I don’t normally talk politics on this blog, but I feel compelled to comment about the forthcoming poll on whether Britain should remain in the European Union.
Update 19/4/16: One thing becoming painfully obvious as this campaign progresses is that most Britain’s have no idea how we relate to the EU, and those who support leaving have the least idea of what they are actually wanting to leave:
I have heard people say that once we are out of the EU we will not need to contribute to NATO any more, but our membership of NATO is in no way linked to our membership of the EU.
This morning on the radio I heard a government minister say that outside the EU Britain would be safer because the European Court of Human Rights could no longer interfere with our laws. Intense dislike of the European Court of Human Rights is common among leave supporters. Unfortunately the European Court of Human Rights is not an EU institution and leaving the EU would have no effect on its ability to influence out laws. The European Court of Justice is an EU institution, but it does not make judgements on human rights.
The most common misnomer, of course, is that we will be able to control our own borders once we are out of the EU because we will not have to allow the free movement of people throughout Europe. But actually, we are not signed up to that part of the EU treaties that allows for the free movement of people, so we already control our own borders. In that respect nothing will change if we leave the EU.
If, as a nation, we do vote to leave the EU, it is clear many people will have no understanding of what we have actually left, and may be disappointed that the things they most want to leave behind are still with us.
If we stay in the EU, it is clear there will have to be much better education of what we actually belong to and the limits of the EU organisation.
It is really difficult to filter out the issues that really matter, because the headline issues, pushed by either side of the debate, are largely irrelevant:
Migration will change little if we leave the EU, any decent trade deal is bound to require the free movement of EU citizens. And everyone else is coming from parts of the world which we have helped to destabilize with our military action. Even those coming from sub-sahara Africa would traditionally have stopped in Libya before we helped destabilize it – now they carry on to Europe. As we bear some responsibility for the mess their nations are in, we would still have to take them in.
The economy would undoubtedly suffer in the short term, both from trade tariffs and uncertainty while new trade deals are hammered out. In the longer term we would cope: there would be no option, so we would make it work. Would we be more prosperous without the drag anchor of Europe or less well off due to limits on free trade with Europe?
No one knows. Probably the effects would be about equal out in the long term.
Some things will stay the same no matter what decision is made:
Defence will still be tied up with Europe because we will still be part of NATO.
Diplomacy will also largely be tied in with NATO and therefore Europe.
If we wish to still trade with the EU, we will still be bound by their red tape and bureaucracy.
Some things though will suffer:
Research and development is a big one. Without any natural resources to speak of, Britain is dependent on trade. These days that amounts to trade in money, trade in financial services, and technological advancement. Without massive investment in R&D Britain will fall behind.
However, I hear no one talking about this or putting forward a plan for R&D in a non EU Britain.
There could be opportunities:
Data is the natural resource of the future, something Britain can really call their own if we get ahead of the curve, especially in banking and financial services, but also in other areas too. With a culture of innovation and entrepreneurial start-ups, Britain ought to be able to sprint ahead without the constraints of the EU.
Again, I hear no one talking about any of this, no plans for the future.
The one thing that could sway me to vote to leaved the EU:
If someone puts forward a vision for the future for Britain that is really positive, dynamic, and radical, that addresses the issues I have mentioned above, but is not currently possible because of European constraints, I could be swayed.
I am not hopeful.
A bleak campaign:
I see no groundswell of political change, no desire for a new economic direction, no appetite for radical reform, no compelling vision of a future Britain. Nothing, in fact, except a desire to be free of European interference – which will never happen whichever way the vote goes.
If the best argument for leaving the EU is pure frustration, we should stay in and change it from the inside.
In fact, given that all the opposition parties, except UKIP, and half the government, are against leaving the EU it is difficult to see who could possibly put forward a realistic alternative vision for Britain without tearing the ruling Conservative party to shreds. Except, maybe, Boris Johnson.
It really made me think when Boris opted to joint the out campaign, but in reality he has contributed very little. He is almost certainly playing party politics: If the Out campaign wins, he will probably be Britain’s next Prime Minister – the person who will have to navigate extracting Britain from the EU; if the In camp wins, then he has done himself no political harm and may have made some useful allies. All Boris has done so far is sit on the sidelines and made the odd semantic observation. His heart is not really in it.
If Boris really believes in a better Britain without the EU, he is the one person who could, and should, present a new vision for Britain.
But he won’t.