Remain needs to accept the Brexiteers have a point

by Kevin Meagher

A referendum, by its very nature, is a straight choice. ‘I am right and the other side is wrong.’ Not just wrong in fact, but hilariously, pathetically wrong. So voters must choose Path A, that is to say, the route to salvation that I offer, because Path B leads straight to the gates of Hell.

So it will be with our forthcoming plebiscite on the European Union, where the public will be offered the stark choice of keeping us in, or letting us leave. For campaigners on either side of the debate, there can be no ambiguity. No room for even the merest, fleeting uncertainty as they make their case.

Yet, reasonable people are persuadable. They are willing to hear different points of view. Capable of crossing the demarcations of a stark, zero-sum political offer. Bookended by the true believers of either side, the British people retain their doubts about political panaceas of either kind.

So here’s a thought for Remainers. If voters are torn between the competing claims of the pro and anti-EU camps – perhaps recognising the validity of aspects of either side’s analysis – would it not be wise for campaigners to also accept that parts of the Brexiteers’ argument have merit as a means of persuading the poor, conflicted voter that your case transcends the usual referendum propaganda?

The weary cynicism that greets politicians’ claims to speak the objective, unsullied truth might be lessened by instead presenting a balanced, synthesised message to voters that treats them as reasonable people capable of making a reasoned choice between one less-than-perfect offer and another considerably-less-than-perfect offer.

Why not concede that, while staying in the EU offers stability and security, the way it works is often pretty rotten. Unverified Commission accounts. Weak foreign policy co-ordination. Wasteful spending. Open borders that are encouraging a level of migration many feel uneasy about. A lack of focus on investing in skills, technology and infrastructure.

It’s surely any sensible person’s view that the EU is not very democratic and that people don’t like being told what to do by bureaucrats they didn’t elect. Accepting that eurosceptics are sometimes right to be so would be a refreshing change from the increasingly hysterical sophistry of the Remain campaign’s ‘Project Fear.’

And while Britain’s economy would certainly change if we left, (and in all likelihood get worse for many people), why not concede that we would still be free to trade with our former partners, albeit, with a host of new hassles, restrictions and costs.

Likewise, anti-EU campaigners would be smart to accept no-one can seriously believe that nations’ co-operating for their mutual self-interest is inherently a bad idea. And for all their obsessing, sceptics have never succeeded in painting a vision of a post-EU Britain. What would be so great about leaving, above and beyond the compulsive desire to do so?

For those of us living in the north of England, or South Wales, or Scotland, the EU represents a civilising influence. Without billions in EU structural funds to counter Thatcherite economic shock therapy, ex-coal fields and manufacturing areas would have become ghost towns. And are we really saying that all those EU directives on drinking water quality, which have brought our former “industrial rivers” back to life again, are a bad thing?

Both pro and anti voices in our stunted, reductive debate about Europe currently suffer from the same pathological inability to recognise that the other side makes a number of fair points. Perhaps the first to do so will find their candour chimes better with the electorate’s mistrust of outdated, binary arguments.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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6 Responses to “Remain needs to accept the Brexiteers have a point”

  1. james says:

    the problem is that project fear has turned me from remain to very strong leave. Why? Because i was curious about why there was so much fear in the first place so i pored over articles and even bought books.

    The heart of the matter is whether or not we have the self-confidence to create new realities – to lift ourselves up from the psychological yoke that is the EU.

    We can trade freely through EFTA/EEA with all the benefits of the single market plus make our own trade agreements with the world without being part of a languid customs union.

    The things that are cited are correct – however, it’s up to our political culture to represent those interests and anticipate change. We need to have a more planned economy and come together as `one nation` trading with all of Europe using our clout to get the best deals.

    If Labour aren’t up to the job then there’ll be others that are.

  2. Mike says:

    A very good and balanced article. There are pros and cons on each side. Also, like with the Scottish referendum, it wouldn’t be the end of the world whatever the decision.
    It does come down to self confidence and sovereignty. A small example, Labour in 1997 could only cut VAT on domestic fuel to 5%, rather than eliminating it because of EU rules. So the “civilising” nature cuts both ways. It would be quite possible for the UK government to take over and fund those structural find area from the EU as we are a net contributor.

  3. James Martin says:

    Yes, good article. Most people see pros and cons of staying in and leaving, and therefore the choice for most of us becomes one of a balance of probabilities with lots of grey rather than black and white. In my case the balance is tipped in favour of exit, and although I recognise the problems of that choice, the problems of remaining in the anti-democratic EU monster that recently so gleefully stuffed Greek workers (no ‘social Europe’ for them!) are even worse.

  4. Tafia says:

    Remain are starting to sound desperate. Next they will succumb to hysteria.

  5. Timmy says:

    Yes, and isn’t that reductive tendency true of our wider political debate too?
    For me, if Cameron had come back with a significant reduction in the scope of EU laws and legal competencies I would have voted Remain. As it is, I shall vote Leave.

  6. Anon E Mouse says:

    I too will now vote “Leave” because of the nonsense Cameron has engaged in blatantly lying to try to frighten the public. This move will make any of the Tory Party supporting the EU unelectable and it’s only a shame Jeremy Corbyn didn’t support the working class in Europe against the corporate bullies controlling our lives. When so called bail outs put money into the hands of Greek bankers whilst the elderly in that country are starving and looking for food in rubbish bins something is very very wrong.

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