June 23rd, Britain will finally get the chance to leave the EU – the first time the UK government has gone to the people since 1975. But please, for our sake, don’t do it.
The argument on both sides have changed remarkably little for the last 25 years with those on the side of Brexit arguing that Britain will be pulled into a federated states of Europe, whilst Europhiles praise the virtues of the single market.
But for us voters, we will probably hear very little of these arguments in the next four months. The campaign we will see will be between an out campaign that paints a paradise outside the EU; and a scaremongering remain campaign that suggests the EU is a ventilator that keeps Britain’s comatosed body alive. Rumour has it that the entire City of London plans to move to Germany after a Brexit. No not just the business and investment banks, but the actual ground itself. Whilst Nigel Farage will have you believe that Europe’s half a billion population are ready, parachute in hand, to airdrop into Britain the moment we vote to stay. Perhaps the first thing Nige will want to do is spend his mythical figure of 55m GBP a day (more than 20Bn GBP a year) that the UK supposedly gives to the EU, to build an Eden project-like tent over Britain. (The net figure for contributions last year was 7bn GBP due to a rebate that Britain has received, on its overall contribution of 13bn GBP, of 4.5bn GBP in regional aid and agricultural subsidies and 1.4bn GBP directly from the EU budget)
Last time I looked, tents that size were just under 8bn GBP, sorry Nige.
Alan Johnson, leader of Labour remain campaign, said recently that his campaign has the right lyrics but has struggled to find the right tune. In this he meant that his side has the right arguments but struggles to find right slogans and phrases that can resonate with the public. This cast my mind back to the Clegg Vs Farage EU in/out debate in 2014. I remember watching in frustration as Clegg failed to convince the audience the virtues of staying in the EU when faced against Farage’s over simplistic argument that in leaving, the UK will save money, control its boarders and decide its own laws (it really is that simple…).
Just this Sunday I found myself complaining loudly to my completely disinterested housemates as Iain Duncan Smith (IDS), Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, exclaimed that “the UK is best country in the world”. Is this really how the next four months of debate is going to be carried out, Cameron and IDS, two children in a playground fighting over who loves their country more? No we need serious, balanced debate that informs the public. This argument holds no value whatsoever, preaches to the converted and is used purely to stoke national pride to a demographic, already likely to vote to leave. Leave this line of argument to Donald Trump.
I am baffled at the hypocrisy that, one can use the same argument against Scotland leaving the United Kingdom but in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. However Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Justice, lauded as the intellectual thinker of the Leave campaign, does exactly this when laying out his reasons for voting to leave the EU:
“The ability to choose who governs us, and the freedom to change laws we do not like, were secured for us in the past by radicals and liberals who took power from unaccountable elites and placed it in the hands of the people.”
I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Nicola Sturgeons SNP. Scotland has, until 2015, voted for a Labour government since 1959 and of those 56 years has seen a Conservative government returned for 32 of them. One cannot argue that we should leave the EU because of its lack of democracy at the same time tell our people north of the boarder not to call for the break up of the UK. One has to accept the risk that the bigger a political union becomes the less democratic it does. On a separate note, how the UK (who votes using the first past the post system) can lecture the EU (who votes its MEPs via Proportional Representation) on democratic voting systems is beyond me.
Even the most ardent Europhobe has to admit that a Brexit will precipitate at least in the short term a huge spike in business uncertainty and therefore a slow in inward investment and drop in the value of the pound, whilst Britain spends 2 years hammering out a new relationship with their former lover. How the Brexit campaign can spin that in a positive light I struggle to see.
It strikes me that the same people who boast about Britain’s economic power as the 5th biggest economy in the world, also complain that we spend far too much on contributing to the EU much and on foreign aid. But boast about the UKs economic prowess whilst at the same time forfeiting any sort of responsibility to helping other countries seems, to me, perverse.
Does Nigel Farage somehow believe that the English Channel gives Britain true Independence and sovereignty? Does he truly believe voting to leave the EU will some how make Britain immune from the Europe’s social and economic problems? History will remind us that Britain’s fate is intrinsically linked to that of Europe inside or out of a political union. The Napoleonic and 2 world wars will attest to that. A vote to leave cannot stop a Europe wide economic crash from affecting our own. A vote to leave will not stop millions of Syrian millions leaving their homeland and coming to Europe. We must stop hiding away and begin, for the first time in a decade, to take a lead in these matters.
This EU vote relies on the assumption that there will be an EU to leave. The French Prime Minister warns, with the on-going Syrian migrant crisis and nationalist fractures amongst member states, there may be no EU left. Gideon Rachman, the chief Foreign Affairs columnist, reported a German policymaker fuming to him that “the European house is burning down and Britain wants to waste time rearranging the furniture”.
With Angela Merkel’s own position as Chancellor of Germany and authority in the EU undermined, the EU needs a strong lead now more than ever. Of the 751 MEPs voted in the last European elections 108 of them are from anti-EU parties. With Victor Orban, in Hungary, literally building walls to prevent inward immigration, to the rise Le Pen’s Front National and Greece’s Golden Dawn, the very fabric of a strong peace keeping European union is under threat.
Britain has benefitted from its membership of the EU. Upon entering; the UK was dubbed the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ with an economy lagging way behind that of Germany, France and Italy. During our membership, we have over taken Italy’s economy and are on course to do the same to France. A broken Europe would not benefit the UK. It is about time Britain benefits itself further by taking a leading role in Europe, work to change the things that do not suit our interest from the inside and push to maintain a peaceful working relationship. This starts with a vote to Remain on June 23rd.