Armageddon will arrive here in the UK next month. After 23rd June, a Leviathan-like monster will swallow up the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in one go. Behind the creature, a resurrected Hitler will be seen sneering; his toothbrush moustache a diabolical curl above his pursed lips.
Welcome to the debate on the European referendum. Or what passes for debate, rather. There have been so many toy-throwing-out-of-the-pram antics that I am beginning to think that the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) should pay a visit to Westminster instead of continuing to inspect schools.
Let us be clear about what 23rd June represents: this is by far one of the most important votes Brits will cast for a long time. It is akin to a general election, but in this case what is at stake is a whole project, one that has not been without its flaws but that it has also had many, many virtues. The European Union has suddenly become a make-or-break tipping point for the Tories and a leap of faith for Labour.
What has not helped in understanding the pros and cons of staying in or leaving the union is that where there was supposed to be dialogue, there has been, instead, mud-slinging. In place of grown-up talk, the referendum has turned into a leadership contest between George Osborne on the one hand (as heir to Cameron’s crown and chief Remain camp ally) and ex-mayor of London and professional buffoon, Boris Johnson (who spearheads the Brexit side). Caught in the middle is a muddled-up British public who would rather have more honesty from our politicians and fewer Hitler analogies.
Let me make my position clear. I will vote to stay in the union on 23rd June. But for me this is not a black-and-white issue. The reasons why I choose the Remain side are historical, political and economic. If there is a continent in need of partnership, it is Europe. Rooted in endless and costly wars, overseen by whimsical monarchs and ruled at various times by maniacal despots, it is only through pragmatic collaboration that the European project can succeed. That is where the political factor comes in. At the moment there has sadly been a lurch to the right across the Old Continent. From Poland to Croatia, to Hungary, it is far-right parties calling the shots. A stronger European Union can offer a more solid network to leftwing parties such as Podemos in Spain. The economic case is harder to prove. The EU is in a sense a neoliberal, free-market-loving scheme. It seeks to promote more de-regulation whilst offering cash-rich subsidies to well-off farmers in the form of the common agricultural policy. This not-very-well-known initiative incentivises farmers to the tune of £250,000 per year. Rather than benefitting the many, it supports the few, the 0.1% land-owning oligarchy that controls vast estates in the UK. No wonder the majority want to stay in the EU. Elsewhere in the continent, the CAP helps farmers dump their products in developing countries, flooding local markets and crippling in the process these nations’ industries. However, from a commerce perspective, for Britain to lose its number one trading partner would be bonkers.
The European Union is not without its problems. I have first-hand experience of its labyrinthine bureaucracy, having worked for a European-funded social enterprise for half a decade. We had two funding streams that paid for our company’s existence: the European Regional Development Fund (linked to job creation) and the European Social Fund (training-related). Both were nightmares when it came to auditing and paper trail. However, I can vouch for the successful financial support of both programmes, without which our efforts to tackle unemployment and skill up local residents would have been in vain.
|In or out? In! Out!|
This localism is what is at stake on 23rd June. The UK is no longer a behemoth on the world’s economic stage. The times when one could say Great Britain and “powerhouse” in the same sentence are long gone. GB does not do manufacturing anymore. Instead it wants to compete with Silicon Valley for a place in the ever-changing technology sphere.
The Brexit argument about gaining independence from Brussels (where the EU headquarters are) misses the point. In our interconnected world no one is independent from anyone anymore. The problem is that leaving the European Union will make those links harder to keep. On immigration the Leave camp’s one-track-mind, repetitive message focuses solely on the number of arrivals in the UK and the impossibility of keeping them all in. My response to that argument is concise and to the point: free market and globalisation. You cannot have your cake and eat it. You cannot call for more market de-regulation, less state intervention and more flexible labour movement and expect your borders to remain intact. The fruit pickers in the fields of Norwich, many of whom, by the way, are victims of ruthless gang-masters themselves, respond to a need. Work on the causes but do not blame immigrants or the European Union for what it is the responsibility of modern capitalism. Want a quick, overnight replacement for the fruit you bought yesterday in your local supermarket? Guess what, someone will have to pick it. Given the pittance that is on offer, these labourers are not likely to be local British lads.
So, there you have it. On 23rd June this country will make one of those once-in-a-lifetime decisions. It does not help when our Prime Minister invokes the yet-to-happen (will-not-happen?) very unlikely scenario of a World War III that is in no one’s interest. It does not help either that Boris Johnson wheels out the usual pantomime figure for all “straw man” arguments. Hitler was a pest and Europe dealt with him the best and only way it could. It defeated him and his sick Nazi ideology. The toothbrush-moustachioed monster needn’t be resurrected as a ready-to-deploy threat every time someone’s theory is found wanting. Let sleeping dogs lie. Let Leviathan lie. Let failed artists be remembered as that: failures. Britain deserves better and that to me is to stay in the European Union.
Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 25th May at 6pm (GMT