Europe in June

I really wasn’t going to put my foot into the EU Referendum debate, partly because others have framed the arguments far better than I could, and partly because life is just too fucking short to argue with people online, but I’ve found myself getting increasingly annoyed with the tactics of both the Leave and Remain campaigns, to the point at which I feel the need to rant in an opinionated, poorly-argued and badly-researched manner. So here we go.

Firstly, it seems to me that ‘leaving’ the EU is something of a misnomer. To my eyes, we’re not actually¬†in the EU in a proper sense. The Eurozone and the Schengen Area are two of the central planks of the EU project – a single currency and a single, borderless zone – and Britain belongs to neither of them. What we’ve done is negotiate certain benefits of membership of the EU, without actually being part of the project. Okay, those benefits come with other responsibilities – we pay a certain amount into the EU every year – but if we’ve managed to remain outside Schengen and the Eurozone it seems like scaremongering for the Leave campaign to assert that a monstrous Federal Europe is coming and that we will be forced to join it.

Secondly, most of the arguments on both sides seem to me to be clumsy sophistry. What it all boils down to is immigration – all that talk about taking back control of our borders (which we already control) and vast sums of money suddenly being available to build hundreds of new hospitals a year is just carrot-and-stick politics. And it seems to me that a certain kind of immigration is at the bottom of all this. No one has complained about French people, or Germans, or the Dutch, coming and working here. It’s about the countries of Southern Europe, about Romania and Bulgaria, the Balkan countries. The fact that Turkey’s membership of the EU – something which may not actually happen this century – has been trotted out as a bogeyman seems to support this. In this, the argument is only reflecting what I’m beginning to see as a schism between the wealthier Northern EU countries and the embattled nations of the South, the possible beginnings of a two-tier EU. But that’s another thing. The real urge to Leave is to wall ourselves off. Everything else is just noise. And anyway, if we wanted to negotiate with the EU from outside, the chances are we would have to accept a certain amount of EU migration as part of any deal, as Norway has to. So what have we gained?

Thirdly, the Government has just put us through one of the most savage periods of austerity the country has ever seen. Many thousands of people have suffered, and are still suffering. The need to tighten our belts and be ‘in it together’ has been used to justify cuts which have driven many people to the wall and some to the grave. In particular, the Social Services have been hacked away at, people with long-term illnesses have been assessed as fit to work in order to stop their benefits, and food banks have become a familiar feature of what is, apparently, the fifth largest economy on Earth. It occurs to me, if things are genuinely so bad, how is the country supposed to pay for the renegotiation of our trading terms with the EU and the rest of the world, should we leave? How many hospitals could that pay for? How many unelected Whitehall bureaucrats are going to be making decisions that will affect us all for decades hence? There will, if we vote to leave, be at least two years of negotiations. It could easily be much longer than that. By the time things shake out, the people now campaigning for us to leave could mostly be out of public life, unaccountable. If things do go pear-shaped, if the worst predictions of the Remain camp come true, do we really think IDS and Johnson and Gove and everyone else will put their hands up and say, “Sorry, my bad; got it wrong. We’ll sort it out.”?

Fourthly, a lot of the arguments for leaving the EU seem to come down to “I want to leave because the EU doesn’t let me do what I want.” This feels a particularly juvenile argument, a spit-the-dummy sort of argument. The rules of any organisation are not all going to suit everyone; we have to put up with that stuff in order to obtain the larger benefits. The only way membership of the EU would suit everyone here is if we were running it. And I’m not sure that hasn’t crossed certain people’s minds.

The truth is, we don’t know what will happen if we leave the EU. This is very much a test-case – no EU member nation has ever left before – and nobody knows what effects it will have. We will, of course, survive a Brexit, one way or another. The country won’t just dry up and blow away on June 24. We’ll either stride confidently into a golden future, as Leave tell us we will, or we’ll become a shattered economic eunuch, a global laughing stock, as Remain tell us we will. Or we’ll just keep bumbling along somehow, as we always do. Nobody knows.

There are legitimate arguments for leaving the EU – its abuse of Greece and other desperate, impoverished states, and its inability to address the refugee crisis beyond firewalling the North from the South and letting the South cope with it, show a tendency toward bullying, and I worry about where that might go in future – but I haven’t really heard those mentioned. All I hear are soundbites calculated to panic us into jumping in one direction or another, with very little attempt to give us reasoned arguments. Both sides are trying to stampede us. And that makes me angry.

I’m not going to debate this post – it’s just a rant and I neither want nor expect to persuade anyone to vote one way or the other. I’m not even going to tell you which way I’m going to vote. You’ll probably be able to guess – although there was a point not too long ago when I was so sick of the whole thing that I seriously considered not bothering. We live in a democracy, and this is a democratic vote. But for fuck’s sake don’t let yourself be stampeded.