I wrote this post on Wednesday night; before Jo Cox’s tragic death.
I did not know her; but from all the tributes, I think I would have been a better person if I had. She was younger than me and yet had achieved more and cared more than I have. Perhaps things like this help us all to put our own lives in perspective.
Her death is a waste and I constantly think about her husband and children and the gap there now is in their lives – in the lives of all who knew her. It’s a waste. And for it to be apparently driven by a referendum that wasn’t needed and debate that has just divided, it seems tragically, appallingly, wasteful.
I had become fed up to the point of disgust with the negativity in this campaign before this. The raw hate and fear that have been unleashed; and in the below post I was trying to do my bit to bring it back to what a campaign should be about – something to vote for, not against.
Perhaps it is too late for that. Perhaps it always was; but if the vote is going ahead, I think we should all now try to campaign and debate in a better way, a way we can be proud of:
Hope not Fear
Tolerance not Division
Compassion not Hate
This has been a negative campaign from both sides. From Leave we have: the EU is trying to crush our freedoms, our nation; and “Fear the Immigrants!” From Remain: “There’ll be a recession if we leave and we’ll lose jobs, investment etc”.
None of this is inspiring. If I was to pick up on one point I would say it is a different thing to warn of something that virtually every professional agrees will happen than it is to say fear the others and what they might do. Personally I find that frustrating as debate is supposed to be based on facts and discussion. Unfortunately, though, it’s got to the point where no one believes anything – which is why I’ve always tried to avoid “facts” as much as possible and talk about things in general terms. Hopefully that has succeeded to date.
What is missing is some positivity and this seems to be in very short supply. Leave have actually better articulated their positive vision of the future as a dynamic free-trading nation, stripping itself free of regulation. The vision has been swamped by the “Immigrants!” push; but it has been there and there have been a small dedicated group of people promoting it. As I’ve discussed in the previous posts, I believe that this vision skates over some costs and is optimistic in the extreme about what can be done economically; but it is a positive vision.
Remain, however, have not articulated a positive future – however many issues there might be with it –and seem to have defined themselves more by what they are not. Not a risk; not a leap in the dark; not years of uncertainty. The thing is, that’s not a good sell. When you have problems in your life, promising more of the same is far from inspiring. People are asking what Remaining in the EU will do for them and their issues and the answer always appears to be what Leave will take away. Now, that may well be true; but a choice between a leap in the dark and the current messy EU is not a pleasant one.
So many politicians have said that they want to stay in a reformed EU, one that addresses the needs and concerns of the people; but I haven’t heard any articulate exactly what that means. Perhaps I missed that in the relentless negative buzz from both sides; but I haven’t seen it yet.
Since it doesn’t exist, I thought I would bring together all my previous posts and summarise them into what the EU could be. It needs reforms badly – many agree with the idea and then no one says what. David Cameron’s attempts at one summit were a sticking plaster on broken leg. Reform comes from unequivocally addressing the issues that face the EU and are of concern to its people. If the EU cannot reform to cope with those, then it does not deserve to survive. And if Remain want people to believe in their option they should be acknowledging the issues people have and talking about how to solve them. Not constantly telling them how much they will lose – however true that is.
So let us assume – as Leave do in their vision for the future – a bit of optimism about what is possible. I will follow their example and paint a vision of the Remain option in the main areas of concern that is positive and logically workable. Then I will lay down the challenge of “Why not?”
Economics & Trade
This is why we went into the EEC. Loss of this is what most of us fear the most from any Brexit; especially the significant economic consequences leaving would have on the UK economy. In my previous post, I talked about the Single Market and what it has achieved and how we benefit from that. We want to keep that and I would say we want to extend it into services and Digital goods, areas where the UK is a leader and where currently there are restrictions. We have benefited from the Single Market and if we finalise it in areas where Britain is a key competitor, it opens up even more opportunities and growth. A reformed EU needs to be economically dynamic and competitive and the increased competition from a complete Single Market will help the whole European economy – especially the UK’s.
Regulating & legislating
To have a Single Market with a level playing field across Europe, you need to make decisions in those areas for the EU as a whole. And if any body has those powers, there needs to be transparency and accountability. I covered this in my earlier post on Democracy but this is one area where people rightly feel neglected and ignored. Whilst we have European elections, we do not direct and hold accountable the body that steers the EU and proposes and enforces its laws. We need to. Then we can control our own destiny and debate – every four years – who we want to run the show and what direction we want to go in. And if they screw it up, we need to be able to kick them out. Electing a committee is impossible so let’s have a president who is answerable to all.
Influence in the word
One of the greatest claims in the Leave camp is how we can direct our own future and get trade deals as Britain. Of course we can; but we get better ones as a group. If anyone points to the trade deals of somewhere like Switzerland with China, get them to look at the details. Yes, they have a deal but the terms are one-sided because they are small. In trade, just as in war, size matters.
That doesn’t mean current EU policy is the best; but this is about structure. If we want to debate the direction of policy, let’s elect that president and the candidates can put forward their different ideas and we can choose. Then we have no one to blame but ourselves, which is how a democracy should be.
The Euro was a fine idea; but badly done with some terrible political decisions along the way. The current half-solution is still a sticking plaster. As virtually any economist will tell you, to make it robust, there needs to be some form of mutual Euro Debt. But to have that, you need to have some cash raising powers and you need to set limits on state spending. With a democratically elected head of the EU, these things do become easier but there are still issues. How much should the Eurozone interfere in states budgets? How should it raise money? How should Debt be allocated? Difficult questions; but not insurmountable.
A quick suggestion would be to allow the Eurozone to be the borrower of funds which it then gives to the states, financed by tax on trade and company profits – since that is the reason for the EU in the first place. No extra tax should be needed as states in Eurozone then wouldn’t have to pay interest payments and the part of their corporate tax that was paying for that can become the Eurozone corporation tax. Then if a state budget is in balance (or within certain limits) it does not need to ask Eurozone for anything; but if it goes over, then it needs to work with the Eurozone to finance that. Investors get reassurance, costs fall and we can finally move away from crisis.
None of that is supposed to be the last word and I’m sure some will dispute any such suggestions; but I’m looking forward with some equivalent optimism to say that the Eurozone can be sorted out and put on a sound financial footing. Only then will the Eurozone realise its potential.
NATO has been the heart of European defence and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. And almost all the EU member states are also members of NATO. Personally it seems an oddity not to declare that we would help each other and that an attack on any EU state is an attack on all. While such a reform does not change much on the ground, it would be symbolic that we pledge to stand together against outside threats.
That is far from saying there should be a single army. There shouldn’t; no more than there is a single NATO army. But NATO does provide a united front and that should continue and be the basis for any future that I can see.
It is an unavoidable fact that different states want to different things from the EU. Some want to come closer together, some – like the UK – want to focus more on the trade and economy. These different desires across a union of 28 states shouldn’t split it; but they should be respected. It’s not a question of second class versus first class. It’s a question of what’s best for each – and guaranteeing that the rights of each are respected.
Therefore, the ability of more than half the states to move forward in an area and use the EU facilities should be allowed – so long as it is clear that other states cannot be compelled to join. So agree what we want – and allow others to do what they want – but staying together where it matters.
Liberty & Free Speech
There should be an EU Bill of Rights – to enshrine those key freedoms we all treasure and which benefit all. I know that there is the European Court of Human Rights; but this would be different (shorter for a start) and – most importantly – part of the EU structure so that no law or rule can over-ride it – a guaranteed protection for every person and every state. A cast-iron guarantee against any over-reaching authority – a valid concern across the whole EU.
Freedom of Movement
This is a key goal of the EU and perhaps it always should be; but there is a crisis. It’s a crisis affecting us all and is creating tensions in all countries. In the borderless Schengen zone, borders have gone back up, systems designed for calmer times are being stretched. So we need to look at calming this down. If that needs more border controls and limits for the moment, then fine. They can be removed later; but the EU needs the ability to control itself – especially when that is a concern of so many. Otherwise, people will question its value.
Again, I don’t have a definitive solution to that; but I’m using the same level (or arguably less) of optimism as has been used by Leave to conclude that a deal can be done and structures put in place as it is in the interests of the member states. That will mean multiple speeds as states like the UK don’t want to be in that. We need to work solutions that respect that and can address this continent wide problem.
In a relentlessly negative campaign, I have struggled to see a positive Remain vision. They have articulated what will go wrong if we Leave – probably quite accurately – but they haven’t offered positive reasons to stay and people don’t like being backed into a corner.
So let’s do what so many politicians have said and imagine what a reformed EU could be like. The current EU is halfway between two ports and – stuck in the middle – it will sink. I can hear so many saying that this is impossible, people won’t agree to that; but I don’t see anyone actually trying.
All the suggestions made here address the points people have said and are more in the interests of the member states than a break up – so there is every possibility it could be done. Given the damage an exit and a collapse could cause here and in Europe, it is certainly worth a try.
So take a minute and imagine, with a little optimism and more than a little effort, what the EU could be…
A Potential Future
An economically dynamic EU, driven to greater success by a complete single market in digital goods and services; and fairly funded from the trade that is its lifeblood.
A proud EU, rejoicing in the peace of the European continent and providing an example to the world of how to compromise on differences for the common good.
A national EU, made of historic nations with their own individual cultures and personalities that are to be celebrate and treasured.
A compassionate EU, helping others, but at the same time respecting its own communities and protecting their identities.
A confident EU, working on the global stage to get better, more open trade deals across the world. Perhaps taking its time; but refusing to roll over to demands from the biggest countries in the world.
A strong EU, able to respond and shape crisis near and far, helping keep us safe and economically stable.
A free EU, with liberty and freedom of speech guaranteed for all.
And a democratic EU, listening to its people and debating at regular elections where it wants to go and then holding those in charge properly accountable.
This doesn’t exist today; but it is a vision as valid and as plausible as the one Leave have promoted. It requires effort and will; but when have Brits shirked that? When have we abandoned a goal because it looked a bit hard? When have we been afraid to stand up and lead for what’s right?
We haven’t. And we shouldn’t now.