If you asked me the, now very familiar, question “remain or leave” six months ago, my answer would have been an unequivocal “remain”.
But six months later and only a day to go before we all arrive at our local polling stations
to answer the question officially, the argument has become less clear-cut and my view to stay in the EU has been met with hesitation.
Now, to avoid misleading the general introduction-only reader, my view is still that Britain should remain in the EU, but the referendum debate has made me toy with the idea of leaving and then realise that to do so would be ridiculous.
For any rational person contemplating Brexit, the Vote Leave campaign must be incredibly disheartening: it’s based on blind optimism, xenophobia and outright lies.
They argue that if we leave the European Union we can make free trade deals with other nations who we cannot do so with whilst inside the EU, but still have not given a clear indication as to what kind of free trade agreement would be set up.
We could end up like Norway, who have bought their way into the free market but are not part of the decision-making process in European Parliament. We could strike a free trade negotiation with a larger economy than ours, like China, but then end up having the terms dictated to us – like in the case of the Sino-Swiss trade agreement where Switzerland have given China immediate free access to their market but are having to wait 15 years before China return the favour. Or we could strike a free trade agreement with a smaller economy, like New Zealand, but that just simply would be economically non-beneficial to the British economy – unless you believe leaving a single market of 500 million would be worth it for cheaper kiwi fruit.
Britain may be a leading nation in science, education and agriculture; but without investment from the EU, these thriving sectors will become less impressive. Optimistic Brexiteers will argue that we can find investment elsewhere, but before these assumptions are made, deals need to be struck – and nothing has been. We are no longer the British Empire, so to assume that other nations will start throwing money at us if we leave the EU is short-sighted and without evidence.
Brexiteers have also argued that the EU is undemocratic. In some sense, they’re right. MEPs are unable to repeal laws that have already been implemented into European law, which is something that MPs in Westminster can do with British law.
But to argue that the process of passing laws in undemocratic is untrue. So to clear up this misty argument, here is how the law making process works in the EU:
The European Commission (or the unelected bureaucrats as they are commonly called by Brexiteers) will pass a proposal for a new regulation or directive to the Parliament (the elected body), which then expresses its opinion at a ‘first reading’. If the Council (a body of ministers from each department in each country, the department depending on the piece of legislation being debated) approves of this opinion, the ‘law’ is passed, but if not, it will deliver its own verdict to the Parliament, together with an explanation of its thinking. The Parliament (back to the elected body) then enters a ‘second reading’ stage, at which it can either approve the Council’s changes (in which case the law is passed), amend them or reject the law outright (See full reference at bottom of article).
So to dismiss the EU as completely undemocratic is unfair. Similar to the EU we have an unelected body that can reject or pass laws: The House of Lords. Also, we use a First Past the Post system to vote MPs into the House of Commons, but use the Party List System (a proportional representation voting system) to vote MEPs into European Parliament. So, it is arguable that the process of voting those to represent you in Europe is more democratically representative than the process of voting for those to represent you in the UK.
You could argue that the UK only have 73 MEPs out of 751 in European Parliament and therefore our voice is not loud enough. But to argue this would be to assume that all other countries are against the UK and would be taking a nationalist stance on the EU.
Another argument that has fueled the Brexit side is that of globalisation and, more specifically, the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
TTIP has undoubtedly shaken up the EU debate and has been a driving force in convincing many on the left to leave out of fear that it could result in the selling-off of the NHS.
Although the European Commission has said it will exclude the NHS from the deal, it all comes down to the trust and the specifics of the deal do not look favourable to the NHS.
But to argue that to be anti-TTIP and anti-EU are intrinsically linked is completely untrue. MEPs are still able to vote on the partnership taking place and with over half the MEPs coming from socialist or Eurosceptic parties, there is a chance it could be prevented. Plus, to believe that if we leave we will escape TTIP is very optimistic when our Prime Minister is in favour of the partnership and would still be able to sign up to it.
I’m not going to waste valuable word space arguing the positive effects migration has had on the British economy and multiculturalism; the argument is either widely acknowledged or widely ignored.
But I will point out that free movement in the EU is very much a two-way street: we accept EU migrants just as other EU countries accept us as theirs.
In Spain, over 400,000 Brits are living as permanent residents – 0f which roughly a quarter are pensioners. Brits can visit a Spanish doctor or hospital for free until they become permanent residents, then the Spanish government funds their healthcare.
So if us Brits want to argue that young, foreign workers (some of which within the NHS) paying National Insurance are a strain on our public healthcare, then Spain have every right to argue the same about out-of-work pensioners who are slowly frying themselves in the Benidorm sun.
The absolute scaremongering of the reactionary right on immigration is nothing short of appalling, and Nigel Farage’s latest stunt has further proven that. It is not only bitter, but also intellectually lazy to blame migrants for your own economic woes.
There has been a lot of questionable “facts and figures” in this campaign from both sides, but the two biggest, and most persistent, are from the Leave campaign. They are that we send 350 million pound a week to the EU and that Turkey are going to join.
This is not a lie that they just throw into a debate every now and then, it is written on the flyers they post in people’s properties.
Claiming we send 350 million to EU is like having a mobile phone contract for £25 a month and having 300 free minutes and 500 free texts; but then, a couple of months in, when you realise the deal you are getting is pretty crap, you complain and get a new deal of £15 a month with 500 free minutes and 1,000 free texts. But, a year later, when your friends ask you what mobile phone contract deal you have, you cite the original bill.
As for Turkey, even if the EU did decide to completely go against their own membership rules and give Turkey the chance to join – which Turkey have been attempting to do since 1987 – then I would be very surprised if Greece and Cyprus did not veto them.
A progressive future
The EU has brought us many amazing things: workers rights, human rights, directives that help to protect our environment, the ability to study and work across the continent and, most importantly, peace in Europe – so let’s stick with something that has proven time and time again to be progressive.
To believe the EU cannot change is overly sceptical. The directly elected European Parliament has increasingly been given more power in the democratic process (most recently in the Lisbon Treaty 2007) and the EU has been a front-runner in equality and environmental change.
Both Portugal and Denmark have begun running almost completely on renewable energy, and this is a culture that is really taking off all over Europe.
But when we will have a party who said in their latest manifesto that they wish to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and put a halt to the spread of wind farms negotiating the terms of our departure from the EU, we need to ask whether we are going to continue being a part of this progressive movement or whether we are going to be pushed back into the dark ages of reactionary politics.
Morrison, J. (2013). The European Union. In: Morrison, J Essential Public Affairs for Journalists. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p281.