My initial response to Brexit was emotional. On the morning after the referendum, I found myself sitting on a stool in the kitchen sobbing, tears flowing. Very unmanly. So, as a proper science documentary maker, I started researching the facts.
In particular, I read the boring-sounding EU manual, How the European Union Works, which was an eye-opener. Unbelievably complicated, often with confusing names, the EU evolved very democratically over 40-odd years and sits somewhere between the UN talking shop and the federated USA. The EU is actually a brilliant concept. Largely due to one difficult word: “Subsidiarity”. This means the EU only proposes action when action cannot be more effectively taken at Member Nation level or lower. Ideally, it says, “Action should be decided as close as possible to the individual citizen.” So the EU only performs tasks which can’t be done at a more local level. It does not allow itself even to discuss matters that contravene this subsidiarity principle, not in the European Council or in the EU Parliament. There is even a body that carries out ‘subsidiarity checks’ on everything, to ensure there’s no possibility that any nation can be imposed upon by the others and thereby ‘lose sovereignty’ – a phrase pro-Brexiters use. In fact, the reverse is true. For example, Britain ‘gained sovereignty’ over other nations when the French were stopped from blocking British beef during the mad cow crisis.
This very democratic process begins with every proposal by the EU Commission being sent first to all National Parliaments, as well as the EU Council and the EU Parliament. Any national parliament can object on the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. “we could do this better on our own”. This raises, literally, ‘yellow’ or ‘orange’ cards to the European Commission, who may have to change or drop the proposal. So much for ‘loss of sovereignty’ of member nations.
These days I only hear three arguments in favour of leaving the EU:
- Immigration. “Too many people in Britain, bring back control of our borders.”
- Economics. “Lots of extra money available for the NHS, using the foreign aid budget as well.”
- Sovereignty. “Our laws must be made in Britain, not by Brussels.”
All three arguments have now been demolished by facts.
Immigration is easy to counter. All research shows that it’s very good for Britain, economically and culturally. History says it is, as well as current evidence. Areas where there are few immigrants, like Clacton, have poor growth compared to their neighbours – and residents tend to vote Ukip! Not racism, just inexperience. Influx from the EU is small – 220,000 ins and 130,00 outs last year. So, Brexit would not have much impact on reducing immigration. Furthermore, I discovered that under EU regulations any member nation can keep track of incomers and can expatriate them if unsatisfactory, e.g. haven’t got a job. No nation takes advantage of that! Not even Britain which, being outside the Schengen agreement, does have border controls. We sensibly don’t bother with the effort. Another casual lie from the leave campaign.
Economics is harder. Although few people still believe the £350 million on the bus, actual numbers have been tricky to find. Even though another ‘red bus’, which visited Bath recently, proclaimed that Brexit will cost £2,000,000 million a week (that’s £2 billion), the sum is too big to take in. Nonetheless these government figures – only released due to parliamentary pressure – are slowly sinking in. Even Bath Chronicle letter writers are now accepting the fact that Brexit will cost something and will not be a financial benefit. As to making the loss back from the rest of the world, Theresa May went to Japan soon after the referendum seeking a trade deal only be told that she already had one, just signed, by being a member of EU. Philip Murphy, author of a forthcoming book, “The Empire’s New Clothes” writes: “What is surely beyond doubt is that the Commonwealth cannot rescue the UK from the grievous, self-inflicted wound of Brexit.” So, there’s no hope really for the economic argument.
Sovereignty was hardest, but it did require my reading the literature to find out how invalid the argument is. Sovereignty, immigration and economics are all nearly-dead debates – or should be.
Eventually I returned to my emotions. I don’t blame the Leave voters. I recognise their various reasons. The Leave campaign was so powerful emotionally, that I am surprised that there wasn’t a bigger referendum margin. My emotion now is anger. How could they? They knew they were lying – like Boris and the Turkish invasion. ‘Take back control’ – false in every way. ‘Independence Day’ – like the film, pure fiction. Shouldn’t it be a criminal offence for a Prime Minister to pretend that she is getting ‘the best possible deal’ and knowingly take the country over the cliff-edge, condemning the least well-off to the biggest increase in poverty? I’m afraid I must count her among the liars. She knows what the solution is – she voted for it.
Actually, I have another emotion, and that’s love. Love of Europe. The EU is the work of kind, generous, thinking people trying to achieve what they sincerely and accurately believe is the absolute best for every European citizen. I have travelled and worked all ‘round the world. Europe is by far the most interesting, diverse and – after experiencing the horrific depths of two world wars – the most successful continent. Both morally and materially. A good quote from a Greek citizen, on Facebook, is “Why people so love the European Union is because it offers peace, progress and prosperity.” Don’t let them lie to you, it really does.