This is the barely awaited Part 2 of the my EUR 0.02 on the UK’s EU Referendum. The first part dealt with why the Leave campaign’s arguments are flawed, and so is really about why we should not leave. This part is about why, positively, the UK should stay in the EU.
Both sides of the campaign have attempted to use fear to sway you. The Leave camp has used fear of more immigration, while the Remain campaign has used the fear of lower standards of living. I think that it’s just as important to make a positive case though. It’s not enough in my view just to say that things will be worse than now if the UK leaves. I expect fewer people will agree with it, but that does not mean they should vote to leave. The negative case in Part 1 should be enough to make you not want to leave. Hopefully this will make you actively want to remain.
As with Part 1, I won’t really deal with the economic case and immigration. As I argued there, the former is an open and shut case, and the second is a populist red herring.
This is also different to Part 1 in that it is not based on the either campaign’s points. It is a less objective, and more personal view of why the UK, Europe, and the world, in the short, medium and long term, will be better, in moral, political and economic terms, if the UK stays in the EU. Please vote REMAIN
1. How do you want the world to be?
This is a decision which will have an impact on the entire world for the foreseeable future. The world is, as ever, facing serious difficulties at the moment. It has not recovered from its self-made financial crisis, violent fundamentalism continues to increase, a large part of the Middle East is under the control of ISIS, Libya has descended into a bandit state, Russia is going through one of its Angry Fighty Bear phases, China’s economy is suddenly not working properly, more than 1.3 billion people still live in extreme poverty, on less than USD 1.25 per day, and the world is facing unprecedented environmental threats, including sea levels rising at a rate that will mean some island nations will have disappeared off the map. There are currently 14 conflicts ongoing that have killed more than 1,000 people in the last year, and 4 that have killed more than 10,000. Grim!
The EU cannot solve all of these problems, but, in its international relations, it is a world leader in human rights, democracy, workers rights, press freedom, the rights of women, religious minorities, and LGBT rights. It is a constant advocate of environmental protection, promotes and funds investment and research in renewables and sustainable technology, and, along with it and its member states combined being the world’s leading aid donor, it targets aid directly at the poorest countries, rather than the ones it wants to butter up or get something from (I know this – I negotiated the EU agreement on it, and, incidentally, this was a UK policy that we got the EU to adopt). The EU is a leader for peace and conflict resolution around the world, and has done more than anyone else to try to bring peace and democracy to North Africa.
It speaks with the voice of 500 million people in international fora, plus it’s status as the world’s largest trading block, and it therefore has a massive amount of influence, largely for the good. In addition, the UK has a disproportionate influence on its foreign policy, and most of the EU’s foreign policy has been pushed for successfully by the UK.
Leaving the EU would weaken the UK’s influence in the international sphere, and it would weaken the EU’s own foreign policy. Leaving the EU would weaken it as a force for good in the world, and would leave the world poorer, and less likely to make progress on the major challenges facing it.
2. How do you want Europe to be?
You knew it was coming, didn’t you? It’s the Fifty Years of Peace argument. Yay! This is the best, but most badly deployed argument in favour of the EU. The EU was set up to help towards the common goals of prosperity in a rebuilding Europe, but also as a method to ensure that the wars that have plagued Europe for 1,000 years would not reoccur (seriously, look it up – there has been serious armed conflict in Europe almost continuously since the 11th Century). Of course, NATO and the UN have played a part in its success in this respect. The important thing though is that it is now utterly, utterly unthinkable for one EU Member State to invade another, or even threaten it with force. Moreover, it’s very nearly as unthinkable for one of the candidate and potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans to attack another, despite how recently the entire region was engaged in hideous slaughter.
This is not a glib argument. War seems remote to most of us now, but part of the reason for that is that the EU ‘Project’ that we’re are meant to be scared of, has actually performed it’s main task extremely well. Leaving the EU would of course not lead to continental wars. However, leaving, and thus weakening the EU, may well lead to calls in other Member States to leave it, thus weakening it even further.
Finally, the UK, in my view, helps make the EU better. It is a leader in pushing for reforms, greater efficiency, less waste and in keeping the budget under control. It also provides something of a bridge between the US and the EU, and, as I said previously, is a largely positive influence on its foreign policy. It is also the world’s 5th (or 6th, depending on the measure) largest economy, and therefore helps it to be taken more seriously.
Why should we care, you may say? Well, whatever the trade deal we would get, a weaker, less prosperous, less stable EU would mean our main export consumer was weaker, our main NATO allies were less united, and, that our neighbourhood was less stable. Instability does not stop at borders in the 21st century. The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer has said that “We rely very heavily on the EU criminal justice measures and when I say very heavily, I mean 24/7. I’m talking here about terrorism, people trafficking, cyber-crime, sexual exploitation, trafficking of children and paedophilia: they all go across the borders into Europe.”
Perhaps more importantly though, it would harm our neighbours, and they’re pretty good neighbours on the whole.
3. How do you want the UK to be?
This is potentially a pretty philosophical question, but some more practical considerations first.
The EU has a regional policy to help the poorer regions of its Member States, and has provided billions in funding to the UK’s poorer regions. for 2015-2020 it will provide around EUR 1.45 billion to the poorest regions of the UK, and the same again to other regions. In addition, the European Social Fund will provide EUR 3 billion over the same period for employment, social inclusion, and skills in all regions. In the last 5 years, the EU’s Investment Bank, the EIB, has invested EUR 29 billion in projects in the UK in energy, transport, water, urban development, agriculture, education, health and small businesses.
According to the Royal society, despite reductions in UK government funding to research in UK universities, total research funding has actually increased as a result of EU research funding.
Again, you might say ‘so what, we could have funded it ourselves’? We might have, but EU policies in these areas make sure that these fundamental issues – developing the poorest regions, employment, social inclusion, education, research, infrastructure investment and so on – are funded whatever happens in short-term UK politics. They are fundamental issues and goals, agreed by wide, considered consensus, and not reliant short term political considerations.
The same goes for ensuring workers’ rights, product safety standards, promotion of equality, the list goes on. We could ensure these things ourselves, but sometimes our governments, for generally short-term political reasons, don’t want to, and, in the UK, there’s no constitution to stop them.
So, if you live in one of the UK regions, particularly one of the poorer ones like the one I come from, or want a country that excels in research, or if you feel you rights may be threatened, or if you want cleaner air and energy, think about whether you would rather have the EU provide these funds, assistance and guarantees, or whether you think the UK government is a better bet to provide it. The present one clearly isn’t. The next one might be, but it might not be. Not many have been.
Now to the more philosophical question of how we want our society to be, and where the EU fits in. I would argue that, aside from the benefits in terms of economics and rights that the EU brings, that being a member makes British society better. Remember the Germans episode of Faulty Towers? It wouldn’t be funny now, because lots of us know Germans and they tend to be about as nice as we are on the whole. The EU will fund around a quarter of a million UK students to study abroad in the next 5 years, and they will all come back with the experience and understanding of another country, and hopefully some language skills. I met an Italian bloke the other day who studied for a year in Middlesborough (poor soul 😉 ) and was telling me how amazing the North York Moors are.
The point is the UK is increasingly a country where the foreign is interesting, rather than scary, suspicious or worrying. Where old cliches and stereotypes have been broken down, and we don’t think twice about getting a cheap flight (the rise of which happened because of the EU single market, incidentally) to a different country. It’s not enough just to say that we are fundamentally outward looking because of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is composed of countries we invaded and colonised. This was not because we were outward looking, but because we wanted their land, labour and stuff cheap. We should be also be outward looking towards our immediate neighbours, our regional peers, who, on the whole, are quite like us in lots of ways.
Leaving the EU would be eschewing this. Don’t push us towards being a petty, self-interested, arrogant society. The UK is great in lots of ways, but it is improved by being in the EU.
4. How do you want you and future generations to be?
Somewhere in the preamble to almost every EU law or regulation, the word solidarity is mentioned somewhere. When this comes up in discussions in between Member States in Council, the UK representatives will chortles under their breath and say ‘yeah, yeah, put the solidarity thing if you like, as long as it doesn’t mean we have to do anything.’ They shouldn’t. They should embrace it.
For the Brits, solidarity is just a hangover concept from the more socially minded member states, and the bad old days when left-wingers were actually socialists. To the people of most other EU Member States though, this is a concept at the heart of Europe. It means that people should show solidarity towards, and assist others as much as they can, no matter where in Europe they come from. And it happens at an individual level. The Belgian hospital I went to the other day showed solidarity by speaking and providing information to me in English. There were no rules that said they had to do this. They just did it. It also means that the EU, and its Member States should assist other Member States when in difficulties.
At a big level, there is, for example, there is a Solidarity Fund that Member States can apply for to deal with natural disasters. But solidarity is much deeper than funding. It’s about solidarity between people.
Children get solidarity. If you tell children that children like them somewhere else in the world don’t have enough food, or have to work instead of go to school, they get it. They say that it’s terrible, and that something should be done about it. They’re right, but they don’t have the means to do something about it although they’ll make a good effort by doing sponsored stuff and so on. A friend’s child gave up their birthday presents for a year and asked people to crowd fund a project for girls’ health in Uganda – she raised loads. We, adults, do have the means, but, at some point, most people forget to care as much as the children do. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we become more focussed on the problems, difficulties, and challenges in our own lives, our families and friends, and where we live. This is understandable, but a shame.
The EU gives us an opportunity though to stand in solidarity with over 400 million other people, and it encourages them to stand in solidarity with us. This is a good thing, and something we should encourage. Ideally, we would all feel greater solidarity with all people, but the EU is a good start and does to some extent also promote this.
But why? Well the alternative is, frankly, to be mean, and only care about ourselves and our own self-interest. We should teach our children to care about others, and not just themselves, or people from the same place as them. We used to have to teach children that the UK was the best, because it was fairly likely that at some point they’d have to go to war for it. Thanks in part to the reasons in section 2, we don’t have to now, and instead we can teach them that cooperation, sharing and solidarity can make things better for everyone. Leaving the EU would make this harder to do.
This was really a rather long winded way of saying that I think that stability, peace, collectivity, cooperation, solidarity and openness are better for everyone in the long-run than instability, selfishness, isolation, disinterest and closed-mindedness. The EU is not ideal. Far from it. Lots of thing infuriate me about it. But it moves in the direction of the good and brings us closer to others. It supports us when our own government can’t or won’t. In a pretty scary, fragmented world, looking after, and being looked after by your neighbours is a good thing. It is, overall, a force for good in the world, and we make it better, and in turn are better ourselves for being part of it. Please, please, vote remain.