Brexit. Britain’s exit from the EU, against the wishes of many but in support of the wishes of slightly more. What could go wrong?
I voted for Brexit and continue to be in favour of it. In the short term I think we’re going to get a pretty poor deal (I’ll come back to that on another occasion) but let’s start with why I still think it was the right choice.
Firstly, I’m not against the idea of the EU (although I know many of those who voted Brexit are). In principle clubbing together isn’t a bad idea. However, unfortunately it became about so much more than that, and that’s where it went wrong. The bottom line is that there are so many obvious reasons why being in the EU should be a great idea that winning the referendum should have been easy, and yet Remain lost – that alone says a lot.
The EU has increasingly become a project in itself rather than simply a club of like minded and geographically close countries working together in their mutual interest. Protecting the institution at the expense of its members is commonplace. David Cameron’s failed attempts to get any sort of reform under the threat of a UK departure shows this very clearly. But the reality is that while greater integration doesn’t suit the UK, it does seem to be acceptable to (and indeed desired by) many other European countries. Indeed, whether or not the Euro is a good thing, one thing is clear: greater political and fiscal integration amongst Eurozone countries is essential to the stability and future success of the Euro. A process that isn’t helped by having a quirky UK sniping from across the channel.
I firmly believe that the reality is that the EU will be stronger without the UK in it, because we want different things. Indeed I’d go further: the EU and Eurozone should be indistinguishable; there’s already a requirement that anyone joining the EU also joins the Euro, and it’s only the likes of the UK standing to one side of the Euro that’s slowed that down. Similarly, instead of being in the EU pulling in a different direction, stepping aside and letting the EU go its own way while we go ours is far more likely to be successful than pretending we can have serious positive influence within the EU. Sure we have influence; vetoes are pretty powerful. But that just makes us a thorn in their side; leaving means we’re neither bound by EU decisions nor constraining the EU’s ability to make them. As an independent country we can copy things we like, join in where we think it makes sense, stay to one side where we don’t think it does.
Secondly: I’m broadly in favour of controlled immigration. We should encourage people to come from around the world to work in the UK, as we benefit greatly from this. A key word in that sentence is “world”: the EU represents only 10% of the world population and for too long we’ve said prioritised those in the EU over those outside. There is no good reason why being born in Poland makes you a better nurse or farm worker than being born in Japan or India, and bizarrely we’ve had an immigration policy which specifically excludes most of the native English speakers around the world in preference of those who speak English only as a second or third language if at all. The other key word is “controlled”: Increasing a population, whether through birthrates or immigration, results in higher demand for public services and infrastructure. But registering 100,000 births gives authorities 4 years to provide sufficient school places, 18 years for sufficient further education places, and 20+ years for sufficient new homes; 100,000 immigrants don’t provide time to build the schools and homes they need. Immigration policy should look at the trajectory of the economy, plan for (say) 100,000 immigrants in 5 years time, then fund the school and house building in advance of their arrival.
Thirdly: Having our laws made elsewhere doesn’t bother me. But the problem is that the laws frequently don’t chime with what the UK population want, and that is a problem. Where I personally have an issue is with protectionism. The UK is a trading nation and we have a long history of trading around the world. Trade is one of the better ways of helping poor countries become less poor, but doing so necessarily means sacrificing some of your own production. If it’s cheaper to buy clothes from a poor country than make them ourselves then we have choices to make about whether we discourage importing, but the UK instinct is to allow market forces to dictate, which means we import, and doing so gives a lot of advantages; we gain influence in the countries with which we trade, we can enforce working conditions and workers rights, we can reduce dependence on aid (and we get cheap t-shirts). The EU instinct is to protect their own and use tariffs to counter any advantages that the poorer nation might have. If I worked as a seamstress in a UK factory I may prefer the EU approach but I genuinely believe that the world is a better place if we help the poorer countries trade their way out of poverty rather than just give handouts.
The (or my!) reality is that continental Europe has much to gain from moves towards towards being the USofEurope; if you live a mile from your workplace and it just happens to cross a country border then the Euro and Shengan all make sense. If you have to get on a plane to cross the border anyway then most of the convenience benefits of the EU disappear and the cracks resulting from our differences start to show. The UK isn’t better than the EU, it’s just different. Both can be strong, and indeed both can support the other to become stronger (and to mutual benefit). We really should be great friends, indeed the best of friends. We just should never have got married, which is why I and many others reluctantly but firmly voted for divorce.