The referendum will give pro-Europeans the chance to nail the Murdoch lies

This is a European country and we must not allow the media to poison our sense of our own national interest
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The Independent Online

For the first time in thirty years, pro-Europeans are going to stand and fight. Since 1975, the case for British membership of the European Union has been left almost unspoken. Europhiles have confined their quiet, sane case to seminars, think-tanks and debates in the House of Commons. The Eurosceptics have screamed their dishonest argument every day at the British people in accessible, often witty chunks of political propaganda.

The result has been disastrous. British people are consistently found in opinion polls to be the most anti-European of all the EU states. Downing Street's private polling shows how successful the Eurosceptic disinformation campaign has been. A majority of people think signing the new European constitution would require Britain to join the euro, sign away an independent foreign policy, place the British Army under European command, and lose control of our borders. All lies.

This drift into Euro-fantasy cannot be allowed to continue. The EU has what opinion pollsters call "low salience": very few people rank it as one of the issues determining their vote, so pro-European politicians have mostly ignored widespread but low-level Euroscepticism.

At times, Tony Blair has even nodded sympathetically in its direction - he wrote a preposterous article for The Sun during the 1997 election campaign entitled "Why I Love the Pound" which bragged about "slaying the Euro-dragon".

But Blair seems to realise he has reached the limits of this strategy of ignoring Euroscepticism or appeasing it. If public opinion drifts any further out into the Atlantic, staying in Europe will become untenable.

Defenders of the EU must not run away from democracy; they must run towards it. A general election campaign fought in opposition to Tory calls for a referendum would have reinforced the impression that Europe is a sneaky, elitist project. But if he is going to win the referendum, the Prime Minister will have to do something very uncongenial to him: he will have to fight the Murdoch press and its lies.

The idea that Poland, France and the Czech Republic are conspiring to surrender their nationhood and live in some massive totalitarian super-state is so silly - so manifestly, utterly barking - that every time I hear it uttered I involuntarily laugh. Yet this is what most British newspaper readers - and Murdoch's in particular - are told every day.

I find it hard to believe Eurosceptics when they say they are genuinely concerned about the erosion of national sovereignty, rather than dislike of Europeans. If they were really worried about sovereignty, surely they would occasionally complain about the fact that foreign multinationals have bullied sovereign British governments into whittling corporation tax and workers' rights to almost nothing.

Or they would complain that large parts of Britain's sovereign army - including its nuclear weapons - cannot be used without American authorisation. Or that large parts of our incredibly powerful media are accountable to foreign billionaires who shamelessly use their newspapers to pursue their own business interests rather than Britain's (or - wild idea! - a human rights agenda).

In fact, the totally independent nation state - which is so selectively fetishised by Eurosceptics - was always a myth. Nation states deal with the world as they find it, with all sorts of messy bargains and ad-hoc pooling of sovereignty.

Of all the compromises of national independence in which Britain is now entangled, the EU is by far the most sensible. For Britain to lacerate itself from the 420 million-member trading block on our borders would be an act of national suicide. We would lose three and a half million jobs. We would lose all ability to influence economic rules that we would be forced - in almost all our trade - to abide by anyway. The anti-Europeans want to hum "Land of Hope and Glory" as they nuke the British economy. It wouldn't be much comfort to wave the Union flag from our smouldering post-European crater.

Of course, most Eurosceptics claim they do not want us to withdraw from the EU. They argue instead that Britain should prevent the entire EU from progressing, in the hope that one day the foolish Europeans will see the light and behave exactly as the British Eurosceptics want them to.

The EU is about compromise and about building alliances. The British Eurosceptics are opposed to all compromise and they have nobody to build an alliance with. No other major European political party - except for Jean-Marie Le Pen's neo-fascist National Front in France - supports the Tory position of not having a constitution at all. Their policies can only represent withdrawal through the back door. The more honest right-wingers - such as the shadow Attorney General, Bill Cash, and the former chancellor Norman Lamont - have admitted this and flirted with leaving the EU.

The joke is that all this Eurosceptic pus comes at a time when the EU is moving in Britain's direction at an unprecedented velocity. For decades the biggest debate in the EU has been between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism, staggeringly boring terms describing a very important difference.

Supranationalists believe that the EU should be accountable directly to the peoples of Europe through institutions above and beyond national electorates, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission. Intergovernmentalists believe the EU should be a federation of nation states, and the focus of accountability should be national governments. Britain has always been on the intergovernmental side - and now we are being joined by 10 new members who agree.

The European constitution - far from being some wild federalist blueprint - actually restores many powers to national governments. It is a mostly intergovernmental document.

Of course there are still terrible problems with the EU. The Common Agricultural Policy is a monster. It takes up half the European budget, and it is in large part responsible for Africa's starvation by making it impossible for the continent's farming industries to compete with Euro-subsidies. But we only have a chance of changing the EU if we are part of it.

This referendum will be a deafening wake-up call for the British people. This is a European country, and we must not allow a lying Australian-American billionaire and his paid lackeys to poison our sense of our own national interest.

A successful referendum will energise Britain's pro-Europeans, drain the confidence of the Euro-liars and prepare our way for membership of the single currency. Tony Blair has finally found his nerve on Europe, after a decade of cautious Europeanism invariably followed by maddening genuflections in Murdoch's direction. Europhiles must rally to him: we won't get a better chance than this.