Europe IN 250 Words: Save the Veto

The writer and independent MP A. P. Herbert was walking along the Thames at Westminster in July 1940, the day France surrendered to the Nazis, when someone shouted at him from a barge: “Hurray! No allies!”

The truth was that this idea, that Britain should no longer fight constrained by relationships with anyone else, was widely shared. Even the King agreed. Britain standing alone seemed to be an attractive form of desperation – but it was desperation. And we were prepared in the end to bankrupt the nation to find us another set of allies.

There is a streak of isolationism in the English character. It makes no sense to deny it or criticise it. But we have to be clever about it.

The referendum debate is about trade policy, and few of these issues have really been hammered out. The question is now: what constraints, what controls, do we need to compromise as a nation to provide foreign markets for our goods and services?

The Leave camp maintain that we can retain complete control while we negotiate trade agreements with President Trump or President Clinton, and our newly divorced former trade partners in Europe. But not even Gove – by some way the sanest voice in Leave – has put forward proposals about the new UK trade regime they propose. We are somehow expected to take it on trust that Gove and Johnson would not sign up to secret courts now part of the TTIP trade agreement with the USA, or anything similar.

They may be right, though they haven’t even said this explicitly, but the evidence suggests that they prefer to be seen to be right, and will sign up for much of the package – just as Norway and Switzerland have. But crucially, having thrown away the UK veto.

That’s why I will be voting to Remain. Not because I have no English streak of isolationism. Nor because I like the kind of trade agreements which seem to be the pattern these days (and anyway, have little to do with real trade, and a great deal to do with intellectual property and the rights of investors and lenders). I have that streak and I don’t like TTIP much, though I regard myself as in favour of free trade as the antidote to slavery.

No, I’m backing Remain because, as part of the European Union, we have a veto. Neither Switzerland nor Norway have one: they just have to sign up to whatever is put before them.

It is true that I don’t fully trust the Conservative princelings who want to inherit more absolute powers as a result of Brexit to use that veto. But at least it will be there.

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