Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, couldn’t be clearer about the future of Britain in the event of a Brexit majority.
In a special edition of Der Spiegel, he said, “If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”
The assumption that Britain would be able to have its cake and eat it, by taking all the benefits of the single market but having none of the political engagement and responsibility, has been a key part of the Leave case, but as the referendum comes into view, it is clear that the choice that faces the British people is much more stark than Leave has admitted.
Out is out. Both in political and economic terms, Britain will enter a kind of wilderness, at the same time as facing considerable strains in the union at home.
If the majority in Scotland is for Remain, I understand from a senior figure in the SNP that it will start preparing for a second independence referendum, which, given the result of the General Election last year and the subsequent flow of support to Nicola Sturgeon’s party, will almost certainly be a victory for the independence movement. The breakup of the union that the major political parties combined to prevent two years ago in the independence poll, will have gained an unstoppable momentum.
This week, John Major and Tony Blair – two former prime ministers and key figures in bringing an end to the violent struggle in Northern – visited Northern Ireland to highlight the extraordinary dangers of reinstating the border between north and south, which of course will be an unavoidable result of withdrawal from the EU, for Ireland is part of the Shengen area. There is no single development that is more likely to reignite the violent struggle between the two communities, which have enjoyed peace since the Good Friday Agreement. It must be obvious, even to the most convinced Eurosceptic, that to cause a resurgence of nationalism in Ulster would be an act of grotesque irresponsibility and vandalism.
But then there is no reasoning with the Leave campaign. Any argument against a disastrous exit from the EU is dismissed as part of Project Fear, as though these anxieties and predictions were all a complete fantasy.
But voters have a right to be fearful of the upheaval in British society following a victory for leave. There will not simply be bumps in the road on the way to a golden future, which will be forgotten when we achieve a happy equilibrium in, say, two years time. There will be lasting impacts – divisions that will be hard to heal.
Even if Britain were to have a change of heart after voting to leave and wanted to reapply for membership, an eventuality that Schäuble contemplates in his Der Spiegel interview, it will be a much diminished and impoverished entity that seeks readmission.
Paul Mason, the Guardian commentator, said of the three members of the Remain side in ITV’s Thursday debate – Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Eagle and Amber Rudd – “if you read body language you came away with one image: Leave relaxed: remain worried.”
Well, of course that’s right, Paul. What did you expect? While the Leave campaign doesn’t suffer the slightest doubt about its campaign, Remain campaigners have a very firm grasp of the dangers and irreversible damage that will begin on June 24, if we vote out. Yes, like many European leaders who care for Britain and the future of the EU, the Remain campaign is guilty of looking nauseous about our prospects.
The romantic optimism of the likes of Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and the Gisela Stuart – the Leave team in the ITV debate – surfs over serious objections, without giving a single agreed account of how Britain makes its way in the world post-Brexit. It is ultimately Leave’s greatest offence to claim a glorious future, without providing the tiniest hint about how this will be achieved, particularly now the single market appears to be closed to a departing United Kingdom.
Schäuble’s logic is indisputable. “It (the single market) would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw.” Brexit, he said, would be a decision against the single market.