As a Conservative it's always right to exercise doubt. Which is what most of us have been doing over the progress and direction of the European Union for some time. It's also important to understand that the true believers - in the EU's mission or in the need to escape from its clutches - do not understand the nature of doubt or, as we more regularly call it, scepticism. So when, faced with the need to decide, a sceptic lands on the "wrong" side of the fence it is always a traitorous denial of principle according to those true believers.
I've no doubt that many sceptics will decide to, as a Polish politician suggested on the radio this morning, 'take a rain check'. This is on the basis that, if you leave the EU that's it, there really isn't any going back. If you don't leave then there's always the opportunity to leave at some later time. Now this isn't a view point I share - seems a bit of a cop out - but its appeal is considerable as it conforms to the advice given by Jim's Father after the lad's fatal encounter with a lion.
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, ``Well--it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!''
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James's miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.
Yesterday we saw the next iteration of the 'reform' that will somehow justify us staying in the EU. And it's fair to say that the package announced by Donald Tusk and presented to a panting press pack by the Prime Minister was somewhat underwhelming. As one wag (@taxbod as it happens) described it:
Dave's EU deal. The terms, in full:
1) Raindrops on roses;
2) Whiskers on kittens;
3) Bright copper kettles;
and 4) Warm woollen mittens.
I disagree with those who tell me that the process was all smoke and mirrors, an act of political legerdemain designed to hoodwink up into voting to remain a EU member. Rather, the exercise was similar to the brave actions of Don Quixote when faced with giants:
And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless."
"What giants?" asked Sancho Panza.
"Those you see over there," replied his master, "with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length."
"Take care, sir," cried Sancho. "Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone."
And the result - bits and pieces of what we wanted but no treaty change - represents absolutely the best that could have been obtained under the circumstances. We have galloped out, charged the enemy and returned with our heads high having failed because without a threat to its existence the EU cannot change any more than Don Quixote's giants could stop being windmills. Part of the thinking - and it was sound - is that the very fact of a referendum on the UK leaving represented a significant enough threat to the EU's sustainability. It turns out that - especially given the UK's negotiators reassurances of their intent, come what may, to continue supporting membership - this threat was not a threat at all.
I am a genuine sceptic in all this. I don't really believe in ever more draconian immigration controls, I don't want a sort of pseudo-fascist isolationist approach to the economy for that is lunacy. And I absolutely believe that the EU has played a role (albeit a smaller one than its vanity permits) in securing peace and harmony on what was a divided continent. So I ought to be a supporter of the EU except for a couple of real problems.
The first is that the EU's economic and social policies act to make Europeans poorer - this is true of the Common Agricultural Policy, it's true of its policies on the environment, and its true of its restrictive approach to rules on labour, health and welfare. Above all the EU is inward-looking and concerned with protecting what is here now rather than looking forward to what might be there tomorrow. The result is corruption, sclerotic economic growth, misplaced intervention and a preference for managed trade (like the TTIP) rather than free trade.
Worse than all this is that there is no way in which the EU can change this approach, it has ossified into a rigid protectionist mindset and a defensiveness about external criticism that merely shows how weak the 'union' is in reality. The sorry tale of Greece and the Euro should remind us that the EU will watch citizens starve rather than give one inch of ground on its programme - even when that programme is demonstrably failing.
The EU has all the trappings of democracy - a parliament, elections, grand debates and a constant babble about 'citizens'. But it is not a democracy because none of the actions available to the demos are able to change the policies of the union - these policies are set in stone, immutable and unchanging. Vast libraries of impenetrable prose are churned out giving the impression of change but which, on close inspection, change little of any significance or substance.
So no, I don't give a fig about when or whether migrants from Poland can claim benefits - it's a pretty marginal issue to the challenge of reforming the benefits we give to our own citizens. Nor do I care much about net migration or about the essentially meaningless wibble that is national sovereignty. But I do care about my ability, along with my neighbours, to have a real say in the decisions made by governments that affect my life. And - as is shown by the conclusion of David Cameron's negotiations - there is no prospect of the EU permitting this to happen or for us to move towards a polity genuinely founded on the principles of free speech, free enterprise and free trade.
So I shall - and you should - vote to leave.