Tuesday, 23 February 2016

#EUReferendum - Why I'm Voting #Leave

I have finally decided. The truth is, in my heart, I'd decided a while back, but I was prepared to change my mind. I can't see that anything much will change it now. I will vote to Leave the EU in the forthcoming referendum. My reasons for doing so are summarised as follows.

Cameron's 'Renegotiation'
I have sung the praises of the PM since he attained that office, and have generally considered him to be doing a pretty good job under fairly unpleasant circumstances. It was always going to be difficult for him to try and reduce public expenditure and balance the books with a Labour Party sore from election defeat and retreating loudly into its comfort zone. It was difficult for him to fend off Alex Salmond's SNP in the march for Scottish independence. It was difficult for him to stay in coalition for 5 years with the Liberal Democrats, who have more in common with Labour than the Tories. It was difficult for him to win a Parliamentary majority fighting against a stacked electoral system. But he managed it all.

However, on the subject of his 'renegotiation' with the EU, I have to say he has disappointed me. Cameron's problem is that he has never really hidden the fact that he is a Europhile. He believes in the EU, he thinks the UK should be a member, and there aren't really any circumstances under which he would recommend leaving. Everyone in this country knows it, and everyone in Brussels knows it.

Consequently, he had no leverage in the negotiations. He had no threat to bring to bear on them, no consequences that he could make them suffer. No Ace in the hole, no King up his sleeve. He went in from a weak position, prepared to accept almost anything the EU offered him.

The Not-So-'Special Status' Deal
Because of this, the so-called 'special status' that we have been offered by the EU is no such thing. It is weak, changes virtually nothing, and is little more than window-dressing. It doesn't address the problems of immigration from the EU bloc, it doesn't address better border controls, it doesn't restore sovereignty over taxation, benefits, agriculture, fisheries, working time regulations and the other myriad areas of policy where the EU has influence or even veto. What little it does offer is not guaranteed - it must be approved by the European Parliament after a 'Remain' vote, and Brussels have undertaken to work it into the next Treaty, whenever that comes along.

Lack of Trust
Quite simply, I do not trust either the European Parliament, nor the other heads of state/government in the other EU states, to approve our so-called 'special status'. The EU dealt with referenda in Ireland, France and the Netherlands, which rejected the EU Constitution, by ignoring them, and putting the Constitution into effect via the Lisbon Treaty anyway. It dealt with Greece's attempt to relieve the country from penury by withdrawing liquidity funding, threatening ejection from the Eurozone and finally forcing it to accept yet more crushing austerity which the Greeks have not voted for, but which the Germans deem necessary.

I wouldn't trust the EU and its elite clique of Commissioners and officials as far as I could throw them, precisely because they have proven themselves to be untrustworthy in the past.

This is the biggie, really. The elephant in the room which no one wants to talk about. Sovereignty is thus: the concept that a free people ought be able to govern their own nation in their own interest. The EU has changed so dramatically over the years, has expanded its influence so far beyond its original mandate, that the United Kingdom is no longer a sovereign entity. We can no longer govern our own nation without the permission of the EU.

We require the EU's permission before we levy taxes (or not), before we change benefits payments, before we sign trade agreements, before we modify farming and fisheries regulations, before we modify financial services regulations. In huge areas of policy, the EU holds sway. It is utterly ridiculous that we need the consent of the Polish Government before we change our benefits system. We would not expect the Poles, or the Romanians, or the French, or the Germans, or the Italians, to seek our permission on what they ought to spend their taxpayers' money.

I would have been prepared to vote to Remain, if Cameron had managed the repatriation of significant powers from the EU: to allow us to introduce or abolish whatever taxes we see fit, and at whatever level, and to spend such revenue on what we consider without their approval, subject only to necessary contributions to fund EU institutions. However, we have nothing resembling that.

I suspect that this will chime with many, the issue of identity. Humans are tribal creatures at heart: we are not solitary animals, but prefer to live in groups. Most of us cling to a common identity because we need a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves: a group, a football team, and especially a nation.

The word that rolls off my lips when someone asks where I am from is, of course, England. It is a deep, instinctive, primal feeling, and I am happiest in the world when returning back to my homeland. There is nothing that compares to seeing the white cliffs of Dover, stark against the morning sky, the waves of the Channel crashing at their base, or the rolling fields of the shires stretching into the far distance, etched with silver rivers gleaming in sunlight, or the mysterious snow-topped caps of the Pennines and the Lakeland fells. England is my home, and my land.

But there is another identity which is a second love, a comforting warmth in a lonely world, and that is that England is part of a greater union of nations with whom it shares a common history, language, culture and ancestry. I am speaking, of course, about the United Kingdom.

That is my Union. The English have far more in common with the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish (even the Southerners!) than we ever will with the French, the Germans and the Italians. That isn't to say those nations are alien to us - they are still part of the same Western civilisation, but they are sufficiently different for me to be suspicious about a political union with, or between, them. I don't think us being in an artificially constructed and centrally imposed union benefits either the British, or the French, or any of the other nations of the EU.

Lack of Solidarity
The EU is a dysfunctional construct. It's not just imperfect, it is, in its current form, conceptually and fatally flawed. It was constructed based on the premise that the peoples of Europe would, given sufficient prodding by their lords and masters, abandon their national identities in favour of a common European identity and progress seamlessly to a federal United States of Europe.

Except this hasn't happened, because when it really comes to the crunch, neither the peoples of Europe, nor their masters, are really prepared to ditch national identities which have been bred into them over generations.

Consider when the Berlin Wall came down. Germany had been torn in twain at the end of World War II, the Eastern half occupied by the USSR, the Western half by the Americans, French and British. The Western half was, over a period of decades, rebuilt into a functional, free democracy. The Eastern half was imprisoned in poverty, a satellite state of a Communist dictatorship. When the Wall came down, East Germany was facing abject ruin - as a separate nation, it would have been all but bankrupt, needing huge international state aid and significant debt relief.

West Germany then did something utterly remarkable which transformed the fate of the former Soviet vassal - it unilaterally declared that it would treat the value of an East German Mark as the same as a West German Mark. In so doing, it instigated the most massive, comprehensive international bailout in history. East Germany was basically pulled from the edge of the abyss, because West Germany effectively guaranteed all of their debts and obligations. There was no referendum or debate over such an enormous measure, and the West Germans accepted this colossal burden without so much as a whimper. Conversely, when the East Germans received Western delegations to help organise their economy and harmonise it, implementing new rules, they did not demand new elections and veto rights. So why did two nations, separated by two massively different political ideologies and economic theories, suddenly put their differences aside and agree to get on?

Because they were both German.

The West had no problem in bailing out other Germans, because it felt a sense of kinship and solidarity with them, and likewise the East had no problem accepting instructions from other Germans, even though they arguably had no democratic accountability to the Eastern population. They were German, and that was enough.

Contrast this with the German treatment of Greece during its recent Eurozone crisis, and the Greek treatment of Germany. Did the Germans offer debt relief? No - they demanded austerity, for which the Greeks had not voted. Did the Greeks try to get their house in order? No - they demanded money from the Germans, with no control over how it was spent. On either side, there was no solidarity, no common spirit, no sense of joint enterprise. Just Germans on one side, and Greeks on the other. It demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the peoples of Europe hold their national identity far dearer than any concept of European solidarity.

That is why the EU, in its current form, will ultimately fail.

Intransigence and Irrelevance
This state of affairs has long been foreseen by British politicians, who have tried to steer the EU away from the centralised, top-down, quasi-Imperialist approach it takes. Margaret Thatcher argued for a Europe of nations, not a federal union. British opposition to the Exchange Rate Mechanism, the Eurozone, the EU Constitution, the principles of 'ever closer union', and the constant ratchet of power transference to Brussels have been continuously ignored and overruled.

The UK has been overruled more times than any other two European nations put together during our membership of the EU. Those who wish to Remain speak of our 'influence' at the top table... I can see very little influence. It seems that they ignore us, preferring a road to deeper integration which will only lead them to failure. The EU has demonstrated that it is unwilling to listen to us, and unwilling to change, even if such change would be to its own advantage.

I have had enough of the EU. My belly is full of their nonsense, and I can take no more of it. This Referendum is the first chance we have had in over 40 years to say whether we consider that this great folly should continue. We may never get another chance. There are risks to Brexit: a resurgent Russia would no doubt be pleased, we may strain our relations with our military allies at a time when we face a myriad challenges, and there are no guarantees that we could renegotiate favourable trading deals with either the EU or other countries such as China, the US and India.

To those fears I can only say that leaving the EU does not mean that we are abandoning our defence and security obligations, which would continue, and that we should make a concerted diplomatic effort to reassure our allies that we are not retreating from the world. As far as trade goes, I see no reason why we could not sign trade deals in our own right: we are the 5th largest economy in the world, and if current trends continue, we may soon become the 4th, or even the 3rd.

Now may not be the best time to leave the EU, but it may be the only chance we get. The risks of staying in exceed those of leaving. I'm out.

Final Point
As I have said, I intend to vote Leave. However, I would ask all my fellow Brits to consider that this referendum is shaping up to be a straight re-run of the Scottish Independence vote. I would therefore implore two things:
  • Don't make it personal. Most people in this country will come to an entirely logical, consistent, principled view that we should Remain in the EU, or that we should Leave. Having a different opinion does not make them a traitor, or a bigot. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, we will have to live together in the same land afterwards. Let's keep it clean;
  • Respect the outcome. One way or another, a lot of people will be incredibly upset with the outcome of the vote. If we find ourselves on the losing side, we must not throw our toys out of the pram, like the SNP are doing. They had their vote, they lost, but they will not give up on it. Let's let the referendum settle the issue, not prolong it indefinitely.

EU Mythbusting

So the date of the EU referendum has been set at June 23rd. And with a load of nonsense already starting to be spouted by various people, I thought it's time to apply the wrecking ball of logic to some of their statements.

1. If we leave, we'll have trade tariffs with Europe again - everything will be more expensive. Lots of jobs depend on the common market - they'll all be lost.
These arguments are both predicated on the assumption that if we leave the European Union, then we will also leave the European Economic Area (EEA), commonly known as the 'single market'. This is not the case. Our membership of the EU stems from us being signatories to the Treaties of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, which have now been effectively superseded by the Treaty of Lisbon. Our membership of the single market stems from us being signatories of the EEA Agreement, which is a completely separate Treaty. If we leave the European Union, it does not affect our membership of the EEA, which means there wouldn't be any tariffs, and our exports to the EU would not be affected.

The idea that we'll have capital flight because big manufacturers only base themselves here to access the single market is also nullified. We won't be leaving the single market - we'll be leaving the political union that sits on top of it.

2. Over 50% of our exports go to the EU - they'll be lost if we leave.
As discussed, our European exports are related to our membership of the EEA, not the EU - they are 2 different legal structures established by separate agreements. Our exports to the EEA would be unaffected if we left the EU. Furthermore, the 50% figure is somewhat misleading - 50% of our exports are routed through EU ports such as Rotterdam, but their ultimate destination is not the EU. These are often forwarded on to end destinations outside the EU. It is not fully clear what proportion of our exports are actually consumed within the EU.

Again, we could carry on using European ports by virtue of our continued membership of the EEA, or we could regenerate some of our own ports such as Hull, Liverpool, Glasgow, Middlesborough, Bristol and Grimsby - which were thriving port cities once, and could be again.

Finally, on the subject of exports, it is worth noting that we import far more from Europe than we export - in other words, even if the EU nations were minded to throw their dummies out of the pram and stop buying British goods (which would probably be illegal under international law anyway), their exports would be hurt more than ours.

Conversely, we export far more to non-European countries than we import. In actual fact, it would make more sense for us to be in a common market with the United States and the Commonwealth nations than it does with Europe.

3. Human rights laws come from Europe - if we leave, then those laws will disappear.
This is utter nonsense - England has human rights laws going back 800 years. The Magna Carta guaranteed basic rights, as did the Bill of Rights, and the concept of Parliamentary Sovereignty has limited the State's power to interfere with the individual's rights, except by the express permission of Parliament, chosen by the people. We have a long tradition of human rights laws which pre-date the EU by many centuries.

Furthermore, the current implementation of human rights law is in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998. Contrary to popular belief, this Act did not stem from legislation instigated by the EU, but is a domestic implementation of the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention is a Treaty - the EU is a political union. If we leave the EU, we are not leaving the Convention.

The UK was a major contributor towards drafting the Convention, and was the first state to ratify it in 1951, 23 years before we joined the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner to the modern EU. Our obligations under the Convention will not cease simply because we have elected to leave a political union bolted on top of it. To further highlight its difference, Russia is a signatory to the Convention, but is not a member of the EU, as with many other states.

4. The UK will break apart if we leave the EU.
This is based on the threat by the SNP to hold another referendum on Scottish independence if, in an EU vote, England voted to leave and Scotland voted to stay.

Firstly, it is worth noting that social attitudes in Scotland are far closer to those in England than the SNP would care to admit. True, Scottish support for the EU is higher than English, but the Scots are a sceptical folk as well. It wouldn't surprise me if Scotland voted to leave the EU as well.

Secondly, the SNP can make threats about another referendum as much as they like - and are likely to continue to do so, as Scottish independence is their sole reason for existence. However, the fact of the matter is this - the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal authority to hold a referendum in Scotland. That can only be granted by the Westminster Parliament. If they wanted another referendum, they would need to force a majority vote in the House of Commons. They would need Tory support for this, which is unlikely.

Thirdly, their demands for yet another referendum are unlikely to go down well in Scotland. Most opinion polls show little support for another bruising and divisive referendum - unsurprisingly, most Scots just want to get on with their lives.

Finally, even the UK voted to leave (it probably won't), another Scottish referendum was granted (highly unlikely) and then the Scots voted to leave the UK (also unlikely), Scotland would face the same situation as it would have faced post-secession before. It would no longer be a member of the EU, and highly unlikely to be welcomed into the fold under the same terms they currently have. They would have to go through a formal application process, be required to join the Euro and Schengen zones and have approximately the same representation in the EU Parliament as Malta. It would be required to maintain border controls with England, face a situation where its financial services industry has 80% of its customers living in a foreign country using a completely different currency, and be living through a period of very low oil prices at a time when its public finances would be heavily dependent on oil revenue.

Scotland leaving a UK outside the EU makes even less sense than Scotland leaving a UK inside the EU.

5. Cameron's renegotiation is a better deal.
Only by the narrowest of margins. The Prime Minister's 'renegotiation' allows 15 national parliaments to club together to block legislative proposals from the European Commission, allows us to reduce the level of benefits payments we make to foreign nationals, places an arbitrary and slight braking mechanism on the EU's profligacy and won't be written into Treaty. In other words, it's window-dressing.

The European Commission is the executive wing of the EU Government which is unelected and unaccountable. It shouldn't be allowed to propose legislation at all - better yet, it shouldn't even exist. Allowing 15 Parliaments to club together to defeat it simply reinforces our status as a federal province within a political union. National parliaments are little better than glorified local councils under EU rule.

Next is the proposal to reduce benefits. Ahem. Why do we have to pay benefits to foreign nationals at all? Why do we need the consent of the Polish Government before we change what British taxpayers' money is spent on? We wouldn't expect them to clear their spending plans with London, so why should we clear it with Brussels, Paris, Berlin or Warsaw?

The proposed brake on spending is fractional - the EU is highly profligate and this is unlikely to change. The best way of reducing our exposure to this profligacy is to leave it. Let the Europeans waste their own money if they want to, but they shouldn't be wasting ours.

And as the final insult, as trivial as these changes are, the EU isn't even prepared to codify them in a Treaty - which means that we just have a 'promise' from them. Like the 'promise' that no Eurozone state would ever have a deficit greater than 3%? Or the 'promise' that British taxpayers' money wouldn't be used to bail-out Eurozone states in trouble? Or the 'promise' that we would have a veto over deeper integration? Or the 'promise' that the EU wouldn't get a formal written constitution? Or the 'promise' that immigration would only be in the tens of thousands? In Britain, we have a word for 'promises' from the EU - we call them 'lies'.

Cameron's renegotiation is marginally better than our current position, but the difference is so slight as to be almost imperceptible, and the EU's leaders cannot be trusted to keep to their word.

6. If we leave the EU, France will change border controls back to Dover. 
Currently, we have an arrangement with France where UK Border Police are able to deploy to Calais, to prevent illegal immigrants entering the UK through the Channel Tunnel. However, this arrangement is not contingent on EU membership - it is a private bilateral arrangement between the UK and France. France's interior minister has also stated that the arrangement would not be affected if we left the EU.

The factor that is most likely to affect our border arrangements with France is a change of government in France, not our membership (or not) of the EU.

7. Leaving the EU will devalue the Pound!
In the short term, this is quite likely - but currencies fluctuate every day. In the event of Brexit, the currency markets would no doubt be a bit spooked, and we'd probably see a fall in the value of the Pound. However, we'd probably also see a similar fall in the value of the Euro, as the EU's second largest economy and largest military power (that's us) decides to go it's own way.

Either way, a drop in the value of the Pound would likely only be a temporary issue, and may actually work to our advantage. Part of our problem in exporting goods and services is that we have a strong currency, and therefore our exports are relatively expensive compared to competitors. A short term drop would probably be a welcome boost to UK exporters.

8. All of our European flights will get more expensive!
Difficult to say either way on this one. As discussed, there is no reason why leaving the EU should entail leaving the EEA, which is primarily responsible for the harmonisation of duties and tariffs on airline tickets. A temporary drop in the Pound could see overseas holidays spike, but the Euro would most likely suffer similar falls, so the exchange rate between the two may not be affected.

Either way, it doesn't make a huge difference. If people don't go to Europe on their jollies, they'll go somewhere else in the UK, and that's more money being spent at home. So the country as a whole would benefit. The only people that would lose out is the EU - as discussed, we're a huge export market for them. It would be irrational in the extreme for them to fall out with us.