Vigenonilateral Negotiations and Stockholm Syndrome

As Lawrence Tomlinson explains in the above excerpt, the reason negotiations between the EU and other nations take so long is because they are not in fact bilateral, but have been vigenonilateral – i.e. not between two parties, but between 29!

This is a long-standing problem in the EU. How do you reconcile the balance between nation states’ sovereign decisions and being able to work efficiently, speedily, and decisively?

The simple answer is that you can’t.

You can have prolonged and tedious discussions to try to elicit a compromise solution between the 28 (soon to be 27) members of the EU, which will inevitably please a minority of member states, probably annoy others, and invariably require some agreements on give and take compromises over other matters, which mean that nobody gets the best of anything and everyone settles for less-than-ideal outcomes.

The obvious (and preferred solution in the EU institutions) is to create a United States of Europe and increasingly erode national sovereignty. This happened in the Council of Ministers following the Treaty of Lisbon, but will be required increasingly across the institutions if the EU hopes to deal with crises and changes in geopolitics in any kind of realistic and sensible timescales.

In the meantime, the UK can get on making plans with the other 168 countries of the world, who somehow manage to survive outside the EU, or at least those which have progressed beyond the Bronze Age.

Regarding any future EU/UK agreement, if it truly takes a decade to hammer out an agreement when we start from a position where our standards are aligned and we incorporate all existing EU law into UK law, that says more about the EU than it does about the UK, and merely demonstrates all too perfectly why we are better off out of the EU.

If the EU prioritises dissuading other potential exiters over the interests of the people and businesses of its member states, is that really a club which appeals? The EU can have a free trade deal with the UK on perfectly decent terms, but says that the four freedoms of movement of goods, capital, services, and people are indivisible. But it is only since January of 1993 that this has been the case.

The more fundamental question is why should the EU need to threaten any member state which wishes to exit? Is that the sign of a healthy relationship? A more confident and self-assured EU would stand by its own positives and appeal to prospective accession countries – in essence, more carrot than stick.

A party which has to lock the doors and demand that its guests enjoy themselves is no party which any sane person would attend willingly, unless they get off on that sort of thing, of course.

A chacun son goût, and all that.

 

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An option for Bremainers?

EU passport

I saw a link to a change.org petition earlier, calling for the EU to offer European (sic) citizenship to UK citizens. While the author of the petition makes the usual conflation of Europe and the EU (I’m now convinced that the bulk of Remainers genuinely don’t know the difference between a continent and a political construct, given how often they use the term Europe when referring to the EU) and seems to be under the impression that we will be “unable travel and work together in a connected Europe”, there is some merit in the petition.

Namely, there may be mutual benefit for UK citizens and the EU to continue to offer UK citizens a way to opt in to EU citizenship.

From the perspective of those who hold dear the notion that nation states are bad and that it would be better to counter the concept of nationalism by, erm, building a larger nation and to counter the (admittedly imperfect) democracy of Westminster by pushing decision-making powers to more remote and, in the case of the Commission, unaccountable politicians, this offers hope. They would still be able to feel part of this great empire-building project and would continue to enjoy the right to live elsewhere in the EU without the inconvenience of first having to find work and fill in pesky forms. And they could keep their EU flag profile pictures too. I say EU flag, but it is of course the flag of the Council of Europe, which is wholly separate from the EU. The EU decided that it liked the flag and would use it as its own flag too.

On the part of the EU, it would have access to a keen and idealistic section of its citizenship living in a non-member nation. It would thereby exert an indirect influence into the UK through these holders of dual citizenship.

Naturally, citizenship carries responsibilities with rights, and it would seem that the fairest way to offer citizenship would be in exchange for a fee. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. This would be in lieu of the UK’s contribution to the EU. We have to pay for our national passports and given that the EU would be making a special case here, it would be perfectly justified in seeking a fee for citizenship.

Imagine the following scenario, based on what we know from the facts:

  • 16,141,241 people voted to remain in the EU.
  • In 2015, the UK contributed £17.8 billion to the EU budget (or £12.8 billion, assuming we use the number after the UK rebate).

If we divide the contribution by the number of Remainers, we arrive at the annual figure of £1,102.77 (or £799.20, based on the rebate figure). That would cover the UK’s contribution in full. That may be a little high, however, for even the most ardent Remainer.

So, to be truly fair to individual Remainers, and to think about it from their perspective and not that of the EU for the time being, we should probably use a figure based on the number of Remain voters proportional to the total population in 2015. The concession to the EU we should make at this point, however, would be to use the gross figure (without rebate), since the reality is that the rebate would no longer apply.

In that case, using the UK population figures for mid 2015 of 65.1 million, we arrive at a personal contribution figure of £273.43 per person per year, or as the Remainers kept telling us during the campaign in the run-up to the referendum, this represents a mere 75p per day per person.

Taking the idea further still, the EU could widen out the offer to any citzens of the world, or at least those with some level of European ancestry (to preserve its penchant for racial discrimination), who bought into the EU vision, on a similar basis. This would provide futher funds for the EU and a greater potential workforce for countries concerned about declining populations.

If this sounds like a strange notion, consider that people can and indeed do hold multiple citizenships, and that they would ordinarily have to go through the normal process of paying for a passport to hold that citizenship in any practical and meaningful way in the wider world. Indeed, many nations offer citizenship in exchange for money. Consider also that EU citizenship would offer the same rights across not just one, but 27 other member states (at the time of writing).

But maybe this still doesn’t offer EU fans true buy-in or influence into the EU project.

Perhaps then, an additional EU institution could be added; another parliament perhaps, to represent these “subscription citizens”, which wouldn’t necessarily be bound by traditional notions of geographic constituencies, but could instead assign representatives to virtual constituencies, simply based on one representative for the first x subscribers, another for the next x subscribers, etc.

From the EU’s perspective, it’s worth remembering that only a small proportion of such subscription citizens would actually take the opportunity to live or work elsewhere in the EU, and so the EU could look at the opportunity as a means to make a significant income from these people for very little in return, other than to provide for those who feel they have an emotional connection to the ongoing project to create an empire across Europe a way to preserve their dream.

For my part, I am European by birth, history, and cultural values. I don’t need to belong to an artificial political construct to make me feel European. I don’t need the very symbols of nationhood—the flag and anthem—as a means to show how anti-nationalist and very cosmopolitan I am. I don’t need a supranational organisation as a security blanket or as a means to ostentatiously signal my supposedly progressive outlook.

I’m absolutely relaxed about the right of others to claim citizenship of wherever the hell they like. Not only will it make them happier, which makes me happy as a fellow human, but it will stop the incessant whining of the hardcore few among them.

Opt-in EU citizenship seems to offer a win-win scenario for these people and for the EU itself.

So, for the sake of people like Emily*, please sign the petition.

*Make allowances for her broad, sweeping, racist, anti-American comments and factual errors. She’s upset, damn it.

Is there a real doctor in the house?

This blog entry is in response to a blog post by a certain Doctor Andy Williamson, called 10 points to comsider about Brexit and the EU referendum (see http://www.andywilliamson.com/10-points-to-consider-about-brexit-and-the-eu-referendum/). A friend suggested that I might want to write a response, but it is tough to go over similar ground time and time again.

Nevertheless, since I am on my hols and have some quiet time, I’ve taken the opportunity to address Doctor Williamson’s ten, supposedly frequently made pro-Brexit comments and his responses. The doctor’s original comments and responses are in italics.

So, here goes…

1. We’ll have control over our own laws. No. We won’t, we will still need to harmonise with Europe. The only difference between now and then is that at the moment we get to influence those laws. If we leave we just have to adopt them (See Norway).

Yes, we will. We can have precisly the same relationship with the EU that the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, or any number of the majority of countries around the world have with the EU, if we decide to, following failed negotiations with the EU, by leaving the Single Market. As a major export market for the EU, with a large trade deficit, it is very likely that the EU will want/need to tread carefully with the UK. We hold the cards in this respect. The EU has more to lose if trade barriers are established, so it can be pragmatic and negotiate a good deal with the UK or be irresponsible and put the jobs of thousands of EU citizens at risk. The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy; Switzerland and Norway are the 20th and 25th largest respectively. Our prospective deal post Brexit looks likely to be on much better terms than those enjoyed by Switzerland or Norway, who nevertheless manage just fine thank you… but more of that later.

2. British courts can make the final decision. More complex this one but, in short, no. They can’t. At least not any more than now. The European Court of Human Rights (the Daily Mule’s biggest enemy) has nothing to do with the EU. The European Court of Justice is the final arbiter of EU law (not national law)… see point 1.

British courts will be able to reclaim judgements over issues currently ruled over by the ECJ. You effectively make this point in your own words. As for the ECHR, we agree that it has nothing to do with the EU, although EU accession does require subscription to the ECHR.  The UK government has touted withdrawal from the ECHR and the establishment of a British Bill of Rights, but this is separate from the debate around the EU. And yes, many of us Brexiters do know the difference—we don’t all rely on newspapers for our information, be they the Daily Mule or the Grauniad, which is no better, but merely has an editorial policy which is probably more in line with your mindset.

3. We can control our own borders. Er… We already do. You remember that passport thing you have to show the man?

We have no legal means to prevent an EU citizen from entering the UK without good cause for doing so. That is indisputable. This leaves us in the situation where Italy and Greece threatened last summer to offer all immigrants their respective nationalities and thereby to allow them to move unhindered out of their countries and onward to their preferred destination countries (after all, a genuine refugee could well feel in danger in Italy or Greece). The ‘man’ (or indeed ‘woman’) couldn’t stop any such person from walking into the UK. A sovereign UK could, as it used to.

4. We can control immigration. In theory, yes, we could. We could pull up the drawbridge and fill in the tunnel too. But it won’t happen because we lose more than we gain.

The financials on the benefits of mass immigration are hard to prove either way (see https://fullfact.org/immigration/how-immigrants-affect-public-finances/). There is conflicting evidence and it depends on how you measure. What is beyond dispute to people living in areas directly affected by large numbers of immigrants is the real effects on school places, doctors’ surgeries, transport, wage suppression and housing. Witness also the large number of house-building projects on farm land around most towns now.

Irrespective of this, you imply that those who campaign for Brexit wish to stop immigration. We don’t—we’d merely like to control it along meritocratic lines, so we can prioritise welcoming a citizen of any race from anywhere around the world whose skills we need over a probably white, unskilled EU citizen. The latter seems discriminatory and, well, just a bit racist.

Use of straw-men and talk of filling in tunnels and pulling up drawbridges is a little pathetic from an academic, but at least it identifies you as someone reluctant to argue based on facts.

5. Staying in makes terrorism more likely. One of the more facile claims, this is so brilliantly stupid that it is almost genius. Staying in the EU makes us a hotbed for terrorism whilst leaving means we’re all safe. There you have it! The only problem is, it’s not true. First of all, see point 4 above. Then consider that terrorists are just like multi-nationals – they don’t respect national borders, they don’t play fair and they don’t care about you.

Many terrorists have been EU citizens by birth. You’ll find that many identify with a certain faith which transcends mere boundaries and races, but those who come from outside the EU may acquire EU citizenship. Either way, see point 3 above, as this statistically makes terrorism more likely, since we can’t easily prevent potentially high-risk EU citizens from entering the country without good cause. It’s not the physical stops so much as the right to freedom of movement across the Single Market which is the problem. Someone doesn’t have to be transporting Kalashnikovs or nail bombs across borders to be a security threat.

In the EU’s preferred borderless Schengen area, the Paris attacks were carried out by fellow EU citizens who were able to travel unhindered across borders, without even ‘the man’ checking their passports. Had their passports been checked and had they been questioned at the border, their plans may indeed have been thwarted. So yes, while controlled borders won’t can’t guarantee that terrorism will be stopped, they do make it less likely.

However, this isn’t really a strong point I would make for Brexit.

6. We’ll renegotiate free trade deals to replace the EU. We won’t. Certainly not quickly at least. We’ll trade with the EU as a member of the EEA so we get pretty much the same as now but we lose the power to influence any future changes. Again, see Norway. And the US has already made it clear it has no interest in a FTA with a newly isolated and rapidly sinking UK. But if you believe we can do instant deals why don’t you start with Scotland. As it will undoubtedly leave if the UK leaves the EU. As eventually will Northern Ireland. And then Wales… starting to feel like the ugly kid at the school disco yet?

We won’t necessarily trade as a member of the EEA at all. The likelihood will be that the UK government, the day after our vote to leave, contacts partners around the world with whom we trade and asks them if they wish to remain on current terms. It is highly likely that most will. Those that don’t will have to be involved in negotiations on a one-to-one basis, which can be far more easily concluded than those where 28, often conflicting interests must be considered on one side alone. Switzerland has more free trade agreements than the EU does and reacts far more dynamically to events than the EU can. The UK can hardly be called ‘rapidly sinking’ compared to much of the EU! Christ, the self-loathing education we have seen over the last few decades has indeed work well on many of its products, hasn’t it?

What an outgoing US president says in his own interests does not reflect the UK’s interests. Tell me, who is in this US trade agreement line, I mean “queue”. Can you show me it? I would have thought that governments and civil services would work in parallel rather than series.

As for the prospect of another Scottish referendum, despite the assertions of the SNP, all the opinion polls show largely similar views vis-à-vis the EU in England and Scotland. This notion that the SNP has of being able to be more sovereign in the EU, where it would have 6 out of 684 (0.87% of seats for 1.8% of the population) MEPs in the European Parliament post Brexit, none of whom have legislative initiative, compared with 59 out of 650 (9% of seats for 8% of the population) MPs in Westminster, all of whom do have legislative initiative, and many of whom have gone on to be Prime Minister of the UK, is as factually accurate as Braveheart. Not only that, but Scotland would have the status of a minor country in the EU.

With these facts in mind, the stance of the SNP in desiring to rejoin the EU post-Brexit can only be rationally explained by anglophobia.

Nevertheless, if the Scottish people (or Welsh, or Northern Irish for that matter) voted for independence from the UK, I would wish them well. You see, I’m consistent in my belief in empowerment of citizens and decentralisation of political power.

7. We’ll be strutting our stuff as world power again. Newsflash! The UK is a world power. It has a seat on the UN Security Council. It punches enormously above its weight on the international stage. This is in part because of its connectedness to Europe and its power within the EU. Leave and what are you left with? There is momentum building to review the UNSC membership, what do you think are the odds that an isolated UK will still be there?

Blimey! A mere bullet point ago we were ‘rapidly sinking’! Our “punching above our weight” has precisely nothing to do with our EU membership. The UK was a world power and had its seat on the UNSC long before we joined the then Common Market. It is the EU which is seeking to assume control of the roles historically occupied by the UK (and presumably France). I can’t see the UK giving up that seat on the UNSC easily, although the rights, wrongs, and failings of the UN are for another debate. You carry on arguing for the precious 1/28th (3.5%) share in influence at the EU’s “table”, despite us being outside the majority of euro members, who are bound to and moreover need to act in their own best interests. I’ll argue for us regaining our own table once again. We are indeed a top economic and military world power.

8. The economy will thrive if we’re outside the EU. Seriously? It’s not even worth bothering trying to answer this one! The statement is just so blatantly devoid of logic. We’re not Norway. we sold off most of the family silver years ago. And what’s left is rapidly being outsourced and sold off too. And that great shining generator of wealth (for a small few), the financial sector? That will move to Frankfurt, did you ever see a bank with loyalty? (OK, I accept that this could be seen as a plus). In short, if we leave, we get to live through a fire sale at the sunset of a once great economic and political power.

We’re back to the doom-mongering, I see. Well, I suppose the unrestrained patriotism couldn’t last long. There you go, bringing Norway into it again. Indeed, we’re not Norway—we’re a much bigger economic power on the world stage, but make up your mind; is Norway a positive or a negative model?

All the negatives you insist on being an accurate assessment of the UK have happened and are presumably continuing to happen while we’ve been a member of the EU. We’ll take it as read that I have a little more faith than you in the UK. Your scenarios of doom don’t appear to reflect reality. The financial sector (I assume you mean ‘centre’, as there are existing financial sectors in all EU nations) could have moved to Frankfurt at any time and indeed the very same assertion was made in an attempt to cajole us into joining the euro.

It is nonetheless worth pointing out, that the record of small, independent countries around the world is extremely good, and since you insist on invoking Norway as an example, would you care to tell me which non-EU European country (along with Switzerland) is in the top five wealthiest per capita not only in Europe, but in the world? Then perhaps, moving away from money matters to the more important measures, would you like to take a guess which three non-EU European nations are in the top five happiest countries in the world according to the UN? Go on… Have a go.

9. The EU is incompetent, badly run and a drain on resources. Yes. It is. It is beyond incompetent in many cases. But we’re stuck with it one way or the other – leaving does not change that. It might be hard to change it but at least it’s possible from the inside (now more than ever). What can we do from outside? It’s also worth pondering that many of the problems with supposed-EU dictates lie in the local implementation (remember, it was the UK’s fault it didn’t impose the moratorium in immigration in 2004, as Germany and others did).

We’re largely in agreement here, only your advice appears to be akin to the poor advice given to victims of domestic abuse to stay and to try to change their partners. I’m more inclined to go down the ‘get the feck out of there’ route. What can we do from the outside? The same as every other country outside the EU does. It may have escaped your notice, but several less powerful countries thrive outside the EU.

You claim that many of the problems with “supposed-EU dictates” lie in the local implementation of them. OK, fine. Even if we grant you that, in what way would having EU dictates implemented better locally be better than having none?

But the EU does issue dictates. They aren’t supposed dictates, but absolutely meet the dictionary definition.

A moritorium on immigration is as useful as Cameron’s negotiated farce of a handbrake on benefits for EU migrants, except that the latter needs to be pulled by the EU itself—it’s merely temporary and kicks the issue into the long grass.

10. What’s it ever done for us anyway? Nothing much. Other than working time directives and other ways that protect your rights at work, protect your children. Then there’s consumer protection and European peace. Not to mention the wholesale transition of Eastern Europe from volatile authoritarian states into thriving democracies. Maybe you don’t care about any of those things. But you should. In short, the idea of leaving the EU is somewhere between bat-shit crazy and economic suicide.

Are you seriously going to attempt to claim that workers’ and children’s rights didn’t exist before we joined the EU, and that they wouldn’t have been implemented in the course of the last forty years but by the grace of the EU in its benevolence? Again, you’re supposedly an academic, for Chrissake! At least make the tiniest effort to attempt to retain the illusion of impartiality! Just how much EU funding do you receive, by the way? Just interested.

Sweden, before it joined the EU, had some of the most progressive social policies in the world, which far exceeded those of any EU country. All modern, developed economies have various measures of protection of rights. These are driven by societal pressures in a connected world and have nothing to do with the EU. To claim that such rights would otherwise not be enjoyed by UK citizens when such rights are enjoyed by Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders, is simply ridiculous.

So, that’s the good doctor’s points dealt with individually. Most telling, however, as to his own bigotry was one of the opening paragraphs…

“Well, what exactly is the motivation not to be part of a modern Europe? It feels like a naïve and shortsighted hark back to the glory days of Empire, with a worryingly modern dose of isolationist xenophobia. It’s regressive. Hardly a platform for the future.”

This marks the doctor’s post out clearly as an appeal to virtue signallers everywhere through blatant straw-man portrayals of opponents of the EU. In effect, the doctor is making the following statement.

“If you believe in the EU, you must be a forward-thinking, liberal-minded, good ‘un. If you’re anti-EU, you’re stuck in the Victorian era, hate foreigners, and want to shut out the world.”

Well, perhaps this will be effective in bringing in a lot of young minds to the doctor’s side—that class of student who, sheep-like, falls in line with the prevailing group mentality and de rigeur opinion; those happy many, who like to be seen to have the right opinions rather than having to go through the trouble of examining evidence and thinking things through for themselves. It is, after all, far better and easier to be handed your socially-acceptable opinions, à la carte. And we see this now all too clearly and too often in institutions of higher education, where to have an original thought or to deviate from received knowledge was once considered positive or at least worthy of discussion, but is now more likely to see you no-platformed and sworn at by the mouthy, unwashed, “safe-space” numpties.

But the doctor has let slip his poor judgement and own prejudices. No doubt there are some who favour Brexit because they fit the doctor’s description, but I must admit, I haven’t met any of the Colonel Blimp would-be types.

No, quite the opposite in fact.

Speaking personally…

1. I’m not motivated not to be part of modern Europe.
2. The EU is a political construct; Europe is a continent.
3. I love Europe. I want the French people, Germans, Italians, Greeks, and British to have their politicians directly accountable to them. It’s hardly a radical proposal!
4. Nobody is harking back to the glory days of empire, except perhaps those who are looking to BUILD A FECKIN’ EMPIRE IN EUROPE! Pot, kettle, black.
5. Isolationism includes putting up borders and privileging people within those borders. The EU does precisely this by forcing the UK to discriminate in favour of unskilled EU citizens over skilled non-EU citizens. That seems rather more xenophobic.

Frankly, I don’t give a toss how it feels to Doctor W, because that’s wholly subjective. The doctor either utterly misunderstands my and many others’ motivating factors for campaigning for Brexit or he’s seeking to misrepresent them. Neither is especially good from an academic.

Many of us favour Brexit to increase political accountability, to bring decision-making closer to the people, and to ensure that the taxes we raise under the goverment we elect are used in ways we can influence. Furthermore, we seek to move away from the protectionist EU and embrace the wider world, welcoming talented and useful people to our shores from across the globe.

We recognise the EU for what it has become, not for what we might wish it were.

As I posted in a recent Facebook post…

If you’re going to decry people for nationalism and harking back to the days of empire while voting to remain in an anti-democratic political construct whose core purpose is to build a large, single, protectionist state through the acquisition of neighbouring countries… you haven’t really thought this through properly, have you?

Doctor Williamson… I’m afraid that my advice for others would be to urgently seek a second opinion!

What the Varoufakis he on about?

I recently watched this interview between Yanis Varoufakis and Owen Jones and was once again struck by an-all-too-common mindset on the part of Varoufakis.

I am so bored of this rather tiresome narrative and slur that those of us who value democracy and self-determination of nations are xenophobic, racist, or ultra-nationalist.

When did concepts of self-determination and democratic accountability become negative?

Here’s a thing for Varoufakis to consider. If an independent UK gets Boris Johnson and is unhappy with him and his government, guess what… We can vote him out of power in the next general election. Can we say the same about the EU Commission—the body which is part of the troika which has destroyed Varoufakis’ own country’s economy and democracy?

So, Varoufakis is trying to democratise the EU in the face of all the historic evidence, vested interests, and lobby groups involved. He’s right that the contempt is for political elites, but there’s also a hell of a lot of contempt for those who want to remove people’s sense of belonging to a nation state, which does not at all preclude friendship and partnership between nation states; and based on opinion polls, there’s quite a bit of public contempt for idealistic open-border advocates too. He may indeed find that it is precisely this latter development which is causing the resurgence of the extreme right, which, contrary to his rather bigoted view, many of us who favour Brexit vociferously oppose. For my part, I have growing contempt for idealists who think we should all share their utopian views in the face of all the contrary evidence and experience.

Why does he consider the notion that people like to belong to a group with whom they share cultural values, history, laws, and traditions, i.e. a nation state, a negative thing? I thought we were all in favour of maintaining cultural differences. The nation state is a natural and long-established state of affairs around the world. Most people are perfectly happy with and identify with the nation state, but are also perfectly capable of not hating other nations. Most people take the view that each nation, and even smaller subdivisions within nations, have their own ways, and see that rather as a point of interest, rather than a negative thing. In other words, we follow the maxims ‘live and let live’ and ‘vive la différence’.

Most people can identify with this sense of positive patriotism at times of national celebration or during international sporting events, such as the Olympics. If you support a national sports team passionately, you understand this. Your love of your own team and pride in its achievements don’t mean you hate other teams. Indeed, a good fan will recognise the positives in other teams and seek to learn from these.

One thing I find that internationalists (or continentalists, in this case) overlook is where their endgame inevitably leads them. In seeking to undermine the nation state and surplant it with a large political union, they are merely looking to create a larger, more powerful nation state in the long run—precisely the kind of empire-building they’ve traditionally opposed, and all entailing the shift of power from being closest to the people to increasingly remote levels away from people.

His argument against the notion of the nation state is as nonsenical as claiming that love for your family necessitates hatred of other families. It’s utterly bizarre!

He goes on to say

“[The Commission] can not be dismissed by anybody, and as Tony Benn said, ‘Unless you are able to ask those who make decisions over you, ‘how do I get rid of you?’ and get a meaningful answer, you don’t have a democracy.’ So that’s what’s important to do in Europe. We have to do it to give more sovereignty and more degrees of freedom to our national parliaments.”

He’s just made the precisely the argument I, and many others, make for Brexit. The difference is, he is under the rather bizarre delusion that the EU is capable of reform; reform which has been known about for decades (as a former pro-EUer, I know this all too well). How much longer is he going to put his idealism before the welfare of his own people and other members of the EU?

Do we need to be in a political union with New Zealand, the U.S.A., Australia, or Japan to be on friendly terms? No, we are bound by broadly aligned, common values.

“The retreat to the nation state is never going to benefit the Left.”

But Varoufakis seems to suffer under the bizarre delusion that adherence to an organisation which is governed predominantly by the Right and is subjected to the highest levels of lobbying from multinationals will benefit the Left.

Frankly, I don’t give a stuff what will or won’t benefit the Left. I won’t vote to benefit the political Left or the political Right. I’ll vote on principles and on the basis of making decision-makers accountable to voters, and at the closest possible level.

If that means we get a government of Left or Right, I won’t care, because that government will do either good things and be re-elected, or it will do bad things, and be ousted. That’s national democracy for you – political Darwinism, if you like. Varoufakis on the other hand, appears to be a political creationist and expects everyone else to share his vision/beliefs. No thanks, I want accountable politicians and on a level where decision-making is responsive, quick, and decisive; not cumbersome, slow, and indecisive.

And I want to live in a confident, positive, and outward-looking UK, which doesn’t believe that the world stops at the EU’s borders and in forcing unwilling European people into a giant, political, undemocratic empire against their will.

Euro Myths Unbusted

This post is in response to a posting by a friend on social media. I find it shocking that people I know are very intelligent fall for this stuff—it is no better than stuff peddled by tabloids. The meme in question is below and I have responded to each numbered point in turn below the image.

References are provided. Where secondary sources are used, the source provides links through to primary sources wherever possible.

image

1. Our laws go back hundreds of years. It would hardly be surprising that 13% had the EU’s involvement, but given the relatively small number of years we’ve been a member, this has precisely the opposite signifiance than intended!

But let’s give this statement the benefit of the doubt and assume it refers to recent and ongoing legislation. The figure is misleading, as it leaves out EU regulations (as distinct from EU directives). Regulations pass directly into UK law without touching the democratically elected House of Commons. See https://fullfact.org/europe/two-thirds-uk-law-made-eu/ for details. FullFact estimate the figure to be 62%, which is closer to the (admittedly exaggerated) claims made by some advocates of Brexit than to the advocates of Bremain.

2. Laws are made by the Commission, which is the executive. The European Parliament and Council have a means of providing feedback (in a similar way the House of Lords can influence the House of Commons), but ultimately, it is the Commission which is the executive of the EU. None of the Commission’s members are publicly elected, but are all appointed by member states, all take an oath to defend the interests of the EU above those of their own nation, and the Commission is accepted or rejected en masse by the European Parliament. Past commissioners have included people with failed domestic political careers and people with criminal convictions.

The Commission can not be removed or voted in through the ballot box by European citizens. It is therefore not directly elected in the way most executives are in modern, European democracies. In short, its members are indeed unelected bureaucrats.

The European Parliament, unlike a traditional parliament, can not propose legislation, but can only vote on legislation put before it by the Commission. Put simply, the only people in the EU institutions who we elect to represent us are not able, quite literally, to represent us.

Then there are policy areas where the Council may consult the Parliament, but is not even bound by its decision.

We need only take a look at the EU’s handling of Greece and Italy in recent history to judge its adherence to democratic principles.

But let’s just cut to the chase on this one with a simple question. How does the European Union electorate elect or remove a Commission, i.e. the EU government, to or from power?

Answer that honestly, understand how that differs from how modern, democratic, European electoral systems work, and perhaps you’ll understand why principled democrats on all political sides oppose the EU.

3. The Norwegians and Swiss have to abide by U.S. trade regulations when selling into the U.S., by Japanese trade regulations when selling to Japan, by Chinese trade regulations when selling into China. Somehow they manage, because many trade regulations are regulated outside the control of the European Union, through multilateral trade deals and international, multilateral trade bodies and standards organisations.

Regarding standards: IT standards, motoring standards, and other commonplace standards were not devised by the EU, but by innovators, business consensus, and the market around the world. It is these standards which must ordinarily be met by businesses, and many of them are set by organisations such as the ISO or quite simply by customer demand.

But back to the point on Norway and Switzerland, because seemingly, according to many Bremainers, these are the only models for nations outside the EU, despite there being 168 non-EU countries in the world. Let’s take a look at a typical example of how the discussion around Switzerland’s and Norway’s relationship with the EU goes, taken from an episode of the Daily Politics (https://youtu.be/hgrB2yAPPlQ?t=4m37s).

Andrew Neil: “I’ve looked at the EFTA Secretariat, which compiles these figures and the EU doesn’t in any way dispute them. Between 2000 and 2013, there were 52,183 legal instruments issued by the EU. Norway adopted 4,724, that’s 9%. Where does the 75 [%] come from?… Only 100 [0.19%] of these changes required primary legislation in the Storting [the Norwegian parliament].”
Andrew Neil: “How many EU rules does Switzerland write into its law?”
Matthew Hancock: “Well, actually I haven’t got the figure on that.”
Andrew Neil: “Well, I can tell you. It’s 0 percent.”

Andrew Neil: “If not having access to the Single Market is such a disadvantage, and as you say, Switzerland doesn’t have it, how come per capita Switzerland exports five times as much as we do?”
Matthew Hancock: “Because, err… Switzerland is physically much closer and surrounded by the European Union.”

Yes, Hancock really did say that – in the era of globalisation. That video is a lesson in knowing when you’re on the ropes in a debate and when to stop digging.

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, and is forecast by some to overtake Germany in the coming years to become the fourth largest. Switzerland is the 20th largest economy and Norway is 27th (or 25th, if you use UN rather than IMF/World Bank figures). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

But there are those of course who assert that money isn’t everything; that it is easy to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Switzerland and Norway are the 1st and 4th happiest countries in the world according to the 2015 United Nations World Happiness Report. Iceland, another non-EU European country is 2nd. See http://worldhappiness.report/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/04/WHR15.pdf

So either Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway are rich and happy or poor and happy, but either way, they’re clearly very happy indeed – despite being European nations which have declined to join the EU happy club.

Ultimately though, Norway and Switzerland negotiated their own bilateral deals with the EU, because sovereign states get to do that sort of thing. Norway and Switzerland opted into Schengen, whereas the UK didn’t. In February 2014, the Swiss people voted in a referendum to return to immigration quotas. Due to the Swiss constitution and Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, it is ultimately people, not politicians or businesses, who are sovereign there. Swiss politicians are obliged to follow the will of the people when expressed through the mechanism of initiative/referendum and so Swiss politicians (many of whom would happily join up to the EU, if only their damn people would agree) now have to do what it takes to make things work – and the EU is of course reluctant to play ball.

As I’ve stated above, there are 168 countries around the world which are not in the EU. It’s utterly absurd to suggest that life outside the EU for the world’s 5th largest economy would be impossible or even difficult.

4. Ah, the ‘toxic’ migration issue. Well, this issue is very complex, and if you quote very specifically on tax contributions versus benefit claims, this claim may indeed seem to stand up to scrutiny on the basis of one report, but there is no consensus on this and there have been conflicting studies. See http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/08/are-migrants-good-uk-economy. Core conflicts around the financial pros of immigration revolve around GDP figures per capita versus overall GDP.

But immigration should never be considered solely on the basis of monetary considerations. The last year saw record net migration figures of 330,000 (see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/migration1/migration-statistics-quarterly-report/august-2015/sty-net-migration.html). The effects of this in terms of wage suppression, infrastructure, housing, environment, demand on services, schools, career prospects for UK natives, and social cohesion seem to all too often take a back seat in this discussion.

Proponents of mass migration as a means to deal with the demographic issues of a low birth rate also seem to conveniently forget that people age, so if you import several hundred thousand young workers now, you will end up with several hundred thousand pensioners in a few decades, and so on.

If you open up an unregulated employment market to people from vastly disparate economies, what effect to you think this has on those in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs? It’s relatively easy to find research which would validate this narrative or research which concludes that the effect is negligible, but it’s also obvious to those who mix with people outside the middle classes that times have been tough for many indigenous workers when they are competing against people from EU nations where the minimum wage is one tenth that of the UK and who will gladly work at the minimum possible wage indefinitely, thereby keeping all wages low. See http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Minimum_wages,_January_2016_%28%C2%B9%29_%28EUR_per_month%29_YB16-II.png for a comparison of minimum wages around the EU.

And that’s not a slur at all on foreign workers, many of whom have a superb work ethic – it’s just an economic reality.

Similarly, the economics involved in NHS trusts deciding to take on foreign labour (80% of in 2014) is simple economic pragmatism on their part. If they can easily employ foreign nurses rather than incur the costs of training indigenous nursing staff, why would they not?

Head of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr Peter Carter, said that there were 57,000 applicants for 20,000 nurse training posts in 2014. He commented:

“Isn’t that a matter of huge regret that you’ve got people in the four countries of the UK who want to train as nurses. They’re being turned away, while we’re going off and raiding the often impoverished workforce of other countries.” (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-33678773)

Migration Watch, an independent and non-political organisation, offers a Summary Fact Sheet regarding migration at http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefing-paper/250, which tackles some of the issues around migration, quoting ONS sources.

Overpopulation has long-since been recognised as detrimental to society and following Malta, England (not the UK) is already the second most densely-populated country in the European Union.

In the last few months, I note an increasing amount of house building going on around nearly every town I go through. My home town alone has two huge ongoing developments on former green field sites on its outskirts. The house-building necessary to meet the requirements of this increase in population means more asphalt covering more fields and consequent run-off of water unable to drain naturally away where it falls. And as we know, flooding exacerbated by run-off is becoming more of an issue on an almost annual basis now.

The whole subject of migration is extremely complex and has wide-ranging effects, many of which are without doubt positive. But it seems strange that on the one hand many will gladly be wholly pro immigration, but then fail to make a connection when market forces cause large companies (such as those represented by the pro EU and historically woefully wrong CBI – see http://capx.co/find-out-what-the-cbi-thinks-and-do-the-opposite/) to seek cost reductions by employing cheaper labour from overseas or moving operations overseas and thereby close down British companies, much to the annoyance of these very same people who were willingly or unwillingly advocating global market forces in the first place!

I can’t help but note the number of people who are unashamedly pro-EU and yet, without the slightest hint of irony, express outrage at the current crisis around the steel industry and the government’s inaction!

5. Naturally, if the EU has been legislating, one would hope that at least some of its legislation would be beneficial to people! I’m more than happy to concede the point that it has helped ordinary people in some respects, although I can’t help recalling in my own experience that I could use my mobile phone data allowance in Switzerland (outside the EU), but not in Germany, and that, having proof of employment there, I was able to live and work in Switzerland on three separate occasions with no problem at all, years before Schengen.

In terms of how the EU has benefitted my wider community, we could of course open this up to ask how it helped Peugeot workers in Coventry when operations moved from Coventry to Slovakia – with EU support. You’d be foolish not to recognise that lower wages in Slovakia were a huge factor in the decision for Peugeot to move, but of course, in the grand scheme of thinking above and beyond the future of local car workers, that was the right decision, and from a large business perspective, it was of course a great cost-reduction. It is hardly surprising then that many large businesses support EU membership, is it? In its defence, the EU denied the move was funded by £78 million from its structural and cohesion funds (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/coventry_warwickshire/4936696.stm), but I don’t see why it should be so shy about this. It should be brave enough to openly promote the redistribution of wealth from the richer countries of Europe to the poorer ones, because that is precisely what it does and that is precisely its point. If you’re a full-on EUphile, why would you care about local car workers when there are workers in Slovakia to worry about? Sod the local working class when there are wider, idealistic, internationalist (or at least continentalist) considerations!

In all seriousness, if you take the view that money should be redistributed from wealthier, more productive economies to poorer and less productive economies, the EU has historically undoubtedly done a pretty good job in raising the living standards of the poorer EU nations over the last few decades. If you are happy that taxes of your fellow countrymen should go into building nice, new roads in Bulgaria and Romania rather than be put into transport infrastucture in the UK, that’s an absolutely legitimate view to have. It’s not one I share, as it goes, for all sorts of reasons—principally that old notion of no taxation without representation.

Back to the main point. Are we really saying that policies which are beneficial/progressive can not be made by national governments? I keep hearing people state that they would rather remain in the EU, because they are worried about what the Tories would do given a free hand. In essence, whether they realise it or not, they’re advocating the concept that an unelected organisation holds power over elected politicians, while they happen to think they agree with the aims and objectives of the unelected organisation, that is. I’m not sure how they’ll feel if/when the EU goes all-out corporatist (TTIP anyone?) and a left-wing government is in Downing Street. You can forget any notions of state protectionism and interventionism under the EU’s rules, so I’m not sure how many on the political left who are pro-EU square that circle in their own minds.

In my own, admittedly anecdotal experience, the most commonly-heard pro EU statement is “so long as they fight the Tories, I’m in favour of remaining in the EU”. This is generally accompanied by utter ignorance over how the EU operates, but so long as the EU is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be a bulwark against the actions of the current UK government, and in their short-term interests, that’s a good enough reason to sacrifice long-term democratic principles. We’ll ignore the obvious question as to why a Conservative government would be pro-EU if it felt in any way that EU membership were to the detriment of its policies.

The NHS, pensions, paid holidays, public holidays, maternity leave, and trade unions all pre-date UK accession to the European Union (or Common Market as it was when the UK joined) and many such social benefits (and more besides) are enjoyed by countries outside the European Union too. Again, progressive policies are not driven by the EU, but by public, societal demands and evolving, wealthier societies—oh, and public pressure on politicians who have to win votes, of course. Ask yourself to what extent politicians who need not fear the ballot box have to work in the public interest.

This latter point is key, the Commission does not have to appeal to the wider general public in a society. It can operate in the interests of large business and further disenfranchisement of the EU electorate pretty much at will. On the other hand, what do you think would happen to a UK government which tried to repeal existing rights? Do you really think they’d even dare to stand on such a platform? Do you think that they’d remain in power in the following general election, assuming they could even get such messures through parliament? Currently, when things go wrong, the government can point to Brussels and say “nothing to do with me – it’s out of my hands.” Regardless of whether this is true or not in individual cases (it most certainly is in the case of governments being forbidden from offering state support to companies), it nevertheless means that elected politicians in the UK can use the EU as an excuse.

Were a UK government wholly accountable for its actions to the electorate, do you not consider that it might have to be a little more cautious with its actions?

Post World War 2, the British public voted to remove a war hero from government and replace him with a Labour government. Even in light of the success of Churchill, he was not immune from the power of the ballot box and public desire for real change, including, of course, the foundation of the NHS under the ministry of Clement Attlee.

I have a great deal of faith in the British public. I think it’s fair-minded, and history appears to validate that supposition. A wholly right-wing, socially conservative and mean-spirited government would not last long in an independent UK – least of all if it started to enact laws which were detrimental to a large section of the electorate! Britons have a strong cultural sense of standing up for the “little man” (as epitomised in our comedy culture going back centuries) against the bullying upper middle classes. When the latter push too far, the public has a strong sense of restoring equilibrium through the ballot box.

6. The trends are important here. The EU’s share of global GDP has fallen from 30% in 1993 to 24% in 2013 with the emergence of the BRIC and other economies. See http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/international-transactions/outward-foreign-affiliates-statistics/how-important-is-the-european-union-to-uk-trade-and-investment-/sty-eu.html. We also remain a net importer from the EU (see https://www.uktradeinfo.com/Statistics/OverseasTradeStatistics/Pages/EU_and_Non-EU_Data.aspx) and this trade deficit has grown in recent years, meaning quite simply that there is more money in the EU trading with the UK than there is in the UK trading with the rest of the EU. Following a Brexit, you can bet that the heads of BMW, Volkswagen, and Bosch (among many others) will be demanding a favourable trade agreement between the EU and the UK! It is not UK jobs, but EU jobs which are most at risk from any kind of petty, vindictive action on the part of the EU following a Brexit.

It is certainly true that a small majority of our exports go to the EU (see http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/gbr/#Destinations), but that should hardly surprise us, and broken down by nation, only five EU members are larger export destinations than China. Then we need to consider the Rotterdam Effect, meaning that the figures for the Netherlands are hardly reliable, given up to 50% of exports to the Netherlands are destined for wider export outside the EU from the port of Rotterdam (see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/uktrade/uk-trade/december-2014/sty-trade-rotterdam-effect-.html).

The 3.5 million jobs thing is a carefully-phrased hint to make people believe that 3.5 million jobs are reliant on EU membership. You’ll note that the above graphic is careful how it words this.

“Half of Britain’s exports destined for the EU account for 3.5 million jobs”

This does not mean that these jobs are at risk from Brexit. This is a long-discredited myth that simply will not die. Well done to the Bremainers who continue to use it, because it immediately flags up where they’re coming from for everyone in the know to see.

This assertion originates from a distortion of a report carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), commissioned in 1999 by the pro-euro lobby. The then director of the NIESR angrily dismissed this interpretation of his organisation’s report as “pure Goebbels”. The fact is that the jobs rely on trade with the countries which comprise the EU, not membership of the EU. It’s really not a difficult concept to grasp and the continued perpetuation of this myth no longer serves any purpose than as a means of quickly and easily identifying disingenuous or ill-informed Bremainers.

Dealing with the effect of Brexit though, see https://fullfact.org/economy/do-three-million-uk-jobs-rely-directly-our-place-eu/ for a wider explanation, but to quote from that article,

The most recent report Full Fact could find was conducted by Civitas in 2004. This provided an assessment of all the previous reports and concluded that “the economic impact of British withdrawal from the EU would be marginal—less than one per cent of GDP. Putting it another way, these three studies find that, for the UK, the net economic benefits of EU membership are at best marginal.”

7. I’m not one of those people who conflates the ECHR with the European Union, although it is worth mentioning that membership of the European Union requires members to subscribe to the ECHR, so therefore one must comply with the rulings of the ECHR to be a member of the EU.

In contrast, it is entirely within the remit of an independent nation to determine whether or not is should be bound by the ECHR. There are concerns of ECHR rulings relating to over-zealous application of rulings in favour of known extremists, but I concede that these fall outside the general scope of the EU and of this discussion, and I agree that fellow Brexiters should stop conflating the ECHR with the EU.

Importantly though, I’m not one of those people who conflates the ECHR with the European Court of Justice, which is an institution in the European Union, and which will of course interfere in domestic issues when decisions made by nation governments in the best interests of their citizens do not work in the best interests of the European Union.

8. Quite. All EU states do have different languages, cultures, histories, and laws. They also have different demographics, business sectors, world outlooks, cultural ties with nations outside the EU, and priorities, many of which are shaped by language, culture, history, and law and none of which are properly served by ‘one-size-fits-all’ empire-building mentality which invariably leads to constant compromises to the detriment of leading countries in certain sectors, and makes for an extremely slow, cumbersome, undemocratic, and unsatisfactory legislative process.

The founders of the EU wanted to establish a United States of Europe, but Europe is not analogous to North America before the creation of the United States of America, where a modern state was built where no such state already existed, and where incomers adapted to a common set of US legal and societal norms which had already been determined and did not have these imposed on them. Europe already exists as a set of proud nation states, each with its own political and legal framework, cultural differences… and centuries of history. You can’t force disparate European peoples into a supranational union against their will, and the myth that the UK is the only country in the EU with a EU-sceptic outlook is both ill-informed and wrong, and ironically demonstrates ignorance over our fellow Europeans.

The EU’s motto is irrelevant. It has shown through its actions how it pays lip service to its stated policy of subsidiarity (or confederalism). Actions speak louder than mottos. Mottos exist to convince people of something and not to reflect reality.

To conclude, this kind of meme and propaganda is pushed by many who see themselves as broadly pro-European and wish to associate themselves with a young, vibrant, cosmopolitan world outlook; the kind of people who see anti-EUers as grumpy, moustachioed, fogeys, who long for the days of empire and are suspicious of anyone with slightly brown skin or an accent.

It is an easy and convenient cliché, and doubtless, these same people associate membership of the EU with holidays and time they spent abroad, sipping coffees in pavement cafés. Unfortunately, they don’t distinguish between the EU and Europe. For so many, they are one and the same. As I mentioned above, many of these same people (if not most) are clueless as to how the EU operates.

On a positive note, there are those of us who likewise feel very pro European. I consider myself simultaneously a Yorkshireman, Englishman, Briton, and European, and yes, a citizen of the world, come to that. I love Europe, its varied cultures, people, languages, customs and traditions. I studied and graduated in modern languages at university, on a course whose content was history and politics based. I’ve worked and lived abroad and am perfectly happy to have done so and would happily do so again if life took a turn in that direction.

But it’s precisely because I love the diversity of Europe, but even more importantly, because I value democracy and moves towards increasing citizen empowerment and decentralisation, not centralisation, that I opposed the European Union. And, having argued the opposite case a quarter of a century ago, and voiced the still omnipresent mantra that the EU needs widespread democratic reform back then, only to see things worsen in this respect light of EU expansion from 12 to 28 countries and increasing dis-empowerment of member states as a consequence, I now find myself arguing precisely for a British exit from the EU and, for a new Europe of independent nation states, working on a collaborative and multi-lateral basis.

You see, my concern in all this is not just for Britons, but for all Europeans.

Sturgeon’s Mask

I can’t work out whether the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon is deceiving Scottish people through ignorance or prejudice, because it must be one or the other.

An independent Scotland which rejoined the EU would not have much greater control over its affairs, all the more so since it would lose all the opt-outs the UK has historically negotiated and be compelled to join the euro and Schengen, as specified in the EU accession requirements.

In an independent UK, Scotland would have—because it currently does have—59 out of 650 MPs (9% of seats for 8% of the population) influence in its ‘parent’ parliament, and each of its elected members could propose legislation or become government ministers.

An ‘independent’ Scotland in the EU would have 6 out of 684 seats in the European Parliament, so would have a huge 0.87% of seats in the EP for 1.2% of the population.

Then you have to consider the relative powers and influence of a MP versus an MEP. An MEP, unlike an MP, can not propose legislation (legislative initiative) and can not join the Commission (EU government), as the Commission is appointed, not elected, and is merely approved or rejected en masse by the European Parliament.

An independent Scotland in the EU would ironically have significantly less influence, given the above and the fact that it would have small nation status in the EU.

A truly independent-minded Scot would campaign for independence from both the UK and EU. That I could understand.

I’m not an especially strong unionist in political terms. I have a lot of sympathy for those who seek greater powers to be ceded to Edinburgh and indeed further than that.

If it were up to me, the UK would be a confederation of states, on the Swiss model, with all powers devolved to the lowest practical level—right the way down to village level—and matters only shared up to county, regional, and finally national level where necessary or desirable.

But to swap relatively big influence in Westminster, where Scots often hold very high positions of office, including the PM on several occasions, for minimal influence in the EU suggests that someone is driven either by ignorance of how the EU works or anglophobia.

There’s definitely something fishy about Ms Sturgeon’s claims.

 

General Ignorance

Last night’s Question Time made for depressing viewing, based on the exhibited level of public awareness around the European Union and fears over Brexit.

The first example of stunning ignorance which jumped out was the audience member who once again parrotted the ‘three million jobs at risk if the UK leaves’ nonsense, despite that nonsense being comprehensively refuted by the author of the report from which it’s taken! Why is it difficult for so many to grasp the difference between jobs being dependent on continuing trade with the EU and dependent on EU membership? Nobody is advocating cessation of trade with EU countries!

The second example was the bizarre bloke who said that young people like to travel and wouldn’t like the idea of not being able to travel to other EU nations. No, really! He actually went further than the standard ‘all trade will cease’ nonsense and thought that Brexit would prevent travel to EU countries!

So these are the kind of nonsense ideas that are stuck in people’s minds. I think that those people who seek to remain in the EU (Bremainers, as I call them) have room for cautious optimism on this basis. I’m sad to say that this referendum will be won by a combination of ignorance and conservatism, and I genuinely fear that the UK will see many dark years ahead as part of an ‘ever closer union’ in which it will continue to play the awkward child. This is beyond tragic.

If you vote to remain in the EU, you should be aware that the status quo is not a viable option. You should vote knowing that if we are to remain in the EU, we should throw ourselves into it fully by joining the euro and Schengen. The euro members will continue to drive the agenda and those outside the ‘top speed’ integrationist nations will find themselves outvoted in the Council on matters which protect euro nation interests over non-euro nation interests. Staying where we are will build continuing resentment within the EU.

This brings me neatly onto the crux of the issue. There was one audience member who had done his homework. He had a pretty good grasp of the institutions and their responsibilities and touched on what I believe to be the heart of the matter.

For those unaware, EU decisions are made by the Commission and to a lesser extent, the Council (formally known as the Council of the European Union or the Council of Ministers – as distinct from the European Council). In the case of the Commission, none of its members are publicly elected – they are appointed. EU citizens do not vote for Commission members and they can’t do anything to vote the Commission out of power every few years through the ballot box in the same way that national governments can be removed from power if they become unpopular.

If you support this, I can only assume that you would be happy with a UK government chosen by politicians and not elected at all. The reality is worse than that, of course. The Commission is the government of the whole of the EU – not just one nation!

Remember too that the EU parliament does not correspond to our national parliament. There is no legislative right for MEPs. That is to say, an MEP can not propose a new law, like an MP can. The direct link between a constituent and the legislative process does not exist in the EU.

As for the Council, things took a turn for the worse following implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2014, which saw the introduction of qualified majority voting on nearly all issues. The Council comprises ministers from each member state’s government and changes according to the issue under discussion. Prior to the introduction of QMV, unanimity was required amongst Council members, but as the EU expanded to its now 28 constituent states, it was clear that unanimity over issues would become almost impossible and slow decison-making down further still.

So, now if a state is outvoted in the Council, a member state can (and does) see measures adopted which are not only unfavourable, but which are positively against its interests. Depending on the issue under consideration, this can have hugely negative implications. And, as a net contributor, the UK pays handsomely for the luxury of having its own best interests out-voted. This becomes all the more relevant when you consider that the core euro nations will always vote as a bloc in their best interests and against the interests of the non-euro nations. That isn’t even nastiness, but merely pragmatism on their part.

People need to really understand these issues around EU processes and the responsibilities of the institutions, so forget what you read in newspapers of any political persuasion – from the Daily Mail to the Guardian – they all have an agenda. Buy a text book or even better, just seek out primary sources on how the EU works (from the EU’s own website, if that helps) and if you can conclude from your research that the European Union is a laudible project, I beg you to persuade me of its merits.

As a former EU supporter, who fell for the mantra of “we need to be in it to reform it” 25 years ago, has lived through EU expansion and increasing disenfrachisment of EU citizens, and has a depressing view of this country’s future within the EU when it could set a great example to other EU states about the benefits of life outside the EU, I could do with a laugh.