At the centre of the Leave camp’s message resides one crucial concept: sovereignty. Without it we cannot be autonomous and without autonomy we can never be truly free. If a nation, through its representatives, cannot make the decisions that have an impact on its destiny, “democracy” is a sham and those in secret corridors who really steer us are usurpers.
So far, so good. But it is here that the arguments of Brexit’s proponents – commendable as they may be in their instincts – unravel. For there is an assumption that ultimate power rests in Brussels, that Brussels is not subject to even greater forces and that our sovereignty has been grabbed from us, rather than our having surrendered it. Where, in short, is the real enemy?
Here is the contradiction at the heart of the Leave camp’s philosophy: a national politics only ever works with a national economics. Yes, there can and must be multilateral trade with partners but the clear bias of our vision should be domestic, not foreign, especially in terms of how we control capital, its creation, its flows, and how it is invested, all of which must revert to the nation. Without this, the concept of a national politics is meaningless.
As Germany, from Bismarck onwards, understood far better than we do, if you cannot manufacture for yourself (manufacturing in Britain accounts for a pathetic 14 per cent of GDP and the British do not even own much of their industry any more), if you cannot feed yourself or clothe yourself, or create your own money (this is done overwhelmingly by privately owned international banks, not our government), or defend yourself, then you can never be sovereign, and whether or not some clown in Brussels determines the composition of your Stilton is academic.
The proponents of Brexit may well refer with nostalgia to the separateness that defined us as a unique island people and, to that extent, cast themselves in the role of patriots and nationalists. Like all the best lies, however, this is a half-truth, because when it comes to the economy, they are internationalists and these two philosophies do not mix.
The Tories must be reminded every waking minute of a most uncomfortable truth: it was they, under Margaret Thatcher, who pushed the neoliberal agenda; an agenda that encourages mass immigration in order to suppress the wages of our workforce, thereby complying with the exigencies of the bottom line. It was they who bought so wholeheartedly in to the virtual economy at the expense of the real one, preferring the City of London above industry and agriculture and sacrificing the last vestiges of Britain’s economic independence in the process. New Labour took up the baton with enthusiasm.
Two generations of politicians, including the members of the Brexit camp, have been brainwashed at their schools and universities into accepting an economic orthodoxy that originated with a minoritarian sect at the University of Chicago and they are too unimaginative to venture out of their comfort zone. That economics knows no flag, no loyalty, no national anthem and seeks the destruction of the national values to which the proponents of Brexit pay lip-service. These politicians are loath to ruffle the feathers of the business interests whose boards they wish to sit on when they retire.
Or, to put it in more personal terms, the Boris I knew well at school and university shared with me a love of classics – in particular, the heroes of the classics and the primal values that moved them. While such a world-view is compatible with a love of country, I do not see Achilles or Hector bowing before such a patently ignoble, money-worshipping and ultimately unpatriotic philosophy as Thatcherism.
Let Johnson and Michael Gove also challenge Washington and Goldman Sachs and then we will see how brave they really are.
This article appears in the 02 Mar 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Germany's migrant crisis