EDITOR'S CHOICE
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The arch-federalist: Jean-Claude Juncker addresses the European Parliament, as Nigel Farage (left) and Federica Mogherini (right) listen (©Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)


The referendum on British membership of the European Union will be decided by the Eurosceptic but risk-averse middle chunk of the electorate. If you are one such voter, you will have noticed that so far both campaigns have concentrated their energy on offering cartoonish nightmares about what will happen if you don’t side with them.

Remain’s “Project Fear” has focused on the economic risks of departure and has been backed up by analysis from authoritative sources, including the Treasury (whose “dodgy dossier” is dismantled by Tim Congdon elsewhere this issue), the Bank of England and the IMF, whose managing director, Christine Lagarde, said last month that “credible forecasts” suggest that Brexit will cost the UK as much as 10 per cent of its GDP — which, somewhat implausibly, would make it more economically harmful than the Great Depression or the First World War.

Leave, by contrast, presents an unconvincingly black-and-white choice between chaining ourselves to a continent on its deathbed, forever saddled with debt, mass immigration and terrorism, and moving forward into the sunlit uplands of deregulation, self-sufficiency and growth. The Brexiteers conveniently forget that Brussels is not the only source of red tape; this government hasn’t needed any help in complicating things for business owners and taxpayers.

Whatever side one takes on Brexit, it is hard to argue that a Leave vote on June 23 would be anything short of momentous. But claims and counterclaims about the consequences of that decision have now become a distracting din: the EU ends wars! The EU starts wars! Brexit will give you cancer! Brussels will privatise the NHS! While it would be folly to ignore the consequences of the decision Britain makes, there is a strong case for focusing on what we are really being asked in this referendum: where do we want decisions that affect us to be made?

For committed campaigners on either side, it is generally this central question that motivates them. Ask an advocate of the European project to make the case for the EU to you and he will tell you that supranational challenges — climate change and terrorism, for example — need to be tackled at a supranational level. For Eurosceptics, EU competences give power to an institution with what they see to be a considerable democratic deficit that constrains elected national governments. In the statement explaining his decision to back “Leave”, Michael Gove wrote: “It is hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things they were elected to do, or to use their judgment about the right course of action for the people of this country. I have long had concerns about our membership of the EU but the experience of government has only deepened my conviction that we need to change. Every single day, every single minister is told: ‘Yes, Minister, I understand, but I’m afraid it’s against EU rules.’ I know it. My colleagues know it. And the British people ought to know it too: your government is not, ultimately, in control of hundreds of areas that matter.”

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