There has been an awful lot written and said on this issue, much of which I find prejudiced (remember that doesn’t necessarily mean “racist”), pointless and petty. So I now intend to nail my colours to the mast.
In June, I shall be voting for the UK to stay in the EU. Here’s my summary of the main issues, with my conclusion on each in pictorial form!
I have been horribly frustrated that the bulk of the campaigning has focused on this area, where the “facts” are most susceptible and prediction is most dangerous.
If you believe the In Campaign, the UK will lose out massively by giving up its automatic membership of the Common Market and the millions of jobs dependent on that membership would be at risk. We’d have to pay to access it, and would be weaker in negotiating with the rest of the World without the carrot of EU access to offer.
Alternatively, the Outies point to the huge sums (gross or net) we pay for that privilege, proclaim that we could negotiate better trade deals if not tied down by EU rules, and that the World would in any case beat down our doors to do business with a big economy such as ours.
Frankly, I have no idea if either of these (or even both) is true, and I don’t see how it will ever be possible to prove – one way or the other – whether UK plc will be richer or poorer in financial terms in or out of the EU. Whatever has happened in the past has been twisted by both sides as evidence to support their view, and whatever happens after the decision is made will be twisted to prove that their predicted best/worst case scenarios have come true.
I’m no economist, but it isn’t even possible to rely on the views of people with much more expertise than I. Both sides trumpet the support of economists, thinkers, business leaders etc to their cause, and I have not yet found either side particularly convincing.
So, if the economic issues fail to light my fire, what other factors do?
I include this simply as I recognise that I am a human being. I like to think I am entirely rational and will make my choice on the basis of a careful balance of the pros and cons, but let’s face it, the thought of people like George Galloway, Nigel Farage, Vladimir Putin et al claiming “victory” is enough to make me think very hard about anyone who decides to put their cross in the Out box!
Are there some unattractive people supporting the Stay campaign? Of course, but on the whole, they are merely annoying, whereas the Out campaign includes some truly appalling people (in my humble opinion).
Another issue on which both sides have employed scare tactics, but in which I don’t believe the decision made will make the slightest difference.
The only aspect of our immigration policy that is “dictated” by the EU is our agreement to allow the freedom of movement WITHIN the EU that is central to the entire European project. It is entirely inconceivable that any government re-negotiating our relationship with the EU following an “Out” vote will be able to access the single market (which even the most radical Outies would surely want) without a commitment to honour that principle.
Especially when (at least the early years of) that negotiation will be handled by a government led by a Big Four (Cameron, Osborne, May and Hammond) who have clearly come out in favour of staying in the EU anyway!
We have already opted out of Schengen, so retain some control of our borders – even for British and other EU citizens. This would no doubt remain either way.
Is there net migration to Britain from these countries? Of course. Does that present challenges (housing, education, language provision etc)? Absolutely. Do those challenges outweigh the benefits to our culture, not to mention to those low-paid sectors of the economy (and famously the NHS) which are almost entirely reliant on immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe? Not for me.
As for immigration from countries outside the EU? Well, we make our own rules on that as it is. Notwithstanding the wrangle over human rights legislation (see below) that’s not going to change either. Or if it does, it is by the will of the UK parliament, which is as it should be.
All that being said, I have a natural aversion to the “distrust of the other” that underlies all the points made by the Out campaign on this issue. So, although I don’t believe it will make any difference, on balance this issue strengthens my support to stay in the EU.
According to the In campaign, matters that require a transnational approach – such as security, anti-terrorism, environmental policy – are necessarily best dealt with by large blocs rather than many small nation states.
This is an area of argument which makes complete logical sense, and in which I have simply seen no rational response from the Out campaign.
I take a generally left-leaning approach to political matters. Central to that is the idea that societies work best where people work together towards a shared goal and the well off support those less fortunate – not because it will necessarily benefit anybody’s financial well-being, but because it will benefit their souls. In other words, simply because it’s the right, decent thing to do.
This being the case, I am entirely unimpressed by the argument put by some on the Out side that we (Britain) are currently having to prop up the failing economies in parts of Southern and Eastern Europe, and that we will therefore be “better off” if we leave the EU.
Will be better off in terms of £s and pence in this respect? Almost certainly (at least in the short term – it wasn’t so long ago that we were the “sick man of Europe“. Who knows what lies around the corner?).
But I would much MUCH MUCH rather live in a country that (to borrow a phrase) cheerfully embraces the opportunity to practice towards those less fortunate than us that virtue (charity) that we profess to admire so much, than one in which we turn a blind eye and a closed wallet to our near neighbours in Southern and Eastern Europe.
On a similar point, I have read the argument that the UK shares very little in common with countries such as Bulgaria and Romania and even less with Turkey (who are trying to join the club), and that by making ourselves “subject” to their votes, we are somehow allowing ourselves to be “stifled” or “held back” by them and their priorities.
Well, I fundamentally like the openness of our country, and the opportunities we have to meet and share our lives with people from all sorts of cultures. Just as we may be influenced by the different priorities of Bulgarians, they will reciprocally be influenced by us, and I detest the arrogance implicit in the idea that “our” way is “better” than “theirs”.
The Jewish/Israeli issue
This may not be of concern to some of you, but it is to me. There are those who argue that the EU is a crucible for antisemitism, and distrust the fact that the numbers of Muslims in the EU is rising inexorably (especially with the huge numbers of refugees from the Syrian and Lybian conflicts are taken into account), many of whom will not be friendly to Israel (at the very least) and some of whom may have been taught despicable things about Jews and Judaism in general.
They point to incidents such as the fact that Malmö is George Galloway’s wet dream (to all intents and purposes a no-go zone for
ZionistsJews) or the banning of kosher slaughter in Denmark and attempts to do so in Poland and other countries, and suggest that we in the UK are more vulnerable to similar occurring here as members of an organisation that encompasses countries that will enforce such restrictions on Jewish life.
They also point out the consistently anti-Israel language and position taken by EU member states – and the EU itself – of its own volition and in international forums such as the United Nations.
I am not insensible to those concerns, believe me I’m not. I have corresponded with my MEPs (yes, some of them even wrote back) with my concerns over proposed EU legislation on ritual slaughter and other issues.
But I have also written to my MPs (none of whom have yet replied – apart from the terrific Chris Bryant who is MP for Rhonnda, but replied to one of my Twitter rants!) about this and similar issues here in the UK. British campuses are awash with outright antisemitism, BDS campaigns, enthusiastic participation in “Israel Apartheid Week” and we have members of all the major parties who have recently been outed as holding some extremely unsavoury views about Jews.
I don’t know if any of these issues can be solved by action by me, the Jewish community as a whole (even if it were remotely possible to persuade all of Europe’s Jews to act in the same way!) or by the UK in general, but I am absolutely convinced that our continued involvement in the political process, whether alone or collectively, is an essential part of the toolkit we will need to counter any tendency towards antisemitism/anti-Zionism/Islamism either locally, nationally, continentally or globally.
And if, indeed, the rest of Europe is sliding as some fear into a hostile place for Jews (again), then surely the UK, whose attitude has (at least in the last 80 years or so) been more generally positive than some other countries, should use its position in the EU in order to influence others NOT to go in that recidivist direction. If we leave, we leave the field open for those who wish us ill.
Here the Out campaign definitely have the upper hand. The EU is undeniably a bureaucratic, labyrinthine nightmare of inefficiency and waste.
Unfortunately, all forms of representative democracy are subject to corruption, NIMBYism, protectionism and stagnation. Some less than others (and the EU has far from the best record on this front), but it is simply disingenuous to suggest that the UK (or any of the many layers of government here) are free of these evils.
The fragmented nature of the Union and the decision-making process makes it very hard for reforms to be agreed, and even harder to enforce.
Further, the bigger the group of people being “represented”, it cannot is inevitable that the decision makers are more distant from the person on the street. Town Councillors, who you may know personally, feel (at least in theory) far more accountable than, say, a US senator or a member of the European Parliament.
And then there are the appointed (but not directly elected) EU Commissioners, who have much of the power but very little accountability to the ordinary EU citizen. That clearly leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, as does the culture of “special advisers” and “tsars” that have taken hold in our domestic politics.
So I concede that this is a good reason to leave the EU, but as I say above, I fundamentally believe that most issues are best dealt with in bigger blocs, so the waste and inefficiency is just the price I am prepared to pay (though I understand if others find the price tag too high).
Possibly the fundamental part of the debate, so I’ve left it to last. Britain is a proud nation that has historically (for better or for worse) hit well above its weight in World affairs.
It is only natural that people are jealous of that status and reluctant to cede any of that power and influence to anyone else – least of all those countries against whom we have had centuries of conflict and distrust (France, Spain, Germany, Italy) or with whom we share very little common history or culture (Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia etc).
Does the EU have “power” over the UK parliament? Well, yes. We are bound to implement EU Directives in a timely manner, some of which may not have passed if they had been voted on in isolation in the UK. But
- We are only “bound” to do so because the British people chose (in the last referendum in 1974) to join the then European Economic Community, and because our elected governments of various stripes have signed on our behalf the various treaties that have amended our relationship with Europe since then.
- In other words, the very fact that we are having this referendum is direct proof that we have retained the very sovereignty that some complain we have given up.
- Not all EU “legislation” is directly applicable to the member states. In other words, each state gets to choose how to implement it. Much of it is merely “decision” which only applies to the specific circumstances named.
- When you examine the content of those EU Regulations and Directives that are compulsory, there is actually very little in them that is particularly odious (although I do recognise the strength of feeling that exists about some of it, such as the economic and agricultural frameworks). Yes, as I say, there are some that may not have passed if left to the discretion of the UK alone, but I am not aware of many that fundamentally and definitively worsen the lives of British people.
- In fact – as the In campaign are quick to point out – many of them such as employment rights have actually benefited the ordinary person in Britain and may never have been implemented here where it not for the EU.
As for the Human Rights Act*:
- Yes – it was drafted to make us compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, but the UK did this voluntarily. We were not told to do so by Brussels.
- Despite this, the HRA has been the cause celebre of many in the Out camp, who see it as a ball and chain about our ankles.
- But, should we exit the EU (or even had we never been a member of it) I suggest that it is highly likely that we would pass our own version of it – how on Earth could a government in a liberal democracy such as ours justify the denial of its citizens’ rights to life, freedom of expression etc? OK – we may draft our law slightly differently, but I cannot believe any of those differences would be fundamental.
- We are, in any event, bound by that nebulous and chameleonic entity that is called “international law”, and much of that is very similar in its basics to EU law.
Similarly, our Courts are nominally subject to the EU, in that they must consider whether their judgments are lawful and can be appealed (or voluntarily referred) to the European Courts of Justice or Human Rights. That does not deny any individual (or business) access to justice.
If anything it helps as, in the modern world where borders are less meaningful (and where it is common for a person living in one country but visiting or operating in another to purchase something from a business in a 3rd country which is imported by an agent in a 4th and manufactured in a 5th by a company owned in a 6th), any form of standardisation of the legal rights and responsibilities is surely a good thing in principle!
As it is, I recognise there are valid arguments on both sides here, so have decided I am fairly neutral on this point.
I finish with a parable**.
A man (or woman) living in isolation on a remote island may be entirely free to decide his (or her) own fate, within the limits of his (I’m not going to keep saying “or her” – please take it as read!) abilities and the resources of his island, but as soon as he sails too close to another occupied island, or wants to trade with its occupants, allows another person to live on his island or needs to repel the unwanted colonisation of his island by others, he has to compromise his freedom to accommodate the needs and/or wishes of others.
He can choose not to do that, but then he can never have a companion, never enjoy the fruits of others’ labours or inventiveness, never read a book or listen to a song written by anyone other than himself, never be able to turn to his friends for support in times of sickness or misfortune.
I submit that that would be a very lonely, poor existence.
* This section has been amended to remove my erronous reference to a mythical Directive “forcing” us to adopt the HRA. Hat tip to @Barristerblog!
** As ever, any metaphor is imperfect, but I think this one stands up quite well!