A follow-up from my anecdotes as a Leave campaigner, which you can read here
By Jasmin Rafiq
The reasons for leaving the European Union are myriad; from proper controls on immigration to striking new trade deals from the rest of the world, different shades of political opinion combine to paint positive pictures for leaving the EU, or as we like to joke, re-joining the rest of the world.
Do not mistake me, the Leave campaign has made errors; the £350 million a week figure we use does not include the budget rebate, not many people my age care about immigration as much as older voters and whatever we say will happen to the NHS after Brexit is entirely hypothetical. However, it also cannot be denied that Britain is a net contributor to the EU budget; in short, we put in more money than we receive. So, here is truth in the argument that we can spend more of our money on our priorities. On immigration, I am very much in favour of it, but I support a fairer, skills-based system, in which citizens of EU member states are not favoured over citizens of the rest of the world. It stands to reason that if you cannot account for how many people want to live here, then you cannot build enough houses, schools or hospitals or provide enough jobs. It is not racist to point this out, and any attempt to paint it as such is lazy. Furthermore, the Remain campaign demands that we lay out what Britain outside the EU looks like; a hypothetical question deserves hypothetical answers. We have not yet invented time travel or the ability to investigate alternative dimensions.
There is some harrumphing on the Remain side that claims by Leave campaigners of a burgeoning EU superstate is the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theorists. Perhaps they should look up the defining features of a state. The EU now comes with its own court of law, its own constitution, its own parliament and councils, even a flag and an anthem. Did any of us agree to this? I certainly did not and cannot see any other way of halting the creeping tentacles of the European Union other than forcing it to reform or die by a British exit.
The argument concerning sovereignty is of key importance in this debate. Remain campaigners should come clean and admit that they are not overly concerned with handing over the powers to decide who we trade with, how we trade with them and how we can dismiss people that we disagree with by voting them out. The retort that the EU is democratic does not stand up to scrutiny. What is democratic about an unelected Commission made up of failed politicians who have the power to propose new directives and regulation, mediated by elected MEPs who can change legislation but not dismiss it completely? This is the complete opposite of the Parliamentary system in Britain, where only elected MPs can approve or dismiss legislation and unelected peers can only delay or amend.
Similarly, both places keep records of what is said. The difference between the records of what is said in the Commission and Councils of Ministers and Hansard, the record of speeches in the House of Commons and the Lords is that any member of the public can access Hansard on the internet. So why can no EU citizen have access to transcripts of the exchanges that concern EU-law-making? And let’s not forget that while you can physically turn up to the House of Commons because it hasn’t really moved for about 400 years, to see votes in the EU Parliament, you first have to work out if they’re sitting in Brussels or voting in Strasbourg, a relocation costing around £130 million. Surely they should just conduct all their business in one place? However, agreeing to stop the ‘travelling circus’ requires treaty change and treaty change triggers referenda and there’s nothing unelected EU officials despise more than a plebiscite (emphasis on pleb.).
Perhaps some Remain campaigners feel that the EU is the final barrier between the country and the evil Tory government which will start shredding up every human right we enjoy and slaughtering firstborns. Such feelings betray a contempt for democracy. These imagined scenarios, in which workers’ rights and human rights are weakened, could only occur with the consent of the electorate. Furthermore, it is also false on the basis that many workers’ rights were enshrined in British law before the establishment of the social pillars of the EU. The right to paid holidays and maternity leave were fought for and won far before this was imposed EU wide and is actually more generous in Britain than the conditions outlined by the EU. The EU mandates all member states to provide only 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, whereas new mothers in the UK are entitled to take up to a whole year of paid maternity leave. This, I hope, should reassure people frightened by the exotic claims of the Trade Union Centre that leaving the EU means new mothers shall be forced back to work as soon as they leave the hospital.
Some Remain campaigners may also hope for a Labour victory in 2020. They should be aware that some chunks of a potential Labour manifesto contravene EU directives and can be challenged in the European courts by vested interests, despite being democratically endorsed by a 30 million strong electorate. A potential Corbyn government would be unable to renationalise the railways and energy companies or bail out the UK steel industry because all of these initiatives breach EU competition law. This is one of the key points made by the Leave campaign and why what happened to Greece is held up as an example of the worst of the EU’s instincts and what may happen to us in future. The Greek electorate explicitly voted for an anti-austerity party and yet austerity was imposed anyway by an unaccountable Council of Finance Ministers. The British electorate may decide to vote for mass nationalisation and bailouts of entire industries but it is not for the EU to override this assertion of democratic opinion, especially since no one in particular voted for EU competition laws in the first place.
Naturally any discussion on EU competitiveness brings us to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). A scheme designed in the 1950s and lobbied for on the behalf of French farmers, it is clear this was dreamed up before economists properly discovered the benefits of economic competition. However, the idea behind it is rather simple: fluctuating food and crop prices are not helpful for long term economic planning; high food prices hurt consumers but low food prices hurt farmers. Therefore, to resolve this situation, a quota and subsidies system is imposed to ensure that food prices only fluctuate within set margins, removing uncertainty and ensuring that farmers and consumers can both benefit. A nice idea on paper, but horrendous in the enactment. One look at the huge mountains of rotting tomatoes and butter should be enough to convince anyone of that. The CAP is a painful symbol of how difficult it can be to reform the EU and the effects of unintended consequences. It not only promotes inefficiencies within the customs union, inflating food prices and creating immoral wastages, but creates a fortress wall around EU countries, ensuring that restrictions are placed upon farmers in developing nations, who are often trying to sell cheaper produce in the common market. Thus another immorality is created. Farmers in developed countries are being easily subsided by their wealthy governments to keep inefficiently supplying produce to other developed countries, while farmers in developing nations with no help from their governments are left to sell their produce to consumers with less disposable income.
Remain campaigners also often claim that Britain will be isolated and left outside many grand European projects that benefit our economy. We will become the equivalent of Norway and Switzerland, the implication being that no one would like to be these countries. But what is the problem with being like Norway and Switzerland? The Legatum Prosperity Index places these very same countries at the top on the basis of quality of life, GDP per capita etc. Sure these countries may thrive because they have large oil reserves or have specialised in sectors like banking, clock making and chocolate, but they have also kept enough sovereignty to make their own laws and grow and empower their industries. Britain is also a world leader in pharmaceuticals and the life sciences, as well as research and development and manufacturing for the motor industry, particularly Formula 1 and aerospace engineering. However, guidelines on clinical trials and the prohibition of certain medical drugs by the EU may halt this progress. The City of London remains specialised in banking and finance due to its openness, now threatened by the mass of edicts designed in Brussels. If Norway (population: 5m) and Switzerland (population: 8m) can remain part of the single market and free of the political intrusions of the EU, so can Britain (population: 65m). It would be an epic act of self-sabotage to exclude a country that is the world’s fifth largest economy, the fourth largest military power, seventh largest manufacturer and a permanent seat holder on the UN Security Council. As non-EU members are part of Horizon 2020, Eurovision, the Erasmus scheme and the European Space Agency, so would Britain be. After all, we’re voting to leave the EU, not Europe.
Finally, the claim that the EU promotes peace and prevents war is risible. All European leaders except Tony Blair stood aside as Milosevic’s nationalist Serbian forces attempted a systematic genocide of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. None seem particularly exercised that half of Cyprus, an EU member state, is currently under occupation by Turkey, a non-EU state. It is quite clear that it is not the EU that keeps the peace in Europe at all; it is NATO and Article 5 that prevent most serious outbreaks of war and is able to most effectively mobilise troops. The EU may invoke rose-tinted, misty-eyed reminiscences of European co-operation in the aftermath of World War 2, but it sure doesn’t exercise itself in the prevention of another one.
And now to address some Scottish fearmongering. The basic point is that the United Kingdom is a successful and democratic example of a political and economic union, in which all member countries are genuinely better off. After the Scottish Independence referendum, economic and welfare powers were devolved to the Scottish Parliament almost immediately. When controls over benefits and immigration were sought during the renegotiation over Britain’s membership of the EU, we were granted a measly sop about not paying benefits to people who haven’t lived in Britain for more than 4 years (which no one cares about) and some kind of emergency brake on immigration, which could be challenged in the European courts for violating treaties. So while it is possible for Scotland to reform its membership of the United Kingdom, it apparently takes an even larger threat than British exit to force reform in the European Union.
To conclude, if you have made your mind up to vote Remain then do so. But do so with the knowledge that the case for remaining a member of the EU has huge factual holes, just as much irrational emotion as voting to Leave and a large dose of misplaced optimism, at best, for some kind of genuine reform in the EU. If you have a genuinely positive argument to remain in the EU that doesn’t sound like you fear the British electorate, economic doom and calamity or invasion by dragons, I’d like to hear it. Or you could vote Leave and place your hope in Britain as an open and free democracy again.