Ask people whether they think we will be better off able to make our own laws, decide our own taxes and control our own borders, and nearly everyone agrees.
That is why those who want a Remain vote have worked so hard to instil nagging doubts that the cost of doing the right thing is just too great. Too often, the EU referendum is depicted as a choice between head and heart. The Brexiteers have all the romance of democracy, independence and self-determination. The Remain camp adopts the role of Jeremiah, warning of risks ranging from the extravagant (World War Three) to the mundane (budget airlines might charge more to fly you to Malaga). It is interesting that some of our most successful entrepreneurs have made an opposite case. James Dyson and John Timpson are among those who believe that Britain might do better freed from the grip of an old-fashioned trade bloc with a declining share of the world economy. Luke Johnson has made the slightly different argument that success in business is often borne of the ability to abjure ‘groupthink’. Making the case that ‘Winners go against the grain’, he says we should have the confidence to reject the conventional wisdom that is being rammed down our throats by a conformist establishment. Sometimes daring to be different and making your own judgment is the key to success.
It is not just that the establishment has made the wrong call on every big economic decision from the ERM and the Euro to their blithe complicity in the massive regulatory failure that led to the banking crisis. More troubling still is its refusal to address the risk of remaining in the EU. Any honest assessment of the referendum choice must start from the premise that there are risks and uncertainties on both sides. In fact virtually the only thing of which we can be certain is that the status quo will not remain. Forty-three years ago Britain joined a European Economic Community comprised of a handful of wealthy countries. Even though it had a court that could impose decisions on member states and an unelected Commission with the power to initiate legislation, each member country had a veto over any new law or treaty change. Now we find ourselves one of twenty-eight countries, many of them much poorer than we are. The veto has been dropped in great swathes of decision-making allowing laws to be imposed on us by majority vote. Even worse, the creation of the Euro means that there is already a majority bloc within the EU with completely different priories from ours, always able to outvote us.
If we vote to remain we should be prepared for just as big a change, in the next four decades as we have had in the last. For the Eurozone countries this means a massive further centralisation of power as they belatedly introduce the fiscal union – with control over taxes, spending and borrowing – that was always essential for the single currency to work. But will the people of Eurozone countries be prepared to accept this massive loss of control over their own affairs? People who are already angry at the extent to which power has slipped from them to the technocrats who rule them. Already the gap between the people and those who govern them is fuelling a rise in ugly extremist politics of left and right across the continent. Even before contemplating the proposals for a European army or the question of further enlargement, we should have our eyes open to the risks of staying in an organisation that is generating economic instability and mass unemployment through the Euro; creating political instability through its inability to get to grips with the migration crisis and which is shrinking daily as a part of the world economy.
The challenges of the modern world will be met by countries which can adapt. Those which are in touch with the people they govern – and those which trade and cooperate freely – not those that are forced to accept laws, taxes or borders beyond their control. Voting to Brexit on 23rd June is a vote to leave a failing institution. Those who say we should stay in a reformed EU are deluding themselves – only a few months ago our Prime Minister tried to make some modest changes to our own benefit rules and was told he would not be allowed to do so. The EU is so sclerotic, so unresponsive and so uncompetitive that it is incapable of changing direction. The shock of Britain leaving may be exactly what is needed to rescue them and us. Look closely at what the European Union has become, look at the damage that it is doing, look at its refusal to reform and you can vote to Leave with head and heart as one.