Since June 2016, a common trope on the right in Britain has been to big up any problems within the EU between differing member states as proof that the EU is about to crumble to pieces. This is happening now, with Leavers jumping on some Italians complaining about what they perceive as the EU’s poor response to the current crisis – complete with videos of Italians taking EU flags down from somewhere they had supposedly been long resting – as proof that Coronovirus will spell the end of the EU.
Yet the Eurosceptics may have half a point here; by accident mostly, but still. There will undoubtedly be some major problems for the EU to face in the coming years as a result of the current crisis. Some of them are obvious – how is debt handled within the Eurozone, particularly if Italy and/or Spain spiral into depression? But many are less so and aren’t ones Eurosceptics on the right in the UK would pick up on given they call attention to the fact that a lot of their desire for a both a smaller state and more trade doesn’t fit with their Euroscepticism at all – and just for reference, never did. This is where “Global Britain” smacks hard into “Let’s close the borders and get our sovereignty back”, in other words.
Eurosceptics on the left, like the late Tony Benn, claimed that the EU was a capitalist project aimed at spreading markets further and wider. Eurosceptics on the right have always said that the EU is a socialist endeavour whose ultimate aim is to become a superstate with massive powers. While both of these views are overly simplistic – to put it mildly – the left-wing Eurosceptics are the ones who are far closer to being correct. While there are EU directives that are left-leaning – the “social chapter” – for the most part the aim of them, when taken as a body of law, is to stop national governments from interfering in the state as much as possible and to make cross-border trade easier. In other words, to spread the market much wider and deeper across borders. It is an inherently pro-capitalist project, whether pro-European leftists or Leaver Tories like want to admit it or not.
This is the part of right-wing Euroscepticism I have most struggled to understand over the years. If you want a smaller state, then not only staying in the EU but using the nation’s membership of it to help make the state smaller across the continent is surely the way to go. The aftermath to this crisis could become a shining example of this. If we really do see borders closing all over Europe, not only to people but to goods, all while national governments become larger and more invasive in people’s lives, how will that be a good thing from a centre-right perspective? The EU could become an integral part of the fight back against states turning inward and attempting to grab more power within Europe. Yes, they have been poor at limiting Orban in Hungary; yes, they are relaxing some of their competition rules around things like state aid at the moment in light of the crisis. But what happens when the crisis starts to fade and some national governments want to hang on to the looser rules that give them more power to interfere in markets? Ironically for right-wing Eurosceptics, the EU could become the major force on the continent trying to roll back state interference in business over the coming half decade.
Even if right-wing Eurosceptics disagree with everything I’ve just written – and I would be amazed if all of them did not – they should at least be able to see that they have wasted so much of their time and energy trying to get Britain to first vote to leave the EU and then arguing for the most extreme version of Brexit, when they could have been spending that time making the case for free markets in the 21st century. Now they are left with a Conservative Party that was abandoning pro-business policies and becoming more statist even before the CoVid crisis and now look to enlarge the state in a way that would have made Attlee nervous. Did they think someone else was going to make the arguments for free markets while they engaged in their Brexit vanity project? Now, no one has made it effectively for years and they are left at the end of their long war against EU membership with a British state that would have shocked and appalled them had they had a glimpse of it ten years ago. They have worked tirelessly over the ensuing period to create both a Britain and Europe that is the opposite of what they wanted.
Next week, I have another book coming out. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s out on April 9th, but you can pre-order here: