bailout, Boris Johnnson, Brexit, Brussels, Charles de Gaulle, David Cameron, democracy, EFTA, EU, Europe, European Central Bank, greece, immigration, Michael Gove, referendum, Scotland, subsidise, vote
We all know the traditional British fried breakfast is neither especially good for you, nor a culinary tradition that other nations adopt in Europe. The French like a breakfast-to-go of cafe and croissant, the Italians might just have a Latte and glass of water on the side and the Germans are known to have a cold cut ham and cheese platter in the platz. Everyone has different tastes.
Not even the weather is harmonised in Europe, and I doubt that the hard-up Eurozone can afford the largesse of the days of the Soviet Union when they “controlled” the conditions on May Day by sending Bear bombers to throw out grit in a successful bid to chase clouds away from Moscow. Having bankrupted the system in 1991 it is rather salutary that you can only kid people for so long.
No one is seriously saying that the British fry up is under threat if we stay in Europe. Nor that we are certain that being outside the European Union will be a walk in the park. Nor does anyone much care for my opinion, nor that of London Mayor Boris Johnson who is to decide whether to remain a eurosceptic or not on Monday in a Daily Telegraph article.
And nor should anyone. The decision is very much one for you and you alone. If you have the right to vote, you will be asked to decide on whether Britain should stay a member of the European Union on June 23 this year. British Prime Minister David Cameron has thrashed out a deal with Europe which sees some movement towards meeting our objections about Brussels. But only after those British demands were watered down.
Cameron said he would remain premier even if voters decide to break away from Europe – Brexit. Yes he has had to call the Brexit vote to appease right-wing Conservative backbenchers in Westminster as well as some of his own ministers such as Michael Gove. And he’s had to keep his word made to voters at the last General Election in May 2015.
But it is not the first time people have erroneously written off Cameron as a has-been. I would say he is as shrewd as any premier could be. He is showing his democratic credentials by honouring the vote and he has a smart Australian strategist on board whom he knighted in January. Last year Cameron’s team defied the polls and secured a majority government, albeit small.
Cameron pledged ahead of the 2015 General Election to hold a vote before the end of 2017. By deciding on June 2016 he has deliberately accelerated things.
Although immigration and the mass movement of Arabs from the Middle East has been a huge public spectacle since the summer of 2015, it will only be a minor issue in the decision of voters. By mid-year there will be new issues to handle and the US presidential election and growing prospect of a Donald Trump victory are likely to compete for media attention.
If you want to figure out why the haste, Cameron has worked out that to delay would increase pressure on him to deliver on the pledges that he claims he secured from Europe on Friday.
At this time, he has a deal which curbs benefits-in-work for east Europeans in the UK, but which failed to push back child benefit for children living outside the UK. He had to compromise here otherwise he would not have won over the Visegrad nations.
If a Brexit vote was held in late 2017 by then politicians would want proof the deal with Europe was working. Instead, we have a pledge as good as that on Appeasement in 1938.
Cameron also knows that if he proceeds with a vote now there will be little time to rationally debate and weigh up the benefits of leaving or enough time for those supporting Out of Europe to knock down claims of obstacles in so trying. That means that he undermines those who want to build up a credible argument to leave the EU other than by slogans and emotions.
With a 40-year track record in the EU, the government knows it can convince people to back the UK in Europe.
Lessons from Scottish Referendum
It is a tactic that worked in Scotland. Although many promises were offered to the Scots – and some since forgotten or at best delayed – the main driver to stay in the union was fear of “what if it really is an exit?” It was a close-run thing but Scots voted to stay in the union in 2014.
Brits are now being asked to vote on another union and this one will also use fear to make people sit up and vote to stay in the EU.
Banks have threatened to leave the UK if we Brexit. A lame argument in some cases because hiring English-speaking staff in Germany on such a large scale will prove difficult and we all know that the world’s capital of forex is London.
Companies play politics mostly because they don’t want what could be years of instability for them. And businesses hate instability which inevitably would follow a Brexit yes vote. But will companies really exit the UK? What if quitting the EU means that the UK government can finally offer the tax concessions on investment which Brussels refuses to let one nation introduce? Or we subsidise companies which Brussels says is an anti-competitive practice? Once companies have had a chance to digest the realities of the day they will likely decide to stay in the UK but adjust to the new order.
The Brexit vote will be the first on EU membership since the Labour Government upheld a 1974 election manifesto pledge. And there are some striking similarities. The 1975 referendum was held on 5 June and the summer feel-good factor certainly helped people think of summer holidays in Europe and that remaining “best mates” with Europe was the better policy. It was before they had returned from European holidays furious at the poor service in a Greek hotel or rip-off prices in Spain.
Back in 1975 some 67% of voters backed Yes to stay in the EEC, the forerunner of the EU. The trade unions were opposed to staying in Europe. The trade union movement in 2016 is a very different beast and in any case few workers are unionised anymore.
The language of the ballot paper has been hotly debated since July last year. Should it be a yes to leave or a yes to stay? A no to stay or a no to leave?
While psephologists can argue the semantics of that, the truth is that the vote, sooner or later, is a very healthy thing indeed.
I have previously commented that the Scottish referendum was a healthy poll and that whatever the outcome it ought to be repeated every 10 years to keep politicians on their toes.
Poll state and options after Brexit
The same I feel is true about Europe. We were not born into Europe as a political family. We joined it twenty years after it was created by the Treaty of Rome. It wasn’t even drafted with British interests in mind, even if, initially, French President Charles de Gaulle wanted Britain to join.
It is prudent for us to have an annual health check as individuals. So why not a health check on Europe every decade?
As a democrat, I am totally in favour of regular polls like these. If so many decisions are taken in Brussels that affect our lives we ought to have more to say that simply choosing which party represents us in Strasbourg every four or five years. It is the only way to keep in check the real power in Europe – which is the European Commission in Brussels rather than the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Much has been said about how a Brexit would result in British customs on French soil being dismantled at France’s request. This is rather a nonsense given as Britain would pay France handsomely to retain the convenience of such controls. And where the money is right there is always a way.
Several wealthy countries surrounded by the EU are not members. Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Andorra. Depending on interpretation we ought to include Monaco and San Marino.
Many of them have become tax shelters but others have also gained wealth via oil – Norway. And Iceland may have dabbled disastrously with banking in 2007 but it was the first to bounce back after taking some self-imposed draconian measures thanks to being outside the European Central Bank’s straight jacket.
We could do the same as these others. With only Switzerland and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein left in the European Free Trade Area which Britain belonged to until 1972 our only way forward other than to totally go it alone would be to join up to the European Economic Area with those outsider nations to allow for continued trade but opt out of being a voting member in Europe and be therefore exempt from certain parts of European law and burden.
But cooperation with Europe on security and NATO and other areas of joint interest would continue.
Europe “makes it up as it goes along?”
Moreover, with a vote every decade do we seriously think that a vote to Brexit would conclude everything? That we could never return? We were told that membership of the EU was irrevocable yet now we have our second referendum on the way. So if leaving isn’t so legally difficult neither is returning to the EU should we one day consider it has reformed enough to be a healthy club again.
Seeing how the Eurozone debt crisis was mismanaged made me realise that while on paper it was a good thing, in reality, Europe has never considered the downside of integration. So it was powerless to act when a crisis happened in 2009.
Crisis-hit Ireland was ridiculed by Germany and France for having a depositor protection scheme which they claimed was illegal, as was having a low rate of corporation tax. Yet within a year Germany and France were looking to copy the depositor protection scheme. It just smacked of soured grapes followed by opportunism in Europe.
But if that was not bad enough, consider that since May 2010 Greece, the first country to come unstuck in the debt crisis, has needed three bailouts – the most recent in mid-2015. So you have to ask yourself where did the money go and is the crisis ever going to get resolved?
Although not in the Eurozone Britain has agreed to help support the euro and that means the bailouts too.
But that is my view. What matters is what people collectively decide on June 23. It may be a closer-run vote than in 1975 and possibly in the area of 55% to stay and 45% to Brexit. A form of PR if the deal struck last week proves hollow like much else Europe has promised.