Tag: Europe

The EU Referendum

The 2016 EU referendum is likely to be the most significant event in my adult lifetime, so it seems like a good idea to write something to remind me of how it all happened. I don’t expect many people to read this and I don’t expect anyone to change their mind as to whether we should Remain in the EU or Leave.

Really the EU referendum is all about the internal politics of the Tory party. Since the early 1990s there has been a fanatical eurosceptic rump, they took their party into the wilderness once and they’ve lined themselves up to do it all over again.

To cut to the chase, I’ve always been Remain.

My reasons for Remain are three fold:

Perhaps the most significant is economic, I’ve worked in a large company (Unilever), a small company (ScraperWiki) and I’m now at a medium sized company (GB Group). The first two of these are explicitly Remain. The third has expressed no corporate opinion but internally most of my co-workers appear to support Remain. The reason for this is that the EU is primarily a free trade area. This means that for all three companies we can make products and services which can be sold easily across the EU because they need only comply with one set of standard rules and they cannot face penalties with respect to local suppliers. Furthermore, in the EU we can bring in talent from where-ever it is needed – all three of these companies employed people from across the EU. Employing people within the EU is easy, from outside the EU it is a frustrating nightmare. And that’s not to mention my experiences as an academic where a large fraction of my colleagues and students have been from the EU and beyond.

More directly ScraperWiki benefitted enormously from EU research support from the Horizon 2020 programme, which simply wasn’t forthcoming from UK sources which seem to go to London and an “in crowd” first.

We are being asked to give this up for some fantasy trade deals and the cutting of “red-tape” which would appear to be mostly our employment rights.

The second theme is immigration and free movement. I’ve become used to wafting through Europe since the seventies with scarcely a glance at my passport on internal borders. It’s great. I know the pain of travelling for travellers from outside the EU, from China and from the former Yugoslavia, for whom every foreign trip was an uncertain and inconvenient with trips to London for visas. I don’t want my son growing up with that.

Immigration (and its bedfellow, xenophobia) has been the dirty secret of the Leave campaign. In times of economic stress it’ is easy to point to the foreigner and blame them for your troubles. But it’s a lie. Immigrants are the people who got on their bikes and looked for work, they’re predominately young. If these people are causing stress in the services in our country then it is our services that are the problem. If I build a factory, and a thousand UK workers turn up to work there then whose fault is it if the local schools and hospitals struggle with capacity? Nigel Farage’s latest Leave poster echoes directly the Nazi propaganda of the 1930s in citing a country at breaking point overwhelmed by the feckless foreigner. The UK is a strong, wealthy country which has benefitted from the gift of immigration for centuries.

And more personally, for me, when you abuse immigrants for your political ends you are abusing my friends and colleagues stretching back over a lifetime. Rashmi, Anja, Yann, Eugene, Ruedigger, Cecilia, Wen, Lian, Jyl, …

Finally there is democracy and influence. The most entertaining contributions to the debate for me have been members of the (unelected) House of Lords, complaining about the democratic legitimacy of the EU. In the UK we have an electoral system at local and parliamentary levels which is deeply deficit in representing the wishes of the people. We have a House of Lords which when it isn’t appointed is hereditary and a hereditary head of state. The EU, on the other hand, has a parliament of directly elected MEPs (I believe universally using proportional representation), a council of ministers appointed by the elected governments of the EU and a president appointed by those elected governments. Nobody is there by birthright, nobody is there because of their payments to party coffers.

In the EU we can speak for ourselves on the UN security council and other forums but we can also influence the voice of a bloc of 500 million people. And we have a strong voice in the EU when we chose to use it.

So that’s why I’m going to vote Remain.

The campaign has been pretty unedifying. The Leave campaign knows it can get away with essentially lying through its teeth. The “£350 million per week” going to Brussels is a case in point, this has been frequently debunked – the true figure is closer to £129million. But that isn’t really the point. Both of these figures amount to approximately 1% of the government so they’re pretty much insignificant. The important thing is their lie of a “big number” will likely be the only thing 75% of the voters will remember. They know this, and it is why they have never deviated from repeating the lie. The money the Leave camp has “saved” has been spent on spent again on subjects dear to our hearts such as the NHS, for which the Leave campaigners have little track record of support. There will be no comeback for them. The ASA washes it’s hands of accuracy in political advertising.

I have to say if I were a rational Leaver, I’d be looking around myself wondering how the hell I’d fallen in with my fellow Leave supports. It comes to something when Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are your most palatable fellow travellers. A crowd which includes Britain First (the neo-Nazi group), Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen (French National Front), probably Vladimir Putin (but the Russians are a bit too smart to come out) and Nigel Farage.

On the Remain side its difficult to find a foreign government which doesn’t support us remaining in the EU, its difficult to find an organisation that does not support Remain.

I think Leave will win on Thursday but it is by no means certain. As a Liberal Democrat and pragmatic supporter of AV I’m used to crushing electoral disappointment. A vote to Leave in my mind would be a defeat far more visceral than these, it will deeply effect the remainder of my working life, retirement and the life of my young son.

Erratum: I actually meant to write that I thought Remain would win! See how easy it is for a slip of the pen to mess these things up…

The Eurozone

There has been much excitement over David Cameron’s use of the veto at the recent European negotiations over rescuing the Eurozone. For people that don’t like Cameron for political reasons these are obviously the worst of times, for a large fraction of his Tory backbenchers these are the best of times.

The problem the Eurozone has is that when the system was set up some members lied through their teeth to meet the convergence criteria which allowed them entry and none of them where prepared to comply with the constraints on their fiscal policy (tax and spending) after the Eurozone had formed. Now, when times are difficult, these shortcomings have become very obvious. The solution towards which the rest of Europe are heading is to treat the Eurozone as a proper national economy with a European Central Bank which takes on the mantle of a national central bank and a degree of fiscal discipline not yet common across the member states. This would weaken the powers of the constituent nation states.

Sarkozy’s comments are quite clearly self-serving, he wishes to portray the UK veto as a result of of Cameron trying to protect the City because that is the French see the cause of the problem as the Anglo-Saxon economic model, not the Greek economic model. Angela Merkel’s position is a little more subtle: she would probably really welcome a UK that stood alongside Germany at the heart of Europe but she has her own problems with the German constitution which limit her flexibility in fully throwing her weight behind the Euro.

I have long been a pro-European and given the choice I would have taken the UK into the Euro at the very beginning, but that didn’t happen because John Major negotiated an opt-out and then Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (more the later than the former) kept us out of the Euro. These days I have my doubts, I can see a Euro zone with a core membership of nations I would trust to run a whelk store running quite nicely to the benefit of all concerned but that’s not the situation we are in now.

This attitude is reflected in the following passage in the Liberal Democrat 2010 manifesto:

The European Union has evolved significantly since the last public vote on membership over thirty years ago. Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU.

We believe that it is in Britain’s long-term interest to be part of the euro. But Britain should only join when the economic conditions are right, and in the present economic situation, they are not. Britain should join the euro only if that decision were supported by the people of Britain in a referendum.

The Guardian has leapt to it’s tired, old Nazi collaborator meme (here) in its description of Nick Clegg. To be fair there have been a lot of tired, old Nazi memes (appeasement being the favoured route of the right and some Lib Dems). It’s somewhat ironic that effectively the demand is that Nick Clegg must exercise a veto over David Cameron to not exercise a veto. For the enemies of the Liberal Democrats they will never be able to do any right in coalition: these enemies will laud the original policies of the Liberal Democrats (which often they did not vote for) and demand every one is implemented, and that the Coalition must fall if these demands are not met.

David Cameron has put himself into a tricky position in part through his own actions – withdrawing from political groupings in the EU, and reforming with only the most fringe characters, and in part through the party he inherits: John Major said he could here the sound of “flapping white coats” as one of them approached. Cameron did make the only decision he could: any treaty agreed would face parliament where it would lose because the Labour Party would side with a large Eurosceptic wing of the Tory party and even if it passed that hurdle it would fall at a referendum.

The Labour Party find themselves in an interesting position though, they cannot say they would support the current treaty proposal. Resorting only to the famous route directions: “If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here” but actually the relationship with Europe has changed little in the 18 months since the general election.

For other nations in Europe, to use the old breakfast analogy: the chicken has an interest, the pig is committed. All the other non-Eurozone countries are on some sort of track to join the Euro – we, uniquely, are not. This has been the case since before the election and it remains the core of our issue. Cameron’s posturing to satisfy his eurosceptic wing is not helpful, and a better statesman would perhaps have achieved some consensus outside the core Eurozone countries but fundamentally this is window dressing and the other members of the EU are already on a different track, they have been for years.