EU referendum

Well now. Good sense from many people, and less from some.  Here’s my take on the EU referendum.

  1. The stupidity of the referendum – the EU is in need of reforms, but if we (as I expect) vote to stay in, we will be completely disarmed in any campaign of change afterwards. “You liked it enough to vote for it, mate” will be the riposte.
  2. The likelihood of a socialist utopia if we stay out. Er, no. We’ll have an extended right wing mess. The idea that the interests of the working class or well-funded public services will be promoted by Gove, Johnson, Farage etc seems, shall we say, a little far-fetched.  While it is truly touching that people like IDS have discovered the problems of low wages and poverty, but I think it is an epiphany that will last about 30 minutes after the vote.  Note my good taste in not mentioning Venezuela.
  3. The budget contribution debate has been trawled over enough, I guess, for people to know (a) the quitters quote an exaggerated gross figure, before rebate and any EU funding of UK projects (b) cuts in the NHS and housing are about the domestic policy of the current government – austerity – not shortage of EU funds (c) almost every estimate of GNP and tax receipts post-exit would more than wipe out any gain from reducing our payment (d) to have access to the single market you have to pay anyway (Norway does). Oh, and (e) the full amount the quitters quote is only available if we stop funding the things – agriculture, environment, university research, unemployed retraining – that the EU currently pays for out of our cash.  What is less often said is our government cocks up the EU claim system: I stopped claiming European Social Funding at Lambeth, because every penny we got was taken out of our budget by central government.  I understand the same criticism can be made of how our government handles fishing quotas: we get a bad deal because our government isn’t sharp enough to get a good one.I also have the naïve progressive view that it is OK for the large rich members of a club to pay more than the poor small ones: if we are to have access to the markets of Greece & Portugal, I think it’s fair to help get their airports, roads and technical training up to scratch.
  4. Like almost every non-politician, I think we need to manage migration better. However, half our inward migration comes from non-EU members (Dyson bloody complains the EU stops him getting more of them), and if we wish to remain members of the single market we must agree to present rules on EU migrants. In passing, I truly doubt that many are attracted by our social security system, but if they are, it’s our own silly fault – we designed a non-contributory system with no European help at all.  But if (as we are endlessly told) migrants make a net contribution in the form, of taxes, then we can afford to spend money in areas where schools, hospitals and housing are under pressure.  (I’m not very PC on this issue, and believe that the migration issue will blow up in politicians faces in the not too distant. The problem is not the EU, as much as the fact that many countries are horrible – my wife’s Yemeni language student shudders when asked about her homeland – and travel is cheap.) 
  5. There will be a severe economic cost to leaving. There is no one respectable who thinks otherwise.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t – I nod towards Dave’s idea that freedom is worth a cost – but the increase in freedom is illusory in a linked up world, and the cost is high and will be borne by the low paid.  Brexit’s tame economist Patrick Minford estimates that all manufactured exports will end.  Yep, you read that right.  I also recognise that the ‘taking back control stuff’ sounds plausible (even though it won’t work – countries now deal with internationally agreed standards in almost everything, from ivory to lamb).  Moreover, where does all the “I’m not paying for those buggers – I want the decision myself” stuff end ? UK ? England ? The south of England ? London ? Kensington ? My street ? My house ?  And what is there left to say when a member of the House of Lords decries unelected legislators, apart from ‘irony is dead’ ?It’s also surely true that many modern problems – pollution, terrorism, crime, migration, defence – can only be solved jointly.
  6. Red tape ? Don’t get me started. Most regulations are to encourage trade – to ensure that foreign governments cannot refuse our exports (or us theirs) on spurious safety or hygiene grounds.  Imagine stopping lorries at Dover because their weight per axle did not conform to the limits established by a sovereign House of Commons.  I also like the fact that our competitors are obliged to offer a minimum of working conditions, like maternity leave; this seems to be a way to avoid a race to the Dickensian bottom.  We are in any case one of the least regulated industrial countries.  Oh, and the people who tell us business will become more efficient and liberated when we end burdensome EU regulations are the very same ones who say we are importing so much more from EU than we are exporting.  That’s right, the very countries who are hobbled by legislation.   Er, shome mishtake shurely.
  7. The Euro was not a good idea, but the 2008 crash made it worse. I could quote from an article I wrote in 1974 against a single currency, but you’ve suffered enough.
  8. Brexit will hasten the end of the UK, more quickly if the results of the vote shows a strong regional/national bias.

I think we will vote to stay, but won’t be surprised at a vote to go – such is the appalling level of the debate (have you had that leaflet through your door that hints Syria is about to join the EU ?).  I attribute this to the amateurism of the Remain campaign, which seems unable to rebut plainly erroneous Leave arguments.  The emphasis on the economy rather than progress and peace has been overdone.  In particular, they seem to assume that everyone is having a prosperous, hunky-dory time in today’s economy, when real living standards for many people have crawled along the bottom since the 2008 crash.  Why fight to retain a system where you’ve had no rise for five years (my daughters are nurses), or had your pension trimmed by Sir Philip Green, or are on a Sports Direct zero-hours contract.

That’s enough.  References on request.


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