Why I’m scared of the EU referendum

“Goods are free to move, but not people

Oil is free to move, but not people

Jobs are free to move, but not people

Money is free to move, but not people…

Well, where do any of us come from?

It’s pretty hard to say.”

Justin Sullivan – ‘Another Imperial Day‘ from the album New Model Army album, Carnival

The other day I got an email from the campaign group 38 Degrees. It asked me to share my thoughts on what, if anything, they should do in response to the announcement of the date UK citizens would be asked to vote on staying in or leaving the European Union. One of the questions was a multiple choice set of statements on how I felt about the referendum, but I couldn’t see a description that matched being terrified we’ll be voted out of the EU on the (false) premise the UK is being overrun with ‘foreigners’ who are draining us dry.

Pound coins William WarbyI’m not saying the British people aren’t under pressure or that money isn’t frighteningly tight – to the point of actual poverty – for far too many of us. But I am saying this has very little to do with migration from the EU.

What it’s really about is the ideology of a Government which believes in ‘saving money’ by cutting public services and shrinking the welfare state – punishing those with little – instead of looking to those with lots to give back to a society they take so much from. Who do I mean? I mean multi-million/billion pound companies raking in profits but paying proportionately little tax; moneyed families passing enormous wealth down the generations; energy companies charging as much as they can get away with for something we can’t do without; property companies who build and trade on something else we can’t do without merrily driving up the cost of living, and (still) banks and money lenders trading in money and on poverty. Yes I’m generalising but you see where I’m coming from.

There’s been a global financial crisis. Which, we’re repeatedly told, is why money is so tight that the state can’t afford to fund the public services we all depend on. How is it then that those with money are still making it? There seems to be no crisis for the wealthy 1%. In fact they seem to have the money that could solve the shortfall so that George Osborne doesn’t in fact have to make even more cuts.

But back to the EU referendum. ‘Net migration’ and the fact that more people are coming to live in the UK than are leaving to live overseas isn’t the issue; nor is workers from the EU doing jobs British citizens could do and, actually, the issue isn’t benefits either. 

David Cameron with European Parliament President Martin Shulz
David Cameron with European Parliament President Martin Shulz

If there was no austerity drive and no cuts to public services in this the world’s 5th largest economy, I don’t think people would be suckered in by claims of how much EU migration costs us or all the nonsense about ‘benefit tourism’ either. Also, if we had a more equal society in which our wages covered the cost of living there wouldn’t be the need for a top up from in-work benefits.

This was one of the main areas David Cameron negotiated with his EU counterparts on. A special rule for the UK so it doesn’t have to extend the welfare state to migrants – even though British people are able to claim benefits in other EU countries. Would that even be an issue if the British people weren’t being squeezed till the pips squeak by a Conservative Government?

The EU isn’t a perfect institution – this is easy to see. Its layers of bureaucracy are arguably inefficient. The requirement of unanimous rather than majority agreement in some areas of decision making might be an attempt at fairness but in reality must cost a lot of time and money and delay required action. Then there’s sovereignty and the matter of ‘ever closer union’ (which apparently David Cameron has also negotiated us out of). Does it dilute democracy and control in member states? There’s no short answer to that – and it’s something that requires analytical thought rather than snap judgement.

So what’s the bottom line on making a decision on how to vote in the referendum? Please, please, please think about it very carefully and don’t be swayed by those making arguments for leaving that are based on xenophobia; be suspicious about claims of all these dreadful laws the EU forces on us (like the Working Time Directive – which protects workers from being forced to work long hours without adequate rest) or how much it costs – unless the person speaking also talks about what we get in return.

Spend a bit of time researching it before 23 June comes around. Below are a few links to help you…

BBC ‘all you need to know’ guide to the referendum

The official EU website – including some free downloadable guides to how the EU works

Link to (UK) parliamentary briefing document/reading list relating to the UK’s renegotiation of its membership of the European Union

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