This article was first published on ConservativeHome.
This week saw Austria come within a whisker of being the first country in the history of the European Union to elect a Far Right President. So how exactly how the EU’s leadership would have reacted to the election of Hofer is now purely speculative. Past evidence indicates they would have done what they always do when elections and referendums go against them – ignore the result and continue as if nothing had happened.
His opponent’s narrow victory on a pro-EU platform means that the European Commission will undoubtedly tout the result as evidence of the approval of its policies. However, the reality is the popularity of the far-right Freedom Party in Austria is part of a widespread growth in populist parties all across the continent. This trend shows little sign of abating, and it’s one which Europe’s current leadership is unwilling to address. There are a several long-term factors responsible for this wave of populism, but the straw that has broken the proverbial camel’s back has been Angela Merkel and the Commission’s embrace of Recep Erdogan.
For the EU’s deal with Turkey has and will continue to have a profound effect on European politics. Several intelligence figures, including Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, have already warned that the EU’s response to the migrant crisis could lead to the resurgence of the Far Right across Europe.
And the deal indeed has the potential to accelerate this current rise in extremism. It will force open the borders of European nations to 77 million Turks. Many of these member mtates are already struggling to provide adequate public services for their current populations. They will rightly protest that, during these times of economic hardship, they simply cannot afford to house and assimilate large numbers of migrants.
To add insult to injury, the deal itself has completely failured to return migrants from Europe – which was part of the whole point of it. In the two months that it’s been in place, no refugees have been sent back from Greece to Turkey, so it’s quite clear that Erdogan has in fact pocketed the €3 billion that the EU is sending in aid, alongside the visa-free travel arrangements for Turks, whilst doing little in return to ease the problems.
It’s not just the poorer member states which are struggling. The UK has now been ordered by the European Commission to build over 200,000 homes a year – yes, a year – in order to prevent a housing crisis due to the major influx of EU migrants. Furthermore, such events as the Cologne Attacks on New Year’s Eve and the Paris terror assaults have made some European voters reluctant to accept migrants with a Muslim background. Forcing EU countries to open their borders will drive millions of voters into the arms of extremist far-right parties who promise to halt migration.
What’s more, by appeasing blackmailing autocrats such as the Turkish President, the EU is undermining the democratic and liberal values which it’s supposed to support. Populist leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán could rightly question why they are so vilified by the EU establishment, whilst Erdogan – who is far more dictatorial than any current European leader – is granted huge concessions. Poland’s government could question why the EU is giving them so much hassle over their constitutional reforms, while at the same time welcoming Erdogan, who is in the process of tearing up Turkey’s secular constitution.
The conclusion they will draw is the EU only responds to force and blackmail. Voters across the EU will also draw this conclusion – increasingly voting for populist strongmen who they believe will stand up to Brussels in order to secure their own national interests. Clearly, the only way to stop this rise is to halt Turkish accession to the EU. However, Merkel and the Commission are loathed to do this. A vote for Brexit would provide a shock to the European elite, forcing them to recognise the significant discontent amongst the European populace. Whilst none of us Brexiteers can promise the EU will respond effectively to a Leave vote, we can guarantee a vote to Remain is an endorsement of the Turkish-EU visa deal – and the acceptance of the extremism which will rise from it.
The regular arguments made by David Cameron and other supporters of Turkey’s accession to the EU are that it would aid the pro-European reformers in Turkey. This, however, is directly contradictory to the evidence. Merkel’s intervention in the Turkish elections last summer was designed to directly favour Erdogan and his ruling party at the expense of the arguably more reformist Kurdish nationalist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Erdogan specifically ran on a platform of increasing Presidential power to provide further clout to his authoritarian regime. It is therefore completely misleading to claim the deal with Turkey is encouraging democratic reforms within the country – in fact, the opposite is true.
Furthermore, Erdogan’s recent removal of Ahmet Davutoglu, his pro-European Prime Minister, symbolises the defeat of the Europhile faction within Turkey. The President is now threatening to tear up the migrant agreement unless European leaders bow down even more to his demands. These range from the granting of visa-free travel to Turkey’s 77 million inhabitants to the prosecution of any European comedian who offends him.
It is surely only a matter of time before the Turkish President has Boris Johnson ‘done over’ in some way after the publication of his award winning poem for the Spectator‘s ‘President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition’. We cannot allow our freedoms and security, which past generations fought and died for, to be given up in order to appease this blatant tyrant. Voting to Remain inside the EU would be a direct endorsement of this appeasement and the acceptance of Turkish membership – with all the instabilities it will bring. It would also be the acceptance of the current rise in extremism within Europe, which will only increase. It is this, not Brexit, which is the greatest threat to European peace, and the Prime Minister should be honest enough to admit it. The only way to protect European democracy and freedom and to halt the rise of extremism across the continent is to vote Leave in the referendum to Get Britain Out of the tyrant-supporting EU.