by Stuart Littlewood
With a week to go, the UK’s referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU (European Union) is finely balanced and, some pollsters say, leaning towards ‘Leave’. This has caused consternation in the marbled corridors around Westminster.
The gruesome assortment of self-appointed ‘champions’ on either side of the argument enjoy scant respect, have no entertainment value and are not the sort of people you would ever consider buying a used car from, let alone an economic future. The British public have quickly become bored with their unconvincing threats of hardship and disaster for households, businesses and public services if they vote this way or that. It is a time for honesty and truthfulness but these basics are in very short supply and everyone knows it.
American readers will not be surprised to hear that Obama’s intervention was counter-productive. He arrived to tell us the US wants Britain’s influence to grow, including within Europe. “The UK is at its best when it’s helping to lead a strong European Union. It leverages UK power to be part of the EU. I don’t think the EU moderates British influence in the world, it magnifies it.”
If we left the EU, he warned, we would go to “the back of the queue” for US trade deals. Well, that went down like a lead balloon. No-one I know would touch deals like TTIP with a barge-pole. And his back-of-the-queue insult will not be easily forgotten.
The UK has paid £500 billion into the EU since joining in 1973. That may be small beer in US terms but it’s an eye-watering sum to the British taxpayer. What do we get out of it? Who benefits? No honest answers are available. When I lived in the Huntingdon constituency I regularly pressed my MP (John Major in those days) for a Profit & Loss account of our EU membership. But I never received one. I suspect the figures are so insane they can’t be published.
Right now the official position of all parties – Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) – is to remain ‘In’. Except UKIP (UK Independence Party) naturally.
Prime minister Cameron, having failed to win any worthwhile adjustments to our membership terms, is pushing for ‘In’ and stands accused of misusing Government resources to spread alarm and despondency among those inclined to leave. Only a short time ago he was hinting that he’d be willing to lead the country out of the EU. Then last week, seeing the polls and terrified of losing, he extended the deadline for voter registration by 48 hours in the hope that more young people (who are likely to favour remaining ‘In’) will participate.
The parading of half-truths, make-believe forecasts and downright lies from business leaders, economists and think-tanks is nonstop, with new confections nearly every day. Most of them have a selfish perspective and many got it badly wrong over the Euro and the ERM (European Exchange Rate Mechanism), so why would anyone believe them now?
A frequent claim is that the EU has kept the peace. The evidence is that EU states haven’t, while the EU itself shows definite warmongering tendencies and is especially fond of slapping sanctions (i.e. declaring crippling economic war) on nations outside the EU it doesn’t like. Shamefully it still rewards Israel with preferential trade and research for its never-ending war of aggression, brutal occupation and dispossession against the helpless Palestinians.
Labour’s new leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a long-time opponent of the EU but now supports it for the sake of party unity and to appease the movement for socialist solidarity across the continent. It is one of several U-turns this individual has made since rising to prominence on a popular surge of hope for cleaner politics.
Up here in Scotland there’s the same closing of ranks by politicians with the added twist that the dominant SNP craves the clammy embrace of the European Union while ceaselessly agitating to split from the UK. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is threatening a second referendum on independence from the UK (having lost the first) if the rest of Britain dares to leave and drag Scotland out of the EU against its wishes. For months she was promising to make the positive case for staying in the EU and has finally come up with this:
- The EU is all about independent countries not giving up their independence but choosing to work together for the benefit of all, co-operating on issues like peace and security, increasing trade, creating jobs and ensuring workers’ rights are protected throughout Europe.
- No one country can deal with global issues like climate change alone.
- We live in a globalised world. People study and work and interact across borders. Therefore independent countries have to work together.
Ms Sturgeon has a curious concept of independence. Member states of the EU are not independent. They are bound by a web of complex rules, regulations, directives, laws and obligations. They are severely limited in the way they can act.
After 40 years of EU we are still impoverished
Before the EU came about people of good character were perfectly able to study, work, travel and interact across borders. Furthermore co-operation on climate change, peace and security is perfectly possible without being shackled to a political and economic union. And claims that if we leave we automatically kiss goodbye to the gains made by the EU in such things as environmental protection and workers’ rights, are pure nonsense.
As for creating jobs and developing trade, the UK is hamstrung by membership of the EU and prevented from maximising her world trade opportunities and protecting key industries at home. Such heavy reliance on business with the EU cannot be wise. In 2015, the sale of goods and services to the EU accounted for 44% of total UK exports. This share is dwindling and has fallen by more than 10 percentage points over the last 15 years.
At home we seem to exist entirely for foreign multinationals and their shareholders to wipe their feet on, thanks to EU procurement rules that make it difficult if not impossible to re-generate our industrial base. For example, 600 new fighting vehicles for British forces will be mostly built in Spain using Swedish steel. Foreign corporates continue to cash in on the offshore wind energy bonanza, leaving just a few crumbs for British enterprise. And if TTIP, the trade deal EU bureaucrats have been hatching with the US behind closed doors, is nodded through we can expect much worse.
Meanwhile ‘In’ campaigners insist that for every £1 we put into the EU we get £10 back. Specifically we put £116 per person per year in and get £1225 out, they say. But we remain impoverished. After 4 decades of being in the EU, and trading with the EU, the UK is £1.7 trillion in debt and the combined debt of the EU is 10.3 trillion euros. How does this magic money-tree work? It doesn’t. Many believe the whole EU enterprise is about to crash and it’s time to get out.
And there are other self-serving interests at play. A Green Party activist wrote to tell me she saw the benefits of EU membership on a daily basis and proudly announced she was on her fourth maternity leave. Not only was she assured of a basic income and a return to her job but she had been invited to apply for promotion while on leave. Her cushy benefits would be at risk if we were to quit the EU so we must all sacrifice our sovereignty to preserve these and other employment perks. It struck me that a spell of self-employment might give her a much needed grip on reality.
So what happens next week if the UK votes ‘Out’? No-one has painted a picture of how we reach the sunny uplands outside the confines of the EU. Consequently very few of our political elite have earned enough credibility to steer a course to prosperity. The big fear among EU stooges is that ‘Brexit’ could have a domino effect, encouraging other disgruntled EU countries to leave and form a simple free trade area, as originally conceived, and to hell with political union.
If the verdict is ‘Out’ the next challenge will be to ensure we really do break free in spite of the Establishment’s desire to cling on. Cameron will have to go (he says he won’t) and someone more trustworthy invited to lay out a programme with none of the constraints that have held us back for so long.