The ABC of Leave
Posted on June 22nd, 2016
By Rab Bruce’s Spider
The EU debate has been truly appalling, with the Tories having dragged everyone else into their civil war. Neither side has made a proper case, with scare stories and invented financial estimates bandied around as if nobody is going to care whether there is any foundation to the figures. The media has gleefully kept the debate to an argument on immigration and those few politicians who have tried to make the positive case for the EU have either struggled badly to do so or have been given very limited time on a public platform.
So, when it boils down to choosing between two groups of arrogant, vindictive liars, which Tories should we side with? I’ve said before that, while I detest being on the same side as David Cameron and George Osborne, the alternative is even worse. But we shouldn’t bring personalities into this. None of the Tories heading either campaign will be around forever but the consequences of the Referendum outcome will last a long time, so we really ought to examine the claims of the Brexit mob quite carefully before accepting their vision of a Britain outside the EU.
First of all, I acknowledge, once again, that the EU is far from perfect and there are several aspects about it that I dislike intensely. However, the argument that we would be better off outside the EU boils down to three main areas. Let’s look at this A, B, C of Leave.
A is for the Amount the UK pays to the EU.
This has been claimed to be £350million per week, a figure which has been disproved since it takes no account of the UK Rebate nor the sums paid to the UK under schemes like the Common Agricultural Policy, Scientific Research, Investment in infrastructure, etc. When pressed, the Leave campaign will admit that the net figure of the UK’s contribution is around £10billion per year, which cleverly avoids comparison with the weekly figure they headline. For your information, £10billion per year is a little over £190million per week, or around 55% of the gross figure.
The claim from Leave is that even this £10billion could be better spent in the UK than on funding the EU. The NHS is usually cited as the main beneficiary of this although I have heard Brexit campaigners also say it could replace University Research funding, pay for infrastructure development and fund British industries. This money, it seems, will go a long way if you believe the promises of people who have formerly pledged to abolish the NHS.
But there is more. The thing with the contribution is that it gives the UK access to the single market. Without this, UK trade would suffer. The counter argument is that we could adopt the Norwegian model but those who claim this never mention that Norway actually pays a hefty contribution to the EU for access to the single market but has no representation within the EU while needing to adopt all EU regulations, including the free movement of people. So adopting the Norwegian model would save a very small amount of money but still leave us with the same requirements to meet EU trading standards and the free movement of EU citizens. That’s not much of an incentive, really.
The other argument is that the UK could adopt its own trading agreements with the EU and it must be admitted that there would certainly be a desire on the part of many in Europe to continue to trade with the UK. Again, though, what is never mentioned is that agreeing such trade deals takes several years. What happens in the meantime? Nobody really knows but it’s a fairly safe bet the economic outlook for those years will not be particularly rosy.
B is for Borders.
Immigrants are the great scare story. Despite several studies showing that immigrants contribute far more to the UK economy than they take out, they are still portrayed by Brexiters as the cause for all the problems ordinary people are suffering throughout the UK. This is nonsense. The reason people are suffering, businesses closing down and adequate housing being in short supply is the rule of a Tory Government in Westminster which is wedded to neo-liberal ideals and Austerity in public spending. People clearly see something is wrong but they are being directed by the likes of UKIP and a Right Wing Press to blame immigrants. Blaming outsiders is a common tactic in authoritarian regimes. It is being used by Donald Trump in America, that was used in the 1990s in Rwanda, in the 1930s in Germany, in 19th Century Russia and in many other places throughout history. It is, quite frankly, appalling that anyone should make a political decision based on hatred of people from a different ethnic or cultural background but that is essentially what Leave wants us to do.
The focus on immigration also ignores the fact that one of the basic principles of the EU is the free movement of people. Britons can, and do, travel and live all across the EU. It is this principle which has helped to ensure that Europe, a continent which spent hundreds of years in a state of almost perpetual war, has experienced seventy years of peace. That’s no small thing.
It is also worth mentioning that many of the so-called immigrants who are flooding into Europe are refugees from wars which the UK has not only supported but actively participated in, while doing the bare minimum to house any of the refugees it has helped to create.
C is for Control
We keep hearing we need to “Take Back Control" from Brussels. This is a cleverly-crafted bit of spin which appeals to the basic notion of self-determination and is used to berate supporters of Scottish independence who, it is claimed, don’t want to be ruled by Westminster but are happy to be ruled by the EU.
Of course, there is no real comparison between the two governing bodies. The EU does not dictate to the UK which countries to bomb or send troops to; it does not dictate that the UK must retain nuclear weapons and park them close to Scotland’s largest population centre; it does not dictate the UK’s position in other bodies like the UN or NATO; it does not set UK tax rates; it does not set UK Social Security Benefits; it does not dictate UK economic policies. I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea.
The rules the EU does set are principally around the single market and the issues of Human Rights, Workers’ Rights and Environmental matters. Those who want to take back control of these things are the very people who want to abolish them. That is hardly likely to be done with the intention of making life better for ordinary citizens.
We should also ask whether the UK does actually have laws imposed by the EU. The claim that around 60% of our laws are dictated by Brussels is simply nonsense. When you take Statutory Instruments into account (i.e. laws passed by Westminster Governments without debate in the Commons), the percentage drops to around 13% and, as mentioned, these are concentrated in specific areas of legislation. Even these laws are not really imposed. Analysis of votes in the European Parliament show that the UK has been on the losing side only around 2% of the time. If we are on the winning side 98% of the time, we can hardly claim we do not have an element of control.
And let’s not forget that, as mentioned earlier, we would need to abide by EU trade regulations if we wanted to trade with them at all, whether we are in the single market or not, so taking back control of that area would be impossible. Adopting the Norwegian model wouldn’t give us control over immigration either, since we would need to accept the free movement of people as a prerequisite of gaining access to the single market.
There is another spurious argument being touted by some in the Leave campaign. The example is the Scottish Government’s attempt to introduce Minimum Pricing on alcohol. This democratically decided issue has been overturned by the European Court of Justice. This sort of thing, it is implied, would not happen if the UK was outside the EU. It is, though, an incorrect argument. The courts are not the same as the EU Parliament. This law has been blocked by the vested interest of the whisky industry taking legal action. We may not like the outcome but we cannot confuse legal actions decided in the Courts with Parliamentary decisions. Even in the UK, the Westminster Government has had policies challenged in the UK Courts and been found to have acted illegally. The EU decision on Minimum Pricing is based on giving trade priority over people’s health. It’s not the decision we wanted but it is in keeping with the EU’s general policy of promoting free trade. It is an example of a legal ruling we don’t like but it is, by itself, no reason to quit the EU. Instead, the Scottish Government should challenge it on the issue of the Human Right to health but to do so means staying in the EU.
So that’s the three main areas the Leave campaign have based their arguments on and none of them really stands up to scrutiny. That’s not to say the EU is ideal because no large organisation ever is but the reasons we are being given to vote Leave simply aren’t good enough to convince me.