We are screwed

Britain has voted for self-harm. That probably sounds like hyperbole but both economically and politically, the news today is bearing this out.

The pound has dropped to a 30 year low. The Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 (more commonly FTSE, or FTSE 100 or “Footsie”) fell 8.7% and recovered to 4.2% (as of this writing). Consider that ordinarily, a fall in half a percent is a significant event.

Scientists tell me their funding is partly or wholly from the European Union. Lawyers and accountants point out that much of their business relies on free access to Europe. I worry about the fate of my fellow healthcare professionals when 1 in 10 doctors and 1 in 25 nurses are from the EU. At a time when we need more, how are we going to fill those gaps? Pensions, savings, house prices all are at risk and the fruit of many lifetimes’ of hard graft will go to waste.

Economics though, is only part of the story.

Westminster
David Cameron has resigned and will step down in October. He is either a coward, naive or a naive coward. He is at best an average but more accurately a bad politician.

Against a weak Gordon Brown, he failed to achieve a majority in 2010, needing the Liberal Democrats to hold his hand. He used the Lib Dems as an excuse to tame the Tory right. In 2015, he managed only a pathetic majority of 12 against an awful Ed Miliband campaign, again thanks largely to the Liberal Democrat annihilation and the SNPs yellow-wash of Scotland, taking many Labour heartlands.

In light of UKIP success in the 2014 European elections, the Prime Minister called for this referendum. He much fanfare of a renegotiation with Brussels – though these changes were of importance, they were rather minor (and now irrelevant). After years of promising to bring migration into the tens of thousands, that Mr Cameron led the Remain campaign at all now seems utterly misjudged.

These vacuous promises undermined any chance of him running a pro-immigration campaign. He meekly said his renegotiation would lead to a reduction in migration, a laughable claim to even a casual observer. He tried to steer the debate towards economics but picked the most ridiculous claims, rather than sticking to the facts that were already stark enough.

Then, after the referendum result, at a time when Britain needs stability, he has run away. Even Conservatives and Leave supporters are glad to see the back of him – he epitomises what happens when average people are allowed to make difficult decisions. History may remember him as a man who destroyed Britain’s economy.

Scotland and Northern Ireland
Nicola Sturgeon has all but announced a second referendum on independence. Rightly so. Scotland voted to Remain. She will want to join the euro, a currency arguably more stable than the pound. This eliminates a primary argument against leaving. The economic security of British union is gone too.

As for Northern Ireland, the only path to prosperity seems to be remaining in the EU. The only way to do that is as a united Ireland. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic must be kept open. Customs officials and soldiers with guns will revive tensions that have largely though not completely been quelled. There may be a referendum there too it seems. It is not out of the question that will bring with it violence.

Jeremy Corbyn
“Spineless”, in the words of Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader. Labour MPs are currently working to remove him. He failed to share a platform with David Cameron until Jo Cox was shot dead. He failed to passionately make the case to stay in, meaning many Labour voters stayed home. His first real challenge as party leader, he has been an abject, abject failure.

Identity

Fundamentally though, this debate came down to immigration vs the economy. By the end of the campaign, Vote Leave largely avoided talking about the economy, Remain campaigners avoided talking about immigration. Britain chose, albeit by a whisker, immigration.

The poorest in Britain have been sold a lie. Immigrants have not made them poorer. Their impact on public finances is small and they are net contributors to the Treasury. They are also vital in aforementioned sectors such as healthcare – they tend to do jobs where the supply is low. Pressure in local areas can be mitigated by funding public services proportionally to the change in migrant population – this is a domestic issue, not an international one.

I always thought of this country as an open place. Yes, all places have problems with race and immigration. Much of the issue with migration is a belief that immigrants cause economic problems. But there is no doubt some of it is simply a desire to not have people who are different living near you. What is a British Asian man supposed to do about that?

As though trying to fulfil a stereotype, most shouts of “Leave” and “Out” were from white white van men and builders. Ironically, it is precisely these sort of services which will be hit. We have failed for decades to have a sensible conversation about immigration. We failed to do it in the campaign. We have failed to remain members of the EU.

There are many, many Leave voters who have legitimate reason for voting that way. Still, I cannot shake the feeling that there are Leave voters would be happy to see anybody who isn’t white and British gone as well.

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“No Black No Dogs No Irish” and other thoughts on the EU

I am scared of leaving the European Union.

A not insignificant number of my friends are Leave supporters. I have little doubt they genuinely believe leaving the EU will be of benefit to them. Whether their arguments are about sovereignty or the economy, they’re intelligent people who are appalled they are on the same side as Nigel Farage and George Galloway.

However, there is an undercurrent of fear of the other percolating Leave. Regardless of Boris Johnson opining his love of immigration or indeed that an Australian-style points system would lead to more immigration, much of Leave’s support comes from those who are scared that foreign people make things worse.

To a certain extent, I’m not making a logical argument. It’s that if a politics of populist fear succeeds, it paves the way for more. Fear of the other is the cause of your problems. We need less ‘other people’ and more ‘your kind of people’.

That was, when my parents came to the UK and my brothers grew up, the norm. The National Front were popular in the 1970s. Rivers Of Blood and “if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour” still echoed in the ears of immigrants. Even today, for 10 years David Cameron has espoused anti-immigration rhetoric that has now undermined anybody’s belief he supports any pan-European project.

I worry that that social progress will go backwards, even just a little bit. I don’t want to live in a country where that fear is stoked and where that is a legitimate way to win elections.

This referendum is for me whether Britain feels it wants me to be here. So I will campaign for Remain tomorrow. Largely, this will be genuine passion for the EU; partly though it will be out of fear.

 

 

Is it OK for Remain to mention Jo Cox?

For anybody who has been living under a rock in a cave that is underwater in Vanuatu, Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen in Leeds, was shot at a constituency surgery and later died from her injuries. She is the first sitting MP to have been killed since Ian Gow in 1990 who was murdered by the IRA.

She supported remaining within the European Union. This creates an issue – when is it OK for Remain supporters to mention her?

The late MP wrote an article advocating Remain and Britain Stronger In Europe – the official Remain campaign – shared this on their Facebook page. David Cameron then also shared this on Twitter.

What I’m about to say may sound flippant but it’s not meant to be – it is ridiculous to illustrate a point. Obviously, it would be offensive to produce and deliver leaflets with pictures of her and her children and with “Vote Remain or hate Jo Cox” or something similar.

What should we say?

David Cameron and Stronger In both have obligations to discuss Jo Cox. It would be bizarre not to mention an article she had written on the EU referendum. Clearly, Jo Cox wanted this article shared. Not only was it reasonable to do so, it was an obligation of both the campaign and the Prime Minister to ensure her voice was heard; indeed, it is the last time it ever will be.

However, “win it for Jo” is not OK. Voters should listen to the strength of her arguments, not the pang of grief at her death.

Claiming that one should not vote Leave because a proponent of Leave murdered her is also not OK. Whatever unpalatable statements Leave campaigners make, they are not murderers. To paint them as implicit accessories to such a tragedy cheapens Jo Cox’s death and unfairly denigrates those who simply believe something different.

I think when speaking to voters, Remain campaigners should concentrate on the issues. However, if Jo Cox’s death comes up, it is not unreasonable to mention she was a Remain campaigner. Campaigners should be careful not to guilt-trip voters into voting Remain nor should they labour the issue of her death.

It is sad that many voters have changed their minds on the basis that a Remain campaigner died but this does not affect the legitimacy of the result. All elections and referendums can be won and lost on events ultimately irrelevant to question at hand. It is rare the event is so tragic.

A simple(-ish) summary of Vote Remain

 

This is meant to be a simple summary of the Remain arguments and touches on some of the Leave campaign’s key points but is not supposed to be comprehensive.

Security

Lord Evans and Sir John Sawers, heads of MI5 and MI6 respectively until 2013 say leaving is a bad idea. The lack of a formal intelligence sharing agreement with the EU is irrelevant – we share lots of data which are key to many intelligence operations.

Ex-Met police chiefs Lord Condon and Lord Blair say the European Arrest Warrant speeds up the process of deporting European criminals (over 5000 2010-14) and extraditing British ones (675 2010-15). This includes failed 21 July London bomber Hussain Osman, extradited from Italy in 8 weeks.

Sir Richard Dearlove, who was head of MI6 until 2004, disagrees. However, he’s been a teacher since then so his views are out of date.

Border control

  • Britain is not a part of the Schengen area, the EU’s passport-free zone. As such, we have as much control over our borders, in or out of the EU.
  • The system of France and Belgium checking entrants to the UK before they come here – called juxtaposed controls – is indirectly threatened. That could see Calais migrants arriving on our shores as France and Belgium have less incentive to manage this problem for us.

Economy

This is difficult because Leave have made many different proposals. America, Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand‘s leaders have all supported Remain.

Some Leave campaigners argue Brexit would allow us to negotiate trade deals with Commonwealth countries more easily. The last four of the aforementioned countries are in the Commonwealth, support Remain and make up the lion’s share of non-UK Commonwealth GDP. It gives them access to the single market; a trade deal with the Commonwealth is best achieved through Remain.

(Leave also say we pay £350m/week (£18.7bn/year) to the EU, a claim for which the UK Statistics Authority have reprimanded them. Net, we pay £161/week (£8.3bn/year). This gives us access to the single market.)

Why does the single market matter?

It allows free trade with 440 million Europeans. This means British business can buy and sell in Europe without having to pay a tariff to do so. It also means regulation across Europe is the same.

Often, Leave campaigners cite this as ‘red tape’. However, it means with one set of regulations across Europe; if your product is legal in the UK, it’s legal  in the EU with no modifications. 44% of exports and 50% of goods exports from the UK go to the EU. That’s a massive part of trade to put at risk.

Won’t we just get another trade deal?

Vote Leave – the primary Leave campaign – say we would leave the single market. That would mean tariffs on British business of some description. Leave campaigners have proposed a variety of trade deals but if we do not negotiate within 2 years of voting to leave, we will have no trade deal.

Whilst the EU will want to trade with us, it also has an incentive to make things as painful as possible. Leave supporters argue the EU is undemocratic (to which I’ll come) and too centralised. Thus, on their own terms it makes sense that the EU will want to consolidate power by making Brexit a costly affair. British failure would make it less likely other members try and leave.

Immigration

A net 330000 immigrants came to the UK in 2015. Leave supporters argue for an Australian-style points system. Intuitively, this makes sense – let’s get immigrants who actually fill gaps in the market rather than a large number of unregulated EU migrants

However, immigration’s impact on public finances is “relatively small. Further, in certain sectors, EU migration has a major impact. 1 in 10 doctors and 1 in 25 nurses are EU migrants.  93% of research scientists say the EU is a “major benefit“. The bureacracy of a points system would discourage EU migrants from trying to work here.

Identity

There are Leave campaigners who want Britain to resemble a 1950s idyll which probably never existed. However, Remain campaigners often forget that particularly in poorer communities large migrant communities put pressure on public services like schools and hospitals.

Though nationally migrants are net contributors, we should not forget these local effects. This is however a problem of domestic policy – money should be focussed on ensuring adequate public services and education are available to both British citizens and immigrants. Brexit does not solve the problem.

Sovereignty

I don’t think this is as complicated as is often made out. Sovereignty is our ability to govern ourselves, ostensibly by electing a government. Leave argue we have lost control and ceded power to Brussels.

Firstly, we vote for MEPs directly who stand in the European Parliament. We are represented on the European Commission and Council of the EU. Whilst it’s beyond this post to explain how laws are passed in the EU, this graphic from Simple Politics hopefully explains:

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Apologies for the terrible blue-on-grey; I didn’t make the image.

Secondly, even if we had ceded power to a massively undemocratic organisation, we chose to do that. We keep voting for parties who want to remain in the EU. We can leave and reclaim those powers. If the powers were really gone, the EU would prevents from having a referendum. It’s just that we’re better off in the EU.

Thirdly, there are democratic deficits at Westminster and in councils. Few argue we should scrap councils on the basis only 30% of voters elect them, roughly the same as the number who elect MEPs. The UK sometimes disagrees with Brussels – disagreements are a sign of a healthy democracy.

(NB: Eurosceptics often slate the European Commission for being an undemocratic and overreaching behemoth of an organisation. It has 23000 staff, less than half that of HMRC‘s 56000 and almost a twentieth of the 406 140 who work in Whitehall.)

Conclusion

The EU is an imperfect organisation. It needs reform. Britain knows too little about how it works. But these are not arguments for Brexit.

Remaining in the EU is the only road to prosperity.