Holding a British passport, and at the same time being committed to EU integration and the democratisation of the European Union, has never been easy. The months since the UK general election, David Cameron’s EU ‘deal’, and the subsequent referendum campaign, have been harder still. The Leave and the Remain campaigns have often sounded as nationalistic and inward-looking as each other, arguing that Britain – superior to all those foreigners – can get one over on those on the other side of the Channel more effectively by either leaving or remaining (depending who you’re listening to).

In that context it is hard to not feel some sort of vindictiveness, leading me to make the pro-federalist case for Brexit here, and flirt with the idea of voting that way. United Kingdom, if you cannot see the crushing contradictions of your own predicament, or overcome your post-colonial hangover, then sod off and leave the EU – and see how you fare when you leave the world’s pre-eminent political and economic supranational union. “You’ve started talking about Britain in the third person,” a friend remarked to me recently – that’s probably sign of how distanced I feel I have become from UK politics.

Meanwhile Brits whine about the EU’s democratic deficit while the House of Lords still exists. The UK is smug about its own economy and how competitive it is, while its trade deficit continues to grow. Meanwhile what economic growth there is – in services – is based on cheap migrant labour (mainly from other EU countries), which is precisely the sort of labour those in favour of Brexit want to forbid. Meanwhile the UK will strike trade deals to its own advantage with the rest of the world if it leaves the EU say the Brexit campaigners, blissfully neglecting that the other parties to such deals might have their own (and contradictory) interests as well. This all looks like a country that has lost its connection with geopolitical and economic reality. The European Union might well be better off without such a country inside it.

Yet despite all of this I cannot bring myself to vote for Brexit. And my rationale is not selfish, not about my own interests as a Brit living in Germany. I am sure I can survive and remain in Berlin if I have to, and I will be entitled to a German passport in the autumn of 2019 anyway, and earliest Britain could leave would be summer 2018. The issue instead is a wider one.

Ultimately the European Union is a cornerstone of the post-World War II international system and – for all its flaws – is still the most advanced international organisation there is. If the UK (or any other EU state for that matter) does not abide by mutually agreed EU law then the European Court of Justice can fine a Member State to ensure it does what it said it would. While the European Parliament could without doubt function far better, it is the only supranational and elected parliament in the world with proper legislative power. The European Union binds its states with rules that constrain those states’ worst excesses, and do this in a mutual manner – what looks like an excessive rule to one is a vital protection to another, while in another policy field the reverse will be the case. It is not that these frameworks are bad; indeed, it is precisely the opposite – Europe’s fraught history would seem to indicate that such constraints are actually a good thing.

The notion of absolute sovereignty is a myth – a country cannot shut itself off from the world. It has to deal with its neighbours. The question then is under what framework this should be done. One of classic intergovernmental haggling where a country makes a commitment but does not deliver upon it the moment it suits it, and cannot be forced to do what it said? Or the European Union system that forces collaboration as the decision is taken, and has a body of law to make sure the what is agreed is reasonably acted upon? The latter has got to be a better bet.

Yes, the behaviour of the UK in the EU might be annoying. I cannot bear the smarmy oneupmanship when British politicians talk about the European Union. But Brussels has to get better at ignoring British “extra-Wurst” demands and hold the UK at arm’s length until the British can eventually understand the way to play the EU is to seek mutual gains rather than trying to carve out a unique position for itself at the expense of others. That might be the way to stop the UK being outvoted so often in the Council for example.

So then, in conclusion, I’ve come to the view that the EU does more good to the UK than the UK does bad to the EU, and that is why I will be casting a vote for Remain on 23rd June. I’ll do so with a heavy heart as a convinced European and federalist, but – narrowly and on balance – the alternative is worse.

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6 comments

  1. Yes

    I live in a country that have voted no to the EU twice. We never joined and thank God for that. England is a country, why should it let some bastards in Brussel rule over them? Have some pride, be a country, the world will not end. The EU is and have always been a joke. If we joined the EU, the EU would be very happy because we have alot to offer. But what would we get in return? Nothing, just some riddicolous rules about how much bend there should be in bananas and of course paying them vast amounts of money for no good reason. Screw the EU and screw Brussel, time to be a real country again dear England.

  2. Jon

    Yes I can vote. Brits overseas for less than 15 years can vote – and can do so by post (which is what I have done) and by proxy. They cannot vote at Embassies.

  3. Anonymous

    Can you even vote in this referendum? I thought that voting only was possible for Brits living in Britain. Do you need to go to Britain in order to vote, or can you vote at the British Embassy in Berlin?

  4. Richard

    You have a typo in the last line of your piece.

    Surely it should say, “I’ll be casting a vote to remain… The alternative is wurst.”

  5. Jon

    @Rob Heyes – no, the Parliament is NOT a farce. You’re right that it cannot formally propose legislation, but while the House of Commons can do that (with private members’ bills), those are rarely significant and only get anywhere if the government backs them. So the Commission being the body that proposes legislation is similar to the way it works in the UK or elsewhere. Same with repealing legislation – if the Commission proposes to repeal legislation, the Parliament will vote on whether it agrees or not.

    As for your statement that they cannot amend legislation that is plain wrong – they can and do amend legislation all the time.

  6. Rob Heyes

    The EU parliament does not have legislative power, MEPs cannot propose, amend or repeal legislation. All they get to do is vote, and huddle together in political groupings that tell them how to vote.

    Having watched the voting process, I’m not exactly surprised, the vote calls come thick and fast, and in no obvious order, so they rely one someone else to give the thumbs up or thumbs down on each vote. In spite of having electronic voting systems, they are not always used, so you often can’t tell how your MEP voted on a given issue.

    The parliament is a farce, although it’s not one of the the MEPs’ making – I’m pretty sure it has been deliberately made that way.