Brexit, Brussels, Commonwealth, David Cameron, democracy, EU, eurocorps, Europe, France, Germany, jeremy corbyn, Jersey, Mick Jagger, NATO, Nigel Farage, Poland, police, referendum, RMT, Scotland, Stephen Greenhalgh, tax, terrorism
The debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union is picking up speed. With the news last week that railway workers union RMT is backing Brexit while the business is sector is supposedly split, it’s clear that this isn’t a north-south, east-west nor left-right divide.
Mercifully, it isn’t a vote decided by self-interest groups like unions, business federations, nor high-profile celebrities. None of them are accountable for the vote.
But while it remains – and ought to remain – a personal decision for each and every registered voter there is much scaremongering about what a Brexit vote means and it is easy to become strangulated by rhetoric and unsubstantiated statistics.
Even the UK government planning a much-criticised leaflet which hits 27 million doormats this week, expanding on why (on balance) it’s better to stay in the EU, has managed to get embroiled in the controversy over how facts are sold. Balanced is one word which sits uncomfortably in what the government will be telling us.
Sure the government has an official position, albeit ministers individually have theirs. And that official position is to stay in the European Union.
Instead of an unemotional portrayal of facts it will be an additional pro leaflet for the EU. Additional because it will be in addition to for and against leaflets sent by respective camps. Only this £9 million extravaganza will be from taxpayers’ money. And did Parliament approve this extra expenditure or scrutinise it’s content?
Is it so hard to offers facts at taxpayers’ expense which would be a totally fair use of public money?
In Ireland where referenda are common the Referendum Commission would insist on a fair leaflet.
But as the Dutch vote against a trade deal with Ukraine showed last week…things go smoothly before the government speaks up and voters turn the other way!
This was a rocky week for the British Prime Minister David Cameron anyway in relation to his own tax affairs following the “Panama Papers” leaks. Whether we believe that Europe is good or bad for Britain, it is evident that Europe is incapable of policing anything. Firstly, Europe is incapable of preventing offshore bank accounts and tax avoidance or evasion on what was exposed to be an industrial scale. Cameron himself felt the heat from that when politicians on all sides demanded he comes clean about his own offshore assets and tax affairs.
Quite apart from exposing the lack of clout Europe has to police tax and assets, it also undermined Cameron as an honest and upfront fellow. Facts came out over several days of reticence. Not a good advert when he next gets up to publicly say “Trust me on this. Europe is where Britain belongs, at the heart of it.”
He might be better to avoid the word “trust” altogether as it will only draw attention of the wrong kind.
Then there is the security and safety issue. A lot of mud slung in the past 10 days about how staying in Europe will make us more secure. Even Armed forces chiefs have said so. But are they right?
Look around – Germany and France set up their own EuroCorps and that is a club within a club to which others have not subscribed or been invited to subscribe. NATO is the real definition of security and has within it Europe, the United States and other friendly states. A far more probable proposition than investing in Europe alone.
And what about cross-border crime and terrorism? At the very capital of Europe, in Brussels, the police were unable to apprehend terrorists prior to last month’s atrocity at the airport and in the Belgian capital. And once it happened, they were criticised for being unable to capture the offenders. In time they will round them up to face justice, we must hope, but in the meantime it has left an embarrassing episode for Europe to contend with. The level of cooperation with France and other cross-border nations for Belgium has not been an overt success.
There has been talk of tearing down UK borders on the French coastline. As I have said before this is speculation. And for the right price, I am certain the French would not turn away the opportunity to permit the continuation of the current border practices.
Finally, comments from the deputy Mayor of London Stephen Greenhalgh this week clearly were not an echo of what the incumbent Mayor of London Boris Johnson would have said. Both Johnson and his hopeful Conservative Party successor Zac Goldsmith have expressed Brexit tendencies.
But Greenhalgh and others have expressed the view that construction and other jobs would be lost as EU workers would have to go back.
Similarly, the outcry from universities that Britain will lose £800 million a year generated by European students if Britains leaves the EU is totally baffling.
Er, let’s knock all these remarks right on the head. Brexit is not some kind of anti-European crusade. It is not about Britain closing its borders. It is about Britain choosing who to trade with and on what terms beneficial to us.
No one should believe that euro-carrying or EU passport carrying students will no longer be welcome in British universities. The universities need the cash, and in the case of overseas students they get more cash than they do from domestic students. Now that they will be overseas with a capital “O” will only cement that course of funding. Meanwhile, students from France to Japan will still covet a British university education because it opens many doors for their careers worldwide.
And no one, therefore, is suggesting that workers from the EU, especially from Poland, would have to go back to their countries or to other parts of the EU. A huge number of Poles work in Norway – yet Norway is not a member of the EU!
Similarly, the Channel Island of Jersey first admitted Polish workers to its economy back in 2000. It didn’t fear a wave of Poles drowning their small proud territory. Poles did come and did comply with the local laws. Jersey is not a member of the EU either yet had the foresight to admit EU citizens even before they were EU citizens themselves (Poland joined on 1 May 2004 and Britain admitted them for work that day).
Let us not forget that individual European countries have in the past also welcomed workers from Europe and beyond and migration was a policy. We admitted Commonwealth workers in the 1950s and Germany went for a slightly misnamed “guest worker” policy with Turkey in the 1960s.
Last week, Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, himself a former student of economics at the London School of Economics, stated that his “personal, personal view” was that while in the short-term Brexit by the UK from the European Union would be detrimental in a 20-year time frame it would probably be beneficial.
And while everyone wants to see quick successes, the truth is that decisions like these have to be taken for the long-term view, not the short-term jolts.
There will be pain. There will be renegotiation but there will not be famine in order to reach feast. For a start Britain would not exit within days of a Brexit vote on June 23.
Rather, it would involve months of negotiation with the EU about the flavour of exit. There would be a lot to renegotiate – and that could take 3-5 years to complete.
Meanwhile, and therefore in parallel, the UK would commence trading agreement talks with the EU rump as well as with other nations it used to trade directly, such as the Commonwealth (whose population at 508 million is actually larger than that of the European Union at 137 million) as well as the USA and others. For over 40 years Britain, a proud mercantile economy, has had all that decided on its behalf by Brussels.
It is certain that those new trading agreements would take up to three years to establish. Then there would be a transitionary period as we exit EU deals and take on the new deals in parallel. So to talk about shortages, or trading vacuums, is simply a nonsense. It makes the UK look like it is incapable of taking care of its own destiny. Is that how much 43 years in the EU has destroyed our own self-esteem?
As I have said before, not so long ago a referendum would have been thought unthinkable. Now we are conducting one. Then we were threatened this is a no-return poll. Again, total nonsense. If in 10 years’ time Britain feels it made an emotional mistake voting for Brexit I am certain that Europe would be more than happy to readmit “moneybags” Britain.
Both sides have been trading falsehoods about Brexit or Remaining in the EU. And I fear much more is yet to be revealed. But my concern is to set the record straight. If the UK government’s leaflet would not tell people which way to vote but just lay out the facts for and against, it would give people what they definitely need – clarity to judge.
Yet as we have seen with the Scottish Referendum, another bungled voting process right there, voters don’t know the facts and will almost certainly vote with their emotions. It wasn’t necessarily good for the Scottish vote in 2014 and I daresay won’t be good for the EU vote this year either.
You might have noticed that I have taken shots at the Remaining in the EU side. Why not poke the Brexit Brigade too? After all, I readily admit both sides trade propaganda.
Very true but I have always believed it is easier for the status quo to defend themselves. They are able to pass on propaganda as official facts whereas those seeking Brexit are mere amateurs and inexperienced zealots. In a way the status quo has a more chilling authority about themselves.
Indeed that was why in 2014 I was far more critical of the Better Together side than those seeking Scottish independence.
Whatever my own convictions in the matter, I really take offence at any “charade” made of democracy. It is no good Cameron feeling smug that he has hoodwinked the Scots into staying in the union, and now hoodwinking voters into staying in the European Union. It is not about getting people to vote the way he or Nigel Farage or Jeremy Corbyn want. It is about allowing real democracy so that people, armed with facts, can make their own voices heard. That is the real notion of democracy and accountability for it.
As I said with Scotland, I say again with the EU. I really don’t mind what the country decides, so long as it is based on an honest appraisal. And yet we can see that is not going to be allowed to happen. People must not be allowed to have their voice within heard. How utterly depressing is that?