OK, so about this referendum thing. You know, to Brexit. Or Not.
We’re about to be inundated with a lot of pointless noise. If the pre-whining is anything to go by, most of it will be wrong. I have no intention of engaging with any of it, not least because referendums solve nothing and ill-informed referendums driven by hidden agendas solve even less.
In my mind, there are three different but related issues. Each of varying importance.
First, we have the re-negotiations that just finished in Brussels. I don’t know what game Cameron was playing with this but nothing in there has any material impact on anything that actually matters. Other than, perhaps, the line in the sand on further political integration and this could have been negotiated any time. It was a side-show.
Second we have the long term economic and geo-political stability of the UK. You might, as a right thinking person, think that this should come first. But it doesn’t. In fact, it hardly features. Mostly because, as I’ll explain here, it’s a bit of a no brainer.
And the third issue? Well, what exactly is the motivation not to be part of a modern Europe? It feels like a naïve and shortsighted hark back to the glory days of Empire, with a worryingly modern dose of isolationist xenophobia. It’s regressive. Hardly a platform for the future.
Frankly (as you might have gathered), I’d like the whole thing to just go away. It’s a pointless debate detracting us from things that really matter (like reforming the EU for the modern age or tax avoiding global corporations).
And too many people seem to be confused, and that’s bad for democracy, though hardly surprising with the tabloid media on the job. So here are my simple answers to the questions I keep being asked and to correct the mis-information I keep reading. They’re offered merely in the hope of shining a little light into the darkened cesspool that this debacle will undoubtedly become.
- We’ll have control over our own laws. No. We won’t, we will still need to harmonise with Europe. The only difference between now and then is that at the moment we get to influence those laws. If we leave we just have to adopt them (See Norway).
- British courts can make the final decision. More complex this one but, in short, no. They can’t. At least not any more than now. The European Court of Human Rights (the Daily Mule’s biggest enemy) has nothing to do with the EU. The European Court of Justice is the final arbiter of EU law (not national law)… see point 1.
- We can control our own borders. Er… We already do. You remember that passport thing you have to show the man?
- We can control immigration. In theory, yes, we could. We could pull up the drawbridge and fill in the tunnel too. But it won’t happen because we lose more than we gain.
- Staying in makes terrorism more likely. One of the more facile claims, this is so brilliantly stupid that it is almost genius. Staying in the EU makes us a hotbed for terrorism whilst leaving means we’re all safe. There you have it! The only problem is, it’s not true. First of all, see point 4 above. Then consider that terrorists are just like multi-nationals — they don’t respect national borders, they don’t play fair and they don’t care about you.
- We’ll renegotiate free trade deals to replace the EU. We won’t. Certainly not quickly at least. We’ll trade with the EU as a member of the EEA so we get pretty much the same as now but we lose the power to influence any future changes. Again, see Norway. And the US has already made it clear it has no interest in a FTA with a newly isolated and rapidly sinking UK. But if you believe we can do instant deals why don’t you start with Scotland. As it will undoubtedly leave if the UK leaves the EU. As eventually will Northern Ireland. And then Wales… starting to feel like the ugly kid at the school disco yet?
- We’ll be strutting our stuff as world power again. Newsflash! The UK is a world power. It has a seat on the UN Security Council. It punches enormously above its weight on the international stage. This is in part because of its connectedness to Europe and its power within the EU. Leave and what are you left with? There is momentum building to review the UNSC membership, what do you think are the odds that an isolated UK will still be there?
- The economy will thrive if we’re outside the EU. Seriously? It’s not even worth bothering trying to answer this one! The statement is just so blatantly devoid of logic. We’re not Norway. we sold off most of the family silver years ago. And what’s left is rapidly being outsourced and sold off too. And that great shining generator of wealth (for a small few), the financial sector? That will move to Frankfurt, did you ever see a bank with loyalty? (OK, I accept that this could be seen as a plus). In short, if we leave, we get to live through a fire sale at the sunset of a once great economic and political power.
- The EU is incompetent, badly run and a drain on resources. Yes. It is. It is beyond incompetent in many cases. But we’re stuck with it one way or the other — leaving does not change that. It might be hard to change it but at least it’s possible from the inside (now more than ever). What can we do from outside? It’s also worth pondering that many of the problems with supposed-EU dictates lie in the local implementation (remember, it was the UK’s fault it didn’t impose the moratorium in immigration in 2004, as Germany and others did).
- What’s it ever done for us anyway? Nothing much. Other than working time directives and other ways that protect your rights at work, protect your children. Then there’s consumer protection and European peace. Not to mention the wholesale transition of Eastern Europe from volatile authoritarian states into thriving democracies. Maybe you don’t care about any of those things. But you should.
In short, the idea of leaving the EU is somewhere between bat-shit crazy and economic suicide.
Perhaps the most depressing thing is that this referendum, and an entire country’s future, is at risk of being decided through ignorance. Ignorance led by mis-information and a false sense of identify that fails to grasp that this is 2016, not 1816. We’re being fed a diet of half-truths and outright lies based on short-termism when the real issues are not just complex but fundamental to our economic and geopolitical future.