The agents of Project Fear – and they seem to be everywhere – have warned us that leaving the EU would jeopardise police, judicial and intelligence cooperation. We have even been told that the EU has been responsible, over the last 70 years, for “keeping the peace in Europe”. In every case the message is that Brexit is simply too scary; and the reality is that these threats are so wildly exaggerated as to be nonsense.
Indeed I am ever more convinced that the real risk is to sit back and do nothing, to remain inertly and complacently in an unreformed EU that is hell-bent on a federal project over which we have no control.
Take the so-called economic risks. Remember when you weigh them up that the people now issuing the blood-curdling warnings against Brexit are often the very same (as the former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, just pointed out) as the people who prophesied disaster if Britain failed to join the euro. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. It was the euro that proved to be a nightmare, an economic doomsday machine that is still causing low growth, high unemployment and real misery in some European countries.
The single currency is also the cause of tensions between European countries, and rhetoric of a virulence and nastiness we have not seen since the second world war. We have had anti-German riots in Greece; we have seen Angela Merkel burned in effigy in Greece. In France, relations with Germany are said to be at a post-war nadir and support for the National Front is at an all-time high. Instead of recognising this disaster for what it is – the result of an over-centralising plan to fuse diverse economies into one – the EU is determined to keep going in the wrong direction.
Francois Hollande is calling for a new federal parliament of the eurozone, and there are explicit plans to try to save the euro by creating an ever tighter political and fiscal union, with legislative consequences that would embroil Britain even though we are out of the eurozone.
"What we need to do now is screw up our courage and go for change."
We stand on the brink of another huge new centralising leap – a leap in the dark, to coin a phrase – which means less democracy, less accountability and therefore a greater risk of disillusion and eventual political eruption. It isn’t Brexit that presents the economic risk; it is the euro, and the federalising attempts to save it that are the real long-term threat to security and stability.
As for the notion that the EU is somehow the military guarantor of peace in Europe – remember what happened when the EU was entrusted with sorting out Yugoslavia. Remember Ukraine. It is Nato and the Atlantic alliance that underpins our security, as Maj Gen Julian Thompson outlines elsewhere in this paper today. EU pretensions in the area are at best confusing and at worst likely to encourage American disengagement.
It is simply untrue, finally, to say that leaving the EU would make it impossible for us to concert our activities in intelligence or counter-terrorism or policing. All these operations can be conducted at an intergovernmental level – as indeed they used to be, until fairly recently.
On the contrary, it is the European Court of Justice, with its vast new remit over the Charter of Fundamental Rights, that is making it harder month by month for the security services to get on with their job – whether it be expelling murderers or monitoring terrorist suspects. It is the border-free Europe, obviously, that makes it so much easier for our enemies to move around. As Ronald K Noble, the former head of Interpol, has said, the Schengen area is “like a sign welcoming terrorists to Europe”.
Whatever the risks of Brexit, they are eclipsed by the problems of remaining in a political construct that has changed out of all recognition since we joined in 1972. What we need to do now is screw up our courage and go for change. We need a new partnership and a new deal with our friends in the EU, based on trade and cooperation, but without this supranational apparatus that is so out of date and is imitated nowhere else.
It is a once in a lifetime chance to energise our democracy, cut bureaucracy, save £8 bn a year, control our borders and strike new trade deals with growth economies that are currently forbidden. Vote Leave would be good for Britain and the only way to jolt the EU into the reform it needs. Let’s call it Project Hope.