What the Brexit campaigners, most of them fanatical Thatcherites who feel they’ve been out of power too long, mean by ‘bringing back our sovereignty’ is not your sovereignty and mine, but theirs!
Do we want to leave the EU?
I don’t know if anyone else is equally dismayed by the atrocious grandstanding and generally agricultural level of debate over Cameron’s folly, mostly driven by the ‘Leave’ campaign, but I can’t stand it any longer. Who is speaking out with any passion for Britain’s destiny in Europe? It’s not all about the economy, stupid!
Too many migrants, it’s unmanageable
That’s right, Brexiters, play the immigration card. It’s the oldest trick in the political campaigning book, going back to ancient Athens. Make sure everyone feels miserable, unhappy enough that hordes of less-deserving foreigners are somehow getting more favourable treatment than they are, and they’ll follow you through the gates of Hell.
Britain benefits from the free movement of labour. It’s what’s driving what little economic growth we have. The Government does not keep records of EU citizens coming and going, so the figure of ‘330,000’ net migrants last year is only guesswork: it includes possibly 160,000 non-EU citizens, lots of Philippino nurses and temporary Chinese students who could be refused entry if we so wished.
But we have lost control of our borders! Nigel Farage says so!
It’s funny, but my name suggests that my ancestors probably arrived with the Vikings, 60 generations ago. I was born here, I live here, I’m white, nominally CofE, 66 years of age. I don’t travel often, but whenever I leave or re-enter Britain, even only from France, I’m required to show my passport and boarding pass at least three times, in and out, to a man with a computer and a fishy stare; and to declare my citizenship and right of entry beforehand to EasyJet’s ticketing people, or to Brittany sodding Ferries, although it’s none of their business.
My car is invariably searched, even on the way out. I sometimes sit on the plane thinking, if I were an illegal immigrant, how on earth would I get into Britain without risking my life under a container lorry, or freezing in the wheelbay of this very aircraft? And given that I have to declare my right to work with every job application, provide several layers of identification to open a bank account, and offer-up my ex-wife’s National Insurance number just to qualify for the State pension, having first registered for a Gateway card, how the hell would I remain here undetected? You have to admire those people. Benefit tourism? Don’t make me laugh! It took me seven weeks of answering persistent, detailed, forensic questions just to get a couple of months’ worth of Pension Credit out of the DWP.
If we have genuinely ‘lost control of our borders’, as the Brexiters’ nonsense meme goes, there wouldn’t be twelve thousand fit young workers from the Magreb and genuine war refugees from Syria and Iraq, whose desire to make a contribution is being wasted, rotting in unofficial camps along the French coast, unable to get in to Britain, would there? It’s absurd, xenophobic paranoia. As I write, retired admirals are being wheeled out to demand more naval patrols in the Channel. Why? Because of one rubber dinghy and a handful of Albanian illegals…? For pity’s sake, we’re missing the point: they were caught!
Anyway, Britons have a fine maritime tradition of smuggling-in whatever will pay the rent.
People should stay in their own countries
EU citizens are not ‘migrants’, they have a right to live and work anywhere in the EU freely without visas, just as we do in their countries. They might stay a few months, a couple of years, or just come here on business, we don’t know. Some may stay permanently, and why not? My Viking forebears did. Should I have remained in London, where I was born, rather than becoming an ‘economic migrant’ in more affordable Wales? Should grownups not have any right to choose where they prefer to live?
And if you imagine they’re all East Europeans, or Portuguese sprout-pickers, they’re not. There are about 400 thousand French citizens living in Britain, just as there are 400 thousand Britons living in France. Many of them work in the City, or run large businesses. It’s meaningless to play the numbers game. And without East Europeans those houses we need, that high-speed railway, are never going to get built.
What about all the illegal immigrants?
Membership of the EU does not affect illegal immigration in any way, they are totally unrelated issues.
Of course there are ‘illegals’, there are in every country. They’re not in the majority, we’re not being ‘swamped’ by them, they can’t claim benefits so have to work in the grey economy, which rich people find useful. Asylum-seekers – 30,000 of them are trapped in a nightmarish legal system that has no money to process their applications – are another category. Not ‘illegals’, they are here because they imagine they are protected from persecution by the United Nations charter on refugees, of whom there are around 100 million in the world. They’re not allowed to work, and their generous ‘benefits’ actually consist of £35 worth of food and clothing vouchers a week, and a bunk in a hostel. That’s if they’re not banged-up in Yarl’s Wood, Teresa May’s equivalent of Belsen-Bergen.
Undesirability is not always the prerogative of the poor, as anyone living in Central London, where a seldom-occupied apartment can cost some refugee central-African dictator £30 million, will tell you.
We don’t need all these people, we have enough problems of our own
The fastest-growing sector of the population is the Over-80s. Ten million are over 65, 20 million described as ‘inactive’. We need to replace retired and inactive people in the workforce and we don’t have nearly enough younger native workers to do that, or to care for the elderly. Too many of our own graduates are under-qualified. Without its 150,000 ‘inworkers’ the NHS would collapse. Well, it is anyway, but you know what I mean.
If we vote to leave, or if there is only a marginal majority in favour of staying in, the likelihood is of a coup being mounted against Cameron by Europhobes in the Tory party. Those seizing power will be the ones who favour more privatisation in the public sector. More privatised, contracted-out social services provided on cheap ‘best value’ terms must mean more immigrants, not fewer. You are being lied to again.
Migrants are taking British jobs
Migrants are not ‘taking our jobs’, they are driving our fragile economic growth, cleaning our offices. They work, pay tax, rent homes, buy food. Their willingness to work for lower wages makes companies more profitable, so they can employ more people. Unemployment is at its lowest level for a decade, yet there are still plenty of jobs to be filled. There are not enough native British applicants for many types of work. At the bottom end of the pay scale, Britons don’t apply for the jobs – at the upper end, we don’t produce graduates with the right qualifications. (We should fund higher-level degrees, but we don’t.) Migration is creating more employment, not less.
And if we leave the EU, migrants will have to fill the jobs in other EU countries now being done by British expatriates… So in that sense they will be taking ‘British jobs’!
Migrants are driving down wages
It’s not migrants who are ‘driving down wages’, it’s employers who choose how much or little to pay, and shareholders who profit!
Plus, of course, new technology: the automation of workflows and the outsourcing of manufacturing, call-handling, data processing and IT jobs to countries with lower standards of living. These huge changes are causing wage stagflation all over the western world, even now in China – not just in Britain. I see ads recruiting for the same job I had in the late 1980s, still offering the same salary. It’s doubtful if we shall ever again see middle-earner incomes rising the way they did in the 1980s, while white-collar ‘knowledge’ jobs are fast disappearing. That’s not the fault of the EU. Even if those jobs can be repatriated without lowering wages still further, they have already been replaced by smart systems.
We haven’t got room for them all
Britain is not an ‘overcrowded little island’!
Yes, there are too many cars on the road (45 million!) and not enough houses, as you can see from the train window. What you don’t see, other than in city centres or on commuter lines or at football matches, is crowds.* Whole swathes of Britain outside the cities are chronically underpopulated: schools and pubs are closing, communities dying. The EU has poured billions of Euros into places like mid-Wales, an Objective One economic region, to little effect: there has been almost no resulting inward investment of value-creating jobs or improved infrastructure. The population of my county of Ceredigion has increased by only ten thousand since the 1891 census! There is plenty of room for more people if we choose to use it sensibly. The reason we don’t build more houses is because we like rising house prices. It’s what many of us are living on.
We’d be better off making deals with other countries
Maybe, nobody knows. But why abandon one set of known trading partners for another unknown set, apparently just for the hell of it?
If there was a rational proposal on the table to create a new, more profitable trading bloc with Britain at its centre, then maybe we could consider it. But there isn’t! After 40 years in Europe we will be starting out all 0ver again. The Brexit camp have offered not one single shred of evidence that the experiment can work, that profitable new trading alliances can be formed before Britain sinks beneath the Atlantic waves.
Their entire case is based on centuries-old anti-European prejudice, and a mad belief in British racial superiority.
The EU makes the big trade agreements we can benefit from, and provides us with a huge market for our goods and services. The largest single national investor in Britain is Germany. France and Spain are also major creators of jobs and wealth in the UK. Why? Because they like our openness and relaxed labour laws. They like that we have top-level research skills and a flexible workforce. They like that we are a gateway to other world markets. And they like that we are in the same economic bloc as themselves, even though we insist on driving on the wrong side of the road. Americans and Chinese, on the other hand, treat us as inferiors.
The Americans and Chinese will not welcome us as competitors with open arms; neither will ‘the Commonwealth’, former colonial countries that mostly hate our guts. What have we got to offer them, other than tax-haven status, that they can’t buy cheaper from Singapore or Seoul? This idea that Britain can be a ‘great power’ again in world trade is a fantasy dreamed up by Empire loyalists, who want to put the clock back to the 1950s. (I grew up in the 1950s, I remember rationing….) Britain’s power derived historically from the Navy and our colonies. Both are long gone.
British businesses are drowning in EU ‘red-tape’
This is at the heart of the EU debate: we like to be members of the club but we don’t like having to follow the rules of the club. Rules our government has played a part in creating!
Imagine if you joined a golf club, and kept on demanding loudly that the Committee should make those tricky little holes bigger – fairways shorter, and a free bar! Like farmers, business owners are always moaning about something or other. It’s part of the drive to want to be successful, but should we take too much notice?
British businesses are free to operate within the same set of rules as any other country in the EU, a valuable and still largely untapped market of 500 million consumers. They are also subject to British company law, which is burdensome enough. What Europe does is try to create a level playing field – anti-trust, ensuring fair competition; consumer protection, and safe labour laws. Just recently, for instance, the EU has forced mobile phone companies to phase out their unfair roaming charges, and stopped a giant merger that would have been bad for UK subscribers. Is that ‘oppression’? It might be seen that way, if you were a telecoms business.
Of course businesses are allowed to trade in the outside world, but they do it from within the EU, not just from Britain. You would find, if you were trading in America, India or China, they have rules and tariffs and red-tape there too. And above the EU there are global trade rules everyone has to follow, for instance the World Trade Organisation’s. Should we resign from those too, trade with Mars, maybe?
What you might consider less fair is the way US courts support arrogant and aggressive American business interests worldwide; imposing huge fines on British and European companies and even extraditing individual managers for trial, that don’t toe their anti-competitive line.
We don’t want to get dragged down by the Euro crisis
If the Euro is in ‘crisis’, then perhaps some clever economist can explain why its value has remained so remarkably stable against the pound when averaged over the past five years? Or is there also a Sterling crisis at the same time? We should be told, since the value of any currency depends on the confidence of international investors. Yes, the way German bankers have treated Greece is shameful, despicable. Should we not remain in a position to say so?
EU membership costs £350 million a week we could be spending on hospitals
We are not ‘paying for nothing’, or uniquely hard done-by – the money is actually buying us a share of the leadership in European markets and institutions, whose joint decisions affect us whether we are in or out. Are membership fees not normal in any club? Otherwise, who pays to keep the lights on in the office, the roof repaired, the cleaner paid, biscuits in the staffroom and paper in the toilets? Can the ‘fifth richest nation on earth’ really not afford it?
We may send ‘£350 million to Brussels every week’, as an average it’s possible, although former PM, Sir John Major disputes it. Then we get half of it back again in the rebate; while agricultural subsidies and regional development grants also help to return £10 billion our way. All 28 EU members pay to belong according to a formula based on their GNP; they do it because they consider they benefit from being in the EU!
It’s not ‘giving money away, that could be spent on hospitals’, that’s just emotional blackmail and completely ridiculous. The NHS is a separate budget.
And don’t imagine if we leave the EU, that our government, which is very happy to raise £105 billion a year from VAT, a Common Market tax originally intended only to raise money to pay membership subscriptions, but which has now caught on worldwide, would build a single new hospital without private US corporate investment. (The problem is not hospitals, it’s staff.)
Britain can look after its own security (with the help of the Yanks)
… Or that the government won’t chuck £60 billion at renewing our Trident nuclear fleet, an obsolete military doctrine dating from the last century. The Russians are laughing at us!
Nor as far as I know is the EU planning to raise its own permanent defence force, to ‘undermine NATO’, as has been claimed. Designed to fight the Cold War NATO is, frankly, no longer fit for purpose, increasingly meddling in politics; and if the EU is considering combining its national defence forces and direction, it is only doing what the Americans want us to do, which is to stand up for ourselves and shoulder more of our share of the burden of policing conflicts around our borders.
Britain cannot do that alone: we have cut our Army to only 80,000 personnel and our Navy to just 19 ships. At the moment, we are sharing an aircraft carrier with the French. The Americans are laughing at us!
We don’t want to be ruled by Brussels, we want our sovereignty back
We are not ‘ruled by Brussels’! There are British commissioners and thousands of British civil servants and politicians working in Brussels and Strasbourg, who are an integral part of the decision-making process. The complexity of unpicking our membership is mind-boggling. It’s not a question of ‘should we join or should we stay out?’ as the Brexiters try to pretend, we’ve been an integral part of the Union for more than forty years. That’s going to be one expensive, messy divorce.
What the Brexit campaigners, most of them fanatical Thatcherites who feel they’ve been out of power too long, mean by ‘bringing back our sovereignty’ is not your sovereignty and mine, but theirs! This whole referendum business is not about ‘who rules Britain?’ from a sovereignty point of view: it’s not about Parliament, or ‘our cherished independence’, it’s about which Conservative Party rules Britain: the moderate, centrist party or the free-market, neo-liberal faction on the right.
Like Napoleon and Hitler, the EU wants a united Europe
Excuse me, but is M. Jean-Claude Juncker about to invade Poland?
Boris Johnson is a clever man playing with hyperbole on British popular suspicion of all things European, and our tiresome fixation on the Second World War. But his real intention is to run Britain himself. He wants to be Prime Minister. He doesn’t belong to either faction, really; or even to the Conservatives: Boris is a one-man faction, a one-man party! Can you trust anything he says?
And what is wrong with a united Europe anyway? Better surely than a disunited Europe, especially with Russia rattling its sabre again; US global influence waning, and China on the rise.
Closer economic and political union is always presented without any argument as a Bad Thing. It’s something we’ve all come to believe: another meme. Has anyone ever explained why it’s so bad? All European countries have a historic sense of nationhood, but you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice that in order to co-operate: our Britishness is not irrevocably bound up with our political institutions – which, incidentally, Mrs Thatcher did more than anyone to dismantle. Federalism has worked pretty well for the United States of America – yet the 50 states still retain their individuality and sense of pride.
I’ve heard it said, it’s impossible to unify countries as far apart geographically and culturally as Portugal and Lithuania. Well, the Romans managed it, and they didn’t have Eurovision. And if you are instinctively opposed to federalism, have you looked at the British model lately? The ‘United Kingdom’ nowadays has become a confederation of quasi-autonomous statelets, with devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, maybe soon England, under the benevolent paternalism of a central tax-raising government….
We want to make our own laws
We do! Our laws are not exclusively ‘made in Brussels’! The British parliament debates and approves EU legislation, that affects other countries as well as our own. We can challenge, adapt or veto it; and we can make our own laws: the Blair government alone is said to have introduced more than three thousand. Often when they are unpopular we pretend they are EU laws!
European law is not especially ‘oppressive’. Much of it protects consumers’ and workers’ rights, guaranteeing product quality and workplace safety, standardisation and performance. That in turn creates business stability, annoying though the ‘red-tape’ must be. (I don’t know, my little business never had a problem with it, and we worked with partner agencies all over Europe and beyond.)
Clean beaches are one outcome of EU environmental legislation, hopefully clean air in our cities will be next. If we leave the EU, who will hold Prime Minister Johnson’s feet to the fire over carbon reductions? (yes, joke!)
What about the Court of Human Rights, not letting us send terrorists back?
The European Court of Human Rights, that seems so to inflame the editor of the Daily Mail, is not even an EU institution. The Tories who support Brexit also support withdrawal from the Court and want to create their own Bill of Rights that will leave ordinary people with fewer protections than before, merely because they have sometimes been embarrassed that their more Draconian measures don’t pass muster with rational human beings. In fact, more decisions of the European Court go in favour of British court rulings than against. British judges sit in the Court: it’s not all a foreign plot.
Another Brexit meme, our ‘inability to deport EU criminals’, is also a bit of a red-herring. ‘Criminals’ is a very broad term, covering anything from TV licence avoidance and failing to pay parking fines, to murder. It’s so easy to convince people that ‘criminals’ who weren’t born in Britain – we do breed ‘criminals’ of our own, you know – are somehow more dangerous and reprehensible just because of being ‘foreign’. And if they aren’t permanently resident in the UK they are deported, given the limitations of our criminal justice system, starved of funding. The EU is not stopping us from deporting ‘criminals’, the law says we can send them back to serve their sentences in their country of origin. It’s not the fault of the EU if we don’t have the manpower and resources to carry out idealistic policies.
We could be more like Norway, with all of the benefits and none of the hassles
The ‘Norwegian model’ some think we can adopt is not what it seems. Norway’s is a tiny economy with a population only a little larger than Wales’, yet it has amassed vast sovereign wealth from not squandering its oil revenues. They still have to pay to belong to the EFTA and are subject to EU trade rules but without having a voice in Brussels. They also have a popular belief that immigration is a problem. Another ‘associate’, Switzerland survives on tourism and money-laundering. Now that sounds more like the British model!
The EU wants countries like Turkey to join, meaning more useless scroungers
Brexiters have raised the awful spectre of Turkey joining the EU and millions of illiterate, scrounging Turks clamouring to enter Britain. Where is their evidence?
Firstly, this poisonous idea of ‘swarms’ of migrants is nonsense. If there are jobs available, working people move from poorer areas to richer areas to fill them. If there is no work, they go elsewhere. If they come as tourists, they spend their Euros and go home. The German ‘economic miracle’ of the 1960s was made possible only by tens of thousands of invited Turkish ‘guest workers’. Many stayed, which suggests that any Turkish migrants are more likely to go to Germany where they are already well established.
Turkey is not a primitive country! It enjoyed an economic boom in the early 2000s, becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Now, with an Islamising President who imprisons anyone who criticises him, is not a fan of women’s equality and who has recently reignited the internal civil war against the Kurds, our allies in the fight against the IS, and with their booming economy stalled – there is no way Turkey should qualify under EU membership rules for many years to come, albeit Turkey is a member of NATO.
Of course, if we leave the EU but somehow retain our right to free movement, we will not be able to veto Turkey’s entry and then have the problem of dealing with Turkish migration, about which we will be able to do nothing…. Which might embarrass the Prime Minister-in-waiting, Boris Johnson, whose eminent grandfather Ali Kemal Bey was Turkish, and a Liberal-Democrat to boot.
Turkey is another Brexiters’ immigration meme, supposed to scare you.
We can go on enjoying full privileges in Europe because we’re British
Yeah, right…. Two million Over-65 Brits are living out their retirement in the sun, freely as EU citizens. How many will be sent back for not having the right paperwork? If they opt to take out citizenship they’re going to have to brush-up their language skills…. Where will they be housed? Who will pay for them, care for them, if they can’t sell their properties abroad, can’t work and don’t qualify for local authority support?
And will I be allowed to buy my retirement home in Alicante next year without a means-tested residence permit and points in a quota system? It’ll be a licence for the Spanish authorities to print money. As holidaymakers, will we have to queue at regional airports with the other aliens, while EU citizens are waved through the Green channel? Will we be limited to bringing back only six bottles of wine and 200 cigarettes without paying hefty customs duty, as we were before we joined the EU? Who will be the ‘migrants’ then? Do you think they love us, drunken, ugly, brawling, sexually incontinent, uncultured slobs that we are?
Nobody knows, no country has left the EU before. There are no rules to cover it. We don’t know where we shall stand if we leave. We may no longer be citizens of Europe, only of ‘fortress UK’, stuck with Nigel Farage braying on in triumph for ever. But at least our passports will be blue again….
(And the EU supports our claim to Gibraltar… but if we leave?)
Surely all those trustworthy Brexit politicians (and Sir Beefy Botham) can’t be wrong, we’ll be better off out?
For the last 40 years the British public has been subjected to a relentless barrage of anti-European propaganda in some sections of the press. Powerful corporate interests want us out. Why? Certainly not to make you better off! As Joseph Goebbels put it, if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth. No wonder so many people are confused and suspicious.
Vote to Leave, and we shall be swapping an inefficient but well-intentioned centrist meritocracy for a more rapacious, hard-edged global capitalism, from which there will be no protection. Make what you will of that, it’s not speculation, it’s about the only fact in this article. Why is the Chancellor making nice to huge American technology corporations that don’t pay tax on their UK profits; while the French, for instance, have clobbered them for £billions?
Life will not somehow magically get better for us if we pull out now. How would it? The Brexiters cannot say how, they just shout ‘rubbish!’ and complain bitterly when anyone, however expert, is allowed to put an alternative point of view, however carefully researched. Their spokespeople have totally swamped the media for months, not allowing any pro-European views to be heard. The BBC is terrified of them, if they get into power they might eviscerate the Corporation and hand the spoils to the Murdoch dynasty. Democrats? Hardly!
Massively overburdened with domestic debt, with a still-precarious banking sector and only fragile economic growth, 0.3%, outside Europe we will be subject to a whirling gale of global influences – the whole world economy is on the brink of recession. The USA, China, India are not going to help us, why would they? They have their own problems: US debt is now $14 TRILLION (ten times the UK’s) and the Chinese economy is faltering. It’s probably worse than they are pretending. We would get caught up and ground between these two mutually indebted giants.
We have done as well as we could inside the EU, nothing suggests we would have done better not joining in the first place. Perhaps if we had not been such half-hearted members, always whining and demanding special treatment, to our national shame, we might have done even better.
And who will trust our word ever again?
But it’s silly for Mr Cameron to say there could be another war!
It’s unlikely there will be another war between the major powers in Europe. But history teaches us that the danger of destabilising the already shaky-looking political consensus is a risk not worth taking. Many of the old pre-1914 faultlines are re-emerging.
Partly made worse by the refugee crisis and the war in Syria, that has provided an excuse for fear of foreigners to spill over, extreme nationalism is on the rise, both inside and beyond Europe.
It is a historical truth that whenever Britain has adopted a policy of isolation from Europe, things have gone badly wrong across the Channel. For centuries we have held the balance of power there. A vote to leave is a vote to hand over our power in Europe to others.
US and Chinese trade barriers are going up, even as Europe battles to amend the TTIP, the so-called ‘free-trade’ treaty that will give giant US corporations unlimited rights over UK government contract procurement and leave developing nations potentially destitute. It’s a treaty our Brexiters are panting to sign up to.
No-one knows what a Trump presidency might bring. If we leave, we can’t influence events only 30 miles away, let alone in Washington and Beijing. If the Union falls apart as a result, smaller countries – Malta, Cyprus, the Baltic nations – will suffer.
Don’t be deluded by phoney patriotic sentiments and empty rhetoric about ‘sovereignty’: we have sovereignty aplenty, and within a larger, more important sphere of influence than just ‘our borders’.
This referendum is not about who wants to be ‘ruled’ by Brussels, it’s about the overweening ambitions of a handful of politicians exploiting your fear of losing your national identity: that’s not going to happen!
Don’t imagine it doesn’t matter. Your decision will affect the future history of these islands for generations to come.
I could go on, but let me just sum it up in one sentence:
“I don’t want to be a second-class citizen in Europe.”
*Just for fun, I’ve worked out the following.
If four people can stand shoulder-to-shoulder on 1 square metre of land, and there are 1 million square meters in a square kilometre, and the area of the landmass of the United Kingdom is 243,610 square kilometres, you could have 974.4 billion people standing on the UK; or, 128 times the current population of the entire world.
As it is, the population of the UK is only 63 million, so stop worrying.
You’ve got 3,9oo square metres of space, all to yourself.