Monday, 20 June 2016

To Brexit Or Bremain


If your Facebook timeline has been anything like mine for the past couple of weeks, you may now be heartily sick of hearing about the referendum. I have also been irked by the number of posts I've read which start "I hope I don't know anyone who's planning to vote Leave..." I'm sorry, did I wake up in some sort of Nazi-land where we must all have the same opinions? Seriously, if you and everyone you know are all voting the same way – in this or any other election – it's a sure sign you live in a little bubble and need to get out more. Diversify!

The EU has a number of fantastic features. For instance, the laws that have improved people's lives, protected the environment, raised standards of animal welfare, and ensured that food and cosmetics are always accompanied by a full list of their (strictly tested and approved) ingredients. The fact that once the laws have passed, they apply to 28 countries in one fell swoop, makes everything a million times easier. 

Despite this, I will be voting to leave the EU. (Not to be confused with leaving "Europe", as so many professional journalists have been heard to say.) Why? Let's take a look at some of the arguments doing the rounds on the internet:

1) The Myth of EU Funding

(Also known as that awkward moment when you forget that money "coming from the EU" is just a partial refund of money you sent them in the first place.)

There's no such thing as "EU money". Just like "government money" – it all comes from YOU and your taxes. You know how everyone's been making such a fuss about the "mythical £350 million", and how much we "get back"? This is the cash they were talking about. 

The EU does indeed generously bequeath us with our own money, but with provisos on how we can spend it. Kind of like giving your salary to your mum and then having her dole out your bus fare and lunch money but keeping the rest.

Interestingly, the Leave campaign has claimed the current subsidies will remain the same in the event of Brexit, although what would happen after 2020 is anybody's guess. 

So how much does our EU membership cost? According to independent UK fact checkers www.fullfact.org"£350 million is what we would pay to the EU budget, without the rebate.* But the UK actually pays just under £250 million a week." 

(*That rebate was hard-won by Maggie T, as pro-remain site www.infacts.org pithily notes; "Funny how eurosceptics, for most of whom Thatcher is a hero, have forgotten one of her best known achievements." All together now, #ThanksThatcher)

But we get some more funding back, so what are the final figures? Crunching the numbers further, www.fullfact.org's conclusion is that in 2015, "Overall we paid in £8.5 billion more than we got back, or £23 million a day." Just let that sink in for a moment. That's the amount we paid in that we never saw again. £23 million PER DAY. 

No matter how many cutesy memes you've seen about it equalling the price of a couple of pints, that's an awful lot of money.
  

("Free healthcare across Europe"? Your free EHIC card will entitle you to essential treatments "at a reduced cost or sometimes for free". But those medical bills will be passed onto your own Government, who pay them with your taxes. Oh, and you'll still need insurance, too.) Interestingly, the UK also has reciprocal healthcare agreements with certain non-EU countries such as Australia, Croatia, Gibraltar, New Zealand and Russia.)

The biggest reason behind my vote for Brexit is the total lack of transparency over what happens to the HUGE amounts of money they handle and the utter waste in what we do know they spend. 

For instance, they blow £150 million every year on moving offices once a month. Yep, they pack all their paperwork in a bunch of lorries and relocate from Brussels to Strasbourg for four days. No particular reason, they just like it. 

(Actually, I'm being facetious, The real reason is because France insists on it. Something to do with fighting over who got to host stuff back in the 1950s? Not that they're being childish about it)

"Other Areas" so beyond reproach that they don't even need to be mentioned. 

It's often said that the EU has never been audited, which turns out not to be trueAs reported in 2014"The European Court of Auditors (ECA), an EU body set up to examine the accounts of the Union, signed off on the 2014 accounts as reliable – something it's done for every set of figures since 2007. But it did find that payments made were materially affected by error.... Payments have breached this (2% allowable error) threshold for the last 21 years." 

Also: 

"But there are many errors that the ECA can not quantify, such as less serious breaches of procurement rules, failures to comply with rules on publicity, or incorrect incorporation of EU directives into national law.... These errors are not included in the ECA’s estimated error rate." Reassuring stuff.

Ignoring the fact that they're audited by an EU body rather than an independent one (nope, absolutely no side-eye for that), how much does that margin of error account for? "Overall, 4.4% of the EU's spending didn't follow the rules and accordingly shouldn't have been paid out." 

4.4% sounds tiny, but if your total budget is €142.5 billion (about 
£114.8 billion) then that equals £5.0512 billion. (Lost forever. No biggie.) And that's just the money that's gone unaccounted for. While there's no doubt that our EU refunds are a boon to everything from the arts to scientific research, there has also been some pretty suspect spending from Brussels, such as the €300,000 (£263,511) spent on events described as “cocktail parties” in 2009, or the £350,000 cost of building a Hungarian dog hydrotherapy centre which never opened. 

I know, I know; If we picked a British MP for a random audit, their spending would also be a nasty (non) surprise. But I'd rather only pay for one set of ridiculous wasters than some here and some in Brussels.  
  
2) If we come out, crazed right-wingers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove will be in charge, with nobody restricting them.

                                      
Some advocate voting Remain to keep Boris out. Would it be melodramatic to liken that to suicide, in that it's a permanent solution for a temporary problem?

We're a year into the current government and we'll have a general election in four years' time. Given that it would take two years for us to extricate ourselves from the EU anyway, that's only two years for hypothetical PM Boris to romp unfettered through the UK's existing laws. And we've got four more years of Conservatives ANYWAY, no matter what the result of the referendum. (Unless Brexit triggers an extraordinary election.)

Like them or not, the Tories were voted in, while the leaders of the EU were not. Do we believe in democracy? Or does it come with a disclaimer: "Only if the majority are correct, i.e. if they agree with me"?

The point is often made that the house of lords is also unelected. So instead of removing one lot of undemocratic punks, we should keep both? Personally I think the sooner we dismantle the systems we currently have in place, the better. And exiting the EU is the fastest way to kickstart our revolution.

As Tony Benn  once said, "“If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.” We are free to vote out the Tories. We have no such powers when it comes to voting on the actions of the EU.

Oh, wait, we do. On the 23rd of June.

3) The EU doesn't tell us what to do!  

Some of the EU laws are clearly a result of someone having too much time on their hands (it's just a shame they haven't yet got round to standardising shoe and clothes sizes so we wouldn't have to return half of what we buy online, isn't it?) But they're not as crazy as the tabloids suggest; I don't think it's unreasonable to ban unsubstantiated health claims or insist that washing up gloves should be safe to use. But I particularly love the EU's response to the infamous banana story: "Of COURSE we didn't ban bendy bananas, what a RIDICULOUS myth... I think you'll find that we actually said that bananas had to be "free from malformation or abnormal curvature". Gotcha. Totally different thing. 

Although the EU is generally considered to lack democratic legitimacy, their system does at least involve representatives from each of the 28 member countries. Beyond that it all gets a bit complicated, so I'm just going to leave this here for starters:


So how much control do they have over us?

In 2010, the House of Commons reported: "The British Government estimates that around 50% of UK legislation with a significant economic impact originates from EU legislation" but tempered this by adding "However, there is no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU."

Brexiters claim: "Over the past twenty years… there have been 72 occasions in the Council of Ministers where the United Kingdom has opposed a particular measure. Of those 72 occasions, we have been successful precisely 0 times and we have lost 72 times." 

According to www.fullfact.org, "Official EU voting records show that the British government has voted ‘No’ to laws passed at EU level on 56 occasions, abstained 70 times, and voted ‘Yes’ 2,466 times since 1999". So basically, we get our way when we happen to agree with the majority. 

There seems to be a prevailing belief that, without the civilising influence of the EU, the UK would descend to its natural state of Dickensian working conditions, heartless bosses etc. (Goodness me, we'd probably have bankers with ridiculous bonuses, and struggling students on zero-hour contracts, too.) The Leave campaign has a full list of the total (not yet verified) 76 times Britain has been on the losing side of a vote, revealing that actually, where we come up against the powers-that-be mostly on the subjects of fishing and farming. Who'da thunk it?)

The Guardian investigates further: either the UK is getting more feisty or the EU is getting more unreasonable; we are "now in the minority more often than any other EU government".

You might say "So what if we had to compromise on 12.3% of the votes between 2009 and 2015?" But if we were outside of the EU, we wouldn't have to compromise at all. Rather than having the EU juggle the very different needs and cultures of 28 countries (ironing out our individual quirks to create one homogenised mass in the process) wouldn't it make more sense for us all to be independent? 

One comment I read online really stuck in my mind: "This is like arguing that slavery is OK if the master is kind... If you hand over more and more unaccountable power to wield by people you like, it may one day be seized by people you don’t."

4) If we stay in, we'll have a seat at the table and we'll be able to reform from within. 

Yeah, pretty sure Brussels' response to that idea will look something like this little guy: 

                                   

Not for the first time, our relationship with the EU reminds me of an abusive relationship. (They should really replace "Stockholm" and rename it "Brussels Syndrome".) We've already had "Can't you see how much I do for you?" and "You'll never survive without me," not to mention "Nobody else will ever love you and you'll die alone". Now we're falling for the classic "Things will change after we get married." Because people always change for the better AFTER you've signed the contract which legally binds you to them forever, don't they?

The Remainers say that Brexiters are being overly optimistic about our chances of being able to trade with the EU in future, but their confidence (or perhaps hubris) at the thought of revolutionising it is positively breathtaking; we've already had 43 years to give that a go. 

And David Cameron is particularly rubbish at negotiating; back in February, instead of pretending he was totally indifferent (the way you would if you were cancelling your mobile phone package with the intention of getting them to throw some bargains your way), he let the EU know that he was desperate to stay in. They treated him with the disdain of mean girls at school faced with a nerd begging to sit with them at lunch. 

As a side note, he was recently in the news for buying a blue 2004 Nissan Micra. This interested me because I am actually looking for a similar car (although I prefer the cute early 2003 vintage, before the shape changed and got all bulbous and weird).

This, not This

From my research on autotrader, gumtree, ebay etc I have learned that the going rate for one of these little beauties is somewhere between £500 – £800. David Cameron paid £1,495 for one with 92,000 on the clock? He was done. And not for the first time, it seems. When he attempted to make the EU agree to various promises, most of them were batted politely aside. And this was when he was in his strongest position, dangling the prospect of a referendum in front of them. Once our trump card is gone, are we really suggesting that the UK will be so strong and influential? The same UK currently threatened with being shut out of trading, excluded from terrorist intelligence, and generally doomed? 

You can't have it both ways; we're either too weak to to stand on our own and we have no influence at Brussels, or we have plenty of clout both at the inner table and outside of it.

5) Our economy will suffer and we'll end up like Switzerland and Norway, paying in, being forced to have open borders and not being able to trade!

"You don't want to end up like Norway, do you?" is the threat, as if Norway is the kid who lost his front teeth doing wheelies on his bike. The big fear is that we'll get all the things we were trying to avoid – open borders, huge fees – but we'll be stuck on the outside, unable to trade because everyone is feeling spiteful after being spurned. Norway's Prime Minister has warned that we "won't like it" if we leave, although she did also admit that the EU "is not very attractive". And the article comments are mostly from Norwegian people pointing out that they're not remotely interested in the EU, as evidenced by their repeatedly voting to stay out of it. 

Meanwhile, perhaps in a sneaky show of solidarity, Switzerland withdrew its long-dormant application to join the EU, saying "only a few lunatics" would want to join now. (Being cynical, maybe they want us to leave so that the EU will crumble and they won't get into trouble for naughtily blocking the number of immigrants they take.)

Here's me, aged 9, in Switzerland on their national day. (A nice lady gave me the lantern on a stick.) Somehow, I managed to enter the country despite its stubborn anti-EU stance. (As a side note, I look quite evil, don't I? A bit Village of the Damned? I think it's from having no eyebrows.) 

Firstly, the threat that we "won't get a say" is obsolete when you see the only time our voice is heard is if we happen to side with the majority. Norway and Switzerland both negotiate on which laws they agree to take on board, and there's a fair bit of wiggle room

But do we only have Switzerland and Norway as our role models? Whether Britain is the fifth or ninth largest economy, likening our pulling power to Norway's is like comparing Tesco with your local corner shop. And there are dozens of countries all over the world who have free trade deals with the EU without having to adhere to rules on free movement. 

The value of the pound has dropped sharply in the pre-vote uncertainty, but it also did this when we opted out of the Euro. And aren't we all glad we didn't fall for the scaremongering back then? (Interestingly, the threats used were remarkably similar to the "you'll never trade again" claims being used now.) 

Using the most British of words, Barack Obama has said we'll be "at the back of the queue" when it comes to drawing up new trade agreements. Of course America want the UK to be part of the EU; dealing with all of us at once is much easier. (Also, once we're gone, who are they going to pal around with? Everybody knows we're the fun ones.) The EU and USA are currently negotiating the controversial / dreaded Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); tariffs between the two trading partners are already low at 3%, but the deal would likely put this at zero. (Of course, chances are we could end up signing up to this or something like it whether we're part of the EU or not...) 

Word on the street is that leaving will mean being made an example of; as one EU diplomat put it, “If we say you are outside the EU but can keep all of the advantages, access to the single market without any solidarity, it’s a terrible message for the rest of the EU." France have already threatened to shun us


As part of the EU, we've sometimes been held back from making agreements because of conflicts of interest, such as the EU avoiding deals which could mean outsiders rivalling EU members. Large organisations move slowly; the EU has been going back and forth for YEARS with Canada, China, the US and India, to name but a few. Acting alone, we wouldn't have to wait around for negotiations to suit all 28 members.

We will be able to use existing contracts for the next two years; after that, even if we fail to strike satisfactory deals, the very worst case scenario is that we'd have to stick to World Trade Organisation rules, which would mean paying tariffs. And as James Dyson points out, "If, as David Cameron suggested, they imposed a tariff of 10 per cent on us, we will do the same in return. We buy more from Europe than they buy from us, so we would be the net beneficiary and based on these numbers it would bring £10bn into the UK annually. Added to our net EU contribution, it would make us around £18.5 bn better off each year if we left the EU." 

Will the other EU countries really give us the cold shoulder? Currently we send about 44% of our exports to the EU (although this rate has been steadily dropping; it was 60% back in 2000) while 16% of EU exports go to the UK. This still makes us their biggest customer and when it comes down to it, trade is only concerned with profits, not politics.

In fact, the EU has a falling share of the world's GDP, suggesting that perhaps it is already a shrinking ship (and this referendum is our last lifeboat). 

                                     

Membership of the EU is beginning to sound like getting caught in a steel trap; escaping is worthwhile even if it means chewing off your own arm. Many farmers can't wait to be free of the red tape and one-size-fits-all attitude that stretches across all the EU countries. The UK fishing industry is equally annoyed at the fact they are only allocated 30% of the fishing quota in UK waters. 

6) Turkey isn't joining the EU

Pro-remain site www.infacts.org has "Turkey will join EU in 2020" under its "5 most misleading myths peddled by Leave". First of all, this is quite rude towards the Turks, isn't it? Saying "Don't worry, they're NOT coming." Guys, they're standing right there.They can hear you.

Secondly, this strikes me as meaningless, because if this is the only referendum we ever get and we vote to stay in, we'll still be in whenever Turkey DOES join. It doesn't make any difference whether it happens in 2017 or 2047. (And David Cameron's weird non-answers suggest that it's unlikely to be vetoed, whenever it occurs.)

7) Australia's points based system has resulted in MORE immigration, not less. 

That's because they are actively encouraging immigration. Just like us, they need people to help run the place. (Also, the attitude  "Yah boo, you'll still get immigrants! In your face!" sort of suggests you don't actually think they're such a positive thing. Rude.)

8) And we DO have control of our borders.That's why you have to go through passport control, duh!

The free movement of the EU means anyone with a European passport can come and live here. This is why it was so puzzling when David Cameron made promises about reducing immigration to "tens of thousands" – you can't, David. What part of "Free Movement" do not understand? The only way you could reduce numbers would be to completely cut off people coming from outside of the EU, and that would be unfair.

The issue of immigration could take up a whole blog, so that's what I've done: in a nutshell, I dislike the bizarrely colonial vibe of modern immigration and the misguided belief that the EU is somehow egalitarian when in reality it's a snobby in-group.  

As for our own inconvenience if we opt out of free movement; we've all managed to travel to non-EU countries, haven't we? It's really not that hard. I know numerous people who have managed to live and work in non-EU countries too  we all know someone who lives in Thailand and does a "visa run" every three months, right? 

Conclusion

For months, members of the public have been demanding that Leave campaigners give them "proof" and "guarantees" that  Brexit will be a force for good. We want "facts" and a definitive answer to the question "What will happen if we leave?" 

We have to accept that NOBODY KNOWS. (Although contrary to popular belief, plans such as "Flexcit" ARE in place, ready to be put into action.) Even the most confident prophet of doom or joy really has no idea what the future holds. (But if David Cameron wants people to Remain, he really needs to stop saying that Brexit will be "a leap in the dark" – he makes it sound way too exciting for all the gamblers among us.)  

The scaremongering has gone too far now, with the result that whenever David Cameron, George Osborne or anyone else pops up with a new threat, the collective response is:


But the EU's marketing department has done its job: we now believe that being out of the EU is "turning inward" and "isolating ourselves" while being on the inside means belonging to a fluffy, cuddly family; kindness, inclusiveness and unity personified. 

The opposite is true. The EU is an EXCLUSIVE CLUB; they will let you join if you fulfill their criteria, but if you mess up, they'll treat you with merciless contempt. (Just ask Greece. I'm still not sure why the risk of being treated like crap has been cited as a reason for us to stay in, rather than running away as fast as we can.)

Brussels  is collecting countries like Pok√©mon cards... for what end game? To build a force mighty enough to compete with the US, China, and Russia? To become the biggest power in the world and crush the competition?

We can't invite the whole world to be in the EU – that's what the United Nations and NATO are for – so why are we acting like the EU is all about togetherness? World unity will never be achieved while half of the countries are in a little gang and the rest are not.

It has been argued that this referendum shouldn't be happening; that the average Brit is just not educated or qualified enough to make such a momentous decision. To be fair, this is probably true. While lots of people will choose whether to vote in or out based on carefully weighing up all the options, some will vote for stupid reasons: voting out because they don't like immigrants, or voting in because they think the EU gives us money. And you know what? That's their privilege, because we live in a DEMOCRACY. And that's something worth fighting for. 

                               

3 comments:

  1. EU NO :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TW2kVTsLB0c

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brilliant. I'm reading this having voted leave and in the aftermath of the result and it's made me feel a lot better about my choice. I had begun to doubt myself because of the vitriol of the defeated remain camp. Thank you for this.

    ReplyDelete
  3. (As a side note, I look quite evil, don't I? A bit Village of the Damned? I think it's from having no eyebrows.)
    More Children of the Corn I thought... (Duncs)

    ReplyDelete