Sunday, 26 June 2016

European Union - After The Storm

Oh! This was just a mistake!
It's now clear that Cameron's decision to try to shut up the minority of Europhobes in his own party and head off UKIP with a simple in/out referendum on Britain's EU membership was a monumental political blunder; a blunder possibly worse even than Eden's decision to invade Egypt and occupy the Suez Canal almost 60 years ago. It was a gamble that has ended his political career and may well lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom as Scottish independence is now very much on the cards.

The result has already wiped £200 billion off the value of UK shares - some 20 years EU contribution - caused Sterling to fall to it's lowest level for 30 years, relegated Britain from the fifth to the sixth largest economy and caused credit agencies to downgrade our credit worthiness.

Cameron's preparation for leadership appears to have been to join the Bullingdon Club at Oxford - a gang of arrogant but well-connected trustafarian posh boys whose idea of a good night out was to get outrageously drunk on very expensive wine, smash up the restaurant and have sex with a dead pig. His antipathy to ASBOS could well be because his old club had one serve on it.

He may well go down in history as one of Britain's most disastrous Prime Ministers, rivaling that of Lord North whose indolent incompetence is blamed for Britain losing the American colonies. As Michael Portillo was quick to point out, the last Queen's Speech showed that he was simply occupying the post because he felt entitled to. Having got it, he didn't know what to do with it so the program for this parliamentary term was basically to do nothing. For Cameron, it was always about holding office, not using it. His incompetence and political naivety may well have caused the breakup of the United Kingdom!

The general shock, not only in Europe and the rest of the world but in Britain itself, at the result probably betrays a confused and maybe cynical rather than a genuinely anti-EU electorate. Even many of those who voted to leave are now expressing regret and claiming that they didn't realise what it would mean. Just about every economist warned that Britain would be irretrievably weakened by leaving the EU yet these were dismissed as 'just experts'. An opinion poll taken just two days ago now shows a majority in favour of remaining in the EU!

It's becoming clear that many who voted to leave did so as some sort of protest vote, not believing their vote would make any real difference. An electorate conditioned to think in terms of our first-past-the-post electoral system had got used to the idea that a protest vote hardly ever changes the result - hence the 'success' of the Monster Raving Looney Party and other fringe joke or single-issue parties. This is the country that, in 2002 elected a man dresses as a monkey whose only policy was free bananas for schoolchildren, as the mayor of Hartlepool, and recently voted for 'Boaty McBoatFace' as the name for a weather ship. In this referendum however, with it's simple binary vote and the total national vote being the result that mattered, there were no neutral 'protest' votes to have a bit of fun with. Some of the Brexiteers might have looked like jokes but there were no joke candidates. Voting against the establishment; voting for the 'naughty' option, was a vote to leave the EU. The winning margin of just under 1.3 million could well be accounted for by people who didn't expect their vote to make any difference but who wanted to make some sort of point about the state of politics in general.

The 'promises' that were made by the Leave side were repeatedly shown to be lies and misrepresentations and yet it was the warnings that were waved aside, not the lies. And now the people who made them are backpedalling furiously. Within minutes of the result being know, Nigel Farage was on TV to tell the nation that what had looked like a promise to spend the '£350 million a week' that we 'send to Brussels' on the NHS instead was actually a 'mistake'. Now there's a surprise! None of the leading Europhobes had any record of support for the NHS and several have been openly hostile, even calling for it to be privatised, yet voters appear to have believed that these people had had a damascene conversion and now couldn't wait to shovel loads of money into it.

Within a day, Conservative MEP and Europhobe, Dan Hannan was explaining that despite the impression we might have 'accidentally' been given, we would see no change in immigration and that those who expected it to come down will be 'disappointed'.

If reports are to be believed, since the result, there has been a massive increase in people in the UK searching Google for information about the European Union. Were there actually people who voted who didn't know that they were voting about? A campaign full of disinformation and downright lies from the Leave side, only being countered by 'establishment' politicians and assorted experts probably added to the general belief that things were awful inside the EU and could only be better outside it.

We have suffered decades of disinformation about the EU with the subject of comedy programs such as Yes Prime Minister being confused with real EU regulation - straight bananas, British sausages, British beer about to be banned. Genuine regulations (not directives) concerning the grading of, for example, cucumbers, was presented as insane directives from the European commission. It is one thing for the Commission to set common standards for grading which can be understood by producers and retailer alike, with Grade 1 being straight; it is quite another for the Commission to direct that cucumbers must be straight. Guess which was the real situation. Now guess what many people believed from what they read in the Europhobic press.

During the campaign it was claimed that EU laws account for almost 65% of UK Laws. This is only anywhere near true if you count up every EU regulation, such as what counts as a Grade 1 cucumber, and equate them with major pieces of legislation such as that reforming the NHS a few years ago. EU regulations are almost wholly concerned with the regulation of trade between member states, covering such areas employment conditions (so that poor employers can't gain an advantage over good employers), consumer protection, environmental protection, agriculture and fisheries. They have little or no impact on criminal and family law, the NHS, welfare and social security or education.

This disinformation added to the impression that somewhere in Brussels was a shadowy bunch of unaccountable, insane bureaucrats simply making laws for the sake of it and exercising power without responsibility. In practice, of course, none of these regulations or directives are issued without the scrutiny of the elected European Parliament, to which the commission is also accountable. This is exactly the same situation as we have in the UK where the government is not elected by democratic vote but is selected by the Prime Minister - and ministers don't even have to be elected MPs! The Government is accountable to our elected representatives in Parliament, just as the EU Commissioners are accountable to the elected European Parliament.

But, when there was an attempt to make the EU more democratic a few years ago with the Lisbon Treaty, there was general outrage in the Europhobic press and the political right - the same people who campaigned for a UK exit because the EU isn't democratic! For some reason, electing a European President was presented as undemocratic! In practice, of course, these right-wing vested interested did not want an elected president with all the power a popular mandate would have given him or her.

The EU is by no means perfect and has probably made mistakes. Bringing in so many former Soviet states from Eastern Europe so quickly was probably one of these mistakes but, given the situation they then faced with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic collapse of their main trading partner, Russia, this was understandable. It might have been better to restrict emigration from these countries until their economies have been brought up to a sufficient standard.

But the EU is reformable! Had Britain played a more active role in Europe instead of looking for exemptions and special deals and still heckling from the sidelines, we might have been able to influence and drive those reforms. As it is, we can only now stand and watch. If we have access to the Single Market we will have to stand and watch as others make the rules for us, no longer accountable to our elected representative. Maybe, in another generation, when people again realise as they did in the 1970s that Britain is no longer a great power in the world, that flag-waving and jingoistic slogans don't produce wealth, that we need Europe more than Europe needs us. Of course, like other entrant states, we will have to meet the entry requirements, one of which might well be adopting the Euro as the national currency.

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  1. I totally agree with everything in your post. When I realized the result was to leave (I stayed up all night) I was stunned at first, then sad, then angry to the point I wished the UK to fall of a cliff, and now fearful. I am a Dutch national, living in the UK since 1995. I have no idea what is happening next. I'm thinking of going back to the Netherlands, I just feel not welcome any more.

    1. In the UK, 'immigrant' tends to be synonymous with 'Asian' - which of course has nothing to do with the EU - so some people will have voted against Islam rather than against the EU. UKIP's disgraceful final campaign poster actually showed Middle Eastern refugees supposedly queuing up to enter Britain as 'immigrants'.


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