I wrote the following almost exactly a year ago, just before the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union:
I can’t choose which way to vote in the upcoming EU referendum and here is why. The question which will be on the ballot paper doesn’t give British citizens much say over the future relationship between Britain, the EU, wider Europe and the rest of the world.
Here’s my analogy: imagine your family wants a new car. The family wants everyone’s input on what the new car should be but there are too many options. The head of the family decides to arrange a vote, the vote is for either a petrol car or a diesel car. Based on the outcome of this vote, the head of the family will go out and negotiate with a car dealer to buy a car.
In this situation the head of the family clearly has far more power than the rest of the family. They can vote for what they think will be a sporty petrol car and the head of the family can go out and get a petrol powered Toyota Prius. Or they could vote for a small economical diesel and get a huge diesel powered off road vehicle.
The same applies to the EU vote. A huge proportion of the country might vote to leave on the basis of reducing migration and having more democracy only to find that the government negotiates an EU exit which means we will have to keep the freedom of movement and pass EU laws without having as much say in them.
Another large proportion of the country might vote to remain in the EU on the basis of having peace, collaboration and free movement to Europe only to find that an escalating migrant crisis and an unwillingness to accept refugees means that countries start closing their borders, conflicts break out between neighbouring European states and budgets are cut for the funding of collaborative projects.
I think we can safely say that less will change if we remain in the EU than if we leave. But the EU isn’t perfect, if we leave the EU we could end up with a much better relationship with the rest of the EU states and the wider world.
I want Britain to have a more open relationship with the rest of the world. We should choose to have freedom of movement between more countries than just those in the EU. We should have more trade with developing countries and allow them low cost access to our markets.
Going back to my analogy, I want the Toyota Prius whereas most of the other people in my family voting “petrol” are voting on the basis that they will get a powerful sports car.
So maybe I should vote depending on how I think the head of the family, or in Britain’s case the government’s will choose to interpret the vote.
This is where it gets interesting because an overwhelming number of MPs support remaining in the EU. Even in the Governments conservative party about 55% support remaining in the EU. Any way you shuffle the numbers (even factoring in another general election), there won’t be a government which supports leaving the EU after the referendum. So we will end up in the strange position of having a pro-EU government having to negotiate to leave the EU.
Even a majority of ministers supporting the leave campaign would still support the freedom of movement and an ongoing trade agreement with the EU.
A vote for Leave would put Britain into a political, legal, constitutional and economic mess. Constitutionally, the government must act on the outcome of the referendum but exactly how far the government goes in disassociating itself from the EU would depend on many factors. Will David Cameron resign? Will Jeremy Corbyn be forced to resign? Will there be another general election? Will we have another referendum on the terms of the negotiation.
The repealing of EU laws could cause huge amounts of legal uncertainty. Businesses generally don’t like uncertainty so the country could easily go into a period of recession as everyone works out what the exit means for them. Civil servants, lawyers and business strategists will likely be tied up for many years working out how best to proceed.
It would be foolish however to just look at the short term effects. I’m hopefully going to be around for another few decades. A few years of economic and political turmoil now could be better than a future exit from the EU when there are even more EU laws and even more ties to the rest of Europe.
The EU is actually incredibly democratic. It has proportionally represented members of parliament (our MEPs are more representative of British views than our Westminster MPs). All positions in the EU are elected, some would argue they are elected indirectly but that is the same as a lot of positions in almost every country’s political system. Our prime minister is indirectly elected for example.
The EU is very much a one size fits all approach though. The free movement of workers may have contributed to a more multi-cultural and inclusive society but it has also led to the inequality of nations. In Greece, migration to other EU countries has hugely increased especially amongst skilled young people. It simply doesn’t make sense for young Greeks to work in their home country because of the low cost of being employed elsewhere in Europe and getting paid significantly more.
Most people don’t know that the largest proportion (about a third) of the EU budget goes to subsidising the agricultural industry through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It is a one size fits all policy which applies to all EU countries. With a scheme which is tailored to British needs we could reduce the cost of food and increase environmental benefits.
The EU is generally observed to favour big businesses. They can afford to lobby the EU directly whereas smaller UK businesses typically have limited resources to influence European policy but have some influence on local policy making through local MPs and council decisions.
In the least exiting situation. Britain could continue to have access to the European market, would keep and adopt almost all EU legislation, would make almost the same contribution to the EU budget and have some limited influence on EU legislation but would not be under the jurisdiction of the EU court of justice. In this scenario Britain would retain almost all collaborative projects and common policies with Europe but would be able to reject some EU laws at the expense of having less say in their creation.
It seems a shame that a whole year later I’m still in the same position. There is still no consensus on what leaving the EU means. Whilst Brexit hasn’t really even started, one change is that slowly the people of Britain are understanding what the EU is and what the real impact of leaving it will be.
Perhaps in another year, when the negotiations are well under way, there will finally be clarity on what leaving the EU actually means. Only then will it be possible for me to make a meaningful vote on whether we should stay or go. And maybe, as unlikely as it is, we might get another vote.