Monday, 30 May 2016
What Brexiteers actually want
The question is essentially whether we want Britain to be ruled by a supreme government for Europe. But at the heart of this referendum is one central question. Power. Who has it, how we get it back and what we will do when we have it.
We Brexiteers are divided on many issues. We are a broad church. We don't seem to be able to agree on anything. Except that the EU is not a democracy. And by that we mean that the British people do not have the power to make demands of the EU government. It is under no obligation to carry out our wishes. Thus, if the people do not hold the power over their government, they do not have democracy by definition. The government is the master, not the servant.
Those who support the EU say that we have pooled sovereignty, whereby we give up certain rights in exchange for the four freedoms that underpin the EU single market. They argue that it is a necessary compromise and a tolerable one. Brexiteers disagree.
That is the reason this debate continues to bubble under the surface of UK politics. There is no middle ground. Either you have sovereignty or you don't. Those who argue in favour of the EU make the case that we have benefitted from the arrangement. That is partially true.
But for the gains we have made we have made many sacrifices. Some argue far too many. That is the root of a lot of resentment, especially among those who remember the painful transition from one set of rules to another. It cost us a thriving fishing industry which had a seismic impact on our coastal towns. It has also had a profound effect on farming.
And then there are regulations. It makes sense to have them. It makes sense to have the same ones throughout. It makes sense to share our resources in order to make them. Good regulation is based on research and research does not come for free. We share the costs and cooperate. That's not intrinsically a bad thing.
Where it becomes a problem is when we cannot say no. And that is when bad regulations can wipe out jobs at the stroke of a pen or pile costs onto business which are then passed on to the customer. Though we accept that will happen because we work in the common good where the benefits outweigh the costs. The problem is, who gets to decide if the benefits outweigh the costs?
Many assume this is the European Parliament. Assuming that were true that still means the UK is structurally outnumbered and so a law has to be especially bad to defeat it by a majority in the Parliament. But it isn't up to the parliament. It's the Commission and the European Court of Justice. Entirely unelected and unaccountable people who act in the service of the EU's own ambitions to be that supreme government for Europe. That is where idealism overrides good sense and fairness.
The reason the Commission is calling the shots is because our parliament has handed over the right to say no in certain areas of policy, particularly with regard to trade. It decides which rules we adopt. The mistaken assumption that europhiles make is that the EU makes the rules. It doesn't. The EU has signed up to a WTO agreement which commits the EU to adopting regulations and standards made by international regulators on everything from banking to shipping, food and vehicle manufacture.
By the time the rules reach the European Parliament, most of the details are already agreed by global bodies and cannot be changed. In this our own government has very little influence. We have no free vote and no right to opt out. We are entirely at the mercy of the European Commission and we must do as we are instructed.
Worse still, once rules are adopted and rubber stamped by the parliament, there is very little chance of reforming or repealing them because reaching agreement between 28 member states is next to impossible. If we get bad law we are stuck with it and we live with the consequences.
And this is why we should leave. There comes a point where we can no longer continue on the same path without making far reaching reforms and it is the EU preventing us from doing that. For decades now we have seen persistent complaints that it doesn't matter who you vote for because nothing really changes. And it's true. We can only act within parameters dictated from above and we are not free to innovate using new ideas and technology.
But some say if we do opt out of the rules then we will have to pay tariffs to sell our goods to the EU. In some circumstances that is true. But what if our changes to the rules improves things in ways that make savings? And what if the savings are greater than what we pay in tariffs? Being free of the EU means we get to decide if the trade off is worth it.
Meanwhile, it can't have escaped your attention that Brexiteers want something done about immigration. That much is true. Very few are hostile to immigration but think we should have a fairer system. That's no great sin is it? At present much of the law surrounding immigration is underpinned by decades old laws which are in need of reform. We cannot do that if we stay in the EU.
You may have seen the slogan "Vote Leave, take control". And that is what it's about in a nutshell. It puts the power back in our hands. It does not necessarily mean will will exercise that control and it is likely that we will remain an open country freely cooperating with Europe. What matters is that we have the option.
This is where there is strong disagreement. Those who believe in the EU believe that we can only have cooperation if the power resides with the EU. And that if we take control then we will turn inward, abolish various rights and turn our backs on our neighbours.
Brexiteers on the other hand believe that it is we the people who are best placed to safeguard our rights. We believe that Britain is a progressive country and we will, if given the choice, opt to continue cooperation with not just the EU but all the other nations as well. We believe that we don't need to be forced to take care of our environment and we will protest any government which attacks our rights and we will vote them out. We believe in people power and we trust that British people will do the right thing.
And that is key to the dispute. Trust. Europhiles do not trust voters. They believe we need a heavy handed government to enforce rights and rules and that we will only share our wealth and expertise if forced to. The entire Remain campaign is built on fear. Fear that we cannot govern ourselves, that we have little of value to offer the world and without the EU everything would fall apart. They believe we are selfish and that we will not work in the common good. They are deeply suspicious of democracy and they believe the only way to retain the liberties we have is to remove all choice. They do not trust us.
And what sort of life is that? Where the government fears what the people may do and where the government is the master and not the servant? A government that believes we will make the wrong choices if free to choose. A government that assumes it knows what is best for us.
But you know, as it happens, that is sometimes true. Policy makers and experts sometimes do have a better idea of what will and will not work. That is why we give them some power over us. But that's not every time. And when they are wrong, they are very seriously wrong. The Euro, the financial crisis and the Common Fisheries Policy. All of which have been disastrous. And so the people must have a asay. And they must be free to make those mistake ans correct them. That way they own the decision made in their name. That way we are treated as adults and not managed like cattle.
It is fundamentally a question of democracy and whether you trust the British people to do the right thing. If you assume that we won't then you are ignoring our proud history of fighting for equality, labour rights, human rights and fairness. We had such things long before the EU came along. And if you are saying we are no longer that country then ask yourself what has changed? EU membership! Whatever we have lost we will have to rediscover. It is still within us.
If Britain chooses to remain it will be a sad day. It will be a statement that we no longer believe in ourselves or our potential and that we no longer trust in eachother or democracy. It will be a statement to the world that we will cave into fear and paranoia. It will be an admission that we no longer wish to be participants in our own destiny - that we no longer want to partake in governing. More than that is says we are happy to be passengers in our own lives and will reluctantly accept whatever is imposed upon us without protest. It says that we are satisfied with the rights bestowed upon us rather than fighting for more and better. It will mark a retreat of democracy.
And though you may be thinking things aren't so bad that we have no need to rock the boat, I have only one observation. That power without checks and balances has only ever resulted in tyranny of one or other form. And so I leave you with a quote from Frédéric Bastiat:
"The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protected and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen. Do not listen to this sophistry by vested interests. The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into a whole system. In fact, this has already occurred. The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it."