01 June, 2016

The EU Referendum

I have seen a lot of commentary on the referendum on Facebook. I think Facebook is a poor platform for debating complex issues, so I thought I would write on here instead.
For me, this referendum is between two unappealing options - at least from my perspective. I will now explain what I think our two choices represent. My political views probably align closest with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband with a dash of Chomsky; society is to a large extent controlled by the interests of a business elite, who can effectively buy votes through the persuading power of their media conglomerates. A free society needs legal safeguards to prevent any section of society from dominating the rest.
But other people will see things differently; I don't subscribe to the idea that either side are idiots. I also don't subscribe to the idea that there haven't been enough 'facts' in this campaign - life is not simple and neat! The two sides don't agree on very much, and even on the facts everyone agrees, it's disputed if they are relevant or not. For example, let's say that our economy suffers as a result of voting Leave. That might be a price worth paying if you think the EU is a totalitarian federation intent on taking away our liberty and wealth! Or perhaps you are voting Remain because you want to protect the environment and quite like having a brake on the Government. So take the following with a pinch of salt and see how it sits for you.


For me, Remain means choosing to continue to be part of a slowly converging arrangement with Europe.It will reduce the leverage our Government has. European leaders will conclude that, if in the midst of a migration crisis, with the EU's finances in a parlous state, the British public cannot bring themselves to vote Leave, then they never will. It will be 'game on' for further integration (political and economic) of the Eurozone, regulation of the City of London, and so on.
Of course, in the short term, the markets will breathe a sigh of relief, and things will carry on as normal. But over the longer term, we will have to deal with issues of cultural integration as Germany and others become 'stepping stones' for refugees and migrants, leading to European citizenship and in some cases, residency in the UK. Wages and jobs for unskilled workers will continue to be undermined by European immigration. We will also have to accept that our domestic politics will be increasingly constrained by European law and governance.
In practice, much of what comes from the EU seems to be good for consumers. They have cracked down on mobile roaming fees, for example, and forced airlines to pay compensation for poor service. These are good things, which I could not envisage the UK government implementing on its own - it is too strongly influenced by big business.
However, when you group together in any bigger organisation, parts of that organisation will have to make sacrifices for the 'greater good' of the whole. Insofar as we are different because of our currency, our focus on the financial sector, our free-at-the-point-of-care NHS and our seeming unwillingness to bend the rules on State Aid, we will probably lose out disproportionately.
In summary: remaining in the EU will probably not change a great deal, but over time we will have less ability to make radical changes in our country, and have to accept the consequences of being one part of a wider community of nations. A mostly benevolent bureaucracy will act as a check on the Government's instincts, for good or for ill.


I recommend this Guardian article on what happens if we Leave. I expect that there would be informal negotiations to ensure there is no need for free trade between the EU and UK to cease when we Leave. European leaders would have to balance the desire to 'punish' the UK - to dissuade other states from leaving the Union - with the reality of the world's fifth largest economy still being across the Channel. Since the Leave campaign have argued strongly against freedom of movement, it is unlikely we would join the EEA or EFTA in the short term.
The pound would drop in value. Businesses would panic for a time, but the Government would reassure them that free trade would be re-established in short order. Some companies might leave or delay investment. The deficit would increase.
On the plus side, the Government would have greater control of its own policy. A pro-immigration government could still grant visas to Europeans (and others); we could bring doctors and nurses in from all over the world without having to accept unskilled workers from the EU. The 'northern powerhouse' could reduce its VAT rate to 15% to encourage a rebalancing away from London.We could impose different rules on NHS payments for those who haven't paid National Insurance because they have just arrived, from those who haven't paid National Insurance because they have just turned 18.  On the other hand, we could abolish the Working Time Directive, paid maternity leave, consumer rights legislation, green laws that make us keep the beaches clean, and any number of other positive pieces of legislation.
While I don't think that leaving the EU would unleash the Conservatives to re-introduce the workhouse and ban paid holidays, on the evidence it seems to me that the Vote Leave claim that we could spend less on the EU and more on the NHS would not come to pass. Brexit would take power away from a foreign bureaucracy and hand it over to multinational corporations, who are much less democratic than the EU. We know that cheap Chinese steel killed the Redcar steel works; we also know that the Government has argued for reduced tariffs on Chinese steel.

I like voting in controversial ways. I like the idea of some of the things we could do if we left the EU. In theory, the EU is not all that democratic. But when I look at the people who are advocating Leave, they are almost all either a) very right-wing or b) very left-wing. The moderates are basically all in favour of Remain.
My conclusion is that being part of the EU is like having a monarchy. In principle, it's a terrible idea and goes against liberal democracy; in practice, it seems to work, especially compared to the alternatives on offer.

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