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Whatever the EU referendum is about, it isn’t Adolf Hitler

May 17, 2016

The EU referendum campaign came close to descending into farce over the weekend as Boris Johnson comprehensively mislaid the plot with a bizarre analogy about Hitler and the EU  and the official Leave campaign throwing all its toys out of its pram because ITV had asked Nigel Farage to put the Brexit case in a TV debate.

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There is a rich irony in the official Leave campaign wanting to keep Farage in the background because it fears he is a loose cannon and could repel as many people as he attracts when its own preferred mouthpiece brings a mountain of opprobrium on himself and the Leave campaign. Put together the two incidents reveal a degree of desperation creeping into the Brexit camp as the opinion polls show undecided voters start to make up their minds, and doing so in favour of staying in the European Union.

This doesn’t reflect a great showing on the part of the Remain campaign which is still relying too much on Project Fear, although we are seeing the first shoots of some positive arguments about the benefits of co-operation and EU membership poking through.

This is a far cry from the last referendum campaign in 1975. Then the pro-Europe campaign enjoyed an abundance of arguments about principle and hope. There were huge rallies with real political heavyweights sharing platforms – I remember one at a packed Westminster Central Hall with Edward Heath, Roy Jenkins and Jeremy Thorpe rousing the audiences with speeches of great passion and vision.

The trouble is the modern EU isn’t very loveable and has several severe faults which David Cameron’s phony renegotiation did nothing to address. I have written about many of these before. These are hampering the Remain campaign in generating the sort of excitement, belief and momentum for co-operation we saw in 1975.

Many of the fault lines have been exposed because of the inability of the self-serving EU bureaucracy to deal with crises. It is something of a goodtime girl poorly equipped to cope with the bad times – the migrant crisis, the still unresolved debt problems, the Russian-Ukraine conflict on its borders, the threat from global terrorism. These failures aren’t a reason for coming out. Quite the contrary: they are powerful reasons for staying in.

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Churchill’s vision of European co-operation is the real lesson of history we need to have in our minds as we go to vote on 23 June

The real lesson from the catastrophic conflicts of the 20th century is that “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”, as Winston Churchill succinctly put it in 1954.

Any one of the crises now imposing itself on Western Europe would have been sufficient to spark a conflict in the last century. It is no accident of history that in the 70 years since weapons were laid down at the end of the Second World War we have avoided a major global conflict. We may have stumbled, we may not have always stepped in when we should have done (Bosina for instance) but because we are talking, co-operating and working together we have stopped the sort of escalation that blighted the lives of previous generations.

Yes, there are economic benefits, there are cultural benefits and there are social benefits of remaining in the EU but, overwhelmingly, the real lesson of history is the one Churchill captured in his vision of European co-operation, not the crudely distorted interpretations of Johnson and his Leave cronies.

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