Richard North, 14/07/2013  

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A mischievous headline goes to the Booker column this week, which focuses once again on the problems of leaving the EU. Although the text looks at the entire political class, noting that all our politicians are "stumbling" around in the dark, the main headline pick on UKIP for not having a clue.

This has some commenters attributing the sentiment to me – some even charging that I must have written the offending sentences – the odd thing is that I have been concentrating so much on STOR that I hardly discussed the EU with Booker last week.

Thus, it is very much Booker who sets the tone of the piece, arguing that here is virtually no political issue that generates more ill-informed nonsense than whether or not Britain should stay in the EU.

We have, he says, those 304 MPs voting for David Cameron's wish to renegotiate our relationship with the EU and put the results to a referendum no later than 2017.

We have Theresa May announcing that she is going to demand a British opt-out from 133 EU regulations on law and order, but then apply to opt in again on 35 of them.

Then we have John Cridland, head of the CBI, repeating yet again the old canard that it would be disastrous for us to think of emulating Norway and Switzerland, the two richest countries in Europe, because although they trade freely with the EU's single market, they have no say in shaping its rules.

On and on goes such grandstanding, not touching reality at any point, Booker complains, explaining that the essence of the problem is that, while the British like some aspects of the EU, other aspects make them deeply resentful, without them ever really understanding the rules or how it works.

All this leads to total confusion on what must be done to resolve the issue, a failure to understand that we can remain members of the Single Market without staying in the European Union, leading a fear-driven consensus, given full voice by the BBC, Open Europe and others that unless we remain in the EU we will be without influence and even excluded from trading with it.

Such "consensus" would be made the centrepiece of the campaign in any referendum on Britain's continued membership, so relentlessly put over that it is almost a foregone conclusion that the stay-in vote would win the day.

What has so far been almost wholly lacking from the debate on, Booker then goes on to say, is any properly worked-out alternative vision of what Britain's future in the world could be if we were to regain our independence by leaving.

Equally lacking, although it is explored in the recent Commons research paper on a British exit, is any recognition of just how incredibly complicated a British withdrawal from the EU would be, because we are enmeshed with it by such a mountain of laws and other legal obligations.

To disentangle all this would present a challenge so immense that it could only be brought off by a government fully committed to the task and fired up by a vision of how well Britain could thrive outside the EU. This would require a degree of political will which so far simply doesn't exist.

Such is very much in accord with our views, and might even be taken as a tacit endorsement of the thinking which led to the Harrogate Agenda, but Booker's view are only a restatement of the current position.

It is here that UKIP comes under some scrutiny from Booker, where he observes that an odd features of the debate is that the only party committed to a British exit from the EU, UKIP, appears to have little understanding of how this could, in practice, be achieved – let alone a positive vision of how well Britain could fare outside it.

And he also notes, quite fairly and correctly, that too many UKIP supporters take refuge from the difficulties of leaving the EU by pretending that we could simply wave a magic wand by repealing the European Communities Act. With one mighty bound we would be free - "sorted". Says Booker: "These are children".

As we know, in the increasingly intolerant, evangelistic wing of the UKIP cult, even such mild observations are not permitted, hence the charge that the words are penned by the "UKIP-hater" North.

Nevertheless, Booker concluded with what amounts to the Stokes precept, that without the vision and the will to work for a positive alternative, it seems we are doomed just to limp helplessly on as a "foot-dragging and complaining member” of the "European project", as it itself staggers helplessly on into a drably visionless and ever more uncertain future.

There is the problem for UKIP writ large. As long as it indulges in what amounts to retro-Conservatism – never exactly a coherent doctrine - tinged by a measure of Powellism – the Party will never be able to call itself a mass movement, or succeed in overturning our EU-led form of government, the nature of which requires, by definition, a revolution.

And it is very much a matter of fact that no revolution has ever succeeded without offering its followers a positive vision. After all, the revolution that is the EU succeeded, to a very great measure, the "vision" of a prosperous Europe, freed from the burden of perpetual "civil war".

That vision still very much drives the projet and, until UKIP comes up with something of equal breadth, it is not going to prevail. Neither is attacking Booker – or myself, for that matter – for stating the obvious going to cut it. Bluster and venom is no substitute.


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