I am deeply concerned for the future in Europe and of the European Union. Many across the continent are looking inward, closing their country to outsiders. Rather than considering the benefits of a diverse society, one that respects the worth of those who seek to make a better life for themselves and their family elsewhere, one that increases the richness of a culture by adding to the variety of experiences within it, populists and nationalists are perpetuating myths about foreigners. We saw this in the strong regional result for Marie Le Pen last year, governments in successive Nordic countries including or dependent on such extreme nationalist parties. We see it in the leading government parties of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Last month, we were frighteningly close to witnessing the election of an FPÖ candidate for president.
And we are seeing this now I’m the United Kingdom. This turn was unfortunately aided by the established parties, whether David Cameron’s awful pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, or Ed Miliband carving Controls on Immigration in stone and on party mugs before last year’s election. Inward immigration is a sign of economic strength. Workers move to where the jobs are, and in turn increase economic activity where they arrive and settle. But this has been ever more blatant from UKIP, the leading force behind this referendum. The worst of this was in the demonisation in the poster unveiled by Nigel Farage last week of those now in Europe who fled to twin terrors in Syria of Assad and Daesh. Aside from the fact that commitments under the Geneva Convention is independent of any obligation deriving from EU membership, I worry for politics and society where a message of abandoning those in distress would be victorious, instead of recognising the need to find solutions to the global emergency of record levels of displacement.
The European Union has been good economically, for individual countries like the United Kingdom or Ireland, and for the continent as a whole. It does this through facilitating trade within the union, and also by acting as a negotiating trading bloc with other countries or global regions. While this includes many regulations, in most cases, these are such that would exist at a national level in their diverse form, and their standardisation is such as to ease the flow of goods. I don’t support all the Union does; in particular, I do not support farm subsidies. But were I in the United States, the existence of federal farm subsidies would seem a very poor argument for secession. On the whole, and in most respects, the European Communities and the European Union have been the greatest engine in transnational free trade the world has seen.
The European Union was a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. From their inception in 1950s, the Communities brought together countries which had fought three major wars in the previous 80 years. With Ireland and the United Kingdom coming in together in 1973, they provided support for the peace process. In the 1980s, they brought in former military and fascist dictatorships, and in the 2000s, the Union welcomed those which had been behind the Iron Curtain. It promoted democratic and economic development before and after entry. The institutions have proven inadequate to guard against regressive steps by governments in Poland and Hungary in recent years, but they would be so much weaker should the Union begin to disintegrate. We need to maintain a strong Union with countries committed to liberal political and economic principles.
Allies of the United Kingdom worldwide have been clear that to maintain their place in the world, they should vote to Remain. In support of Leave, however, are Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. It would fit their worldview of isolated countries competing against each other rather than cooperating, seeing the European Union as a threat rather than a partner.
Economic analysts are at a near consensus that leaving the Union would be bad for Britain’s economy and indeed that inward migration from the EU and elsewhere has been beneficial. It worries me that a campaign with so little explanation of what would happen next is so close to winning, ahead in some polls, putting the position of their economy and society at risk for an unknown, fed by resentment against foreigners who have managed to gain employment. When Kate Hoey was pressed, she could not name any reputable independent study that showed the United Kingdom would be better off if it left.
Leaving the European Union would weaken the control the United Kingdom has over many of its external trade decisions, bound to arrangements of the remaining 27. It will have consequences for our island. We would probably be able to maintain the Common Travel Area, but customs restrictions could be introduced, depending on what deal the United Kingdom would negotiate (again, we don’t know what it might be). It would inhibit and hinder the welcome and increasing cooperation across Ireland, North and south. I find it deeply frustrating, if perhaps not surprising, to see Arlene Foster and the Democratic Unionist Party put this stability at risk, perhaps for the reassurance that it would weaken ties south of the border.
Most of all, what concerns me is what a Leave vote would say about the politics and political campaigns that work. In some respects, it is more concerning than the election results across Europe I referred to above, as it is almost certainly irreversible.
So for these reasons, I’ll await nervously for the result tonight and Friday morning, hoping to see a clear vote to Remain.