One of the first things I thought I should do is read some books. Problem is, the most recent ones are published last year, and for good reason, I suppose, as the closer to the general election they were published, the sooner the books would be rendered obsolete. I guess the two books I picked are already kind of redundant, but I’m reading them anyway just to get thinking. I finished the first one last night.
Hugo Dixon is clearly quite a learned chap – a prominent financial journalist who was at the FT for a decade – and he probably knocked off this small reader over a wet weekend. Despite being called The In/Out Question it is essentially one long “in” argument, although Dixon does list extensive improvements he would make to the current system, none of which I expect would be as easily achievable as he suggests. He likes the single market, he likes the idea of the EU ratcheting up its competitive edge, he likes free movement between countries, he thinks it’s crucial for the EU (with the UK firmly included) to be a single, strong front in the face of huge growing markets like China; he acknowledges that Brussels can meddle too much and that red tape could be “cut” (a slightly awkward clash of idioms) and he hates the Common Agricultural Policy. His points are well-organised with plenty of statistics to back them up, but the writing is slightly flat and unpersuasive; I wonder whether this book would manage to turn any eurosceptic’s opinion around.
The other problem with the book is that it’s almost wholly economically focused. There are hardly any cultural points for good or ill, and the few which squeeze in are a bit perfunctory: when discussing how we as a country are culturally getting closer to the EU, the best proof he can muster is that “we are enjoying more and more continental food – tapas, wine, pasta, Greek yoghurt, you name it.” It could be a line out of a 1970s school textbook.
He also fails to convince us that free movement of people isn’t causing a serious problem in some parts of the UK, with the rather whimsical notion that “the more people experience cross-fertilisation [of cultures], the more people like it”, then going on to discuss how popular foreigners are in London. No shit, Hugo… but what about in Kings Lynn or Lowestoft?
The difficult thing for me is that I agree with most of what he says, and of course I want it all to be true and for everyone else to believe it too. But very little is spoken about “what if we don’t” vote to stay in the EU. One sole paragraph is dedicated to what would happen to UK citizens residing and working in the EU, and EU citizens residing and working in the UK, if we left; although Dixon does give oxygen to a dark concept that the country’s pro-Europe press would do well to bandy around a little more: namely, that we have no way of knowing how the rest of the EU will react to the UK leaving. They would be perfectly within their rights to tighten border controls, turf out Brits, make trading agreements tricky, the works. We have no reason to presume that our erstwhile union partners will simply say, “okay, fair enough, you’ve left, now let’s try and make it as easy as possible for you.” Quite the contrary – it may get decidedly spiky, especially if the UK start to play tough with euro migrants. That eurosceptic Tory MP with his holiday home in the Dordogne may well have to get a visa to visit it, in a worst case scenario – or even pay a hefty tax on it.
In short, The In/Out Question is a quick, worthwhile read if all you want to do is confirm your already pro-EU feelings. But as for convincing eurosceptics, or even swaying those on the fence, the pro-EU brigade are going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this.
Next: Europe: In or Out? by David Charter
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