We’re starting to pull into the closing stages of the EU referendum campaign. Being a postal voter for this election, I’ve already cast my vote. No – I didn’t do it the way I said on Facebook (which was tick the Remain box because that’s what I wanted to do, and put a cross against the Leave box because that’s what I didn’t want to do). My mind was made up a long time ago.
The public debate has been dominated by the economy and the repeated “dead cats” the Leave campaign keeps bringing up. I found out today that the main Remain campaign is staffed mainly by Tories who are fixated on the economy. The bottom line is that economic forecasts are more an art than a science anyway. I’m sure they would work fine if only we didn’t have to deal with “events, dear boy, events”. Governments can create an environment for business and trade to flourish, but the workforce and the markets have to play ball for Government economic plans to work unhindered. Because markets are now primarily driven by short-term interests, from time to time they don’t play ball.
So it will come as no surprise that the economy didn’t play a big part in my decision making. Politics for me is about principles much more than it is about management.
I have spent most of the last 9 years campaigning in some form or other for trans and intersex people to be treated as people first. Putting people at the heart of decision making is core. You get better policies when you do this. So any campaign strategy that tries to demonise immigrants or bureaucrats is doomed to alienate me. According to the Leave campaign, we now seem to have the Schrodinger’s immigrant, who comes in the UK to take our jobs as well as benefit from our welfare system while idling away in huge houses. The facts are very different. People who have arrived here from elsewhere in the EU are more likely to work than native Brits. And we have more horses in the UK than the total number of immigrants from the rest of the EU (and that includes Ireland).
People talking about immigration in an EU context seem to talk about eastern Europe – those who are visibly different from “us” – whoever “us” happens to be. And that’s where this current campaign is terrifying – as it starts to empower people to say what was unsayable only a couple of years ago. There is a debate to be had about immigration, but it should be about infrastructure and principles, not about the colour of someone’s skin or their native language. We can discuss whether it was right for the EU to expand eastwards – but let’s not forget that the UK had a veto on that decision, which it didn’t use.
Instead we have a hypothetical Schrodinger’s trade agreement dangled before us – where we can enjoy free movement within the EU but not have to open our borders. Free movement of labour is a fundamental principle underpinning the EU. Opting out of that means no access to the EU market, nor the rest of the travel benefits we have grown used to over the years.
The Leave campaign comes back with “sovereignty” – apparently we must wrest control of our laws (as well as our borders) back from these EU bureaucrats who impose legislation on us against our will. There are numerous fact pieces out there about exactly how much EU law we incorporate. Depending upon your definition, the amount is between 12% and 55%. The higher percentage is reached by including all laws which have any European element in them – including things like regulations on tobacco growers (which we obviously need for the vast tobacco fields of Leicestershire).
But to fixate on this misses the fundamental point about European democracy which is – it’s democratic! Countries have a proportional say in the European parliament, which must approve all new European legislation. Indeed, even within countries, those elected are done so under a proportional electoral system. You get 10% of the votes in the South East of England, you’ll get one of the ten MEPs. Countries also have to agree legislation unanimously in the Council of Europe – the bit made up by ministers who are, wait for it, elected officials within their own countries. British ministers and MEPs have already had a say in drafting these European laws.
Compare this to the UK – where we now have English Votes for English Laws, where the Conservative party aims to veto legislation from future non-Tory governments. EVEL uses just the MPs for England – who are not elected under a proportional system (unlike the other devolved assemblies and parliaments). We have a party with just under 37% of the vote who has an absolute majority in the Commons, and a Prime Minister who can (and has) stuffed the Lords with cronies. If there’s someone he wants in his government who is not an MP, he can make them a Lord (or Lady). Almost twice as many voted against the Conservatives than for them. That’s far less democratic than the EU.
Sure, Europe has big problems facing it – not least the wave of immigrants and asylum seekers. I’m sure the rest of the EU don’t thank Britain for diverting attention at a critical time. But to think Britain can be immune to those pressures simply by pulling up the drawbridge – frankly it’s ridiculous – especially as we are now starting to see inflatables filled with people trying to cross the Channel. Imagine how the Italians or Greeks feel about us moaning about a few thousand asylum seekers, or having to cope (as one of the biggest countries and economies in the EU) with a net inflow of 188,000 people last year. Of course there are flaws in Europe. But, having dealt with Westminster and Whitehall on a fairly regular basis for a number of years now, I would humbly suggest there are equally as many flaws there. That’s why I campaign!
The Leave campaign has fought on soundbites and “jam tomorrow”, playing on xenophobic emotional tugs and ignoring corrections to the dubious facts they repeatedly broadcast. They admitted this morning that they will keep on using the totally wrong £350 million figure simply because it resonates with the public. In short, they will keep lying because it scares people. It’s wrong and they know it – which leaves me to conclude that there is much self-interest there.
The basic reason I voted in is because humanity does better when it co-operates. It’s the message we give our children when they’re young – so it’s an important value within our society. You can’t do anything big without co-operation. The idea of turning our back on 40 years of co-operation because, like temperamental toddlers, we haven’t got exactly our own way even though we can’t articulate what that would be, is not the kind of image that any sane country would want to project. The only way forward is to co-operate with our neighbours on issues like consumer protection, climate change and crime prevention. With our neighbours we can remain an economic force to be reckoned with – especially if our State-side cousins continue with their apparent rush to elect a President Donald J Trump.
The EU has been key in reinforcing a delicate peace in the island of Ireland, ensuring that our fisheries have recovered, developing the economies and infrastructures of both us and our neighbours, providing a block of countries that big trading nations simply cannot ignore, and enabling us to travel more widely and broaden our minds and our experiences. We have attracted investment precisely because we are part of the EU. I want the UK to regain its reputation of being a moral and humane country – not one that pushes its toys out of the pram each time a decision goes against it or rails against “Johnny Foreigner”. I want the UK to be forward-looking, not harking back to some mythical golden age when we had an empire. I want the UK to be good friends with its neighbours.
There is simply too much to lose in leaving the EU.