Shawshank Redemption is a classic movie about prison. One of the characters, Brooks has been in prison so long that he cannot survive outside when eventually released. He takes his own life. Peter Hitchens sees Britain as akin to a lifer within Shawshank. He doubts it can survive on the “outside”.
. . . Our presence in the prison of the EU was voluntary. Nobody made us join and indeed we had the chance to leave within three years of losing our independence, and emphatically scorned it.
But my general point remains the same. We have forgotten how to be independent and forgotten that we were independent. We are more than vaguely aware that the world in which we are now offered independence is fiercer, colder, harsher, more expensive and less friendly towards us than it was in 1972. If we are observant we will also have noticed that the government can’t make ends meet and is groin-deep in debt, that much of the country is foreign-owned, that industries which used to help us pay our way in the world have largely vanished, that our trade deficit is huge, that even the vaunted ‘invisible exports’ and ‘services’ which once kept the wolf from the door are not as healthy as they once were, that our armed services are melancholy remnants, the Commonwealth a phantom and our diplomatic standing far from high.
Anyway, how many active adults, now participating in the political process, can remember what it was like being in an independent country, whose Parliament was sovereign, whose embassies flew its own flag and nobody else’s, whose head of state wasn’t a citizen of someone else’s country, which chose its own economic policy, had its own fishing grounds, decided how to subsidise its own farms, issued its own passports, controlled its own borders, made its own alliances and trade agreements, did not abandon its traditions and its particular special ways of doing things to conform with some great overarching plan?
It’s a decreasing number. Most people in this country don’t really care about independence itself, and don’t think about it. And the numbers who have (correctly) linked the EU with mass immigration and our loss of control over our borders, though considerable, peaked with UKIP in 2015 and aren’t enough to swing a vote.
‘Euroscepticism’ is a worthless and futile political position involving complaining about the EU in public and at election times, and knuckling under to it in private when the voters aren’t looking. It is very like the institutionalised long-term prisoner’s daydream of freedom, which – when he is actually offered his liberty – he doesn’t really want. They don’t really want it; they’ve made no serious plan for it, they aren’t prepared for any major sacrifices to get it. It’s just a thing they say, to indulge themselves and assert a sort of machismo.
What’s more, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine our much-diminished country managing to walk alone again on its atrophied and shrivelled leg-muscles, weakened by years of non-independence. I myself am baffled as to how a referendum could decide the issue, when huge majorities in both Houses of Parliament, plus the great bulk of the media, plus businessmen (traditionally utterly ignorant about politics) plus the civil service, the education sector, and the judiciary, are committed to our continuing membership.
If we voted to leave, who would implement the decision?
That’s why so many people, even the ‘Eurosceptics’ in law, business, politics and the media, will, when it comes to a choice, recoil from the open gate and remain in the EU’s nice cosy landscaped prison, hoping for the best.
Barring an economic collapse between now and referendum day, or some other event which turns the vote into a plebiscite on the government itself, I think that there is a poor chance of a majority to leave, especially one so big that Downing Street and Parliament can’t somehow find a way to ignore or override it.
If there were a real desire in this country to leave, then there would be a serious political party which had that purpose at the centre of its manifesto, and was capable of winning a Commons majority. No such thing is in prospect. I still plan to stay at home on Referendum Day. I don’t wish to endorse or in any way contribute to this futile exercise in fake people power, whose result will be used to proclaim, for years to come, that the issue is now closed.