As I see it, there were three possible stances for the UK’s referendum:
- the EU is cool,
- the EU is broken, but we’re better off fixing it from the inside,
- the EU is broken, so we’re better off getting out.
Personally, I think that the first option just doesn’t hold water. Take the election of Jean-Claude Juncker, or of his successor Ursula von der Leyen. One might ask the questions, of either of them, how many votes did they get in their election, or who stood against them, or how many votes they got. All reasonable questions, but their answers are less comfortable, if you’re the EU. You see, they were appointed. No elections, instead a consensus among the main members of the EU. A nod, a wink…
Or, you could look at the financials – even assuming that you get over a trade bloc having a financial policy. You could quite easily justify the existence of the Eurogroup – a committee of the finance ministers of those countries which have adopted the Euro. But why are its meetings held in private? Are these people not servants of the public? And, why have meetings included countries who do not use the Euro?
Or, the way both the Parliament and the Councils of Ministers work. Supporters of the EU like to argue that it is democratic. Which is true, if your democracy limits you to a simple binary choice – accept or reject. But these people are not allowed to propose their own words, or to amend somebody else’s words – just a straight yea or nea. When you next see your MEP, ask them what legislation they ever proposed.
Or, that some parts of the EU are more represented than others. More represented? Some parts of the EU has as many as 10x the number of representatives than others. You don’t understand how MEPs work, they say, but regardless, they are the only people we are allowed to elect. So they should reign supreme. If not, then something is wrong from the outset.
So, if I meet people who argue this, then I’m likely just to move on, as I don’t think we’ll be productive discussion. My bar for what I consider to be “democracy” is very different to their’s, so that probably explains why we’re just on different pages.
Either of the other two options is reasonable, people could quite justifiably have voted In or Out, so I’m not going to bash people whichever way they voted. In that respect it is very much like a personal relationship with problems – some couples choose to try and make a go of it, other couples go their separate ways. It’s impossible to say that one course is correct, and the other wrong, unless you happen to be on the inside. Furthermore, as I was growing up, the EU (or the European Economic Community, as it was then) quite happily split all the main parties down the middle. Tony Benn, on the left, and Enoch Powell, on the right, quite happily campaigned for a No vote in the 1975 referendum.
Other Labour stalwarts such as Michael Foot also came out against. These were honourable men, so it is particularly disappointing to hear the Labour Party of today, and its supporters, talk as if every Brexit supporter is a mindless racist.
So, given that both of these views are esentially saying that the EU could and should be improved, I think the question becomes “how likely is this to happen?”.
I’ll freely admit that it would be nice to think we can change things, but I concluded that it would not happen. Even David Cameron proposed reforms which were tiny by comparison, and was told tht there was no appetite to reopen the treaties. This “negotiation” was a pre-cursor to the referendum. Nothing changed.
So I supported Brexit. In fact, it turns out that my view is slightly similar to that of Tony Benn, on this issue at least. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of his views, because they’re probably plastered over YouTube. Broadly, he was against on the grounds of democracy, citing some of the points I’ve already mentioned. And nothing to do with immigration. If commentators tell you that our vote was anti-immigration, it wasn’t – not for all of us. Where Benn and I differ is that he believed in the sovreignty of Westminster, where I think that it needs sorting every bit as much as Brussels. I have no preference where I’m governed from, as long as it is open and fair. In fact, I see leaving the EU as a start-point toward all-round reform, not an endgame in itself. In fact, I believe (you might have guessed) that the single most important issue that we face is electoral reform, even Brexit is sub-ordinate to that. But in 2016, I was asked for my opinion specifically on the EU, so I gave it.
So let’s think it through. Democracy is important to me, but things like immigration aren’t, in fact I very much like being in a diverse community. Also, the standards enforced by the EU, for the most part, protect things (and people).
So if I look, say, at the Irish border question, I can see that there is a border there already for many things, a line where if you step one foot either side, different rules apply. Today. Things like laws, taxes, currency. The two big exceptions post-Brexit will be goods and people. But I’m happy with homogeneous standards, and with freedom of movement, so neither of these bothers me. If anything, I can see a relaxation of standards more likely to come from the UK rather than from the EU, so Ireland should probably be wary of dodgy British imports!
For people who do consider immigration an issue, then I foresee a problem. How do you keep people out without a hard border? Possibly, you let people in, but you restrict services such as health care and social security, or even employment. Much of this exists already, but in a half-baked form. To do this properly, you need to check people’s identities, so you’re possibly talking about Identity Cards once again. What a banana skin that was for New Labour, only ten years ago! Plus, of course, you still have all these people running around the countryside so, if it is merely their presence to which people object, the problem still exists.
So simply “wishing” for there to be no border, as I’m hearing from the Brexit negotiators, is not enough, not if Brexit was driven mainly by immigration, as we’re told.
Equally, I don’t see return to the “Troubles” (we British have a wonderful knack of trivialising things) is a foregone conclusion either. This is only one possible outcome, of many. I think the Good Friday Agreement is something of a fudge, but the numbers who voted for it showed clearly to me that both Irish and Northern Irish people were fed up with war. So I think it was a relatively small number of people who were responsible for all the violence. But then, that is usually the case, in any conflict. And there are still conflicts.
Anyway, I want to wrap this up as we’re getting a bit long. I just wanted to quickly add a couple more things – first, that because of Brexit, I allowed my membership of the Green Party to lapse. As I’ve already said, I see nothing wrong with people holding a view either for or against, and a party should accommodate this. But the Greens are overtly pro-EU, and every time they say this, it makes me uncomfortable. There are honourable reasons for supporting Brexit, reasons that are about our fundamental representation, so why aren’t the Greens saying anything?
Very lastly, I just wanted to deal with a couple of issues very quickly. For me, economics comes a firm second to democracy – I think you sort your foundations first, then worry about the rest of the house. So economic arguments don’t sway me.
And, I think I made my mind up about the EU in about 1990 (Maastricht), so to now claim that the result was null and void because of overspending, or dodgy Facebook campaigns, in 2016 is not something I take seriously. I wouldn’t particularly mind another referendum per se – except that if it asks the same question again, then my 2016 opinion will have been ignored. That basically says that there’s no point in ever voting again, because we’d just ignore it, or keep having more votes until we got the right answer.
Plus, I haven’t heard a peep from the EU about how it is improving itself for the people of Europe, even since the referendum.