I am not going to pretend that I am undecided or unsure regarding the EU referendum. There was, very briefly, a time when I dabbled with the idea that Brexit might be an attractive option, but once I had reattached my brain to my head I knew remain was the only sensible option.
That the campaign is so overwhelmingly negative is entirely dispiriting. I am not going to pretend that the official ‘Remain’ campaign, led by David Cameron, has exactly been a model of positivity – far from it – and only a fool would pretend that the ‘Leave’ campaigns, led by shysters and charlatans like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage is about anything other than migration and, in Johnson’s case, becoming prime minister. Far be it for me to defend Cameron, a politician who has changed his position often enough during his career, but I am going to, albeit briefly. If all the assembled experts are right, or as Martin Kettle pointed out in today’s Guardian just half right, Britain is about to jump off a cliff. It would be utterly irresponsible of Cameron to not point out some awkward truths.
Those who favour Brexit have different reasons for so doing. Some protest that they object to the EU preventing us making our own laws, but then can’t find examples of which ones and then how. Others lie about the likelihood of Turkey joining the EU and whether UK has a veto on them so doing (it does). And some swallow Boris Johnson’s big fat lie when he said Cameron had threatened a third world war if Britain left the EU (he didn’t: Johnson made it up, like Johnson makes all sorts of things up). Hilariously, some support the likes of IDS and Johnson who say Britain could spend more on things like the NHS with all that money we would save by leaving the EU, yet these are the same people who have voted for cuts to the NHS and in Johnson’s case put forward arguments to get rid of it altogether.
Most people understand that Britain will undergo a shock if we vote to leave the EU next month. It’s not a scare story. Even the most modest assessments suggest jobs will be lost, wages will fall, prices will rise, sterling will fall. Whether you believe the effects will be modest, as suggested above, or very serious indeed, to the extent that the country goes into immediate recession and capital takes flight, it would be naive and dangerous to believe nothing will change. These are not scare stories. They are ends of the scale of what will happen. Are they a price worth paying?
The ‘outers’ have nothing to say about what will happen if we leave. That’s because no one has a clue. We know we would exit the European single market and we will have to renegotiate trade deals with over 100 countries, as well as the EU. That’s a simple matter of fact. It could be that a hard right, neoliberal post Brexit PM like Boris Johnson, with Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith by his side, could quickly reach agreements around the world, despite his lack of ministerial experience in anything at all. We don’t know, no one knows. I call it jumping off a cliff, some say taking a step into the dark. The idea that nothing will change is absurd.
I am sure that those who advocate Brexit have thought about the immediate effects on their lives, like a falling pound, rising inflation and so on. They will think it is a price worth paying and that, hopefully, Boris Johnson, supported no doubt by Nigel Farage and George Galloway, will lead us to a brighter place.
Many of Cameron’s warnings are right and fair, but the reality is that the entire ‘Remain’ campaign is currently based on how bad things will be if we leave. As we note, it is fair to point out the real dangers, but I align myself far more with the Labour Party ‘Labour in for Britain’. Their’s is a far more positive campaign and, stolen from their website, here is what they say:
Millions of British jobs are linked to our EU membership.
£26.5 billion is invested in Britain by EU countries every year.
British workers benefit from EU agreements on workers’ rights, including the right to holiday pay, paid maternity and paternity leave, anti-discrimination laws, equal pay and protection for agency workers.
Exports to the EU are worth £227 billion a year to the British economy.
The EU is Britain’s biggest export market: almost half of all of Britain’s exports go to the EU.
Thousands of criminals, including terrorists, have been arrested under the European Arrest Warrant.
Being in the EU enhances Britain’s global influence and allows us to take our place at the top table.
Actually, that’s only part of what ‘Labour in for Britain’ says but I see ALL these things as positive reasons for staying at the top table in Europe.
I do see the need for a united Europe in times of crisis, such as terrorism and mass migration from countries gripped by terrorism, civil war and starvation. I look at Russia, led by former KGB thug Putin and I know that he would love nothing more than a divided western Europe. It was Winston Churchill, following the end of World War Two, who called for a form of United States of Europe to keep the peace. I do not agree with a formal European state, never have, and I oppose the idea of Britain joining the Euro but I do believe in a Europe of independent states, trading fairly with each other, allowing freedom of movement, enabling people to work and live across the area.
But, the EU, for all the worker’s rights it has protected, must do more. It needs to do far more to protect the ordinary workers against the effects of unfettered capitalism. It must do more for fairness and opportunity and it needs to do far more to protect the environment.
Although I agree with Cameron that Britain must remain in the EU, I look at it from the point of view of improving the lot of ordinary people, not fat cats and rich businessmen. What it has guaranteed for workers represents progress, but we need much more than that. Brexit really does put at risk the rights we currently have.
For me, in middle age and retired from full time work, the implications of Brexit are not so severe as they would be for the generation that follows. So when I vote on 23 June, I am voting for a brighter future for the young, within a still to be reformed and improved economic union, sitting at the top table, influencing decisions, helping to create prosperity, opportunity and fairness.
A bitter, divided, insular, isolated island off the North Sea could be the future we face. I’m voting for a brighter day, working with Europe and not against it.