LETTER: England would end up a forgotten island
May I offer this as a start to an intelligent debate?
Now that the political flavour of the next four months seems to be Europe, it could be timely to have a measured debate on the matter. The debate should really be about how much power we should concede. The ‘exit’ brigade want to concede none, the ‘stay’ brigade are happy to share some. Trying to put this into perspective is not easy, but we must try.
When the international banking crisis broke in 2008, the UK decided to tackle it single-handedly, and nearly bankrupted the country in the attempt. If it had been tackled on a Europe-wide basis, the problems today would not be anywhere so bad. The load would have been shared. Similarly, when doing business with other countries, one works to their norms, which, if they happen to be the same as yours, all is well, but if they are not, then you have to adapt. Adaptation is in this context just another word for sharing sovereignty. Adapt or die. Doing business with Europe means these norms will be equalised across borders, or shared. Where is the problem?
The UK’s problem has been that our government and civil service has always interpreted European standards too rigidly. It regards them as law, and not as guidelines or bases for negotiation as do other European countries.
We are being asked to break with the European Union, this is an immense, permanent and irreversible decision. There will be no coming back for another bite later. Once out, it will be forever. There are some politicians who, because perhaps they are frightened of the consequences of exit, are saying that the European Council of Ministers will come back and offer something better. That will be unlikely, as they will have more important matters like the refugee crisis to think about. Less than ten per cent of their business is with us, they can afford to lose this. All we need to do in repeal the legislation that enacts The Treaty of Maastrict and Europe is gone forever. There is no need to negotiate with anyone.
There are however consequences. The first point here is to realise just who we are. We are (at present) the UK, the United Kingdom, with emphasis strongly on united. That is, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It is important to look at what an exit vote might look like for the others, not just England. It is highly likely that Scotland will vote to stay in the EU, probably by a high margin. Orkney and Shetland are closer both geographically and culturally to Norway than to mainland Britain.
On present indications, England will vote to exit. Wales is a bit more problematic but will go with England.
Let us assume that if Northern Ireland votes for staying in, the long term result could be a united Ireland. The Scottish Nationalists could trigger a new independence referendum and succeed.
For 300 years the Scots have been subsidiary to England, and have largely prospered until in the 1980s when the then Conservative Government started to treat them like dirt in my view. It rankled, it hurt, the nationalist movement, dormant for 40 years, took off.
This subsidiarity to England under which the Scots have lived for so long, will no longer seem to be a good thing.
They will be better with a closer relationship to Brussels than to London.
They could even adopt the Euro. This would give their banks greater protection than London could give them. Where then would that leave England?
It would be a sad little off-shore island with the same independence as any other island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with no say in the councils of Europe, no seat on the UN security council, but 100 per cent sovereign. Our banks could go back to being offshore bases to ‘hot’ money, and London would continue prospering.