The first things all Brexiteers bang on about are:
1. The money the UK throws at the EU when it could give it to the NHS
2. The democratic deficit at the heart of the EU
3. Immigration issues
4. EU law and human rights
5. Corporate freedom
7. Because the UK is always isolated and never gets its own way
These are smokescreens for the the general consumption of those who like their news delivered in handy little soundbites that they can quote later to Bill down the pub. The real truth is somewhat greyer and a lot less savoury. As someone who lives and works on the inside, I would like to put the record straight on a few of these.
MONEY, FUNDING AND THE NHS
Firstly, let us consider a few things concerning the distribution of funds. The UK puts in a lot of money as it is one of the richest. It works a little like the tax system: the more money you make, the larger your contribution, so of course you are going to pay proportionally more than, say, Spain or Finland, but sizeably more than the Czech Republic or Slovenia. That is normal. Why are Brexiteers complaining about this? It seems they want to be clients, not team players. Where's the solidarity in that? And what the country gets in return is never discussed as it's not in their interests.
Yes, the EU can be a little profligate with the funds, but the fact is: agriculture, science and research, infrastructure, education and many other aspects of life would not receive the funding they need, and I include the NHS here, because I think herein lies the rub: the EU funds these things without subjectivity, based purely on need and the effect it will have on the improvement of people's lives.
Do you really think, deep in your heart of hearts, that the Conservative/Neoliberal alliance at the top of and above the UK government really cares about those things? I don't; I think it is another chance to grab more public money. Why waste it on schools when it could be invested in private enterprises and corporate landgrabs?
At least, with the EU, those funds get to where they are supposed to. Take it away, and watch the NHS falling and being sold off, schools getting privatised, infrastructure budgets being cut, and farms being sold off to rich landowners who can turn them into supermarket-run agri-factories.
Do you trust the UK politicians to look after the NHS, farms and schools? Honestly???
There is the supposed democratic deficit at the heart of the EU. Well, shall I tell you what a democratic deficit looks like? It looks like people who act in their own interests whether they are elected or not. Democratically-minded people do things in the public interest anyhow, whether elected or not. The expenses in the European Commission are incredibly stringently controlled by the Court of Auditors, and you will not see the civil servants being chauffeured about in black cars. You will, though, see the politicians (yes, those in the European Parliament too) being chauffeured about, because they are politicians and to leave them to public transport would be like asking a Yorkshire terrier to do your accounts.
But the Commission is pretty apolitical and works for the benefit of all, and despite its many foibles, is actually more on the side of the people than the politicians. There is a European Ombudsman that anyone can use to blow the whistle on improprieties; there is a European Consumer Rights and Law commissioner, who makes sure we get value for money, like reducing mobile phone tariffs across the EU; and there is a scheme whereby any EU citizen can go into the embassy of another EU country when abroad and get proper representation. But you don't hear about these things because it's not in the interest of the EU's detractors.
But it's a terrific trick of national governments that they get the Commission to do their dirty work, taking one for the team, time after time after time, so that they don't get blamed. The fact of the matter is, though, the 28 national leaders of each country, known as the Council of Ministers, sit down around the world's most expensive table to discuss what they wish the Commission to implement. So, the Commission is, in essence, just carrying out orders of national politicians. In the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Prime Minister, "Almost all government policy is wrong... but frightfully well carried out."
This is the scare story du jour. And it's a complete fallacy. Let's be honest, shall we? The country is not overcrowded; it is just underdeveloped and badly maintained. The infrastructure was built 150 to 200 years ago after the Industrial Revolution for the society then, and it has been slow to be updated. The roads in the UK are far narrower than in France or Germany, the houses smaller, the hospitals and airports built in far smaller plots. Look at Barajas Airport in Madrid - it is on a plot 5 times bigger than Heathrow. Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt and such are massive in comparison. But the main issue is housing. It is not that there is no space; it is that the developers have artificially created a bubble by not building on the land they were designated, and so the demand sky-rockets and the prices go up. It is not in their interests to build because the prices will tumble and their profits too.
Furthermore, do you really think the country will sink into the mud because Poles, Lithuanians and Romanians, the large part of whom have a greater work ethic for less pay, are doing all the manual jobs? No. Because, sadly, Brits have become colonialists in their own country. Don't blame the new arrivals - blame mean-minded bosses for not being willing any more to pay full price for a proper day's work. Do you think this will clear up after Brexit? Do you think the gap will return and the market will be filled with British workers in the fields, on building sites and under the kitchen sinks? Rubbish. The market demand is insatiable and even if you started to train up locals now to take over, the full quotient would not be ready for employment for a good few years. And do you think prices and wages will remain the same? No. Because British people still expect a bargain, but workers will not accept the same payment rates as those who come to Britain for work out of necessity. What you will end up with is a skewed law where the cheapest will get all the work and hourly rates will fall everywhere in all sectors of work.
EU LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS
It is claimed that too many people are abusing the EU's Human Rights legislation. Too many people are taking advantage of the current law to get out of prison or to get more benefit payments for themselves. This is not a falsehood, but it is an exaggeration. The UK government has suggested withdrawing from the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights), drawn up by British lawyers after WW2, and implementing its own Bill of Rights. They can go ahead if they want, but the fact that all EU citizens are guaranteed the same rights is enshrined in EU law, meaning equal treatment for all.
Do you really think, Dear Reader, that the British government will make the situation better? I can answer that one now: of course not. If anything, it will make it easier to implement other laws that restrict the rights and freedoms of everyone in the land. I cannot imagine a more sinister power-grab than this. Imagine something simple as EU law concerning consumer rights: let us say you buy a kitchen and it is riddled with problems. EU consumer protection law dictates that the company has to either correct it or replace it without cost. The same goes for clothes, furniture, computers, everything. You have the right to return your goods to the shops within 14 days of purchase, all because of EU law.
The four very elements that the Leave campaign is highlighting are the four very elements that everyone should be worried about. It is a myth that things will improve if the UK leaves - the EU guarantees so many more freedoms to its citizens:
- The right to work in other EU countries without needing visas, residence permits or the filling of quotas
- The right to study in another EU country for all or part of your university course (Erasmus)
- The right to the same mobile phone roaming costs and no nasty bills no matter where you are in the EU
- The right to the same standard of healthcare as back in your own country
- The right to vote in local and European elections wherever you are
- The right to live where you want and be treated by the local councils and national governments the same as locals
- The right to the same consumer law as everywhere else
- The right to jump on a train, plane, boat or bus to France, Belgium or wherever and not need to worry about declaring your alcohol or tobacco
- The right to go from Lisbon to Warsaw without showing your passport
And many other things.
THE SILENT TAKEOVER
Just remember one thing: once the UK frees itself from the EU shackles (in other words from keeping it on the straight-and-narrow), there will be nobody else to keep an eye on the opportunism and impunity with which the corporate elite will act. This is your future. Nobody can tell you this because this is much more inflammatory than the stuff that the In and Out camps have been propagating thus far. The In campaign dare not say these things because some of them would be believed.
But the time is coming for you to make up your mind. Do you want to guarantee your own subjugation to a corporate elite? Do you want to hand over the things you most cherish about social democracy to faceless (and often heartless) drones in glass towers? Would you rather your tax money went to help the landed gentry to buy up the rest of the countryside and pay for their own limousines or would you rather your taxes guaranteed a harvest? Would you rather your money went to help poor people up the social ladder a little? Would you rather your taxes paid for infrastructure and education, whether here or in the EU at large?
I know where my allegiances lie - and leaving the largest trading bloc the world has ever known is not going to bring you prosperity. It will bring more prosperity to those who already have it, while turning the country into a feudal state.
Independence from what?
The UK is already independent.
But I'll tell you what they want you to believe:
That outside the EU "we" will be able to make our own laws. What kind of laws? Do you think it will be for the benefit of UK citizens? I don't. It will be for the benefit of the One Per Cent.
Furthermore, we need to remember who we are and not who we were. We are members of a club of 28 nations, some of whom are "more European than others", so to say. It is time the UK started acting more European and stopped sniping from the sidelines. The EU is more heavily supported by smaller countries than larger ones, and the answer is simple: the President of the European Commission is Luxembourgish, the previous one Portuguese. the President of the European Council is Polish, the previous one Belgian. The thing is, it gives the chance for smaller countries to shine on the world stage like they would never be able to if they were independent.
The larger countries of the south, like Spain and Italy, are also by-and-large pro-EU because they understand the prestige membership brings them. The prosperous and fiscally careful countries of the north and central areas, like Sweden, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic, are more sceptical because they also like their freedoms, but none of them would think leaving the EU would solve their problems. The largest countries, like France and Germany, have found it hardest to assimilate to the EU because they have needed to shrink, or at least take on fewer airs of a large country although this is of course very difficult, especially when it seems nobody else is on your side. Just ask Angela Merkel about refugees and the "solidarity" she received.
Even Greece, the country with the biggest reason to be upset with the EU, does not want to leave. It might want to leave the Eurozone, but most definitely not the EU. So the UK is a little bit like Denmark, and a little bit like Germany. What it needs to do is just relax into its role as a counterbalance to the Eurozone's largest powers and stick up for those countries that wish to remain outside. It needs to engage more, be more understanding and empathetic, and stop thinking everyone should act like them.
Do you really think independence will guarantee self-control? I don't. I can't see how voting to leave a club but having nevertheless to pay membership fees to access it will really make the UK independent. The conditions would remain similar but the UK would not be permitted a say in any matters. Furthermore, it will take years to undo all that constitutional paperwork.
Which brings me on to...
HAVING A SAY IN EU AFFAIRS
The UK is alone and isolated in EU negotiations? Rubbish. The UK has had a great deal to say about the EU and its workings.
- For one thing, the UK was central in introducing the call for tender system known as TED to allow for a more simplified and equitable EU-wide system of provision of goods and services so any company anywhere can bid for a supply contract.
- The UK, as the largest non-Eurozone member state, is the de facto leader of the outside pack and recently negotiated more rights for those wishing not to join the Euro.
- The actual running of some of the EU institutions has in recent years become much more familiar to British civil servants than to French ones. The streamlining of administrative processes, the cutting of costs and bureaucracy, the accountability of every job posting, the justification of every business journey made, the pricing of every cup of coffee poured in an EU building... everything in the EU institutions is accounted for, down to the limitation of photocopies for language trainers.
- Furthermore, English is the prevalent language these days, and French is now a more and more distant second. German is waiting in the wings to be promoted if the UK leaves the EU. And English will, in one night, become obsolete as the Lingua Franca of the EU. It will lose its status as the working language of the EU institutions, and French, German and probably Polish or Spanish will get a much bigger role to play in the EU.
- There are disproportionately more British (and Irish) staff in managerial positions than other nationalities, although due to the geographical position of the EU institutions, French and Belgians make up a large part of the admin staff. In the Court of Auditors, English is the only language and to get a job there it is essential to speak it to a level good enough to work in.
- In negotiations, the only reason why it seems the UK is isolated is because the UK government really does not get the EU. It acts like a yob in Torremolinos, wanting all the home comforts but without the disadvantages. It was shocking and shameful for me to see my government try to negotiate favourable treatment in the EU and at the same time refuse to play any single part in the Syrian refugee crisis.
If you really think the UK is hard-done-by it is all smoke and mirrors. The government just needs to stop moaning and get on with teamwork. If you think the EU is a gravy train, try speaking to assistants and administrators in Luxembourg at the bottom of the EU pyramid, where they earn less per month than local bus drivers, gardeners and cleaners. This is because staff in all EU institutions in all cities earn the same, calculated on Brussels salaries.
Finally, the EU is incredibly bad at promoting itself, which is both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, it means it is too busy doing what it is supposed to be doing rather than spending time and money advertising itself - the quiet ones are those who are getting on with the job rather than looking for reward. At the same time, it means people are malinformed and misinformed about the good it does.
Get informed before you decide.