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Thursday, 23 June 2016

Holy crap. Are we actually about to leave the EU?

So much has been written by so many about the EU referendum that I'm honestly not sure I can find anything novel to say. That's why I attempted to keep things light with my last post on the subject. But with less than 24 hours to go and the latest polls suggesting the UK may actually be about to leave the European Union, I am seriously worried that my country is about to do something monumentally stupid.

I honestly don't know what will happen if we leave the EU. I am quite sure that nobody truly does, but I can categorically state that Britain will not become the halcyon green and pleasant land of white-faced English speakers, plentiful well paid jobs and affordable rose adorned cottages so many Brexiters seem to think it will. 

I wouldn't mind if the arguments for leaving focused on the flaws of the EU itself.  It is far from a perfect institution, and there are plenty of things that need addressing.  I have waded through the impenetrable bureaucracy of the EC's myriad grants and funding schemes enough times to know that the left hand often does not know what the right is doing, and indeed may not even be attached to the same body.  It's too far in the pocket of corporations (the planned 'TTIP' free trade talks are very worrying) and few have any real idea what MEPs actually do (or even who they are), so transparency (though NOT democracy) is something of a problem.  I can understand why many die hard socialists want to leave. But the at the heart of the Brexit campaign is not reasoned critical analysis of a flawed institution, but pompous rhetoric, prejudice and more than a little wild speculation.  This is why I am dismayed that at least half our country agrees with what the Brexiters have to say.

At one end of the campaign's class spectrum you have the likes of Boris Johnson.  Right wing posh boy, brought up revering a bygone era of British colonial wiff waff greatness.  A time when we ruled large swathes of the world through blinkered bombast and the simple conviction that we were superior to everyone else.  The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world he likes to tell us, we should be able stand on our own, make our own decisions.  Yes, we are pretty wealthy all things considered, but our wealth has been gained as a member of the EU.  To leave would be an act of quite unparalleled complacency and arrogance.  Two words that sum up Mr Johnson quite nicely IMHO.

At the other end are those who actively fear what they think the EU represents. The people who want out because of the belief that European migrants are taking away what is rightfully 'theirs', whether this be jobs, benefits, school places, housing, GP appointments...  It's an understandable concern when you don't have much to start with, and in areas with recent influxes of migrants, there is undoubtedly more strain on local services. Post financial crisis austerity, inflicted by a government we elected, has more than a little to do with this however, and nationally, migration has an unarguably positive impact - as others have explained far more eloquently and thoroughly than I ever could. Furthermore, migration is not even a financial 'problem' that Brexit would solve, as any deal we do after leaving is almost certainly going to involve comparatively open borders if we want to continue to benefit from free trade with the rest of the EU. Migration is going to continue to be vital and only partially controllable whether we are in or out.  People just need to get over it.

More dangerous and disturbing is the dark, undeniably racist underbelly of the campaign. I don't think all Brexiters are racist, but I do think most probably read newspapers that basically are. It shouldn't need saying that migrants - European or otherwise - are just people. Some are 'bad', some are 'good', just like human beings anywhere. As the late Jo Cox so eloquently put it "we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us". You wouldn't know that from the vitriolic tabloid press though.  The 'othering' is everywhere in this referendum.  "Turkish invasion on the cards if we don't get out now!" Um, really not likely any time soon. "Brussels tells us what to do!"  No - 'Brussels' DOES NOT tell us what to do.  The European Parliament (based in Strasbourg, incidentally) passes the laws, OF WHICH BRITAIN IS A PART.  "Europe has too much control!" Again, last time I checked, we were part of Europe. "Fat German bureaucrats are the wurst!" OK, I made this one up, but you get the idea...

What angers me most about this whole campaign is not that people are arrogantly nationalistic or unjustifiably prejudiced - you find this wherever you go in the world sadly.  It's that the Remain campaign - headed up by our Prime Minister, let's not forget - have not done more to fight the underlying xenophobia that is utterly tainting this referendum (and indirectly inspired it in the first place).  It is, I'm sure, in part because our PM and the party to which he belongs are not exactly immigrant huggers either (think his 'swarms of migrants' speech).  But still, to win their case, why are the Remainers not doing more to push back against those who have so little evidence on their side and win the hearts of the undecided? Apart from Ruth Davidson, who was outstanding in tonight's TV debate, there has been a frustrating lack of conviction  from the Remain side. Where are the TV ads and literature, breaking down the myths, explaining what the EU actually is and what it does, how it benefits everyone's lives and denouncing the hate-mongering stories you read in The Daily Mail and the like?  The leaflet that came round from the Remain campaign was frankly insipid, and the TV ads I've seen have been mostly fluff and nonsense.

As I say, I do not know what will happen if the UK leaves the EU.  But it almost doesn't matter.  It is the symbolism that I care about.  I want people to think my country is one with its head screwed on, that works, pragmatically, in collaboration with its neighbours to create a more prosperous, peaceful and fairer society for all. This may sound trite and idealistic, but these are the values that make our country worth living in.   I don't want to live in a parochial, insular, prejudiced nation, and I don't want my son to grow up in one either.  One only has to look at the terrible fate of Jo Cox to understand what can happen where putting "Britain First" becomes your sole obsession. I want to be proud of my country.  If we leave I will feel nothing but shame.

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