It was inevitable I guess. With the Brexit focus now on ‘defence’, the arguments on either side get sillier.
Cameron says leaving would up the risk of war in Europe but we have to weigh this against his earlier insistence, on pain of being outflanked by UKIP, that without EU reforms he too would want Britain out. When we place these claims side by side there’s only one way they can be squared – Cameron sees war in Europe as preferable to ‘not getting a fair deal for Britain’ .
Just kidding. There’s another, more plausible way of resolving this. Regardless of EU willingness or otherwise to ‘reform’, Cameron was never serious about advocating Brexit. His words were aimed on the one hand at europhobes – see how tough I am? – and on the other at Berlin and Brussels – throw me a bone, will ya? Britain’s PM may not be the brightest bulb in the pack but nor is he oblivious to what Brexit would mean for the special relationship. In other words he’s making it up as he goes. Say what you like about Dodgy Dave, he’s rather good at that.
Meanwhile another Dave weighs in from the opposite camp. Remember Lord Owen? Foreign Secretary under Big Jim, later one of the Gang of Four who left Labour to found the ill fated SDP? The left dubbed him Dr Death, and the miners weren’t too keen on him either.
As an example of the threat to peace Owen says the EU poses, he cites its intransigence as root cause of the Ukraine Crisis which, even as our limited attention spans have swiveled onto Syria, remains a frighteningly real trigger for nuclear war.
Well this made me smile. No, not the nuclear war part. I mean Owen picking such a dangerous example then pulling off the feat of being at once right and wrong. He’s smarter than Cameron and packs greater depth of analysis. He’s also – and for all my antipathy I respect him for this – one of the few Establishment voices not intoning the mantra, accepted as gospel by soft left and middle England alike, of unprovoked Russian aggression in Crimea and East Ukraine. He’s way ahead of Cameron and Hammond, Clinton, Kerry and Obama on this. But there’s a flaw in Owen’s reasoning, one that reflects not a deficiency of intellect but a blinkered worldview. Like Boris he wants a strong NATO but fails to let in the fact Brexit would of necessity subordinate Britain’s role in it. Moreover, though his view of Ukraine is more informed and astute than that of Cameron and Hammond, he mistakes gun for gunman. Yes, the EU shuts out Russia. Through Georgia and Ukraine – and for that matter the Baltic states and Eastern Europe in general – it also provokes her. But in these things it acts largely on the will of Washington. When it comes to the dangerous game of baiting the bear the EU, far from being an independent and foolishly errant agent, is the political/economic wing of NATO in a cold war both calculated and reckless. Brexit, or even EU dissolution, would do little to change – not in any way we could predict – the political/economic drivers of that war of imperial rivalry.