The referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union takes place in a little over three weeks, possibly the biggest political decision British people will face in their lifetimes. An awful lot has been said and written, some of it gratuitous, unpleasant alarmism, and while the Conservative party descends further into open civil war, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has been almost half-hearted on the issue, and the Liberal Democrats’ Tim Farron seems to have disappeared altogether. As a result of this, and of the many issues currently affecting the UK, such as housing, education, or the imbalanced growth of the economy, it’s probably reasonable to be disappointed in or angry with some of the political class. That said, if you don’t like the party in power and/or those in opposition — and I understand that they are making quite a lot of people unhappy — it’s entirely possible to vote for another party at the next general election, or indeed even to demand the types of reforms to the electoral system which will produce a more equitable distribution of MPs and better reflect the nation’s political attitudes, and perhaps even a second chamber in line with that proposed but never achieved by Tony Blair. Making the EU referendum some sort of protest vote, or through the unfounded idea that changes to the UK will be as quickly achieved following a referendum as through a change in political power, is not sensible. Bearing this in mind, this post isn’t about the following:
Immigration, though immigrants are the most extraordinarily clever people if certain sections of the press are to be believed, with their ability to both steal “our” jobs and nonetheless move here to claim benefits. It’s also rather bewildering to see principle figures involved in the Brexit campaign argue that immigration is causing downward pressure on wages, given every single Conservative MP opposed the introduction of a minimum wage when it first became law in 1998, and Tories continue to seek ways of undermining it.
Infrastructure and transport pressures. Yes, there are undoubted issues, especially in a country in which the south-east becomes ever more prosperous and a magnet for people both internally and externally. There are also radical solutions, such as, for example, a government reversing the increasingly disproportionate per capita spending on London and instead investing heavily in “super-cities” or corridors in the north, Wales, Scotland and elsewhere, like Liverpool-Manchester and Leeds-Sheffield, this being the possible theory behind the “Northern Powerhouse” which some critics nonetheless call a sham, though less for the idea itself than the lack of investment underpinning it. Perhaps HS2 could be delayed or abolished altogether, which some economists argue will simply exacerbate disparities between the regions, and instead investment made in high-speed links between those cities and corridors first. The benefits to the country would be many and keenly felt, given that it is significantly cheaper to work and live there.
The NHS, though the nation can collectively agree irrespective of political views that Jeremy Hunt’s most lasting and telling contribution to enhancing the nation’s collective well-being is in the field of rhyming slang.
Individual politicians, party politics, business organisations, quangos and lobby groups. It’s probably a good general rule, however, to favour ideas which are given cross-party support — including those Tory moderates who wish to remain — as well as that support given by the IMF, the World Bank, trade unions, top business leaders, faith leaders, healthcare professionals, universities, the creative industries, economists, historians, the G7, the WTO, the WWF, NATO, Barack Obama, and other European and world leaders over what is almost wholly and solely the preserve and desire of the right-wing. Those figures include Donald Trump, a man so frequently dishonest that almost three-quarters of the things he says are false, and that’s to exclude what is for a Presidential candidate an unprecedented, racist assault on the judiciary, never mind his misogyny and the possible rape of a former wife. To that list you can add Boris Johnson, a politician who as Mayor of London so clearly cared about the well-being of the poor that his housing policy was in part responsible for the growing social cleansing of the city despite promising that it wouldn’t happen, who was sacked by The Times for making up quotes, and who has previously admitted that free trade won’t happen without accepting EU regulation and immigration, and that’s to ignore just how deeply unpleasant he has been, including on race. There’s Nigel “definitely man of the people and not at all man of the establishment, privately educated, merchant banker” Farage, who has in the past referred to black people as “niggers” and “nig-nogs”, and who wants a system of US-style private insurance to replace the NHS. Michael Gove has written similarly on healthcare, and who has recently become so populist that he simply decries the advice of experts when they happen to disagree with him, but whose trait for simply believing himself right in the face of conflicting evidence is known by even those who previously defended him. There’s also Iain Duncan Smith, a man so spectacularly incapable of running a government department that his welfare reforms aren’t just over budget but won’t be delivered until at least four years after their scheduled implementation date and likely several more beyond that, and while the direct figures are yet to be established, those reforms may be in part responsible for deaths, while a report separately noted that one of his policies would make 200,000 more children poor, with bizarrely his only “success” listed as the government making life more miserable for some of society’s most vulnerable people. Chris Grayling is the next example, possibly the worst Lord Chancellor in history, repeatedly slapped down by the courts in having behaved unlawfully, in one particular instance being responsible for the quite colossally stupid attempt to ban sending books to prisoners. Worst of all, Vladimir “probably ordered the assassination of a political opponent in London” Putin. Simply stated, it’s hard to think of any event which has united so many disparate people and groups from across the political spectrum in the belief that the wisest choice is to remain a member, and bring together that many disagreeable people as the opposition.
That the UK sends £350m per week to the EU. Which is a lot of money. But only if the rebate is forgotten. And that the EU sends roughly half of the money back to the UK in the form of spending. And that it totally ignores the economic and financial benefits of the single market. And that the UK Statistics Authority chair has said using the £350m figure in isolation and without explanation is potentially misleading.
Bananas, and kettles, and fridges, and vacuum cleaners, and the EU interfering in even the most mundane, humdrum aspects of your daily life. Note I am definitely not saying that making a cup of tea is mundane or humdrum — some things are sacrosanct. But the EU is only bothered by this to the extent that industry, manufacturers and their like think having a single set of standards is pretty helpful, which it is, because in the long run it makes production cheaper and more efficient. And making appliances like power-hungry vacuum cleaners more efficient and use less electricity is pretty good for the environment and our own pockets. Even better, if you get annoyed by phone chargers and that no-one in your workplace seems to have the same cable as you, the EU is working on that, which might save on some of the estimated 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste generated in the EU per year. By the way, the EU does maintain a website debunking or contextualising many of the claims made about it since 1992, including on bananas, which is useful if only to probably make the right-wing press angry about the cost of maintaining a website dedicated to debunking claims made largely by the right-wing press.
What will happen after a Brexit. Given that the country generally has a good idea what will happen if the UK remains a member of the EU, the onus is on those arguing in favour of leaving to lay out in precise terms what will occur should they win the referendum. That’s a problem, because the leave campaign doesn’t seem to have any really authoritative idea of what will happen, and while Barack Obama may have erred in saying the UK would go to the back of the queue — not because he used “queue” rather than “line”, but because as a country Britons absolutely adore queuing and that sounded fantastic — as one example it ordinarily makes sense to negotiate trade agreements as a bloc rather than individually. And as for Scotland? In the event of Brexit, don’t be surprised if there’s another referendum to leave the UK, and this time an exit from the union.
The difference between the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Council of Europe (CoE) on the one hand, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the European Union (EU) on the other. Still, there’s absolutely no chance of the UK coming out of the ECHR without impairing or irreparably damaging relationships with each of those, while making the UK the only European country besides Belarus not to be a member in the process. This is also to forget what it will do to the Northern Ireland peace process, and the small problem that the British government simply has no idea to extricate itself from the Human Rights Act despite several attempts to do so previously. For supporters of Liverpool FC, meanwhile, it is well known that the Human Rights Act was integral to uncovering what has been termed the biggest cover-up in British history, which alone should give pause for thought who believe that a fair judicial process can easily exist without it.
The EU’s institutions and practices, some of which are in need of substantial reform, but it should be noted that the UK stands a better chance of reforming those institutions and practices in need of change while being part of it.
Worker and consumer protections. The EU has been involved in bettering those, including where paid leave, maternity rights, equal treatment for those in part-time and fixed-term work and agency workers, consultation rights in the case of organisational restructuring, defending against monopolies, over-time, and lowering your mobile phone tariffs when roaming are concerned. There are many examples, and this is just one excellent post detailing the relationships between the UK, EU and employment law written by a QC who specialises in the area.
The past. Those in favour of Brexit seem to think it will herald a return to a past which probably never even existed. This vote is so very much about the future.
The ability to easily travel and move overseas. Reciprocity is one of the biggest and yet frequently unremarked upon benefits a country possesses as part of the EU. A British citizen can move to Sweden tomorrow if they want, and catch up on more Nordic noir. Perhaps the country would previously have made better fist of living overseas overall if modern foreign language tuition had previously been compulsory at an earlier age, not the rough equivalent of “ah, but everyone speaks English”. Now the curriculum recognises the future — not the past.
What it will do to the food. The country is doing so well.
What it suggests about the UK culturally. Brexit implies that the UK is no longer welcoming. That it thinks differently about foreigners. That it’s drifting back to a Little Britain — and not the comedy variety. That inclusivity is being rejected over “us” and “them”, and moving away from not only pluralism, but rejecting modernity.
So no, this isn’t about any of that. This is actually about what the vote means for me. My friends from around the EU, who have chosen to make their lives here, moving thousands of miles, leaving their own loved ones in pursuit of new and greater ambitions, learning languages in the process, contributing to the country’s economic and social well-being, are brilliant. They are too numerous to mention individually, but they have had the most enormous, positive impact on my life, making it more meaningful and introducing me to cultures, cuisines, places, and people for which the benefits are vast and long-lasting. There’s absolutely no way on earth I would want to deny myself, them, or future generations the opportunity to benefit from the ease of making those kinds of relationships and bringing people closer together. I couldn’t possibly look these people in the eye on 23 June if I did anything else other than to vote Remain. To vote for Brexit would, for me, be telling them that I see them as lesser than me. They aren’t. They are at the very least my equal and in so many instances my better. If there are people in your life like that, register to vote if you haven’t already, and do the same.