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30 May 2016

Whatever way the vote swings on June 23, the arrogant EU is destined to be author of its own downfall

It's hard to argue against pro-Brexit perception that Brussels has shown itself incapable of being reformed, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Jean-Claude Juncker
Jean-Claude Juncker

When it comes to Brexit, I've tried to do my homework. I've listened to dozens of discussions on radio and television, read hundreds of articles and talked to a wide variety of friends and acquaintances of differing political opinions in the UK and the Republic.

I'm still an agnostic, though I feel myself gradually tilting towards Leave. My instincts are conservative, of the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" variety.

Yet I know that all institutions atrophy and become corrupt without constant reform. All are doomed to collapse unless they remember the truth expressed so brilliantly in Giuseppe De Lampedusa's great novel The Leopard: "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."

I usually ask Brexiteers what they see as the worst case if we quit the EU. Most of them shrug and say there will probably be short-term economic upheavals and quite a bit of uncertainty, but say confidently that, in the medium and certainly the long-term, we'll be much better off and that there's just as much risk associated with staying in.

I ask Remainers if they'd be astounded if the EU imploded, as the Soviet Union did in 1989. Almost all say no, but add hastily that Brexit would hasten the process and the UK would be blamed.

The Brexiteer counter-argument was best expressed by a friend who said: "I don't care if we're blamed. It's preferable to being shackled to a doomed institution that could take 20 years to die."

It's hard to argue against the Brexiteer perception that the EU has shown itself to be unreformable and incapable of reining in its imperialist aspirations.

In a week when the Freedom Party came within a whisker of winning the Austrian Presidency, Jean-Claude Juncker demonstrated this starkly. You might think that some humility would be appropriate from a man whose main qualification for the job of President of the European Commission was 18 years as Prime Minister of the politically-sclerotic Luxembourg, a secretive tax-haven with a population of just over 500,000. But no.

Mr Juncker explained before the election that, if the Freedom Party's Norbert Hofer were elected, he would be excluded from all EU decision-making: "There will be no debate or dialogue with the far-Right."

I can't think of a better way of earning the enmity of at least half the Austrian population and helping the Freedom Party romp home in the next general election.

A few days later, from the G7 summit, Junker's right-hand man, German Martin Selmayr, tweeted: "#G7 2017 with Trump, Le Pen, Boris Johnson, Beppe Grillo? A horror scenario that shows well why it is worth fighting populism.#withJuncker."

So, in the eyes of the Junker cabal, Boris Johnson is on a par with Marine Le Pen and the way to fight the populism that is threatening governments all over Europe is to ignore the reasons for it (mass immigration, unemployment, out-of-touch governments, loss of sovereignty, German dominance, falling living standards, the wobbly euro, the tragedy of Greece and so on) and threaten and insult the electorate.

Is it any wonder there's so little respect or affection for the EU to be found anywhere except among its elites, past and present? The only convincing arguments I can summon against Brexit have to do with the effect it might have on Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Might it lead to another - this time successful - Scots independence referendum? Might it exacerbate tribalism in Northern Ireland? Might it have serious economic consequences both sides of the border? I don't know.

I had a look at the recent report by the Northern Ireland Affairs select committee, looking at the implications of a Brexit on such areas as agriculture, the border and trade and commerce. Northern Ireland electors could usefully consult it: www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/northern-ireland-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2015/northern-ireland-eu-referendum-report-16-17/.

But, as with all those dodgy figures and unconvincing arguments about the economic implications, there is too much speculation to help me make up my mind.

What I do know, though, is that the EU is in crisis and that, if its rulers continue to behave like incompetent and arrogant despots, collapse is absolutely inevitable.

And the sooner the better.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards