There are one or two things I am sure of when it comes to the EU Referendum. The first thing is that all media outlets should be banned from playing or referencing “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash. That should be verboten or, as our European colleagues would say,….errr….verboten. The second thing I am sure about is that the Referendum is a very bad idea.
We should never let the Conservative Party forget that this Referendum is simply a device to enhance their electability at the last election. It was a political decision to try to woo UKIP sympathisers and paper over the ever present deep cracks in their party. That is why we are being asked to vote on the EU, not because the Tories believe in self-determination, but because they need someone else to make the decision about what their policy on EU membership should be.
That in itself does not make the Referendum a bad idea. The problem is that the question we are going to be asked on 23rd June is both too simple and too complex. It is too simple because it is, as the zeitgeist is anxious to make most things, a “binary” choice. What is best for our future is not as simple as “In” or “Out”. The “In” camp could range from full on, federalist Europe, Esperanto speakers to the “EU needs drastic change” reformers. The “Out” brigade could range from all out xenophobic block-up-the-channel-tunnel types to all out Xenophobic block-up-the-channel-tunnel types.
Sorry, my little joke there, the Brexiteers could also encompass those that want out of the EU but very much want to be part of the single market with everything that may entail, including freedom of movement. And with that you have the problem with the Referendum. You can have someone who does not want some aspects of the EU but wants our relationship to be like Norway or Switzerland voting in the same way as someone who wants the British Empire back. Two very different world views answering a question in the same way whilst dreaming of mutually exclusive futures.
It is too complex because we are being asked to make judgements based largely on economics. And not many of us are experts on economics. Not many of us are even enthusiastic amateurs. So we rely upon others who profess expertise. So both sides wheel out their experts. And both make cases for what our future would look like. Both sides tell us how much profit and loss there is in staying. And going. They cannot both be right. How am I to know?
So how do I make my decision? In fact it has been relatively easy for me. “Remain” had me the moment Boris Johnson, Chris Grayling, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage suggested that the UK would have £350 million per week to spend on the NHS if we left the EU. This was a case of wanting to have your cake and promise someone else that they could eat it, when in fact you fully intended to eat it yourself. Let us leave aside one moment the fact that the £350 million figure is so obviously wrong. Who are these disparate band of free market, small government types to make promises about spending the money on public services? If they win the Referendum they are not suddenly in control of the Treasury. Even if their coup was to be so successful there is no way that they would divert £350 million per week into the NHS. That is just not going to happen. A movement which treats my intelligence with such disdain is not worthy of my vote.
In fact that little quartet of politicians are part of the reason I could not support “Brexit”. Anything that Chris Grayling supports has to be a bad idea. Boris Johnson is in it for the chance to be Prime Minister. Michael Gove is tying himself up in knots over the impact of EU law on this nation. And Nigel Farage is a braying example of the very worst type of politician. That these four represent themselves as being the antidote to the Establishment is laughable. Throw Iain Duncan-Smith into the mix and the Brexit BoyBand would make make me want to fill my ears with concrete.
I read a lot on social media from supporters of Brexit and Remain alike. I have never seen anyone supporting Remain utter anything remotely racist. I have seen them saying some pretty daft things, have seen them being unnecessarily insulting, but racism? No. I have seen Brexiteers being racist. And I am not just talking about leftie liberals like me reacting to everything said about immigration by playing the race card. I mean actual racism. Hate. Hatred of people because they are different. A belittling of others on the ground of the colour of their skin. A belief that we (white English) are somehow better than them. I cannot throw my lot in with them.
The three paragraphs above are reasons I could not vote for Brexit. Have I anything positive to say about Remaining? I am afraid I do not know the answer in terms of economics. I do not know that coming out of the EU is going to solve problems with immigration (is a Syrian man, prepared to risk his life in a boat across the Mediterranean and by clinging to the chassis of a truck going to say to himself “if they are not part of the EU, I am not going to chance it….”?). I can only hope that, if they lose this vote, it will be the end of Boris and Nigel.
So what are my positive reasons for wanting to stay in Europe? I think of what I would do if I could design the world afresh. What would I hope for? And I don’t mean moving Vegas closer to Manchester. I mean society. And I would want to live in a world where the citizens of every nation co-operated in harmony. I would want less war and more stability. I would welcome more understanding and less self-interest. I would cherish anything I could put in place that would promote a universally held protection of the rights of the individual.
This Utopia does not exist. The European Union has lots and lots of faults. When it comes down to it, however, being part of the EU seems more like being part of something which is positive. It seems far more like the co-operation between nations that we should all aspire to. Negotiated harmony means there has to be some give and take. The advancement of one nation’s interests over another has never led to peace. Benefits are counterbalanced by responsibilities, the protections of rights comes with the commitment to duties. The secret of co-operation is that you can’t always get what you want. Maybe the Rolling Stones should be the band du jour…..