Why I’ll Be Voting Remain

by George_East on June 21, 2016

imageWe are now only 40 hours or so from polls opening on the most momentous vote the British public has been asked to take since, well since last time we were asked to vote on this very same issue in 1975. The difference is, of course, this time it looks very close indeed.

Given the seriousness of the issue – a once in several generations decision as to whether we turn our backs on the world’s biggest trading bloc and seek to strike out on our own – the campaign has been depressingly awful. On one side of the debate the Remain campaign have sought to ape the successful Project Fear campaign against independence in the Scottish Referendum by predicting economic meltdown or World War III  if the UK votes to leave the EU.  And if that has been bad enough, the Leave campaign have descended into the cess pit of racism and mendacity – with posters reminiscent of 1930s Germany, threats based on Turkey joining the EU (a practical impossibility given the national vetoes on such accession held by their implacable enemies, Greece and Cyprus) and more or less the entirety of Turkey moving to the UK.    The campaign appears to have unlocked a nasty streak of xenophobia amongst a large swathe of the population that had for a long time been absent from British mainstream politics.

None of this has been helped by the apparent lack of sincerity of many of the leading politicians in the campaigns. Boris Johnson, a long time pro-EU and pro-immigration advocate while Mayor of London supports Leave (for little more reason than he sees it as the way to the keys to No 10, it would seem); Jeremy Corbyn, a long time anti-EU advocate on the grounds that the EU is an anti-workers capitalist club, is pro-Remain because the Labour party wouldn’t permit him to be otherwise. Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond are pro-Remain but you feel would sneakily like Leave to win to give them the pretext for a second independence referendum.

So if I had wanted enlightenment from the debate leading up to this key moment in recent British history I would not have got much by paying attention to the campaigns of either side. Fortunately the way I was going to vote was never in doubt.  Remain is for me the only option given the risks of voting Leave both for the UK and Europe.

Of course there is a case against. The EU is far from being a perfect institution.  Conglomerates of nation states with competing interests seldom are. And there have to be rules (in the form of treaties to govern such relationships) which inevitably means ceding sovereignty (the same as any international treaty the UK has ever signed) and that means there needs to be a ‘foreign’ tribunal (here the European Court of Justice) to adjudicate on disputes in the application of those rules. There is indeed a democratic deficit, with most decisions being made in the Council of Ministers (which is at least indirectly democratic) and the Commission (which is not democratic at all).  The European Parliament, the only directly elected bit, is by design the weakest of the EU institutions.

However, the risks of a Leave vote are a clear and present danger. There are, in my view, three broad areas of significant risk.  Any one of them would be enough for me to vote Remain.  All three together are a grim prospect indeed.

The first is economics. Trade with the EU represents a significant proportion of the UK’s economy.  It has been made perfectly clear (and is perfectly obvious, given we won’t be accepting that we need to abide by the rules that make it a level playing field) that the single market will not be open to us if we vote Leave.   The best estimates of the effect of this are about a 2% reduction in GDP, which would be permanent.   The idea that throwing off the ‘shackles’ of the EU would usher in some free market paradise as some Leavers claim should be seen for what it is intended to be – a pretext to destroy workers’ rights and drive down wages in the name of competition as soon as the restrictions required by EU law no longer bind the UK.   It is also likely that the pound would fall requiring intervention by the Bank of England by way of increased interest rates.  In an economy which has not yet fully recovered from the financial crisis of 2008/9 this could have a cascade effect through the economy as individuals struggle to pay their mortgages and business are faced with unaffordable loan repayments.

The second is the potential domino effect of Brexit.  This Referendum is not just about the UK.   The EU was founded (as the EEC under the Treaty of Rome) as a way of tying Germany into Europe’s future through business and trade, after 70 years of German militarism.   It (together with NATO) has succeeded beyond belief.  The idea of a German war of aggression has become unthinkable.  Similarly the great expansion Eastwards in 2004 with the accession of the former Soviet Bloc joined in one economic union nations that had faced each other with nuclear weapons for the first 40 years after the Second World War. The EU has succeeded beyond  what previous generations would have believed possible.  However this success is contingent. It is not as if war itself on the European continent is at all unthinkable – in the last 25 years we have seen the brutal and sometimes genocidal wars arising out the implosion of Yugoslavia (a good example as any of a union of nations – with a longer pedigree than the EU – dissolving into competing nationalist interests) and  wars between Russia and Georgia, and Russia and Ukraine.  The UK leaving the EU has the serious potential to be the beginning of the unravelling of the entire architecture of the EU.  Poland, Hungary and the Scandinavian states are obvious candidates to begin to question their membership.  Germany will become relatively stronger as a result of Brexit and other countries will become relatively more fearful as a result.  With the rise of the far right across Europe the consequences could be very serious indeed.

The third is about its effect on the political culture of England, because let’s be clear the Leave movement is primarily a manifestation of English nationalism. The consequence will almost certainly be a second (successful) Scottish independence referendum when Scotland votes clearly for Remain and finds itself, against its will, part of an entity negotiating to leave the EU.   This will lead to a much more England-centred rump UK.  But also Leave will have won on the most hardline anti-immigration and anti-immigrant rhetoric seen in mainstream British politics in 50 years.    It will have to deliver on that.   The rhetoric will get harder and nastier, particularly as the Leavers struggle to deliver on that promise, given the huge movements of people in the world at the moment in the light of civil war and political vacuums in Iraq and Syria, which are nothing whatever to do with membership of the EU.    Politics in England will begin to be very Trumpy indeed.  Boris Johnson  (the likely post-Brexit PM)  has shown himself to be utterly shameless in his ruthless pursuit of personal ambition and will milk this for all that it is worth.  A little England siege mentality culture  is a truly disheartening prospect.

Vote Remain.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth June 21, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Excellent article, George.

Let us be in no doubt – whatever the result – about what is happening in England. The politics of class are being replaced by the politics of race and of racism.


Ray_North June 22, 2016 at 11:37 am

Well said George!
If only the Remain campaign had had the balls and brains to argue as cogently as this!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: