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Dear Penny,


You asked me where I stood on the referendum. I haven’t forgotten: I have been thinking about it. I did at first think it was an enormous red herring, and obscured the fact that Casino Capitalism (ie the City of London) was the main enemy, but I now think it has been useful. if only because people who aren’t obsessed by, or much interested in, politics begin to see that there are very few ‘facts’ and that most economic or political predictions or projections are (and always have been) guesses. Economics is still the dismal science. People do keep complaining they are not being given “The Facts” This is because there aren’t any. There is no clear “What is going to happen,” and policy remains the best honesty. Not “Where will we be in five years?” but “Where do we want to be in five years,” which is a better indicator of where we should be aiming, and which nobody seems daring enough to pronounce.


Where are we? For centuries up to 1945 Europeans in various nation-states have been killing one another. The European Community was an attempt to stop that happening, and has been an outstanding success: seventy two years ago it was still happening, but since then Europeans within the EC have stopped killing one another. This is not trivial. Some people will tell us that peace is due to Nato, which underlines how hypocritical the debate is. By belonging to Nato we give away some of this sovereignty which is so much talked about, to a supra-national body, led by America. (cf Article 13 of the Nato treaty which makes it clear that this is America’s outfit).


The fact is that no nation can have absolute sovereignty. We can’t go back to” Making our own decisions.” We give some sovereignty away by accepting the United Nations Organisation, the Geneva Convention, the International Court at the Hague, the Law of the Sea for territorial waters, and so on. We may or may not agree with EC Fisheries policy, but clearly some organisation has to sort out competing claims and sustainability unless we are to go back to the Cod Wars. There are many other cases like this.


There are also many issues which can only be sorted out by a supra-national organisation which has clout. We can’t face down trans-national companies unless we can deprive them of a substantial proportion of their customers by way of persuading them to get into line. We can’t cope with migration on our own. There are millions of people outside Europe who want to get in. Our borders are the borders of Europe: if we can’t control those (and at the moment we can’t), we certainly can’t control the coastline of these off-shore islands with two boats, a few coast-guards, and a bit of Dad’s Army. (Some enterprising East Anglians have been demonstrating that we can people-smuggle with the best of them). King Canute went down to the shore to show his people that you can’t stop the tide from coming in: he wasn’t trying to deal with a tsunami.


If you say “Well, the EC fails to cope with immigration at the moment,” then I agree. But the organisation exists, the means is there. Where is the British Government’s great plan, with our partners, to deal with European borders and immigration? The British have been lousy team-players in the EC. If the alternative, Little Britain, policy is not to let foreigners in, you have to ask, how do they propose to keep foreigners out?


What we have is an inadequate European Community with many faults. But it is broadly benevolent and democratic. Here please note another of the hypocrisies. In the UK we have an electoral system which does not represent votes cast, and a revising House of Lords packed with entirely unelected old fogies. And we should complain about democracy in the EC? The answer is reform. Reform the UK, decide what you want the EC to be and reform that as well. Those who want to get out might well ask themselves: did we ever, really, get in?


I haven’t talked about economics and trade, because they are ephemeral issues on which hundreds of politicians and experts are fantasising. As I said before, there are no hard facts. That discussion has become unreal and boring, though I have no doubt that Brexit will be economically dire, the Brexiters, and I suspect the Government and the Civil Service, having no plans for that eventuality. Reminds me of a Head of Faculty of ours who memorably said “How can we have a contingency plan when we don’t know what is going to happen?”


Me, I want to belong to the group of nations who have created the culture I live in, and live by. I’m on the side of Bach and Beethoven, Dante and Verdi, Cervantes and Goya, Monet and Manet, Tolstoi and Turgenev (my Europe will definitely include Russia, when that country becomes a democracy again), and I want it to be wedded to ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and sorority, and the proper use of a small planet. So I shall vote to stay in, with reservations, as a start. And I don’t believe they can legally deprive me of my European Citizenship.

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