5 Top Reasons for Staying in Europe

 

Mrs May and her friends have had two years to articulate a policy on Britain’s future relationship with Europe. They cannot make up their minds as to what they want and are still chasing a “have your cake and eat it” fantasy. The other 27 EU members have made it clear that, once the UK leaves the EU, “cake” is no longer on the menu. As a “third country”, the best we can hope for in future are a few crumbs falling off the rich man’s table. We are either “in” or “out” of the club, and we have been told clearly, over and over again, that there is no way in which we can expect to be able to pick cherries. We cannot expect to access the many benefits of staying in Europe without meeting the reciprocal obligations to which members subscribe.

Even if May and Co refuse to accept this, the reality is that Britain, in spite of its claims to greatness and an illusion that Europe needs us more than we need them, is the junior party in the negotiations, now on the exit strategy and on the coming months on the new relationship. The government’s failure to set attainable goals further weakens our bargaining position. This is being further eroded by the gradual decay of the economy, triggered by the climate of uncertainty created by a shambolic in-fighting government and by an opposition that sits on the fence. It is now abundantly clear that Brussels will have the last say.

Even if EU patience may be running out, Britain would still be welcome to stay in the Union, but, if it does a Brexit, it cannot count on any special treatment in defining its future relationship with our European neighbours. As British citizens whose lives will be profoundly affected by the outcome of the negotiations, we must now wake up to this reality. We must face up to the facts and set aside fantasy and ideology. We now know that continued free trade with the EU and its other trading partners is a better option than following Liam Fox on his wild goose chase for elusive new deals; we have learnt that, while very high rates of immigration create integration problems, we depend heavily on other Europeans for essential work in the NHS, for picking fruit and for filling big gaps in our scientific and technical expertise; we have seen that the same politicians who called for Britain to reclaim sovereignty from Europe are doing their hypocritical best to exclude parliament – the cornerstone of British sovereignty – from having a meaningful say in shaping our future; and we have come to appreciate that the regulations that emerge from the EU have been made with full British consent and have generally benign effects on our health, safety, rights and the environment.

Now that, 2 years on, we know more about these realities, it’s time to ask ourselves the reasons for staying in Europe. Here are my top 5 answers!

Give young people what they want and deserve

The people whose lives will be most affected by the decision to leave or stay in the EU are the young. They voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe and deserve to carry a disproportionate weight in setting our future, especially because, more than any other age group, they best represent the 15 million people who were then too young to vote but are already being affected. Think what the referendum result would have been if the 5 million least affected over 75’s, who mostly voted “leave”, had been excluded!

Geography means that most future EU decisions will impact on us

We are an island nation but that does not mean that it is better to “go it alone”. Whether we like it or not, most future EU decisions, not just on trade but on defense and security, environmental policy, human and livestock disease control, food safety, cross border travel and so many other things that shape our daily lives, are bound to impact on us. It is better that we should continue to play a full part in making these decisions, than to become an increasingly isolated “rule-taker”.

The importance of shared values and scale 

The processes of globalisation continue to accelerate in response to massive improvements in communications. These are creating new opportunities but also challenges and threats to our way of life.  Small countries, operating alone, do not have the weight to shape these processes. Instead, they are most effectively addressed by groups of like-minded countries that subscribe to common values. The European institutions, while respecting national cultures, religions, languages and independence, defend democratic processes, the rule of jointly determined laws and respect for human rights. They also nurture the emergence of consensus amongst members on policies towards addressing new global challenges: the most recent case has been in relation to privacy of information). Consensus building may not always be easy, but when over 500 million people, living in 28 of the world’s richest countries, act and speak with one voice, they have to be taken seriously. If Britain opts out of the EU it will not only lose international weight but also damage EU credibility and erode its hugely important role in dispute resolution and the nurturing of peace amongst its recently warring members.

The advantages of economic efficiency 

Through the creation of the Single Market and the Customs Union, the EU has built a remarkably efficient free trade system from which Britain benefits enormously. The government’s own figures show that leaving this system under any scenario will result in big damage to UK industrial and financial services sectors. The forecast economic damage will cut the fiscal resources that are so badly needed to respond to voters’ aspirations for better education, health services, caring and transport, and will hit already poor communities and families hardest. It must be the first time in recent history that the UK government has committed itself to self-harming economic policies simply because its Prime Minister boxed herself into an untenable position by drawing some red lines and is t5oo stubborn to erase them.

The EU is reformable 

EU policies and procedures are not written in stone. There is a constant process of policy evolution, often spurred by emergent crises, for instance in the banking sector or in areas related to curbing terrorist or health threats. It seems certain that, even if progress may be slow, new policies on migration and the treatment of asylum seekers, on the respective roles of states and the private sector in public investment, and on creating a level playing field for social protection are bound to emerge quite soon. As one of the largest economies in the EU, Britain, if it remains a member, can become a main driver of what it sees as needed reforms.

Conclusion

The European Union and its many institutions may not be perfect. However, as young British people know, it has a performed a valuable role in enabling neighbouring countries with shared goals to jointly address common issues and to maximise the benefits of being close to each other. New challenges, requiring consensual decisions, are bound to arise and it is clearly in Britain’s self-interest to play its part in shaping new policies and agreed actions. If it abdicates this role, it becomes a defenceless rule-taker in a world in which coherent action by like-minded neighbouring nations is essential.

 

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The Perils of Uncertainty and Political Dishonesty

 

I suppose that most of us expect people with whom we interact to be reliable and worthy of our trust. Even if we don’t know them, we generally assume that they will do what they say they will do, they will be punctual, and they will behave honestly. We tend to get upset with anyone who makes a habit of breaking this unwritten code of conduct and are likely to avoid doing future business with them. Yet, interestingly, we may happily make exceptions for highly creative individuals such as artists or intellectuals, at least on matters of punctuality. Perhaps this is a tacit acknowledgement of a kind of innate relationship between creativity and lack of self-discipline!

Worryingly, we seem to have arrived at such a low respect for politicians in general that we no longer even expect all of them to behave honestly. We let them get away with the most awful lies and unfulfilled promises, even when we realise that these could ultimately harm us.

Just as we value reliability in individuals, most of us seek a measure of certainty in our own lives.  We accept that we can’t tame the weather, prevent volcanoes from erupting, or escape unharmed from an accident: if we want some protection from such risks we can take out insurance. We aspire to the certainty of having a comfortable home in safe surroundings, enjoying generally good health, earning a decent living from a satisfying job, and having a happy family life and a bunch of trusted friends.

Perhaps, however, because peace now seems to be taken for granted, we may not consciously value it highly unless we reflect on how the double descent into war in Europe during our parents’ generation blighted their lives. I and my wife, now in our mid-seventies, strongly believe that the greatest achievement of European institutions in our time has been to nurture peace in our war-prone continent: we are dismayed by any moves that could weaken mutual trust between us and our neighbouring nations.

Let me suggest that the biggest problem of the Brexit process and of the incompetence with which the British government – as well as the opposition – is handling it is that it is gnawing away at these certainties.

This growing climate of uncertainty creates a state of limbo that affects us as individuals and families, raising anxieties, creating new tensions between friends and family members and making us think twice before taking important decisions. These worries are made all the worse by the sharp fall in spending power that has already started and by a visible deterioration in the quality of public services. Foreigners living and working in Britain face a particularly high level of uncertainty about their futures in our country which has been accentuated by the deliberate creation by our Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary of a “hostile environment” towards outsiders who now face the overhanging threat of arbitrary deportation or prolonged detention in prison-like conditions without due judicial process.

Equally seriously, even two years after the referendum, we have no idea of the eventual outcome of the process and so any meaningful forward planning by businesses and government departments has become impossible. As long as there is no clear long-term view of our future relationship with Europe, there is no point in working out how it will operate in practical terms. This means that, as long as any Brexit, hard or soft is pursued, we will have to face many more unsettling years.

This climate of uncertainty and the slowing down of individual and corporate decision-making is already taking its toll, with Britain’s economic growth as measured by GDP dropping from top to bottom of the European league. How can any UK-based company that does business with Europe commit itself to make new investments in Britain when it watches a divided cabinet go round in endless circles discussing unfeasible new customs arrangements with Europe? Which farmer will expand her acreage under strawberries if she can’t be sure to be able to hire workers to harvest them? How can institutions involved in collaborative scientific research in the Region commit themselves to continuing their engagement if they don’t know what Britain’s future relationship with European research bodies will look like?

The list of people and institutions affected by these extreme uncertainties is never-ending. We can all point to our own pet examples of distress!

The situation, however, has been made all the worse by the notorious unreliability of the individuals who are the self-appointed leaders of the Brexit process: they seem to be motivated more by personal ambition and whim rather than any concern either for our well-being or even for the continued integrity of the United Kingdom.  How can our government reasonably expect us to follow and support it, when, after two years, it still hasn’t achieved an internal consensus on a negotiating strategy? And how can Mrs May have the effrontery to call on us to trust her to act faithfully in the people’s interest when Bojo, Moggins, Gove and Davis clearly don’t trust each other or their boss one inch and when, even by politicians’ standards, they are so economical with the truth?

The greatest danger to Britain is that the Brexiteers and their indecisive Prime Minister will simply prolong the uncertainties for several more years. For each extra day on which they pursue their blatantly unattainable aspirations, the economy shrinks a little further and Britain’s standing in the world diminishes.

Instead, we urgently need a government that is prepared to admit that it has been barking up the wrong tree for the past two years and to recognise that, once out of the EU, it will not be possible for our country to engineer a future agreement that allows us to “have our cake and eat it”.  The time has come for Mrs May to end this damaging period of uncertainty, bravely acknowledging that all the evidence accumulated over the past 24 months suggests that it is in our interests to remain as full EU members. If she won’t do this of her own free will, let us call en masse for a People’s Vote that will determine the shape of our future relationship with Europe.

Hopefully common sense will then prevail and we can regain our accustomed composure. And surely we should hold the Brexiteers to account for the massive harm that they have caused to our country and to the lives of so many individuals.

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Two Years after the Referendum

This is the text of an audio recording, submitted to Ben Chambers for inclusion in the June 2018  edition of  Sixteen Million Rising  https://www.mixcloud.com/SixteenMillionRising/. It comes up after Summertime at 1 hour 52 minutes into Ben’s Episode 21 at https://www.mixcloud.com/SixteenMillionRising/smr-ep21-big-band/

 

Two years after the referendum –  Here is Future of our Children’s quick take on where we stand

We were told to vote “leave” so that we could be our own masters.

We were promised a land flowing with milk and honey.

Now we are seeing that we were sold a pig in a poke.

Even the Brexiteers haven’t a bloody clue about what they want.

The war cabinet has become a hostile environment: they are fighting like cats and dogs.

The Tories have got their knickers in a twist.

Mrs May has led us up the garden path.

Unless she does a U-turn, she will soon hit the buffers and have to throw in the towel.

Bojo told us that we could have our cake and eat it. Now we know that this is pie in the sky.

Shifty Gove is reinventing himself as a puppy-hugging green because he thinks it’s the way to flying high.

Foxy Liam is traipsing around the world on a never-ending wild goose chase. He has still not bagged a deal.

Labour is sitting on the fence.

It is obvious that the only way out of this dog’s dinner is to stay put in the EU, warts and all.

So it’s time for remainers to call a spade a spade and win a People’s Vote!

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