’s the other way around: draped in their victor’s laurels, the Leavers are free to adopt a more nuanced posture. ‘Hey,’ they say, ‘membership has some beneficial and useful aspects. Let’s see if we can keep a bunch of them.’ Those of us fighting against Brexit – and what does that struggle amount to now? Demanding a soft Brexit? A second referendum? A military coup led by Captain Ashdown and Private Clegg? – find ourselves in the position of publicly venerating an institution that is, frankly, horrible.
Yes, I think the EU is horrible. It is: grotesque; monstrous; impracticable; caliginous; abhorrent; silly; absurd; rococo; scabrous; reptilian; weird; warty; atramentous; fatuous, purportless; ill-conceived; lepidote; preposterous; obfuscous; encrusted; bebarnacled; Pecksniffian; venal; obstinate; pharisaical; contumacious; furfuraceous. It is choleric, necrotic and Stygian. It is iffy, whiffy and knavish; It is aphotic. It is froufrou.
I must tell you that I feel much the better for typing the above paragraph. It may mean excommunication from the Guild of Remoaners, but the burden of being consistently nice about the European Union has been a considerable one. I can imagine how it has looked from the Brexiters’ side of the fence – the majority of liberal Britain has spent the past 15 months howling at their stupidity, denouncing the government for seeking to implement what the referendum result dictates, warning that our stately old country is about to turn into a mix of Belize, Yemen and North Korea, and calling Jean- Claude Juncker ‘daddy’.
I finally popped my cork at the weekend, watching those appalling images of Spanish police officers beating the hell out of ordinary Catalonians, male and female, young and old, for the crime of casting a vote in a referendum. Perhaps it’s something to do with being Scottish – even a Scottish Unionist – but the use of violence against a people peacefully exercising their right to self-determination, legal or not, was stomach- turning. It was like a scene from a wobbling African dictatorship. I looked to the enlightened leaders of the EU for an echo of my thoughts but found the merest pipette of comfort – Belgium’s PM Charles Michel tweeted that ‘Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue’. Verhofstadt, a former Belgian PM, criticised the Catalan separatists for pushing ahead with the referendum but also ‘the use of disproportionate violence to stop this’. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that ‘regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed and call on Spain to change course before someone is seriously hurt.’ Apart from that, as far as I can tell, there has been either humbug or silence.
This reminded me of what I have so lately put out my head, namely that the EU is about systems and states rather than people. It is the bureaucrat’s bureaucracy, a hell-culture of edicts and regulations and treaties and directives, of the acquis communautaire and a token nod to subsidiarity, of a monetary union that is engineered to work in favour of the big guys, who won’t take the necessary fiscal steps to make it work for the little guys. It seems incapable of seriously debating the problems created by open borders and lacks the suppleness to address them. It is an institution that too often displays contempt for the nation state and national democracy. It is feather-bedded, decadent and trenchantly unreformable. It will back – or at least turn a blind eye to – the Robocop shock troops of Mariano Rajoy as they club the exposed skin of Barcelona’s unarmoured and unarmed citizens.
So it’s complicated, right? I still think we’re wrong – bonkers, frankly – to leave. I fully expect this walk-out to hit our economy like a sledgehammer – revenues and employment will fall, companies will go to the wall, taxes will rise, the poorest and the squeezed middle will pay, all based on a reckless right-wing gamble on the abstract benefits of greater sovereignty and the presumed desire of the rest of the world to trade more with us. I still believe every international institution benefits from British membership, and that we therefore have a duty to belong. We will lose heft on the international scene, our hugely important role as a bridge between the US and the EU is effectively over, and for all the talk of a shiny new era of co-operation and friendship, well, that all depends who’s in power, doesn’t it? Oh, and Brexit could ensure the person in power is Jeremy Corbyn. Cheers for that.
On balance – and all positions should be a matter of balance – Britain would be better off staying in. The only thing worse than the existence of the horrible European Union would be its non-existence. We should be inside on a matter of principle and on a matter of national self- interest. We should be the key motive force behind reform in the areas we correctly identify as problematic: one of these would be that aforementioned faceless, unaccountable, frenemy culture that stands aside as a member state kicks the crap out of a group of its citizens with no threat of sanction or barely even a cross word.
Brexit, to me, feels like a retreat, and a defeat, and not just for Britain.