If the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] was ever presented with evidence as weak as that offered to the British public in a mail-shot costing the taxpayer £9M, the case for staying in the European Union [EU] would be thrown out. However, whilst I have no doubts about the outcome of the forthcoming referendum on Thursday, June 23rd we should at least, run a critical eye over the document that will be landing on your doorstep any day soon.
The government’s case for remaining in the EU begins by reminding us of the incredible deal that PM Cameron managed to broker with his European counterparts recently on behalf of the UK. The special status in a reformed EU that Dave secured for Britain amounts to the following;
1. Britain will not join the euro.
2. Britain will keep its’ own border controls.
3. Britain will not be part of further European political integration.
4. There will be tough new restrictions on access to Britain’s welfare system for new EU migrants.
5. We have a commitment to reduce EU red tape.
Now, if that doesn’t appear to be all that special a deal bear in mind that none of the five measures leaves Britain any better off by remaining in the EU than it already is. The question of currency has been dealt with many times before and no one wants Britain to adopt the euro anyway. The euro is an established currency and is widely used all over Europe. I love it, it means that I don’t have to keep changing my travel money back into Sterling in order to spend it in the UK or I can simply save it for when I next visit Europe. I can also buy euros when the exchange rate is really good and put them away for when I next travel abroad which actually gives me a better return on my money than if I left it in the bank.
Keeping our own border controls will do nothing more to stop the illegal entry of immigrants that isn’t already being done. However, it will give give those agencies controlling borders on the continent, an incentive to let people pass through to the UK. The problem with border policing though, is not how they are controlled but why refugees and migrants are being allowed to pass through into Europe when there is very little waiting here for them. No border agency can cope with the thousands of people turning up day after day. Angela Merkel thought she had the answer to the suffering when she invited the refugees and migrants to head towards Germany but she was proved wrong. Greece, who is only a bit player in the EU and carries very little influence if any, has been overwhelmed with migrants and refugees but has received very little assistance from the other EU to help them cope in this unprecedented, desperate situation. However, a plan has finally emerged which states that new arrivals should be deported back to Turkey [ a safe country, apparently] and numbers arriving in Greece have dropped significantly. I feel desperately sad for those people being driven out of their homes and businesses by heavily armed terrorists intent on ethnically cleansing land that they have no right to walk upon. However, had we taken the same approach as Russia took in Syria recently the situation would be very different. As it is, over a million people from the Middle East and Africa have passed through Greece and into Northern Europe since January 2015 but the majority remain stranded in refugee camps not knowing what will become of them.
I’m not sure what Cameron means by point 3 but you can be sure that if Britain remains a member of the EU then it will definitely have a role to play in any further European political integration. How could it not? Nothing too radical about clamping down on EU migrants accessing the UK Welfare system though. Our government has already shown how tough it can be on its’ own benefit claimants so I suppose the proposal might appear fair only it’s not really, is it? With other European countries adopting more progressive tax systems than the UK, entitling their citizens to more realistic levels of Social Security Benefits and the general population still enjoying a much higher standard of living than we do here in the UK, you wonder how on earth, we got it wrong. After all, Britain was the first country in Europe to introduce any form of welfare system however, it was never a generous undertaking and it didn’t improve all that much Post-Beveridge and World War 2. Speaking of which. The government’s commitment to reduce EU red tape is reminiscent of Chamberlain’s efforts to appease Hitler in the late 1930s. The problem being, that just like in Hitler’s Germany, the modern military machine with its’ multitudinous brigades of combat-ready bureaucrats armed to the teeth with rules and regulations has grown so powerful that it will take more than a war of words to disarm it. Bureaucracy [ red tape ] has become Germany’s weapon of choice and along with their closest allies in the EU it is being used most effectively to kill off any entrepreneurial competition that threatens their position as the premier European state.
Moving on from the UK’s special status to jobs and the economy. Quite rightly, the booklet states that the EU is by far the UK’s biggest trading partner and certainly, there is bound to be uncertainty around leaving the union. However, when you consider that the rest of Europe sells more goods to Britain than it buys back from us, by approximately two to one, I can’t imagine that they would want to lose that business. The stuff we sell to the rest of the EU is still going to be in demand, for example, I came across a group of Greek people recently who clubbed together to order from Tesco online. Seriously – these people put together a huge order every month, had it collected at Dover and driven across by courier to mainland Greece before taking the ferry to Corfu where it was then distributed. Personally, I can live without HP sauce or Branston Pickle but I would love to have their points on my Tesco Clubcard. Elsewhere, British goods are highly valued all over the world not just in Europe however, the suggestion that being inside the EU makes it more attractive for companies to invest in the UK, meaning more jobs, just doesn’t ring true. Foreign companies may have invested £540 billion in the UK over the last decade [ as claimed ] but are these European companies or non-European ones? We have seen the government shaking hands recently with Chinese businessmen, inviting American Healthcare companies to set up in the UK and they are currently courting a number of Indian Steel magnates hoping to off-load our failing steelworks onto them. None of this will bring jobs to Britain, quite the opposite in fact. However, my question is about the benefits to Britain’s economy and jobs market by remaining within the EU. A significant number of small to medium-sized businesses [SMEs] believe that membership of the EU restricts them from expanding and when you consider that these SMEs employ the largest proportion of Britain’s workforce, that doesn’t suggest that our membership of the EU is benefitting those hard-working individuals that this government claims to support.
The government claims that our lives with be improved by remaining within the EU. Not sure what these improvements are but the booklet talks about travel between European countries being cheaper and easier. Air fares have dropped significantly since 1990 [allegedly] but so have the price of white goods and computers. Cars, on the other hand, can still be purchased across the channel for thousands of pounds less than in the UK as long as you don’t mind driving on the wrong side of the road. Seriously though, with German supermarkets becoming popular in the UK because customers find them cheaper than our homegrown names, you have to question why that is. The price of goods is dictated by a number of things and not least, the cost of servicing the customer. When did you last see more than two tills open in an Aldi store at peak trading times? When did you last check the sell-by dates of the produce and so on? I’m not suggesting that anyone should avoid shopping in an Aldi or a Lidl supermarket, just don’t compare like for like when you put them against say Tesco or Sainsburys. Imported foodstuffs are on average 18% cheaper than home produced foodstuffs which is why the German supermarkets can sell goods at a lower price but then they also run much tighter ships than their UK colleagues employing fewer staff and operating very basic stores. Cheap food imports however, are not only coming from Europe, we have the ridiculous situation where China is selling more milk to British consumers than the UK’s own dairy farmers.
There is a more direct way in which Britons could benefit from being a member of the EU and that is to access those social funds available to members. People living in Yorkshire might be aware that the region has received a huge amount of funding to help regenerate poorer parts of the region. However, most of the money received so far has been spent on setting up agencies to support initiatives that are largely self-serving, bureaucratic bodies administering schemes aimed at creating jobs, inspiring disaffected communities and so on. However, very few of these schemes have actually created any jobs apart from those necessary to run the various projects. German born, Labour MP Gisela Stuart who has a great deal of EU experience accuses the EU of being deeply steeped in dogma and unable to respond to the rapidly changing political and demographic realities that we face today. In other words, she claims that the organisation is undemocratic and overly bureaucratic. There is also the question of why, if Cameron insists that EU membership improves the lives of British families, he never sought financial support from the EU Solidarity Fund to help those people who were badly affected by the recent flooding? This fund is available to all EU members and is designed to help communities where there has been a natural disaster but for whatever reason, the government chose not to access it. It is all very well saying that membership of the EU has he capacity to improve peoples lives but this is an example when it would have made a real difference to ordinary folk “up North” and yet the PM obviously didn’t think it mattered that much. One person who believes that Britain could potentially prosper by leaving the EU , John Longworth, director of the British Chamber of Commerce, was suspended from his post and subsequently resigned for saying such a thing. Had the same comment been expressed by someone much less informed rather than a highly respected businessman, it would not have caused the slightest ripple in the pond. The fact that Mr Longworth is now campaigning for us to vote Leave has opened up the debate on Europe far more than had his comment been accepted for what it was, a democratic expression of free speech.
Ironically, people living in Britain, whether born here or moved here from another country, value our belief in democracy and free speech. It may not be the ideal that many of us assume it to be, the ancient Greeks for example, would hardly recognise it however, compared to many other countries around the world, the UK remains a relatively free and democratic place to live. From the Commonwealth and more recently from countries destroyed by sectarian wars or terrorism, people have arrived in Britain and managed to build new lives for themselves. Many immigrants have prospered far beyond their wildest dreams but for the majority, being able to live without fear amongst people who may not share their own customs or beliefs and yet welcome them into their communities as if they were family, is reason enough to be here. They are not here to exploit our welfare system or take our jobs, they are here to better themselves and earn respect amongst their new neighbours. In the 1950s the UK government begged our Colonial cousins to come to Britain to help plug the huge gap in our workforce whilst at the same time, allowed Landlords to display signs in their windows stating “No Blacks or Irish”. Fortunately, albeit the result of a great deal of hard work carried out by our legal professionals, this kind of prejudice is no longer acceptable in the UK. However, social attitudes elsewhere in Europe remain similar to what they were in 1950s Britain and if anything, are much worse in some European countries. The Justice Minister, Michael Gove writing in The Sunday Times recently, stated that the Far Right is stronger across the Continent than at any time since the 1930s and that EU policies have made the rich richer and the poor poorer. It is a fact which many UK observers choose to ignore however, there is a very obvious correlation between the rise of racial prejudice and the widening gap between the poor and the better-off in almost all societies.
I visited Madrid recently and whilst it remains a beautiful city, I was amazed by the numbers of people sleeping rough in the streets. I stayed at a hotel in the centre and everywhere I walked took me past people trying to find some kind of shelter to bed down in for the night. In some places, people simply lay, wrapped in blankets, on the pavement so that people had to either step over them or walk on the road. The other thing that surprised me was the number of sex-workers in the city. Women who were obviously making themselves available to men looking for sex were everywhere you walked and not just in the evenings. I saw familiar faces arriving at certain locations at 9am in the morning and they were still there twelve or more hours later. I’m no expert in these matters but the majority of sex-workers I observed did not appear to be professionals, they seemed more like ordinary housewives or young women trying to earn money anyway they could. The police took very little notice of the women as they were not actually approaching men [ soliciting], men were approaching them and they would walk off together only to return alone, half an hour later. The point I am making has nothing to do with the sex industry, we know that to be the oldest profession in the world and it will still be flourishing long after every other conglomerate in the world has died and gone to business heaven. What I am getting at is how layers of society are breaking down and the lengths to which ordinary people are having to go in order to survive. People have become commoditised, something to use and then discard. The Far Right whether in Europe or here in the UK believe that people generally get what they deserve and if it was up to them, there would be no such thing as Welfare. I cannot think of any reason why Britain should join a club where such views are held by a sizeable number of its’ members.
I love Europe and visit as often as I can however, there are elements within European culture that I find unpleasant. Anyone who is a fan of European crime writers or the TV imports that have become popular recently will be aware of the racist subplots that appear throughout the genre. It is not simply a ploy to excite the reader/viewer, racism and sexism are very evident throughout Europe’s history. However, whilst there remains an underlying racial tension in most towns and cities where there is a high concentration of multi-nationals, modern etiquette dictates that we simply live and let live. This works fine until someone upsets the equilibrium and all hell breaks loose as we have seen in Paris and Brussels recently. The Far Right then has a platform on which to gather more and more support which takes me back to what Michael Gove had to say about Continental politics. We are currently experiencing a trend in the UK for people to express Far Right opinions and I’m not simply referring to individuals like Katie Hopkins who has made a career out it. It is something entirely new for us as a nation, unlike elsewhere in Europe where Fascism has declined and resurged many times over centuries. However, whilst I like to believe that most people remain tolerant of others whatever their customs and beliefs happen to be or whatever colour their skin, economic pressures can change the way people behave. Therefore, whilst there is growing evidence to suggest that the EU has become an undemocratic institution and many of its’ member States are struggling to control the rise of the Far Right I do not believe that the UK should remain within the EU. Britain has always been a trading nation, perhaps the greatest of all, so it is unlikely to change very much should we Brexit and of course, there is the added bonus of not having to spend any more time than is necessary in the company of Ms Merkel and her cronies.