Sunday, 24 April 2016
To call President Obama hypocritical for advising the UK to share our sovereignty in Europe “in a way that the USA would never do” is worse than flawed: it's deliberately meant to mislead. Let's have a look at what he has done and how exactly. He wants to cry “Unfair! My debating opponent here is recommending a course of action for me that he would not accept for himself.” On the surface it looks as if he has a valid point, so what has he done? The clue is in the carefully crafted balanced sentence, made easy to use by the fact that he's speaking of two countries called “The United [something]”. Strip away the detail of meaning and listen to the skeleton: “The United Kingdom [blah] <pivot> [blah] The United States”.
That's the trick, the magician's sleight of hand; and it is meant to distract you from the flaw. It implies that the two countries, UK and USA, are equivalent and comparable in terms of the topic. Of course he knows all that (his parents paid his fees for Eton after all). The point he's hiding is that the United States of America already is a union of States, each making its own laws, with agreed borders between them, all with their individuality of resources (agriculture, mineral wealth, diversity of ethnicity and skills of the human population) and pooling their sovereignty together so that the power and influence of the whole is maximised. Many have an economy the size of entire countries quite high in the GDP league table. It's probably fair to say that any could flourish alone if it ever had to. (No I can't think why any ever might either.) The USA is more like the EU as a whole, but it would be unwise to stretch the analogy too far.
A long time ago, when the USA was a new idea being built into reality (the last quarter of the eighteenth century to put a handle on it), there was considerable debate and discussion about which powers and authorities of public life should be administered by each State, and which should be done at a federal level. So intense were some of these discussions that some states had to plan for the possibility of this new fangled federation or confederation idea falling apart. They might have to be independent separate countries, in which case they would need a port on the coast or a major river. It explains why some state line boundaries steer around natural geographical features the way they do.
Of course the Europe of today is very unlike the North America of around three hundred years ago. However, on the human nature doesn't change principle, the questions we should be asking are on the lines of “How best can we make our EU structures functionally democratically accountable?”, “Which aspects of public administration are better carried out by the National Member State and which by Brussels?”; not “This is undemocratic so shall we break it up in the hope we can try to start again?”. I have more time for the learned academics who believe in that viewpoint than the shallow self-interest of opportunist politicians.
Because Boris Johnson is not stupid. He could put his mind to the above questions if he so wished. That he chooses not to means he's putting the country's safety and prosperity behind his own power lust programme.