The EU: An Entirely Factless Walkthrough

I know which way I’m going to vote.

There are already enough people out there telling you which way they intend to vote and, intended or not, whenever someone reveals this information they are also telling you which way you should vote. I am not going to say which way my vote will go, because this piece has the modest aim of explaining my thought-process and nothing more. Revealing how I intend to vote would discolour the constructive objective of this article. I do not pretend to be impartial. I have reached a conclusion; and in admitting this I hope to dispel any lingering suspicions that this piece dishonestly favours one side over the other. My mind was made up by a small margin. This closeness is important, for as long as there is no pretense of impartiality, an anyway impossible and undesirable objective, then you can be sure that any bias which remains is at least honest. Another thing – there will be no statistics. In this debate, spouting out contestable statistics leads to greater confusion than clarity. It’s easy enough to do your own research.

I recognise both sides have valid arguments. Therefore, this piece is not aimed at those of you that have no space for doubt. As a general rule of this debate, we should be wary of anyone who thinks one side is entirely in the right.

Everyone’s pretty sick of this stuff by now, and there isn’t anything particularly original to say anymore. Humour me this one last ride.

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Democracy

This is Brexit’s strongest case. You may think several things: you may think leaving will cause growth to fall, that we will enter a recession, that cooperation on climate change will suffer, that continental security will be damaged, that the tories will do unspeakable harm to workers rights; you could be certain that all of these things and you could still cast a leave vote. This is because democratic control gives us the power of change. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” The Commission is the one EU body that can propose legislation, and it is unelected. A simple test of unaccountability is to see if you can name all five EU Presidents. And not only is this democratic deficit quite incomparable to the UK’s own democratic problems, but the EU has actually shown anti-democratic tendencies. It has overturned several national referendums.

What does this mean in practice? Well, a very murky percentage of national law is EU law. The figure is legally contested, but whatever it is one might prefix it with ‘as little as’ or ‘as much as’ depending on the importance you place on democratic legitimacy. In 1975, a pamphlett from the British Government promised that the “Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new tax if he considers it to be against British interests.” This is not the case, and taxation without representation is never a parochial concern.

The EU is not the USSR. The very fact we can choose to leave proves this. Moreover, there is a good case to be made that the EU has put in a remarkable shift to promote democracy amongst new member states, even if it does not practice what it preaches. So, should we not stay and reform it? Vote remain and regain a democratic EU? Unfortunately there is little indication that this is possible. There is an unelected well-paid bureaucracy who have no reason to want change, and who see member-state demands as cranky populism. Cameron’s pathetic re-negotiation attempt proved this. And if they will not reform under the threat of Brexit, then a remain vote will only worsen their commitment to the status-quo.

The Economy  

This is Remain’s strongest case. Anyone who discounts the threat to the economy is being disingenuous. Unless you hold some ideological commitment to free trade, then it is untenable to hold that view that we would prosper. The overwhelming majority of academics and experts have predicted significant damage. But economics isn’t a science and there are too many variables make predictions with complete accuracy. Will countries really impose punitive tariffs? It seems a ridiculous notion, but nobody really knows at this stage. The economic argument is hard enough to follow as it is, with often directly contradictory claims. Given the fact that most of us aren’t qualified to do the maths ourselves and test these claims, we are reliant on voices of authority. These voices exaggerate. The need to sound authoritative comes at the expense of compromise and truth. It is explainable. Both sides need to exaggerate because an arms race of rhetoric has developed where whoever speaks with nuance opens themselves up to eye-catching headlines and the media’s mercy.

Hyperbole aside, this is a question of extent. The overwhelming consensus, from studies such as the IFS’s (an extremely impartial institution despite Leave’s claims), is that our economy would suffer. If we leave the common market, we will then shrink as we discover the fragility of the WTO, and then, if we go the way of Norway, we will try and buy ourselves back into the common market which will leave us in the same position as before but with no say at the roundtable. This is one of my key concerns. We have a PM that doesn’t want to leave the EU, and voting to leave might well be a vote which sells our democracy right back to the EU as we beg to be let back in. If David Cameron remains as PM in the scenario of a leave vote, then this referendum is a scam.

Economic meme time…

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.04.18

Here are some things to consider.

  • Mystery boxes are not necessarily bad.
  • There is still a smaller mystery box if we stay.
  • It’s not even that much of a mystery. Either it’s bad or it’s not.

Perhaps this decision shouldn’t be based on how risqué you’re feeling about a tantalising mystery box. Yet the more I think about this referendum, the more I see this decision as a judgment call. I put it to you that this is essentially a game of Deal or No Deal, and the question is at what point in the game should we quit. In this game, we have to look beyond the box in front of us, and think about the future boxes to come. We have to think long term. Because while Brexit will deliver an economic hit, the reasoned counterargument is that there are also long term risks in staying. The eurozone is a nightmare, and is doomed to implode at some point in the future, because a fixed currency without full political integration was never going to work. And when the Euro goes bust? How much immigration into the UK then?

Immigration

Immigration. The concern of an old xenophobic Brexiteer called Gary who spends both his afternoon and his pension in a pub called ‘White Britania’. While I am sure that Gary exists, there is currently an air of snobbishness looking down upon the elder generation’s views on immigration. This has reached such an extent that the question has been asked as to whether they have a right to vote at all. Ridiculous. By that logic, we should set an arbitrary cut off age that completely disenfranchises them. The tyranny of the minority gives way to tyranny of the minors.

I think immigration is a wonderful thing, something that has greatly enriched our country. In factless fashion, I will content myself with saying that it contributes far more then it takes out. But I also have great sympathy for the Leave argument that we should have controlled immigration. I would make one point on this matter. The NHS is largely reliant on immigrants, but even if it was fully reliant on immigrants, that does not mean that it should be in the future. Immigration has been a great thing for the NHS up till now. For all we know we might be on the summit – in terms of balancing the positives of immigration against the pressures on public services – and from here on the only way is down. You can argue over the details, but when immigration is taken to its logical Corybnist extreme, the problems become clear. Germany let in 4**,*** people last year alone. This is unsustainable, and culturally impractical.

Another thought is that while Brexit might be bad for Britain, it might actually be good for Europe. Hastening the demise of the esperanto currency might very well help more people then it hurts. An unprecedented wave of immigration following another sudden euro collapse, while certainly not helping Britain, would be disastrous for eurozone countries.

War and Peace

This area of the debate has been under-serviced, perhaps because Britain has suffered very little terror in recent years. The EU is a good way to cooperate against organised crime and worse, one only has to look at the recent arrest of Gregoire Moutaux to see the benefits of intergovernmental communication. However, there is no reason that a body without economic integration would not be able to perform the same function.

In terms of peace on the continent in the traditional sense, one of the biggest emotional ties to the EU is the post-war years of continental peace. There have been no great power clashes, and the struggle for power has been moved from the broad fields of the Somme to the board rooms of Brussels. The extent to which the EU can claim the credit for this is up for debate. The EU could do little during the Cold War to prevent the tensions in Germany, not to mention the tanks in Hungary or in Czechoslovakia. When the Cold War ended, we had to wait less then a year before we saw the revival of fascism in Europe. The Bosnian genocide of the 1990s was meant to be the EU’s finest hour, but it took NATO (in reality the USA) to stop it. Looking back, we must recognise these salient footnotes.

There is also balance to strike when looking forwards. One could argue that the EU is the only way to tackle the refugee crisis, but many would also argue the EU has not done enough and will continue to not do enough. Another issue is the single European army. The dream is still alive, but the reality of it is something different. “A bunch of chickens would be a more unified combat unit,” said the European Commission president when asked about Europe’s common defence policy. Practically speaking, putting uniforms on the flock is not going to happen any time soon.

 

What not to worry about

There are a couple of things that people bring up in this debate which are hardly worth the time it takes to point out why we shouldn’t be worrying about them.

Firstly, Turkey. It is not about to become a member state of the EU. As of yet it has met somewhere below two, but not zero, of the chapters required to become a member-state (chapters that in total number between thirty-four and thirty-six). Admittedly, David Cameron has signed a deal to speed up the time it takes to get them in, and it is official EU policy to speed up their application process, but this strikes me as nothing more than a practical diplomatic step. Turkey is currently going in the completely wrong direction, and so by holding out an unbending olive branch, we ensure that the dictator Erdogan has no excuses for his country’s isolation.

Secondly, travel. I can’t stand the teenagers who appear on Victoria Derbyshire and whine about travel. “In the EU we can go and work in Europe.” Go on then. Try it. Go get a job in Greece. Does Spain’s half-a-cup-full-plus of youth unemployment squash sound refreshing to you? Also, exiting the EU is not the end of bloody travel. Also, also, why are we even bringing up holidays when there is economy and democracy to argue over? The narcissism and privilege (that dreaded word) involved in complaining about something so negligible is astonishing, especially when others are voting on principal, even, one must assume, to the detriment of their own personal self-interest.

Our Future

There is no turning back from this decision. As someone, somewhere, said, an election will determine the following five years, but this referendum will determine a minimum of fifty. A part of me wants to vote leave just to stick it to Cameron, who in not preparing for Brexit has treated the democratic magnitude of this decision with contempt. Yet no vote should be cast with vitriol, and by that same token there should be no votes cast against Farrage. The same standard applies. Anyone worried that voting leave would empower those with hatred or real xenophobia should recognise that there is a battle which can be fought, and which will be won, after and regardless of the result. That struggle will always be there to fight anyway.

What is the future of the continent? Brexit happens, and then one by one more nation states succeed? A real possibility. People need to think about the world we want to live in. I feel European. Things like food and beer and sport and, most crucially, language, are things that unify us. And geography too – the threats of modernity know no boarders. But remain at what cost? Any cost? Hypothetically, how bad would we be prepared to let the EU get before saying that it is no longer worth our membership? Has that moment already come? And if it hasn’t, is this our only opportunity before it’s too late?

This is essentially a problem for political philosophers. Is centralization in itself a good thing, and is the nation-state something of the past that has no place in the modern world? I am not fully decided on this matter, but my hunch is that the argument for the albeit imperfect nation-state is quite analogous to that of democracy – as of yet it is the least awful form of imagined community.

Conclusion 

My final thoughts are simply these:

  1. We should decide what is is best for ourselves, but also what is best for the continent and humanity.
  2. We must think of both the short term and the long term impact. We are told to think of the younger generation, but what of the younger generation’s grandchildren?
  3. They all scaremonger, get over it. Weigh each factor up for yourself and realise that it’s a judgement call.
  4. It does feel a bit like a vote to leave is an anti-establishment vote for the working class. Jeremy Corbyn, having lazily rolled up a joint, has become pretty relaxed about the big-business fat-cats lobbying away within the EU. His supposed change of heart is the tragedy of politics, when ideals are forced into compromise, and it is noticeable that the MPs who back remain are the ones with the most to lose.
  5. George Osborn’s punishment budget is clearly a premeditated ploy to scare voters into voting remain. Not only will it never get through the Commons, but if there was a recession the last thing you would do is raise taxes.
  6. Many of Leave’s public figures are shits, but Remain does have Jeremy Clarkson and the odd footballer too.

I understand the desire to stay and change the EU from within. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence to show that we would be successful. I am sceptical, and therefore I am, in the true sense of the word, a eurosceptic. And any person who cared to call themselves a eurosceptic could do so and rationally cast a vote to remain. But the eurosceptic has become synonymous with the racist or the bigot and it is in this atmosphere that I think people will decide not to abandon the EU. We will probably choose to see it through to the end, unlike those of you who gave up on this, on my fecklessly factless EU walkthrough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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