Update: 24th June 2016
Perhaps the Brexit result is a clear reminder that all elected politicians must act in the best interests of their constituencies, not just for themselves and their cronies.
This is surely the root of the dissatisfaction with the EU felt right across Europe – people no longer think governments or the EU are interested in their problems.
The first casualty of war is the truth…
…as the old saying goes. And that’s what I am thinking, as I try to reach a dispassionate, logical answer to the question: should we stay in the EU or should we leave?
There is an awful lot of emotion on both sides. But how much informed debate is there? Each day, another group lists a series of compelling “facts” about whether we should leave or stay. It seems that most people have formed an opinion and are then finding or fitting facts to support that opinion. Sometimes only some of the facts are used, or are quoted out of context, giving a completely misleading picture.
It reminds me of the episode in Blackadder Goes Forth when General Melchett (played by Stephen Fry) enters the room at the beginning of a court martial and says “hand me the black cap, I’ll be needing it later”.
So, I’m not going to bother with any hard facts about trade balances and budget contributions or immigration levels. Instead, let’s examine the behaviour of our political leaders and the EU. Does this provide any insight?
The Pointless Concessions
David Cameron did a whistle-stop tour of the EU, to get support for some trivial changes to our relationship with the EU. What a wasted opportunity! He should have been touring Europe trying to get the other leaders to act on the following three issues:
- Developing an effective plan to address the migrant crisis, which would treat existing migrants humanely and try to stop the flow of new migrants risking their lives in ignorant hope.
- The continuing structural instability in our banking and finance systems.
- Recognition that the EU is no longer fit for purpose and needs radical reform to serve its member populations properly.
That would have been a real example of genuine political leadership.
Bigger is not always better
My first vote as an adult was in the 1975 referendum. I was an enthusiastic Europhile. I thought this was a great way for Europe to develop and progress together. However, events have a way of upsetting the status quo. At the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, there were 12 member states, all in Western Europe, except for Greece. The cultures of each country may have varied, but at least it was a fairly compact grouping. Since 1989, another 16 members have joined, including 11 of the former soviet satellite states. Regardless of whether these countries had developed sufficiently to qualify for membership, it is has become a very unwieldy institution, with each member retaining a form of veto.
It’s a bit like the latter days of the Roman Empire – which became so big that there were two capital cities – Rome and Constantinople. Instead, we see the EU starting to polarise around Western and Eastern blocs.
Then we have numerous non-UK people and organisations (President Obama, the IMF, Chancellor Merkel, the OECD and so on) stating what a disaster it would be if Britain left the EU. Nowhere in all these high profile interventions do we see an admission that the EU might just be in need of reform. However, it seems they are more concerned about what might happen to the rest of the EU if Britain left. Again, this appears to be more important than a real discussion of the issues at stake and how the EU might be improved.
Leave or Stay?
So, leaving the EU starts to become quite appealing, until you realise that we are so tied to the rest of Europe by trade and extensive legislation, that this would actually be very difficult – as the song goes, “you can check out, but you can never leave”.
From a practical standpoint, therefore, whilst leaving is appealing, I believe that we should stay, for two reasons:
- Altruistically: By remaining as members, we can engage in real political dialogue to reform the EU, so that it better suits all its member populations’ needs (unlikely, I know).
- Cynically: Our current political leaders are quite inept and our civil service has been hollowed out. We should stay because we would be incapable of negotiating an exit agreement that would benefit us, within a reasonable timeframe. This delay would lead to long term economic instability in the UK and the EU, with wider geo-political consequences.
So there you have it – we need to stay in the EU for the wrong reasons. Depressing, isn’t it?