EU Referendum 2016

[N.B. Lack of proof-reading at point of publish]

With literally hours to go until making my choice in the EU Referendum, it would be fair to say I’m torn as to which choice I’m going to make.

In the hope that it will help me formulate my ideas further, I figured it was worth writing where I stand on various issues, to try and help establish a final decision by the morning.

For what it’s worth, I began on this trail as default “remain” as it seemed to be the position expected of someone in my demographic, along with being the least painful option. On further reflection, I started to have some inclination towards “leave”, and in the end feel I lie somewhere in the middle. I’ll try to break out my reasoning into separate sections below, before rambling on my own thought processes at the end.

I ultimately feel the result will be remain.

The Campaigns

On both sides, the official / mainstream campaigns have – in my opinion – been atrocious. A lack of any real form of fact (until required to rebuff the opposition); an over-reliance on playing on people’s insecurities rather than engaging in optimistic, positive campaigning; and some pretty horrendous individual choices / statements.

In their defence, none of the above (sadly) is unique to the EU Referendum, more a general reflection on modern politics in general.

Boris Johnson has done little but reinforce my belief that he’s a dangerous figure in UK Politics because he cares only for his own image and goals. This has long been the case, but this campaign has reinforced that.
Nigel Farage has done exactly what you might expect, and is tiresome.
Michael Gove is still pretty punchable.
Jeremy Corbyn has actually done a pretty reasonable job in my opinion, although I do feel he’s instinctively more out than his party line suggests.
David Cameron has similarly done alright, but I find it hard to marry up his indignation at the “intolerance” stoked up by the immigration question with his own previous comments on swarms and the like. It feels a little inconsistent.

Needless to say, whatever opinion I end up at the polling station with, I wouldn’t want it to be considered in any way aligned / justified by those mainstream campaigns. If anything, they’ve just added more smokescreen and made the decision-making more confusing.

Migration

Every time a discussion comes up, particularly if you car to play devil’s advocate and toy with “leave” as a valid option, the topic of migration unsurprisingly rears it’s head.

I’ve said a few times now – and genuinely believe it – that it shouldn’t even be a topic that’s considered as part of the debate, as it won’t (and can’t) change if a leave vote is to be handled in any way sensibly by those in charge of the negotiations (the government).
There’s no logical outcome for a Britain leaving the EU that results in migration levels being any different, and Britain not becoming part of the Schengen Zone as a result of post-referendum negotiations.

I believe in open borders. I believe in the positive effects of migration. It’s virtually undeniable that migration has a positive effect on a country as it allows different cultures to meet and merge, increases tolerance (overall), and brings diversity to everyday life.
I don’t buy into the blame games that suggest it’s the fault of migrants that we have had successive governments failing to plan adequately for housing demand. Nigel bloody Farage does not speak for me. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let my decision be shaped by the notion that someone I strongly disagree with plans to vote the same way.
Particularly in a referendum where you have two choices to make, it’s shameful that either side should suggest that if you vote the opposite way you’re “as bad as that guy”.

There’s a not unreasonable argument to suggest the migration issue (and certainly UKIP) would be quelled in the face of a “leave” vote, as it would prevent a British government from passing the buck, effectively saying “yes, it’s bad but we can’t do anything – bloomin’ Brussels”.

Greece

It barely matters which side of the fence you’re on here, but the simple reality is that the EU alone effectively over-turned the democratic will of  the Greek people following their referendum on whether to accept or reject the bailout package being offered (and the associated austerity measures) in order to protect its own economic model.
That, to me, is unacceptable. Whilst it can be argued (with some level of reason) that the circumstances were exceptional and the intervention required, it flies in the face of the European Union being a guiding force in protecting democracy, and suggests it has become a force for protecting neo-liberal economics.

Britain of course, was as much a part of the problem there as anyone else, but we alone don’t drive the EU’s diktat, and (at least from what I can gather – correct me if I’m wrong) the European Parliament – the sole truly democratic entity within the Union’s power structure, voted for by the people of Europe – had no consultation or say in setting the conditions of the bailout. To that end, leave campaigners complaints of an “undemocratic institution” carry at least some weight – the fact we vote for a European Parliament does not mean it has as much influence in European affairs as our own Parliament does in Britian’s affairs.

Independence

This is what originally brought me to questioning where I would place my vote.

Fundamentally, I believe in restoring the power associated with direct democratic action to the smallest common denominator. To that end, from a purely ideological perspective, I would support leaving the EU. If I were Scottish, I’d support Scottish independence from Britain. If I were Cornish, I’d support Cornish independence from England.
None of that means they would be easy decisions to make. Or that any one of them would be a magic bullet that will make all our problems disappear. I’m afraid I’m not that naïve.
But I do believe that longer term, increasing a society’s own democratic mandate is the right direction to take.

Make no mistake, I consider myself global, European, British, English, and Lancastrian. I don’t believe they’re mutually exclusive ideas. I pour scorn upon the notion that if I was to to vote leave I would no longer be able to consider myself “European”.
I don’t believe that a “leave” vote would or should result in a raising of the drawbridge, shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. I would like to think that any subsequent negotiations around withdrawal would be led by a government that is fundamentally “remain”, allowing for the content to at least be a bit more rational than the bigoted “immigration is bad” line.

Leaving the EU does not, and should not, mean that Britain should no longer deal with Europe.

Security / Peacekeeping

This one really is interesting, and has been banded around by all sides.

If the vote were to leave, would we be less secure than we are now, and would we really be threatening continental peace (that’s been in place “since the end of World War II”) and raising the spectre of war?
I genuinely don’t believe so. As a planet we’re more interconnected now than we ever have been, thanks in no small part to the medium I’m using right now – the internet.

Are there risks? Of course there are, and in its fragile state there is a very real possibility that a leave vote from Britain would threaten the stability of the entire EU, which is one are that does give me cause for concern, and Matteo Renzi’s comments resonated with me.
There are already issues in places such as Greece, Poland, Hungary where “right-wing” elements have established a clear foothold and making some concerning choices with regards to freedom of the press amongst other things.

We do still have NATO.
We already have wide-ranging intelligence-sharing agreements with countries throughout the world – would Europe overnight become an untrusted partner (and vice versa)? I find it hard to believe.
We do still have the negotiations to come – is there any sanity in Europe taking a hardline against a “post-leave” Britian, in order to make a point? I would suggest (and hope) not. Because, think about it, if the EU chose to take an intentionally hardline against Britain, to make an example of a Britain democratically choosing to leave the Union, would it not reinforce the notion (which I don’t currently share) that it is actually an abusive relationship, rather than something that wants to promote peace and prosperity within Europe?
Such action would certainly provide a counter-point to the assumption that Britain alone would be responsible for any fallout / instability / security concerns that arise as a result of a “leave” vote.

The Economy, Stoopid

I’m no economist. From what I can gather in my reading, there is also no single clear leaning that “an economist” would take – it’s all down to schools of thought and – in our current societal state – which school of thought the most people believe.

That’s why our economies are ultimately sustained on imaginary figures and confidence, as opposed to something you can see and feel. It’s partly why revelations and dawning realisation can result in cataclysmic market crashes. And it’s why “the markets like stability” and certainty, and conversely why they don’t deal well with relative unknowns.

And, ultimately, that seems to have been the biggest argument so far in favour of “remain” – why bother taking a risk? There will be some fallout, because a period of uncertainty would follow a “leave” vote, and no one knows how long that will last nor how severe it may be. Everything coming out of the IMF, ECB and various think-tanks was very non-specific – lots of reliance on prefacing statements with the word “could” as opposed to will. The same is true of the Brexiteers (“we could do all this!”) – the reality is no one knows, and I’d wager neither side is close to reality with their prophecies of economic doom or mega-prosperity. Much like the Scottish Referendum before it, whilst it’s easy to get carried away with the hope and optimism, the reality is that there will probably be a number of years of difficulty, before ultimately ending up no worse off than if we were remain a member.

TTIP has some pretty concerning elements and ramifications to it, not least in the way its discussions have been conducted.
The EU’s conduct over Greece (above) is questionable to say the least.

Opt-Outs and Ever-Closer Union

For all the stick David Cameron got for his “renegotiation” with Europe last time round, I actually believe a lot of what was negotiated was as good as anyone might have reasonably expected, even if much of it was more clarification on existing positions than anything groundbreaking. The firm opt-out of ever closer union is an important one, particularly given it cannot be backtracked on.

 

One question I came back to on this question was by changing it around – if this were a vote to join the European Union, would I do it? I’m not convinced I would. In that regard, is it therefore selfish of me to vote to maintain the status quo because it will be the easier, less risky option?

I’m probably more confused now than when I first started trying to put these thoughts down.

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