June 20, 2016

EU Referendum: Are you IN or OUT?

Ever since the referendum campaign began in earnest, the public have repeatedly called for clear facts about the pros and cons of leaving the EU. With just a few more days until the vote, isn’t it appalling that for many people the issue remains about as clear as mud?
Having already made my decision before the campaigning started, it’s been interesting to see the twists and turns of both the Leave and Remain camps and the ways in which they have dealt with criticism. I can’t promise any facts but I do have some observations to offer. If you still haven’t decided which way you will vote, perhaps this may be of some use to you.
First, the bad news. None of the prominent figures in either camp genuinely have the best interests of the country at heart, but are only interested in furthering their own political careers. This in itself won’t raise any eyebrows with a certain section of the population, but it deserves explanation.
In his youth as an advisor to the Treasury, David Cameron was a eurosceptic. Having fought so ardently for Britain to remain in the EU during his campaign, it’s difficult to imagine him as anything other than an avid europhile. Why the change? Perhaps being in the driving seat has allowed him to see exactly what being in the EU means for Britain. The same goes for Theresa May, another eurosceptic-turned-europhile, who publicly claimed that cooperation across the EU was essential in bringing various terrorist suspects to book.
Boris Johnson, however, was almost rabidly eurosceptic in his youth, while working as the EU correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. After his largely successful tenure as the Mayor of London and having been at the heart of many international and European public celebrations, including the 2012 Olympics, it was widely expected that his initial views may have changed and he would come out in favour of the Remain camp. Alas, that was not to be.
Michael Gove is probably the only politician who takes his campaigning very personally, claiming that the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy was directly responsible for the destruction of his father’s fishing business, as well as the personal hardship that his family experienced as a result. This is tragic, except that Gove’s father recently contradicted his claims to say he had sold the business voluntarily instead of blaming it on the EU.
Still, no big deal. People and their opinions change over time. But at least in Michael Gove’s case, if he cannot even tell the truth about his own family history, what to speak of how widely derided he was for his meddling with education during his tenure of Secretary of State for Education, then how can we trust what he has to say on the state of the post-Brexit economy?
Take one of the most prominent statements of the Leave camp; “We pay £350 million a week to the EU”. This claim has been roundly exposed as a falsehood many times on live TV debates and newspaper articles as not taking into account the rebates we receive back from the EU, etc. And yet Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith et al. have repeatedly insisted that this figure is true and continue to doggedly defend it. If they cannot even get this basic claim right, or have the guts to swallow their pride and admit when they’re wrong, how can we believe in anything they say?
Indeed, on both sides the campaigns have made various claims and counterclaims, each accusing the other of scaremongering, outright lying, etc., on various issues including the economy, immigration, trade deals, and so on. The Remain camp insistent that an ‘out’ vote will mean Britain willingly entering a self-inflicted recession while the Leave camp insists that nothing will change and everything will be fine. In fairness, I also think that some of the Remain camp’s economic predictions are somewhat exaggerated, but it stands to reason that a rough exit from a relatively cosy financial situation will cause an immediate impact on the national wallet.
It’s a bit like voluntarily giving up your prized pitch in the local market to sell your wares from a car boot outside.
Of course there will be a major financial disruption, it’s crazy to think that there won’t be. You have to wonder at the credulity of people who genuinely believe that post-Brexit Britain will be something of a paradise. At least some of the prominent Brexiters are intelligent enough to acknowledge that, if we leave the EU, we will enter a period of hardship of our own volition. They also opine that this will be “worth it” without exactly explaining why. And how long will this period of hardship last? According to them, anything from between 2-10 years.
It’s nice to see how they talk so casually about potentially an entire decade of recession. Almost as if everyone has suddenly developed short memories. Anyone remember the last recession? The credit crunch? The bedroom tax? Various public outcries over cuts to public services that are still ongoing and set to get worse? And the very recent exposé of extremely physically and mentally disabled people being found “fit for work” as a result of cruel revision of the rules? Food bank usage is still on the rise and runs the risk of being part of the new normal. And not to mention how this government introduced various crafty and strange measures like zero-hours contracts for jobs, just so they could find a reason to shove unemployed people onto them and massage the employment figures to dishonestly claim that unemployment is coming down.
They did all of this, and more, without a mandate. Remember, the 2010 General Election was inconclusive and could only be saved by a shaky Coalition Government of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. The people didn’t approve it; it was cobbled together during a week of intensive back-room discussions. The 2015 election was won by the Conservatives, if you consider 36.8% of the vote a win, but only by a tiny sliver of a majority. How they have the cheek to claim their actions so far are carrying out the will of the people is beyond me, and yet here we see them repeatedly chanting their twin mantras of “It’s about democracy” and how we need to “Take back control” whenever they want to run away from tough questions about the EU. So ask yourselves, do you think it’s right for eurosceptic politicians to make an issue of democracy within the EU when there’s little evidence of how much they care for democracy at home?
Not that there isn’t an issue with democracy in the EU; of course there is. There are many such issues and also widespread agreement that reforms are necessary. But do you think reforms can be made while being part of the group, or shouting from outside?
So, that’s the bad news. In all honesty there is hardly any good news in this debate so what I’m about to say won’t make things much better, but I hope at least I’ve shown how some of the arguments claim to be a genuine concern yet are more likely to be driven political self-interest and mealy-mouthed hypocrisy rather than genuine concern and interest for this country’s future. So I’ve personally paid little attention to the arguments of both sides, ridiculous as they are, and have attended more to the likely after-effects of the referendum.
Win or Lose, things are likely to get worse. This isn’t a doom-laden prophecy, this is a realistic appraisal even as certain sections of the Conservative Party are already polishing their knives to show exactly why they are world-famous for managed regicide; David Cameron is sure to be toppled whatever the result. A leadership contest is almost certainly on the cards, and who do you think is likely to be the next PM? A clown called Boris who doesn’t even brush his hair in the morning? Surely not. He certainly can’t escape the constant questioning about his leadership ambitions.
That’s the real reason why things will get worse. Not because of any particular issue in spite of all the lip service things like immigration and the economy have received. And what a horrendous mess they’ve made of the so-called issues. From the plainly laughable £350million-a-week claim to serious-faced hypotheticals about the entire population of Turkey (about 75million people) landing on our doorstep, the Leave camp has had 41 years to get their arguments properly composed and well presented in order to offer their proposals to the British public. And after every claim of theirs is dismissed with loud laughter they stick their fingers in their ears and use the last resort: “We’ve got too many immigrants, we need to take back control.” Was there was a major immigration problem in 1975, when the last referendum took place, and which was decisively won by the ‘In’ camp?
Grumblers have always grumbled against the EU and everything it stands for since its beginning, and they will continue to grumble whatever the result.
This isn’t about immigration. Or about the economy, or trade deals, or democracy, or even sovereignty. It never has been. These last-resort arguments tend to appeal to the lowest common denominator because the truth of the whole matter was revealed by Jeremy Corbyn in a BBC News interview back in February: “[David Cameron] has brought an internal Conservative Party dispute to international proportions.”
I believe this observation is bang on the money and explains the very root of the whole issue. Whatever the result, after the referendum we will be watching one half of the Conservative Party cannibalising the other half because the issue has already opened the fault lines in the party.
And that’s sad. Why should the whole country have to gamble on the national future because a section of a political party doesn’t like the way things are run? Make no mistake, this referendum is not a decision. It is asking the people to gamble on an economic risk and walk into an unnecessary self-inflicted recession.
Ask yourselves, if Britain votes for a brexit and things go seriously wrong with the economy down the line, how many of our now prominent Leave campaigners will care? They will tell us we voted for it.
Will there be a conclusion (after years and decades of further discussions, debates, and possibly another referendum) that we were better off in the EU when we were in it, and make moves to re-enter, with or without extended reform negotiations? If so, then how long will this process take? It took roughly 20 years of negotiations before Britain finally entered the Common Market in 1975, how long will it take now?
Why gamble the position we already have, and enter uncertainty?
The reason why this all has to happen is because, generation after generation, politicians refuse to learn the lessons of history. After all, Niccolo Machiavelli said it better in the 16th-century:
“What happens is that men willingly change their ruler, expecting to fare better. This expectation induces them to take up arms against him; but they only deceive themselves, and they learn from experience that they have made matters worse.”