Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Referendum ruminations

So we are on the eve of the Ruropean Referendum. Here are afew of my thoughts about the campaign and the iisues at hand.

The debate has been sterile, a combat of verbal trench warfare made up of claim and counterclaim, precious little wit, still less insight. There has been a highly selective use of facts and statistics by both sides, a lot of heat, precious little light. 

The whole exercis has been divisive, probably changed few minds but has consolidated opinions and prejudices. It has not been edifying to watch.

Although I sympathise with some aspects of the Brexit case - notably certain aspects of the argument about sovereignty- I cannot feel enthused or motivated to support it. Every treaty entered into by a state limits its sovereignty to some extent. Not a few Brexiters strike me as odd to put it mildly. I agree with aclose friend that we cannot see why anybody really rates Boris Johnson for anything at all other than self-publicity

The Remain camp look tired and jaded, the same old political establishment urging us to trust them. I would have expected people to remind the electorate why the EEC/EU was set up - to promote peace and cooperation amongst the states of Europe after two devastating destructive wars. Economics were utilised to bind nations together for a wider and higher purpose. Yet we have not heard this argument at all. Instead we have just had self-centred inward looking argument about how much more we could spend on the NHS - which always swallows whatever money is available and demands more.  

I have little love for the EU and its institutions and its self-aggrandisement since the Maastricht Treaty - for which the excellent case for a UK referendum ( "Thus far, but no further" )was dodged by John Major - but neither as a historian do I like or trust the Little Englander/ Empire-Commonwealth nostalia/ Atlanticist notions behind Brexit. For Heaven's sake Calais is twenty miles from Dover - not two hundred or two thousand. All the crucuial decisions in our history have been shaped intimately by Europe and its realities - political, military, cultural, intellectual, spiritual - and we cannot avoid that fact even if we try to deny it. And thinking of Calais, let us not imagine that refugeesand wannabe immigrants there will disappear if we metaphorically pull up the drawbridge in the Straits of Dover. 

As a country we face an unsure future whatever the result, and it is still unclear what that will be. I can envisage three possibilities - a 60/40 clear win by Remain ( not that likely but possible) , the more likely 52/48 Remain victory which will leave a lot of people feeling cheated, and mean the Prime Minister will have to put much more pressure on a complaicent EU to give more to stave off a third Referendum, or a 52/48 Brexit victory - which will lead to a very uncertain situation indeed.

I do not know what will happen, but it has been the working out of a crass policy. Did the Prime Minister not learn from his near-miss in Scotland of the folly of a referendum on so complex an issue? Apparently not, as we face national uncertainty, and indeed about our very existence as  country, once again.

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