The new sceptics’ case for staying in the EU: it’ll sink soon anyway

Better to let it fall apart while still on board than get the blame for its demise, say Tory ministers

30 January 2016

9:00 AM

30 January 2016

9:00 AM

As Tory ministers wrestle with their consciences before the EU referendum, an intriguing new argument for voting to stay has emerged. Rather conveniently, it resolves the conflict between principle and personal loyalty to David Cameron that several members of the Cabinet are wrestling with. It goes like this: the European Union is going to collapse in the next ten to 15 years. So, you can vote for Britain to stay in, safe in the knowledge that the EU will be gone within a generation.

Some ministers add another layer to this argument. They claim that Britain leaving would precipitate the demise of the European Union and it is not in our interest to be blamed for that. Better to stay and let the EU collapse of its own accord.

It is tempting to dismiss this as sophistry; simply a cover for doing what is politically expedient in the referendum and siding with the PM. Certainly, it gets these ministers out of a hole. But it isn’t only British Tories trying to resolve their referendum dilemma who think that the whole European project is in danger. It is a view that is increasingly shared by influential European politicians.

What has prompted this pessimism is the migration crisis. This is a far greater challenge than the travails of the euro and it is testing solidarity among EU members to the limit. Only 414 refugees have been relocated under a scheme that was meant to disperse 160,000 across Europe, and the whole Schengen open-borders system of is now on the verge of suspension.

The proposed suspension of Schengen for two years would be a huge blow to the EU. For the first time its establishment would have to concede that integration can be reversed. Many in the Commission take the view that the project is like a shark — if it isn’t moving forward then it will die. That is why, for them, the answer to every problem must be more Europe. If it is not, then the whole thing could collapse.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the Commission, has even declared that without Schengen ‘the euro has no point’. This might be hyperbole. But it would indicate that a European state (which the euro ultimately needs) is even further away than before.

The return of border controls would also strike a psychological blow. For many Europeans, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a crucial part of the EU’s appeal is that it is the antithesis of the old Eastern Bloc with its border posts and travel bans. The idea of EU citizens being asked to present their passports as they travel around the continent is, therefore, anathema to them. Merkel grew up in East Germany, and it was the strength of her commitment to freedom of movement that led to David Cameron dropping any challenge to that principle from his renegotiation demands.

The combination of the migrant crisis and the security situation makes it very hard to see how Schengen can survive. When terrorists can drive between Belgium and France with no challenge, something has to give. In the French presidential election next year, it will be surprising if any of the major candidates advocate a return to a borderless Europe — the state of emergency means that France has effectively reintroduced controls. With Marine Le Pen of the Front National threatening to make the second round of the presidential election, it would be a reckless politician who would commit to restoring the status quo ante.

Equally difficult to envisage is any sustainable solution to the migration crisis. Whatever the EU tries, it will always struggle to secure its southern border: the number of people trying to get in and the number of ways they can do so are simply too great. What we are seeing at the moment is the start of a mass movement of people from Africa and the Middle East to Europe that will go on for a generation.

It is also hard to imagine Eastern European countries and the Baltic states agreeing to accept large numbers of refugees, particularly given their attitudes towards Islam. But without any sharing of the burden, Greece and Italy won’t be able to cope for much longer. While it might just be possible for the rest of the Schengen zone to cut Greece adrift, it could not do that to Italy.

The logic may point to leaving the EU, but British commentators and politicians have made this mistake before, imagining that the internal contradictions of the European project would bring it to a halt. The one-size-fits-all interest rate of the single currency clearly has not worked for every member, and has proved ruinous for some. Yet the single currency still staggers on — and it has not lost a member yet.

Back in 2013, Cameron calculated that the euro’s problems would force further integration, prompting the need for a new treaty. He thought this would give Britain negotiating leverage. That was one reason he proposed a referendum. But the eurozone has simply muddled through finding ways round the rules where necessary.

British support for EU enlargement has always been based, in large part, on the belief that expanding the membership would force the abandonment of political integration. But that has not happened. Ironically, it will be the consequences of granting free movement to the citizens of these new member states that will be one of the trickiest issues for the ‘in’ campaign in this referendum.

What was underestimated in all of these cases was the sheer political will to keep things going. Britons, who have a transactional view of the EU, often fail to appreciate how far European politicians will go to keep the project moving forward.

Will that political will continue to exist as European centrist parties continue to struggle? The trouble is that the answer to this question will not become clear until long after Britain has decided whether to stay in the EU.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • polidorisghost

    “It is tempting to dismiss this as sophistry”

    Yep, and that is what I did, for it is the argument of the poltroon.

  • Bertie Wooster

    How very comfortable for these politicians to sit back for a generation with their gold plated pensions and expenses because the EU may fail anyway, while dragging us down with it. Any Minister or MP who would willing place our sovereignty in the hands of foreign unelected bureaucrats is in the wrong job.

  • e2toe4

    I am afraid it is the sophistic argument that it spends the rest of article trying to pretend it isn’t. Whether for staying in the EU or for leaving it the argument here is without substance in terms of persuading or dissuading.

  • Frank

    It is always slightly surprising to re-discover just how cowardly are our Ministers!
    The reality is that a very large number of continental europeans look to Britain for political leadership – yes they may moan, but that doesn’t mean that they are not listening. Britain should (a) exit and thus bring about the EU’s collapse and (b) offer a re-formed version of the EU based on trade. Given that Merkel and Hollande are currently heading down the river in a leaking canoe without the slightest idea of what to do, one imagines that they may actually be glad of some intellectual clarity from Britain!

  • davidshort10

    Driving between Belgium and France is no big deal; it is when people can drive from eastern Europe with guns including assault rifles that are plentifully and cheaply available there. Europe was never planned on having these wild and criminal countries as members. Merkel in her youth would never have imagined the collapse of the communist bloc and the reunification of Germany, which is not a good thing as we are now learning once again. To have someone brought up under this old and scary world and thinks it is OK to bully and wield Germany’s economic power the way she does and be in charge of the European project is reason enough to leave.

    • Leftism is a societal cancer

      “it is when people can drive from eastern Europe with guns including assault rifles that are plentifully and cheaply available there.” – Sounds like a good thing to me. We will need them.

      • davidshort10

        I presume you have never experienced warfare nor seen the consequences of modern weaponry and have ever been on either side of a firearm. Or are you just a troll? Do you have a job?

        • Leftism is a societal cancer

          I haven’t been in a war. I’ve fired my uncle’s shotgun once. I have a job.

          None of this changes the fact that we will need guns.

          • Terry Field

            Can civil war be avoided?????

        • 9sqn

          Is sanctimony your forte?

  • FrankS2

    Arguing to stay in the EU because it will collapse anyway is like arguing to stay aboard a sinking shop because it will soon be underwater anyway

  • Conway

    Better to let it fall apart while still on board than get the blame for its demise, say Tory ministers” That’s akin to being in a burning building and saying “the fire will go out soon, so it’s best to stay in”. It can do a lot of damage before it falls apart and while it’s falling apart it can wreck us, too, if we’re still inside when it goes. Best to be outside, safe and able to offer assistance if necessary (as we’ve done in past times). We need to save Europe again, this time from EU dictatorship.

    • greggf

      “We need to save Europe again….”

      Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and others may have something to say about the outcome.
      The EU is disintegrating as its politics does, it will resemble the erstwhile-USSR – the CEI.
      Don’t forget the Brussels’ Parliament have had to convene (right, left, greens et al) against the “populists”.

  • Lady Magdalene

    So now, according to the EU-philes, we’re supposed to sacrifice our Sovereignty and democracy so that the EU can stagger on for a few more years because it will collapse anyway.
    And if it doesn’t? Are they going to say in a few years “oh well, it didn’t collapse, so we can now leave and restore Sovereignty and democracy to the British people.”
    Of course not.
    They will then say “we must stay in the EU because it’s the only viable future for a UK that hasn’t governed itself for 60+ years.”
    I don’t care if the EU collapses and the UK gets blamed for it. We get blamed for everything the EU fails at anyway.
    It’s time to put OUR interests first … and by OUR I mean the ordinary British people who pay for the EU and suffer the negative consequences of membership ….. not the Elite who benefit from it.
    VOTE LEAVE. And if the EU collapses, it’s because it wasn’t fit for purpose in the first place.

    • Davedeparis

      Well said.

  • Ivan Ewan

    Well, it’s a bit daft, and that’s putting it mildly. The history of man shows that failing autocrats become more brutally determined to preserve their power, and that the greedy know no deed low enough to deter them.

  • davidshort10

    A better argument is to get out of this sclerotic bureaucracy and start trading better with the rest of the world and create a more prosperous country. Let Europe stagger if it wants to and kowtow to the Germans if it wants to, particularly France which is so shameful after what Germany did to it and its people.

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    And the same ministers will tell you it’s good that we’re outside the failure that is the Euro.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    It ought to collapse, just as the Euro should have done but
    the Brussels bureaucracy and mainland federalists will fight to the last
    Euro-Cent of other people’s money to keep it going. It will drag on like the
    living dead.

  • Marvin

    The Brussels Cretins do not have the intelligence to survive this never ending Tsunami on top of all it’s usual unsolvable problems. How much more are they going to tax and rob their people to fund the eternal upkeep of millions of down and out migrants who no doubt will start their journeys to Europe and Shangrila soon.

  • Chris


    The avalanche has begun; it is too late for the pebbles to decide.

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Ah, the mere democracy…

  • Roger Hudson

    A wise rat jumps ship before it goes down.

  • antoncheckout

    “Merkel grew up in East Germany”
    And was extremely happy there, and showed no wish to ever leave the place, let alone flee. as so many did. All she gets from ‘freedom of movement’ is an inexhaustible supply of Eastern European workers to stock up the ageing Wirtschaftswunder – which is based on a cheapo currency that causes unemployment in its other partners.

    • Terry Field

      Other ‘partners’ ???????????????????????????

  • Ciaran Twitterless

    I am a Welsh guy living in Ireland since 2006 and since moving here apart from working in a library for a few weeks and a fast food outlet for four days I have been unemployed. I blame it on the common market and all these east europeans that the Irish government allowed in, now we are going to be swamped with Muslims.
    I say the EU must go.

    • LordPasswhite

      Well that is better than being a known perjurer like ex Det Con Derek G Haslam of 11 Lynn Rd, PE38.

      • Ciaran Twitterless

        Ary you on the right post boyo? You seem confused.

        • LordPasswhite

          Like Alan “Taffy” Holmes? Manor Of Bensham 7114 lodge?

          • Ciaran Twitterless

            Sorry, I forgot you are at a distinct disadvantage due to your brain injury. Have they found you meical records yet. Or do edemol still have them?

          • Terry Field

            LIKE sniffy the slime ball as well!

  • Arclight101

    Dishonesty is the hallmark of the Brussels camp, and this latest attempt to muddy the waters with back to front arguments – vote in to destroy the EU – is true to that form.

    In reality the EU has muddled through before and it will continue to muddle through, regardless. It will break its own rules when it serves Germany and or Frances purposes, and it will grab fresh powers whenever it can. Referendums among weaker countries will be simply re-run if they go against Brussels, just as they always have done. There is no democracy in the EU.

    The only chance for real change is for Britain to vote out. Then as Simon Jenkins suggested the EU may be forced into a rethink, but only then. Without an UK out vote it will simply be business as usual. Regardless of what the EU does, Britain is better off out of what will always be anything more than a Franco-German protection racket.

    • Roger Hudson

      It hasn’t ‘muddled through’, it’s trampled through, using the power of coercive force. force against nations, it did it with Austria, with Greece and now with Poland.
      You were warned before ’75, you are being warned again, don’t let slimy smooth politicians con you into voting to stay.

      • Leon Wolfeson

        Ah, the force of democracy.

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Yea, not your sort of democracy, where you get to what you want, as you want an Isolated England for a change. Better for your particular business interests, as you want a Arclight protection racket, and think that democracy is competition, right.

  • WTF

    Who cares about the blame game when the EU sinks as no matter what the real causes, Merkel, Juncker et al will blame the UK for not being in the Euro zone or taking in 1 million rapists, criminals & terrorists. Far better to plan now for an out, get all your ducks in a row for switching trade to the rest of the world and say good bye to Europe the instant it shows signs of death.

    Many people are reticent to leave a bad marriage despite the continual abuse, lies and hypocrisy due to a version of Stockholm syndrome. However, there comes a time when you have to man up (or woman up) and tell your abuser to f*** off and leave.

    The time has come to do that to the EU despite the unknowns that may be ahead. The good news is statistically 95% of those who do leave a abusive relationship will wish they had done it
    sooner. As in marriage, there are plenty of other potential partners out there willing to forge a new relationship and in a lot of cases, you can still do business with your ex.

    Don’t listen to the fear baiters, think positive and look ahead !

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Ah yes, as you try and sink the EU…and funny, your far right are already here.

      As you want to rip England out the EU, and to smash the trade you oppose, right, sailing England across the Atlantic on steam jets. It’s time to ditch your abusive far right, I agree – where will you go?

      As you are happy to sabotage the UK, as you want to hug your abusers close, ignoring the fact that the major trade partners have already told us not to bother begging if you isolated us.

      Think about the electric terminal on your shock… look straight ahead and don’t think…right.

      • WTF

        When you hit an iceberg like the Titanic did and the supposedly unsinkable ship starts to sink, you get off it as quick as you can among the chaos that ensues. That ship was a flawed design just like the EU is flawed and an iceberg is already in sight and getting closer to sink to the EU project. The designers of the Titanic which sank on its first voyage could be forgiven for not spotting their flaws. In contrast, the EU had decades of warnings over their flaws like the Euro with the PIIGS for example and they criminally ignored them. They have no one else to blame but themselves but I’m sure they’ll try and pass the buck.

        I’m not trying to sink it nor is any other ‘out’ campaigner trying to sink it, it doesn’t need any help from us to sink it or haven’t you been paying attention. If I’m of the opinion a ships going to sink, I’d rather voluntarily get off whilst there’s enough life boats than wait for the riots that will happen as it starts to go under. Its called having foresight, common sense and planning ahead.

        Why should we be lemmings going over a cliff with the rest of the EU !

        • Leon Wolfeson

          Stop trying to smash England into a metaphorical iceburg then!

          You’re trying to attach steam jets and drive the iceburg into this country. You’re trying very hard to hole the economy of this Island, rather than leave and find somewhere better suited to your distate for rights and democracy.

          Your thinking that trade’s “lemmings”…

          • WTF

            You have your view, I have mine, history will prove whose right, but history does have a habit of repeating itself and many people never read or understand history let alone learn from it !

          • Leon Wolfeson

            No, history is written by the victors.
            And yes, well, your far right do keep trying. Mosley, Powell, Griffin…

          • WTF

            Wrong, history is re-written by those in power as we’ve seen by the liberals over the past 20 years.

          • Leon Wolfeson

            Really, when have the Liberals, the LibDems, been in power here over that period?

            (This question is a trap)

      • Terry Field


        • Leon Wolfeson

          Stop trying to get me to take your pills – for your condition.

  • terence patrick hewett

    I am sorry: I have read hectares of verbal flatulence on this subject and I am not interested in any of the propostitions: I simply loathe and despise the despicable European Union because in their hubris and arrogance they wish to tell me and my country how to conduct our affairs. I regard them with contempt because they do not understand the human condition. The initial sequence of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey got it right. Do you want to be the ape with the club or the ape with the smashed brains.

  • Castro Spendlove

    ”..fail to appreciate how far European politicians will go to keep the project moving forward.”

    Only those who fail to understand Europe as the crucible of political ideology ,which has replaced religion as existential crutch is the persistence of the EU something to marvel. Communism, fascism, nazism, rule by generals and dictators doesn’t sit well with the Brits but Europeans are quite happy to be subjects of arbitrary and over-bearing states.

    Only simple minded and naive liberals see the EU as the future perfected, to the rest of us the jihad-like zealotry of Merkal, Junker et al is alien to our political traditions and as far as I’m concerned the biggest anti-democratic force in Europe is the EU.

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Yea, well, otherwise you’d have to look in a mirror, as your personalities blame others for your Jihad.