These are my thoughts on the 23 June EU Referendum, when the UK gets to vote Leave or Remain.
If you know me, chances are you know I’m firmly in the Remain camp. I’d like to tell you why I believe being part of the EU (warts and all) is better for the UK, better for the people of the UK, better for the UK economy, better for the UK’s security.
I accept there are a lot of things about the EU that are far from ideal. By and large, I’ve made my peace with them because it is my genuine belief, having read a lot and thought a lot, that taking everything into account, the benefits of being in outweigh the reasons for leaving. There are no benefits to leaving, as such, because everything connected with the what happens if the UK leaves discussion is 100% theory and conjecture — any and all of it could come true, or indeed none of it.
I’m going to write about some of the main objections to being in the EU that I hear from people, in real life and via the media. Most of them have some basis in fact, some of them are outright lies, and others have become hostages to fortune.
Before I get started, I’d like to add that I don’t believe in the truth. Of course I believe some things are true and others are not, but I don’t believe in THE TRUTH in that Moses came down from Sinai kind of way people often talk about when they use the words ‘the truth’ … that kind of truth doesn’t exist. Truth is always subjective. It is made up from facts (and facts are only tools, not structures), opinions, and perspectives — the latter are heavily influenced by too many factors to list here without sounding patronising.
1: The EU is undemocratic / anti-democratic
This is a bit of a beast, but I’ll tackle it as best I can.
Undemocratic — no, it’s not. Not really. No more than the UK, anyway. There are elections for the European Parliament every five years. Just like the UK parliament. You get to vote for the MEP of your choice. It’s a proportional representation vote, not first past the post, so it’s arguably more democratic than the elections we have for the UK parliament.
What about those faceless bureaucrats and unelected commissioners though..? We’re really just talking about civil servants here. You don’t get to vote for the civil servants in Whitehall, do you? You probably don’t complain too much about that either.
There are about 400,000 civil servants in the UK (population 65 million). There are about 33,000 civil servants in the EU (population 500 million). As for the EU Commissioners (who are often cited as the unelected mandarins of Brussels), there are 28 of them — one for each member state, and they are appointed by the elected government of the country they come from. That’s the way it works — you vote, you get a government, they make decisions about how things are run.
Everything the Commission puts forward (policies, decisions etc) has to be ratified by the EU Parliament, which is made up of (you guessed) the MEPs that everyone gets to vote for every five years.
That’s democracy as we know it.
Anti-democratic — well, if you’re talking about the EU making life too easy for multinational mega-corporations who avoid tax and generally take the piss, I’m right next to you at the barricades on this one Comrade. But that’s one of the things we (the UK) should be fighting tooth and nail over in the EU to make sure things like TTIP and tax loopholes are challenged.
It’s also not the full picture. Sure the EU makes life too easy for mega-corp, but it has also done more than any other legislative body to protect the rights of ordinary working people (using that phrase makes me feel like I should be putting money in a swear box). I’ll come onto that topic later.
The UK is also a member of the UN, which is not an elected body but which makes decisions about invading countries, going to war, ignoring genocide, you name it. See also NATO, which the UK is a member of. We’re also in the Commonwealth — not an elected body. Part of the World Trade Organisation — not an elected body. You can add the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Security & Cooperation in Europe to the list too.
Why single out the EU?
2. The EU is a money pit
The biggest lie being spread around at the moment by the Leave campaign is that the UK sends £350 million a week to the EU.
No. It. Doesn’t.
The actual figure is somewhere between £120m and £130m. Less than half the amount being used as a headline figure by the Leave campaign.
It’s a lie. Plain and simple. I might not believe THE TRUTH exists, but I know lies do.
So where does the disparity come from, and why should you believe me?
The actual amount we send the EU is determined by a load of rebates we get from the amount that is in theory (on paper alone) our contribution. Those rebates were, in the main, hard won by a certain M. Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. They go to both public and private sector concerns, and reduce the amount we pay into the EU by quite a considerable sum.
There’s also a line being used by the Leave campaign about MEPs’ salaries and expenses, claiming they get a huge expenses budget and don’t even need to submit proof.
That’s another lie. MEPs have to submit receipts. Yes, they really do.
MEPs’ salaries get taxed twice — once in the EU and once more in the UK. Their take-home pay, while above the average UK national wage, is modest by comparison with UK MPs, for example.
You don’t have to spend long online doing a spot of research to find out the details, should you want to.
3. The EU pursues a neo-liberal agenda that is anti-working class
Now then, Comrade, you’re among friends here. I do think there are things the EU does that are too pro-capital. It’s one of the reasons I have always been against the idea of a single currency.
But the EU has done more for (here it comes again…) ordinary working people than any other legislative body I can think of.
This is what the TUC says:
Since the mid-1970s, the European Union has played an important role in protecting working people from exploitation and in combating discrimination. These EU employment protections have provided a counter-balance against pressure for the UK to adopt a US-style system of employment relations based (on) a hire-and-fire culture with an absence of statutory employment rights.
Article 3(3) of the 2008 Treaty of the European Union talks about creating “a social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress. It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection.”
Equal pay, maternity rights, discrimination on grounds of gender, disability or race, health and safety … all areas where existing UK laws were improved by the EU (from the point of view of the people who need the protection of such laws).
Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, age, religion or belief are areas where the UK has had to adopt EU directives.
Do you have a job? You’ll have an employment contract then. Did you know that under UK law there was no entitlement to a formal written contract detailing the terms and conditions of your employment? That’s something that was directed by the EU.
Equal rights for agency workers, working time limits, and rights for workers to receive information and be consulted on changes in their workplace that could affect their jobs or terms and conditions … all rights won for workers by the EU, not by the UK. In fact, the UK government has been hostile to many of these points.
But let’s not forget the UK won an opt-out of the working time directive. Which not only proves my point (workers’ rights are better served by being in the EU than not), but also that the UK is not under the thumb of the EU, which is one of the other objections sometimes raised.
The EU isn’t on the side of working people..? Don’t make me laugh.
4. Immigration: this country is too full and we need to control our borders
Approximately 2% of the UK is built on. We’re not full. Some parts of the country are being called upon to shoulder the burden of immigration unfairly. That’s nothing to do with how full the country is, and everything to do with the way our government handles the dispersal of migrants (including refugees) across the UK.
I described it as a burden because in some communities, which are already poorly served by public services and which have been left to suffer the worst effects of the government’s austerity policies, that’s what it must feel like. Better allocation of people and resources would only help. Failure to better allocate resources is a choice being made by the government.
Controlling immigration is not a zero sum game. There are an estimated 3 million UK citizens living elsewhere in Europe. That’s more than all the citizens of other EU countries living in the UK. If we leave the EU and sever ties with the free movement of people, not only will 2 million working age, mostly tax-paying EU citizens leave the UK, but in return we’ll get 3 million mostly retired British OAPs coming back. Back to an NHS that is already creaking at the seams. Back to a country that needs as much tax revenue as it can get.
I’ve heard it said that the real issue is not so much the current state of immigration, but the fear of what’s coming next. The refugee crisis is one part of it but so is the possible admission into the EU of Turkey, with its porous Middle East border.
I’m pro immigration. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about Turkey.
Turkey should not be allowed to join the EU. It is not sufficiently democratic. Democracy is about more than voting. It’s about the rule of law, freedom of speech, a free press, and so on. Turkey falls too far short on too many criteria.
And it has a porous Middle East border.
As long as the UK is in the EU we can veto Turkey’s membership, which keeps that porous border several thousand miles away.
If we leave and Turkey joins the EU that porous Middle East border, currently almost 3,000 miles away, moves a lot closer … about 35 miles away, just the other side of the English Channel.
Tell me again about how leaving the EU makes you feel more secure.
5. Let’s make our own arrangements
I love this one. I hear it a lot. It goes like this: it doesn’t matter that the UK will be turning its back on the European free market, we will no longer be bound by the EU’s global trade deals, and then we can go and make as many free trade deals with as many trading partners as we like.
That’s a bit like your mate Simon telling you he’s leaving his wife and that means he’s now free to marry Jennifer Anniston. Well, technically, maybe. But let’s not start worrying about what to wear to the church just yet.
Wishful thinking should not be the basis of your international trade strategy.
The US doesn’t like free trade. It likes to protect its own industries and sell lots of American things to the rest of the world. If Donald Trump becomes president that’s not likely to change. Australia has recently done a trade deal with China, realising that having a huge economic power as a neighbour means trade deals in its backyard make sense.
6. Not perfectly balanced, but balanced nonetheless
The point of all of this is that — in my opinion — you can look at any of these points of inflection and choose to see them as a reason for leaving or a reason for remaining. I’m not a pro-European lapdog. I can see the problems just as clearly as anyone else. But I also see the advantages, and when I weigh one up against the other I know what makes sense to me.
Now, of course I’m not being completely impartial when I do that. I feel European. I don’t trust the current UK government. And there are elements in the Leave campaign that I simply refuse to line up with — not just the racists and xenophobes, but the likes of Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Gove … people I find I am at odds with every time I hear them speak.
These are my opinions and they form part of the decision I made to vote Remain (I have a postal vote). They are right for me. They might not be right for you. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind, just to account for my own.
This piece originally appeared on Medium, and has been reprinted with permission.
Photo: KiwiDandy/Creative Commons