Gove plays with fire by calling for liberation of Europe

by David Hannay | 20.04.2016

So now we know. If Michael Gove is to be believed, and after all he heads up the designated Leave campaign, the Brexiteers’ objective is not merely to bring about Britain’s withdrawal from the EU but to achieve “the democratic liberation of a whole continent “. Phew! Just a little thing like that.

What sort of appetite would there be in the rest of Europe for joining such a crusade? Well, there certainly are a number of fringe, extreme right, populist parties who would be cheering on such a venture – parties like Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobik, France’s National Front and the Swedish Democrats. They would no doubt like to be liberated to do a range of pretty unsavoury things – and their democratic credentials are a bit ropey. But there is not a single mainstream political party in the rest of Europe which would even contemplate signing up for the direction of travel which Gove advocates.

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    Would it in any case be in Britain’s own interest that the unifying efforts, which have helped to build up so much prosperity and so much security over the last 60 years, be fragmented and dismantled? Would that enable us to deal effectively with challenges like those from climate change or from Islamic State, from uncontrolled mass migration or from a newly assertive Russia? Would the upheaval involved in what is still by a long way our biggest export market taking 44% of our exports, be likely to increase our own prosperity?

    One final thought. Even Gove envisages negotiating with the rest of Europe to establish a free trade area if there were to be a vote on June 23 to leave the EU. Does he seriously believe that it would help us to cut a good deal if we were proclaiming as our objective the overturning of the whole project in which our negotiating partners had made such a massive political investment? Might that not make them less not more helpful?

    Perhaps, after all, Gove is only speaking for himself, like so many of the leading lights of the Leave campaign. But, if he is not, then this really is a hefty rise in the ante which will be on the table on referendum day.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon