Saturday 20 February 2016

EU Referendum 2016 - a personal view

Today the Prime Minister announced that he'd achieved a deal on a reformed European Union; that there would be an in-out referendum on 23rd June; and that he would be campaigning to remain "in".

I'm sure the PM had good reasons for engaging in the "deal making" process, perhaps it mattered to one or two members of the cabinet but I'm neither persuaded nor disappointed by it and I very much doubt that the "deal" will change the minds of more than a few stragglers in the country. Some people, members of UKIP for example, are determined to have us leave the EU regardless of the circumstances. Others are equally determined to remain in the EU. Neither of those groups will be in any way persuaded by the new deal. That leaves the undecided and those who just won't vote. Are the undecideds really going to make a decision as momentous as this because of the contents of that deal?

I approach this matter from two different perspectives: the case for staying in and the various arguments I've heard for leaving. I shall be voting to remain in the EU.

The case for remaining in the EU

My grandfather fought in the first world war, a war brought about by infighting among the nation states of Europe; my father fought in the second world war, a war brought about by infighting among the nation states of Europe. I have been very fortunate in that I did not have to waste my youth fighting European wars and I attribute a large amount of credit for that fact to what is now the European Union.

The EU's story began with the  European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) formed after the second world war with the specific aim to "make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible". By the time of the 1975 referendum the community had changed to become the European Economic Community (EEC) (also known as the common market). In 1993 it became the European Community (EC) and ultimately merged into what is now the European Union.

It is a single continuum. To those who say that it's not what we voted for in 1975, speaking only for myself, I say that it absolutely is what I voted for in 1975. I was young then but I wasn't stupid, I could see the future and wasn't "fooled by the wording" of the question posed on the ballot paper.

The European Community in its various forms has never been purely an economic club, it's always been about peace and security. Of course that doesn't mean that the world has been free of war for the last 70 years nor does it mean that NATO is redundant, there are plenty of external threats from beyond Europe's borders.

Is it perfect? No of course not. Like any mature computer program it has had bits added on, bits taken out, it's been patched and repatched. It certainly needs more reform than the PM's "deal" and of course that reform will, eventually, take place. In my view, the EU is stronger with Britain and vice-versa. It makes more sense to me to have a seat on the Board if we want to make things better.

The case for leaving the EU

It's quite hard for me to offer a coherent case for leaving the EU. Personally I don't think it's a good idea and all the arguments I've heard advocating BREXIT have been focussed on one or more of:-
  • claimed direct financial savings
  • grand schemes involving trading with Australia, South Africa and others
  • confusion between the European Convention on Human Rights and other "European" entities
  • fears about immigration
  • don't like "being told what to do"
  • "we used to be brilliant"
 I'm afraid they haven't impressed me much  so I can do no better than to point you to Michael Gove's excellent piece in The Spectator.

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