One of the curious issues I noticed from the Remain campaign during the EU referendum was that their message about Britain’s potential future in the EU was starkly different from the one coming from Brussels itself.
The Remain campaign vociferously attacked any suggestion that the EU wanted to expand into the Balkans, create an EU Army, shift yet more power away from national governments or threaten the removal of our opt-outs.
Yet this was precisely the content of Jean-Claude Juncker’s state of the union speech yesterday that was greeted to rapturous applause. His points included:
• An EU Army: ‘By 2025 we need a fully-fledged European Defence Union’.
• A further shift in power from national governments through ‘merg[ing] the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council’.
• Removal of national vetoes, including on decisions affecting VAT and a financial transaction tax.
• ‘The euro is meant to be the single currency of the European Union as a whole’ shows that the EU is unhappy with opt-outs for the Euro. Juncker stated aim that he hopes ‘being a full member of the euro area, the Banking Union and the Schengen area has become the norm for all EU Member States’ should worry Denmark, the only remaining member state with a formal opt out from the Euro.
• Yet more spending specifically for Euro member states and ‘a strong Euro area budget line within the EU budget’, which as the EU’s second largest contributor would mean sending yet more money to Brussels each year.
If you want to see a United States of Europe then no doubt you will consider this blueprint for a federal state agreeable. The question is whether a majority of the British people would vote for even a single one of these proposals?
Rightly or wrongly, the vision held by the remaining members is one of a federal superstate. It is clearer than ever that there was no status quo option on the ballot paper. People were choosing between Brexit and a country called ‘Europe’.
Juncker said in his speech that he felt the UK would come to regret leaving the EU. I respectfully disagree. It seems to me that many people who voted remain will be pleased that we’ve left a few decades from now because they weren’t voting to have our armed forces subsumed or our Parliament overruled. In many ways they were voting against the image of an insular and isolated Britain, which is now clearly off the agenda.
I remain confident that we will make far better neighbours to the EU than reluctant members. We must be supportive of the direction the EU has chosen and wish them every luck with their new projects; but never be drawn into them.
Leaving the political constructs of the EU, most crucially the European Court of Justice, has never been more imperative. Remaining within those political straitjackets whilst the EU undertakes this marathon of federalisation would mean giving up yet more control to Brussels rather than taking it back.
Rather than looking back at a future that was never possible, we can now grasp the opportunity to forge new relationships across the globe and make the UK the most open and internationalist country it can be. There is a bright future ahead of us after Brexit when we once again become the champions of free trade and re-engage with the world more than ever before.