European Referendum – The TIPPing Point.
(Once you have finished reading this article – such has been the response that I have had to write this follow up – The EU Referendum – Rushed, Ill Thought Out and Extreme!)
Also see this Fishing for Brexit
And a recent edition especially on the democracy aspect – The Dangerous Democratic Deficit – Scotsman Article – June 9th 2016
The time has finally arrived. Its not been an easy decision. I can see good points on both sides. Emotionally, politically and socially I am inclined towards a pro-EU position. At the last referendum in 1974 as a 12 year old I was opposed but then I left the Labour party and joined the SDP partly because I listened to David Owen, Roy Jenkins and accepted their pro-EU positions. Today I see that David Cameron, Hilary Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, all the Scottish political leaders, most of big business, the BBC, and President Obama are all opposed to Britain leaving the EU. The case for staying in the EU is strong, but in a world of soundbites and political celebrity endorsements it appears as though facts and reasonable arguments are hard to come by. So for a number of weeks I have been trying to find out as much as I could before finally making up my mind. What I have discovered has astounded me – and also disturbed me how little of this information is actually being discussed in the public square.
What follows is my own personal opinion and understanding of the facts that I have managed to find. It is not the opinion of Solas or the Free Church, and I am not claiming that it is what God says. Indeed one of the more bizarre things that this EU referendum has thrown up is that the Church of Scotland has an official position on the EU. Quite how the Church of Scotland feels able to tell us that God is for the EU but against the teaching of Jesus on marriage, is something I don’t quite grasp!
The Case for Remaining in the EU.
- Peace – The EU has been a source of security, peace and prosperity for many years. After centuries of wars in Europe, and the two world wars of the 20th Century beginning there, it is noticeable that there has been peace in Europe for the past 70 years. The EU is surely a significant factor in that. Furthermore the EU provides us with more security against Islamic terrorism.
- Prosperity – The EU has been a source of economic prosperity for all within. If Britain were to leave the Treasury estimate that it would cost each family £4,300 per annum by the year 2030. That is a massive hole left in most budgets. Plus 3 million jobs in the UK are dependent on being in the EU.
- Borders – Freedom to travel without passports. The removal of borders. The right to live, work and study in any other EU countries. These are surely great benefits. I love being European. I consider myself European and I loathe what is sometimes called the ‘Little Englander’ mentality.
- Influence – The EU is one of the major trading blocks in the world and therefore one of the major political powers. Britain is a key part of the EU and so gets to have a stronger say in world affairs. As someone once said we are ‘better together’!
- Human rights. Hasn’t the EU been a bastion of human rights and workers rights? Despite its weaknesses the European Charter on Human Rights has been a positive thing.
- President Obama – ok perhaps he shouldn’t have come here and interfered in our affairs, but perhaps his warning is apposite. If Britain withdraws from the EU we cannot be guaranteed favourable trading arrangements with anyone.
The Case for Leaving; given the above can there be any case for leaving? Lets look at the same subjects and I will ‘score them’.
- Peace– The ‘outers’ would argue that whilst there has been peace within Europe (if you leave aside the small matter of the Balkans) this has been guaranteed more by NATO and the need to stand against the communist Eastern Bloc than anything else. Besides which European nations have been involved in more than 100 wars throughout the globe in the past 70 years. As for Islamic terrorism they would point out that this ‘security’ does not appear to be working too well at the moment, and with the arrival of millions of Muslim immigrants it is more, not less, likely that Islamic terrorism will increase within Europe. The almost inevitable defeat of Islamic State, will not kill of Islamist terrorism, it will only make it more resentful and more deadly.
Score: Overall I think this is a win for those who want to stay in. European nations acting together are more likely to maintain peaceful relations and deal with Islamist terrorism.
- Prosperity – As regards prosperity they ridicule the Treasury figure of £4,300. The Treasury’s ‘report’ was as The Spectator observed ‘perhaps the most dishonest document ever produced by HM Treasury’. It dressed up GDP as household income in order to deceive people and avoided the real figure of £1,480. However even that is a meaningless figure. Chancellor George Osbourne keeps bringing forth Treasury projections for which he now has a 100% record. Of failure. As he admitted in 2010 the Treasury is not much good at economic forecasting.
The Outers argue that Britain would be freed from EU bureaucracy and regulations and would be able to trade both with the EU and with the wider world and that we would be better off. Food and fuel would almost certainly be cheaper and the British government might actually be able to do something about saving the steel industry, if they wanted to.
Furthermore there is the not insignificant fact that we pay £13 billion into the EU treasury each year and get £4.5 billion back (that is with our rebate – without it we would be paying £18 billion). Whilst there are risks in leaving, what seldom seems to be mentioned is that there are as many if not greater risks in staying. The Italian banks have a 360 million Euro black hole, the Greek economy is still devastated and Spain and Portugal are not much better. How Much Does Britain Pay into EU
Some more facts. 79% of business activity in the UK is internal. 11% of our GDP is with the rest of the world (and increasing) only 10% with the EU (decreasing). No one believes that this trade would cease. The EU is a declining market – from 36% of the worlds GDP in 1973 (when we joined) to 17% now. The EU determines who we trade with elsewhere in the world and on what terms, because individual countries are not allowed to do so. Note this simple point – for the sake of 10% of our business we have to apply 100% of EU rules to 100% of our business.
What about the three million jobs that are dependent on being in the EU? Daniel Hannan points out how deceitful that claim is: Over 3 million UK jobs are linked to our trade with the EU.’ The dishonesty of this claim is staggering. It is based on the same false idea that Britain would stop trading with the EU if it were not a member. Why? No one argues that we have to form a political union with, say, Brazil or Russia in order to do business with those countries. The economist from whose work the figure was taken, Dr Martin Weale, has said: ‘In many years of academic research, I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts.’”
I loved this question/answer given from a member of the audience in BBC’s Question time
Score: This one is a draw for the Inners in the short term and a win for the Outers in the long term. Most of the stories of economic decline seem to be scare stories put out by those who have a vested personal and corporate interest in keeping the EU gravy train rolling.
What about the farmers who currently receive £2.9 billion in EU subsidies – some 55% of their income? Indeed. Britain puts in over £4.9 billion so we could pay the farmers and have plenty left for the NHS!
- Borders – This is probably a clear win for the Outers. There is no way that Britain can control its own borders if it is within the EU. The freedom to travel, live, work and study does not just apply to the Western European nations but now to the Central and Eastern European nations which make up a significant number of the 28 member countries. This has already had a significant impact on Britain and will continue to do so. The millions of immigrants/refugees are one factor but by far the biggest factor is the proposed entry of Turkey. This has been hastened by the refugee crisis and the difficulties of Merkel and the German government, who’s commendable but ill thought out policy as resulted in some quick back tracking and some hasty promises to Turkey.
Score: A win for the Outers.
4) Influence: This seems a no brainer. You can’t influence something if you are not in it (although that doesn’t seem to have stopped President Obama trying!). But just how influential is Britain? The Americans want us in because they see us as their insider representatives. The American poodle Britain) was able to get Europe to take a strong stance on the Ukraine for example. But in reality our influence is very limited. We have been outvoted 40 times in the past five years and we only have 3.6% of EU Commissioners. In fact we have voted 70 times against proposed EU legislation and we have lost 70 times. Some influence! David Cameron’s EU renegoiations got almost nothing. As regards influence we now have no vote and no voice in the vital World Trade Organisation – where instead we are represented as one 28th of the EU by a Swedish sociology lecturer!
The EU is not just a market – it seeks to be a superstate and has increasing regulations that affect everything. Just think of this one (of thousands of examples) – the British parliament wanted to stop charging VAT on sanitary towels (as it was quite reasonably pointed out they are not a luxury item), but were told that they could not do so because it was against EU regulations. This in the very week that David Cameron was negotiating for a new deal!
Score: A win for the Outers. Britain’s influence in the EU would self-evidently decline, but I suspect that it would increase in the rest of the world.
- Human Rights – There are of course quirks in the European Convention on Human Rights but overall I think it is a good thing. But here is the surprising thing for many people. It is not a product of the EU but rather of the Council of Europe, which if Britain left the EU, we would still belong to, and therefore we would still be a signatory to the ECHR. That simple fact destroys the In argument.
Score: A win for the Outers.
Overall my score is 4:1 in favour of leaving. Before we come on to point six, which for me was the tipping point, let me mention a couple of other reasons that it is very difficult to support staying in the EU.
Democracy – Anyone who believes in democracy cannot vote to remain in the EU, at least not without shutting their eyes and crossing their fingers. The EU is fundamentally NOT a democratic institution. Indeed it is anti-democratic. The power in the EU lies not with the parliament but in the unelected EU Commissioners. Twice in the past five years the EU has removed a democratically elected government (in Italy and Greece) and appointed Brussels-approved technocrats. Tony Benn got the situation spot on. Once you have rulers who you cannot get rid of then you no longer live in a democracy. The lack of democracy means that there is a lack of accountability and therefore greater opportunity for corruption.
Another aspect of this is the astonishing fact that David Cameron and others are actively campaigning for Turkey to become part of the EU – despite its lack of democratic credentials. As President Erodgan shuts down churches, locks up political opponents, the German Chancellor supports a German comedian being prosecuted in Germany for insulting the president of Turkey and the British Prime Minister says that Turkey deserves ‘a top seat at the table’! Cranmer on Cameron and Turkey
Corruption – Corruption is rife within the EU. The EU accounts have not been properly signed off for 19 years – As recorded here in the Telegraph.
More than a thousand EU officials earn more money than David Cameron. All officials working for EU institutions are exempt from national taxation – they pay a flat rate of 21%. Whatever happened to our high earners having to pay 45%? Don’t even get started on their pensions! The Euro gravy train is not a myth.
But its not just about officials – its about how democracy is conducted. The EU is a lobbyist’s paradise. There are 25,000 of them in Brussels. The EU hands out largesse to organisations which then unsurprisingly support them. So for example I was told that several large NGO’s supported Britain in the EU. That’s interesting I thought, independent Non – Governmental Organisations must have good reason for so doing. Indeed they do. Action Aid, the NSPCC, One World Action and Oxfam received over 43 million Euros between them from the EU. Little wonder that these ‘independent’ charities support the EU. Likewise the Confederation of British Industry have received one million Euros, and British Universities have received almost 900 million. It is little wonder that they are all enthusiastic campaigners for staying in. The whole system is corrupt to the core.
One more example. The EU is so corrupt that the Commissioners feel free to ignore its own major rules, whilst imposing the smallest of them on every small business. Article 125 of the EU treaty states “‘The Union shall not be liable for, or assume the commitments of, central governments, regional, local or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of any Member State.’ Angela Merkel went on to declare in 2010 “‘We have a Treaty under which there is no possibility of paying to bail out states.’” And yet that is precisely what happened.
The European political system is based on a lie. Apparently this is ok for the current President.
‘When it becomes serious you have to lie.’ —J(EAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER Luxembourg prime minister 1995–2013 and president of the European Commission 2014– , 20 April 2011).
Perhaps the cynic might observe that British politicians lie to – but at least we can vote out our liars!
But lets come on to point six. Doesn’t President Obama’s intervention make a difference? Yes it does. I was swaying towards ‘leave’; Obama’s intervention has tipped me over the edge. Here’s why.
His intervention is enormously significant – not because his points have any substance (as we shall see), but because of the fact that he made them at all. Such a direct intervention in another countries internal politics is almost unprecedented. Why did he do it? I was amazed at how many people were naïve enough to say that ‘he’s just expressing his opinion and everyone is entitled to do that’. No. He is the President of the USA and his concern is with the USA. He was not doing David Cameron a favour; he was looking after his own and his countries interests. There are two reasons why it is important to America that Britain remains in the EU.
Firstly we are America’s voice in the EU. America says ‘jump’, and we ask ‘how high?’. The ‘special’ relationship has become a subservient one. Obama came as the Master to threaten us and tell us what to do. I think this wee Hugh Grant clip sums it up quite well!
Secondly Obama was representing the interests of corporate America. Perhaps because he believes that is best for his country and the world. Perhaps because corporate America funds corporate politics in the US, and Obama owes them. So the question is why would corporate America want Britain to stay in the EU? It all has to do with TTIP. Obama wants it passed, ASAP, so that it can become his legacy. He made this quite clear.
“Our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement”.
I am astonished that so few of our media picked up on the main issue here. They have presented it as though we already have a trade agreement with the US (at least through the EU) and they regard President Obama’s threat as somehow substantial. Anyone reading the papers or watching the BBC would think, ‘oh no, the Americans will withdraw from trading with us and we will all be worse off’. The only problem is that we currently don’t have a trade agreement with the US, and we NEVER have! And yet trade goes on. We have lasted 60 years without one – and we will continue to trade without one. If we are at the back of the queue for a TTIP style agreement, so what? (By the way could you tell me when a US president ever used the word ‘queue’? It couldn’t be that Obama was using words drafted for him by the British government? Or is that being too cynical?). Obama is now in Berlin trying to sell this deal to the German people. It is clearly very important to him – and to the American political and economic establishment? Why?
What is TTIP? It is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which cuts tariffs and regulatory barriers between the US and Europe. Sounds good? Think again. This is, as John Hilary, director of War on Want, says
“An assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.”
The negotiations have been conducted in secret with what we know coming from leaked documents and Freedom of Information requests. This is big business in league with big government (whom they pay for – especially in the US) trying to circumvent democracy and the rule of law. This is what it means and why it is such a threat to Britain. (The following is from a report in The Independent The Independent – What is TTIP)
but it is backed up by other sources – this is something I have been watching for a few years and along with others trying to raise awareness of the drastic implications).
1 The NHS
One of the main aims of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. This could essentially mean the privatisation of the NHS.
2 Food and environmental safety
TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’ agenda will seek to bring EU standards on food safety and the environment closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much less strict, with 70 per cent of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets now containing genetically modified ingredients. By contrast, the EU allows virtually no GM foods. The US also has far laxer restrictions on the use of pesticides. It also uses growth hormones in its beef that are restricted in Europe due to links to cancer. US farmers have tried to have these restrictions lifted repeatedly in the past through the World Trade Organisation and it is likely that they will use TTIP to do so again.
The same goes for the environment, where the EU’s REACH regulations are far tougher on potentially toxic substances. In Europe a company has to prove a substance is safe before it can be used; in the US the opposite is true: any substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. As an example, the EU currently bans 1,200 substances from use in cosmetics; the US just 12.
3 Banking regulations
TTIP cuts both ways. The UK, under the influence of the all-powerful City of London, is thought to be seeking a loosening of US banking regulations. America’s financial rules are tougher than ours. They were put into place after the financial crisis to directly curb the powers of bankers and avoid a similar crisis happening again. TTIP, it is feared, will remove those restrictions, effectively handing all those powers back to the bankers.
Remember ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)? It was thrown out by a massive majority in the European Parliament in 2012 after a huge public backlash against what was rightly seen as an attack on individual privacy where Internet service providers would be required to monitor people’s online activity. Well, it’s feared that TTIP could be bringing back ACTA’s central elements, proving that if the democratic approach doesn’t work, there’s always the back door. An easing of data privacy laws and a restriction of public access to pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials are also thought to be on the cards.
The EU has admitted that TTIP will probably cause unemployment as jobs switch to the US, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower. It has even advised EU members to draw on European support funds to compensate for the expected unemployment.
TTIP’s biggest threat to society is its inherent assault on democracy. One of the main aims of TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.
ISDSs are already in place in other bi-lateral trade agreements around the world and have led to such injustices as in Germany where Swedish energy company Vattenfall is suing the German government for billions of dollars over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Here we see a public health policy put into place by a democratically elected government being threatened by an energy giant because of a potential loss of profit. Nothing could be more cynically anti-democratic.
This is the issue. We don’t get to vote on TTIP. We can’t vote on it. And in the EU our elected politicians can’t vote on it. Obama came here, at the behest of his corporate paymasters, to try and save an agreement which will bypass democratic governments and hand even more power and wealth to the big corporations.
Where does all this leave us?
My view is that the Inners will win. They have all the resources of government propaganda (the £9 million tax payer funded leaflet being only one example), they have most of big business and they have the vested interests. Most of all they will win because of Project Fear. Watch out for a series of reports/studies/deceits telling us that mortgages will go through the roof, terrorists will run amok and the sky will fall in. The kind of deceit that David Cameron practiced when he promised that he would advocate leaving if he did not get a substantial changed deal and yet when he got nothing (what Boris Johnson described as ‘two thirds of diddely squat’) he pretended it was something, and hoped that no-one would notice!).
I think another reason that they will win is the compliant one party state type politics that exists, at least in Scotland. I don’t mean by this that the SNP are a one party state, but that there is a general narrative amongst the governing elites which means that anyone who questions the EU is considered ‘not one of us’. People so easily buy into myths that are spread – such as ‘the Scottish people’ are opposed to leaving the EU and it is only UKIP type Little Englanders who want to do so. Sadly Scottish politics has become much more about this, than it is about actual policies and their impacts. Lets just examine the political parties stances on this.
The SNP – I am still waiting for someone, anyone in the SNP to explain why they want to be independent from Westminster control (an aim I share) and yet under Brussels control. ‘We will have a seat at the table as an independent nation’ they opine, before going on to say that Britain would have no influence in the world as a much larger independent nation. Scotland has far more say in the democratically elected United Kingdom parliament, than it ever will in the EU. A Scottish Commissioner (if we were ever accepted) will have almost no influence or say at all). And why are the SNP supporting TTIP? Former SNP leader Gordon Wilson has a far more interesting and balanced viewpoint – but I suspect it is a view which would get him deselected in todays SNP! Some accuse the SNP of being Stalinesque in terms of their party organization and discipline. That accusation is given substance by the fact that so far not one SNP MP or MSP has spoken out against the EU. Not one. I know many SNP supporters who will vote out (I am one of them), but within the party itself, no discussion is permitted, no dissent. All and one, and one is all.
Labour – The Labour of Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn has truly gone. Now we are in the New Labour world of spin, liberalism and avoidance of any socialist principles. But Corybyn is the leader? Yes and he has been against the corporate, undemocratic EU for his entire political career – until now. Either he is learning how to play the game of deceitful politics (trying to keep his party together) or he has given up on his principles. Either way it is to my mind incredible that the Conservative government are relying on Labour to win this referendum. Not all socialists have drunk the kool aid though – Why Brexit is the Left Wing Option
The Tories – Most Conservative party members, and probably most MP’s are opposed. Cameron was genuinely shocked (and furious) when Michael Gove and Boris Johnson came out as Outers. By far the best thing I have read on this subject comes from an intelligent, somewhat maverick Tory (whom I often disagree with), Daniel Hannan. In Scotland of course our right on, mega hip, totally cool, wanna be opposition, Tory leader Ruth Davidson is of course an Inner. At least the Tories in Scotland allow people to disagree.
The Lib-Dems – are of course pro-EU. It is an article of faith for them – even when the EU is going in such an anti-liberal, undemocratic direction. But wait. There is a real shock here. One of my political heroes, Lord David Owen, founder member of the SDP, Europhile has announced that he is an Outer! David Owen Wants Out of the EU
That is like Nicola Sturgeon announcing that she wants Scotland to remain in the UK! IF David Owen wants out of the EU, we need to ask why!
UKIP – I suppose we have to say something about UKIP. Of course their raison d’etre is to leave. But in Scotland they are irrelevant – mainly because their leader David Coburn is such a caricature that he makes Donald Trump seem real. If UKIP were the reason for leaving, I would be a total Inner!
The Greens – Actually have some interesting views and policies on Europe. Not least because they argue against free trade and for real subsidiarity. But because they want to stay in, then it is unlikely that their policies will ever be put into practice.
The Inners will almost certainly win. 80% of referendums result in the status quo. People are scared of change and Project Fear plays on that. Michael Gove complained that the Treasury were treating us like children. But maybe that is because politically it is what we are. Or maybe they have underestimated us? Maybe the political chattering classes will really have got this one wrong. Maybe the proles will rise up against their rulers and corporate paymasters. Maybe people will come to understand that the choice is not between the status quo and the risk of leaving. If we stay in, the status quo will not remain. Crisis within the EU will be met by a demand for more centralization, more regulations and greater political union. Again Hannan sums it up well:
A vote to stay in, in other words, is not a vote to hold our ground. It is a vote to acquiesce in what is coming. When the EU demands, whether by majority vote or by a judicial decision, that the United Kingdom join in more bailouts, or increase her budget contributions in line with other members so as to fund the new fiscal transfer mechanism, or accept a quota of non-EU migrants who have entered other member states illegally, we shall be in no position to say no – politically, legally or morally”
As a democrat – I hope that we leave the EU. Democracy is not perfect, but it is the best system of government we have. An ever-decreasing British democracy combined with an ever-increasing Euro-technocracy, will be a disaster for freedom. Because I want democratic Europe and not corporate Europe, I will be voting out. In my view any socialist, liberal, conservative, nationalist, green democrat should vote to leave. Only those who believe in a corporate European state, run by and for the big corporations, and are prepared to hand our NHS over to those corporations, should vote to remain.
As a Scot – I want my country to be governed by those who live here, and by those who can be voted out of power. So I will vote leave.
As a European – I want a Europe of peace, prosperity, trade, diversity. I believe that the EU by seeking to create a Euro Super State will ultimately destroy what is good about Europe. I don’t want to belong to a world power, or a giant trading bloc. I want to belong to a Europe where diversity and difference are celebrated.
As a Christian – I don’t know what God wants. To him the nations are as a drop in the bucket. I pray for kings, politicians, bureaucrats and all in authority, that we may live peaceable and godly lives. I pray for a renewal of Christian Europe, whatever the outward system of government – and I will work with the biggest, most radical and most diverse organization within Europe (the church) to achieve that. Without righteousness Europe will never prosper and never know peace. Lord, have mercy.
If you have managed to read this far and still want more I would recommend the following two articles from The Spectator which are fascinating.
Will the Swedes follow a Brexit? http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/04/swedes-tell-britain-if-you-leave-the-eu-well-follow/
I have read many articles and a few books on this issue. If you only have time to read one I would strongly suggest – Daniel Hannan’s ‘Why Vote Leave?’.
A footnote: I have received an enormous reaction to this blog. Thanks to those of you who have found it helpful and to those who have corrected my errors. Perhaps I could offer a word of advice to those who seem emotionally committed to staying in the EU? It does not help to name call and attack people – I don’t care about Farage, or Gove, or Hannan – I care about their arguments and the facts. Some of the responses I have received from Inners have been thoughtful, reasoned and helpful. But far too many have been abusive, ignorant and at times ridiculous. There have been some extraordinary claims – we won’t be allowed to trade with anyone, or enter Eurovision, or send missionaries to France! For me the most incredible have been the claims that the EU Commission is more democratic than the UK parliament, that it has no more power than the British civil service and that TTIP is an open and democratic negotiation. These things make me despair of the level of political discourse in this country. It seems as though people take a position and then become emotionally committed to it and just filter out anything that disagrees with it, and then accept everything that agrees. I realise of course I face the same danger – which is why I have taken so long reading and thinking before writing this blog. Of course I could be wrong….and I hope I am open to persuasion. But I need facts, reasons and logic – not just emotive soundbites or ad hominem abuse of others.
If you want an example of the way that EU propaganda works I was sent this invite to a meeting for impartial and authoritative advice on the EU – hosted by organisations who are all funded by the EU – complete with EU flag invite!
And a shortened version of this was published on Christian Today