Please Don’t Go

Europe: The Final Countdown.
Where I try to persuade you to vote to Remain in the EU

22nd June 2016

I know this is a hard sell, when voting for Remain means voting for things to stay the way they are. Because things aren’t great at the moment. But what I hope to show you here is that the problems we face – crumbling services, overstretched NHS, spiralling rents – are not the fault of the EU, and that voting Leave won’t solve them, may even make them worse. I’ll also look at what effect leaving the EU may have on immigration.

Money Money Money

I’m not going to waste much time on the claim that we send £350m a week to the EU. It’s not true, we all know it’s not true, and if you still believe it after all that’s been said then there’s nothing I can add in this short(ish) blog post that will change your view.

But let’s talk about immigration, because you may be worried about our open borders and how overcrowded we seem to be.

The Open Door

We may disagree about the need for immigration, you and me. Personally, I think immigration is a positive thing. I think we need immigration to support our economy and our public services, and that immigrants contribute more than they take. It takes courage and determination to move to another country and make a new life there, and I think these are the sort of people we need. However, you may be concerned that we are accepting too many people, that we have too little control about who comes to the UK to live and work, maybe you feel we should concentrate on making sure people already here are employed first. I understand. But leaving the EU will not change this.

There are two sources of immigration: from EU countries and non-EU countries, and each represents about half the immigrants we receive each year. Naturally, leaving the EU won’t change the rules for immigration from non-EU countries. We’ve got control of those rules now, and the government chooses not to change them. But what about the EU immigrants?

Other countries that have trade arrangements with the EU – Norway, and Switzerland, for example – have had to sign up to the EU’s free movement rules as part of the deal. So if we leave the EU, we will still almost certainly have to allow free movement of EU immigrants as a cost of doing business with the EU.

You may feel that the EU free movement policy has to change, that we have to be able to set limits on EU migration. Fair enough, but the only people who can influence that policy are EU members. Leave the club and we lose the ability to change the rules, but we’ll still have to abide by those rules.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the claims that Turkey is about to join the EU, and that tens of millions of Turks are waiting to invade. They’re not. Turkey is not going to be in a position to join the EU for decades, if ever, and any EU member can block them joining. That’s any EU member, of course. If we leave the EU, we couldn’t prevent Turkey or any other country from joining, and then free movement rules would mean they could move here. Think of that – a kebab shop in every town.

So what about our crumbling services?

Services

Our schools are in trouble, our libraries are closing, disability benefits are being cut, there’s a desperate shortage of social housing, our NHS is falling apart. All these things are definitely happening, but they are not the fault of immigrants or the EU.

Our government could fund the NHS properly, as it did until a few years ago, but it chooses not to. It chooses to cut the NHS, cut benefits for disabled people and cut funding for councils, because it would rather do that than collect billions in unpaid taxes from big companies like Boots or Amazon, or from well-off people.

Leaving the EU doesn’t suddenly make the government decide to fund our health care and services again. It already could and it has decided not to. In future it may not have the choice, because pretty much every reputable financial expert predicts the UK will be less well off as a result of leaving the EU, that it may even result in the end of manufacturing in the UK. There may not be the money to pay for decent health care, schools, social housing, even if the government had a change of heart and decided it wanted to fund them. Worse, an exit may result in the loss of worker’s rights which came from the EU – maternity and sickness pay, for example. It’s telling that the few big company bosses to support the Leave campaign include the head of Wetherspoons (closing pubs to avoid paying its staff the living wage) and Dyson (offshoring its manufacturing).

Also, we tend not to realise just how much stuff gets paid for by EU grants. The South Wales valleys where I live are boosted by such contributions, and it would be really tough to operate without them. Our government shows no inclination to take up the slack.

The Leave campaign may make promises about how they will spend the money they supposedly save by not being in the EU, but this is not an election. The Leave campaign aren’t a government-in-waiting, so their promises are no more valid than mine. I can promise you anything you want, but I’ve no power to deliver it.

Take back control!

Individually, we’re barely any more in control of our government and laws out of the EU than we are in it. We elect MPs, but we don’t elect a government, we don’t elect the prime minister or the ministers in the cabinet. We don’t elect the House of Lords, or our head of state. When it comes to the EU, we may be a part of a larger group of countries, each with their own priorities, but we do have a democratic voice there, we often have a veto, and the EU has often acted to limit the excesses of individual governments. You’d be amazed how often the EU has protected your rights from being taken away by your own government. And the whole supposed bureaucracy of the EU civil service actually employs fewer people than Birmingham City Council.

By leaving the EU, we don’t take back control, we surrender it. We lose the ability to influence EU policy, yet because the EU is still there and we need to trade with it we will still need to abide by their regulations. That’s undemocratic. And those EU regulations? They help ensure the products you buy are safe, they help protect the environment.

The idea that we could leave the EU while still retaining all its benefits is like refusing to go to the party but still expecting to receive a slice of birthday cake and a goody bag. It’s not going to happen.

Leaving is going to hurt, and the EU has an interest in making it hurt if we go. If we were somehow, against all the evidence, able to make a go of it, to negotiate a better deal than we currently have with all the other member states, the leave campaigners in all the other states are going to want to do the same thing. This could result in the break-up of the EU.

So why should we care if the EU falls apart?

Security

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the existence of the EU coincides with the longest sustained period of peace in Europe. The individual nations of Europe have shown themselves to be extremely good at picking fights with each other, and yet here we are, in a position where war with Germany, France or Spain is pretty much unthinkable. We’ve the EU to thank for that.

We have a lot of challenges to face in the decades ahead: climate change, radicalism, whatever the hell it is that Putin’s up to at any given moment, even the prospect of a Trump presidency. We will be much better equipped to face those challenges as part of a strong, coherent, supportive group of nations, than if we face them alone.

The old British Empire is gone, and it’s not going to come back. Splendid isolation is not going to work – we are part of this world and we cannot avoid its troubles. So let’s not turn our face away from Europe, let’s be a part of it, strengthening it as it strengthens us, working to improve it knowing that we are all part of a community. There’s a lot wrong with the EU, a lot wrong, but we are better off working to fix it than trying to walk away. We can’t walk away from the world.

The Precipice

I know this is hard. If you’re anything like me, your skin crawls at being on the same side as David Cameron and George Osborne. They are the cause of the crumbling services I’ve been talking about all the way through. But leaving the EU is likely to put us in the hands of some much less savoury individuals.

I’ve not spent a lot of time here on the darker parts of the Leave campaign, the racism, the repeated lies, the empty promises. One of their largest sources of funding is from a member of the BNP, that’s really all you need to know. This campaign has created divisions, and suspicions, that may take years to heal. So my final point is to suggest that if you agree with me that the racist campaigning has been hateful and hurtful, that “Breaking Point” posters and lies about immigrants raping our families have no place in a modern, progressive society, then please don’t reward the Leave campaign by voting for this horrible viewpoint. A vote for them is a vote to accept their foul behaviour, at very least a passive agreement that this sort of thing is acceptable. It’s beneath us, unbecoming of the proudly multi-cultural place Britain has been and should always be.

The End

But anyway. Thanks for staying with me to the end. Even if you disagree with everything I’ve said, please, vote in tomorrow’s EU referendum. This is the most important choice to be placed before the people of the UK in a generation, and its effects will be felt by everybody, so please make your mark.

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[I normally fill my blog posts with loads of references and links. I haven’t done that this time, but if anybody wants information to back up any of the claims I have made, please do so in the comments and I’ll try to sort out some links. In the meantime, here’s a clip of John Oliver, a Brit who presents Last Week Tonight, a political satire show on US TV. I heartily recommend watching the whole thing. (Caution: sweary)]

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