Friday, 24 June 2016

I Don't Love EU, But I Always Will

So the results are in, and they are not what many of us were expecting. We're constantly being told that social media is an echo chamber but I'm always shocked to what extent that appears to be true. While I was always acutely aware of the possibility of leaving, it felt remote. There was no possible way that it would actually occur - and yet it has. I had planned to write a post about how remaining is only the beginning, and we need to fully engage with the EU but that's obviously now a little irrelevant.

Understandably, considering the divisive campaigns, people are upset this morning. I've seen people angry that the decision was even given to us to begin with - and it's easy to empathise with that given the sheer amount of people who have complained about not being properly informed (albeit within my personal echo chamber). But the Conservative Government put this into their manifesto, and they enacted that manifesto promise. That's exactly what is meant to happen, and if people don't like it they shouldn't have voted for the Conservatives - although my echo chamber probably didn't.

Obviously of people feel like the campaigns were less than truthful, and worse than being less than truthful, that the leave campaign was designed to be divisive. That's a real issue, unfortunately, it means very little at this point.

It's clear that the economy is going to go through a tough period, the FTSE and the pound are both down, but also the Government will almost certainly change. Can Cameron and Osborne continue after both campaigned against this? In fact, Osborne's last ditch 'emergency budget' probably sealed his fate. All of this causes yet more uncertainty for markets to go haywire with. I hope that eventually things will recover, but the timeline for that is completely unknown.

Both Sinn Féin and the SNP have made sounds about independence referendums, and based on the ever increasing gap between Holyrood and Westminster I wouldn't be surprised if the latter does leave. There's now also the question of how the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland changes. If our exit leads to the dissolution of the UK then Cameron will certainly go down in history.

It's a quite incredible change. I've seen so many MPs say that this is a "wake up call" to the "political class", which is a frankly ridiculous statement. The entire job of an MP is to be in touch with their electorate, and they have consistently failed to do that within the last decade - and yet they're surprised when people vote against them. 

However, 'taking back power' - or whatever phrase you wish to use - can be a positive. It is true that by definition we now have more say in our political system, at least hypothetically. We could use this to really shake up politics and kill the apathy that seems so systemic, although it's difficult to see how the two sides of this debate can reconcile enough for invoke that change. It is pointless painting all of one side as 'racist', especially without listening to their problems, and likewise saying that anyone who wanted to remain didn't 'believe in Britain' is silly as well.

Democracy is the will of the people, and even where you don't agree with them you need to make it work. We can make this work. We can show Europe that even outside of the EU we can be an ally. I just hope that the campaigns haven't damaged relations too badly.

And we better get a bank holiday out of this.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Jumbled EU Ref Thoughts

So on my way home last night I watched both of the BBC's Question Time town halls about the referendum - one by Michael Gove for Leave, with Remain sending in the big guns with David Cameron. I thought I'd lay out my thoughts, but a forewarning I started writing this at 1:57am with Money in the Bank on in the background so I'm not sure how coherent they're going to be.

Question Time started with Exit, so I will as well. A lot of this is going to be less about whether I think leave is correct, and more about claims made by the 'Leave Camp' for now - I'll come onto whether I actually think there are valid reasons later on.

Michael Gove kept quoting that if we leave we can put another £100m into the NHS every week - what he doesn't say is that many experts fear the economy shrinking, so in effect that £100m isn't worth as much as it is now. Any savings would - at least in the short term - probably be wiped out because economies are fragile things. In fact almost the entire case from the official leave campaign seems to be based on empty rhetoric about how great Britain can be once again, and how the Remain camp doesn't 'beLEAVE' in the people of this nation - unfortunately that's flat out not how the World works.

Obviously there's the case that a lot of it is about immigration, but as Lord and Saviour David Dimbleby pointed out they've done very little about immigration they can currently control which makes up over half of the current total. If they can't stem that tide then will they really do much better with those from within the EU when they move to - presumably - the same system. It is true, however, that we will obviously have more control than we do now.

Gove also brought up the fact that the British rebate has been cut in the past - although as far as I'm aware the only time that's happened is when Blair agreed to give up part of the rebate for the period of 2007-2013. In fact the UK has a veto that could be used if ever reducing it was up for debate. We also have a veto over whether new countries join the EU - and the decision over Turkey in particular will not be taken by this Government, or the next. In fact it's difficult to see exactly when Turkey will end up joining - if ever. I'm fully with Cameron when he described it as a red herring.

There was also repeated talk of paying for the crumbling eurozone - and while that's true in the past there's now agreements in place that that will no longer happen going forward.

I feel like it's also important to stress that the EU Act 2011 means that any significant shift in powers from the UK to the EU would trigger a further referendum. When there was a referendum for the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland it narrowly voted against (47 - 53%), so their Government renegotiated on behalf of the country and the new proposal passed (67 - 33%). Democracy in action, no? So all of the possibilities about getting dragged into the Eurozone, or the Schengen Area against our will are just fantasy.

On the other hand my main problem with the Remain campaign has actually been consistent throughout, and not so much during Question Time but definitely before. People voting for leave are not automatically racist. Say it again, and then again. Telling people to vote to remain because at the moment they're on the same side as Nigel Farage is not a good enough argument. Personal attacks against Farage, Gove, and Boris are not going to help - and in fact it probably only plays into their anti-establishment rhetoric. Tackle the issues, not the people.

Equally in the event of a leave vote immigration wouldn't just halt like some are suggesting. Other countries do just fine using points based systems - I just think some of the reasoning behind why the leave camp want such a system is dodgy.

I really feel like from an economic standpoint everything points to Remain. We'd likely enter another recession, although whether that would happen anyway is debatable. Combined with the fact that negotiating trade deals is not as easy as the leave camp is making it sound, they take years. As Michael Dougan, a professor who specialises in the EU, says many countries may wish to wait to see what kind of deal we strike with the European Union before they enter into negotiations with us and the British Civil Service probably don't have the capacity to renegotiate all our current trade deals at once.

Continuing with the economy, Leave keeps on hammering home that we're the 5th largest economy in the World - which is totally true. But we managed to achieve that within the EU. Pre-EU we were not. So it depends on whether you think our economy can survive outside of the market that helped build it. Experts seem to suggest it would be tough.

So the real issue is sovereignty, or power, or whatever you want to call it. It is true that the British Parliament is technically sovereign - at the end of the day what they say goes. The only reason the EU has the illusion of power over the British Parliament is because we agreed to it. However, EU law does to certain extent 'override' UK law even when those in Westminster do not want it to. The EU have seemed somewhat worryingly powerful when it comes to pretty much ignoring the wants of the Greek people. And in a worrying betrayal of my own ideals I have no defence for that - other than 'it won't happen to us', and the Greeks aren't totally blameless here.

Even the immigration debate boils down to the fact that the UK Government have no say on their own policy on those coming into the country. What that argument lacks, however, is an understanding of the fact that to join the Single Market we'd have to continue to subscribe to free movement which is why the German Finance Minister is saying there would be no Single Market access for the UK if we did withdraw. Michael Gove's defiance that there will be basically no extra hoops to jump through while maintaining all the benefits doesn't really add up.

Another legitimate argument to leave from my point of view is the TTIP. If the European Union doesn't want to be seen as some evil, shadowy figure overseeing nations then its handling of the TTIP - and the fact it even wants it in the first place - is pretty much the worst idea its had. The only saving grace the fact that it may not be passed. Personally I'm not convinced that Britain wouldn't sign up to it anyway upon leaving the EU, but that's entirely conjecture based on previous actions of this particular Government whereas the EU are pretty actively going for it.

I've seen a few people talk about how the problem with the EU is its effectively just a large trading zone and it will put economic interests first (such as the TTIP) but on the other hand people argue that there's far too much red tape when it comes to pesky human rights legislation. The ECHR is technically separate from the EU (which has its own court in the ECJ) but its also a prerequisite to any EU membership so the distinction is pretty irrelevant. Personally, I like the human rights afforded to me by the EU. While thinking about it like "leaving would give the Tories more power" - which I have been guilty of - is silly I do think its legitimate to say that you enjoy the checks put in place by the ECHR and the ECJ. Besides, the UK has often ignored ECHR rulings when they're not favourable as they don't actually have any real power (prisoner voting).

On balance I'll be voting to remain in, but please choose your side - and do not let stupid arguments change your viewpoint unless they actually challenge them.