Commentary by Derek Bateman
A few weeks is hardly enough time to debate the huge implications of the European Union, let alone explain how the whole bagatelle works. But there’s Britain, blundering into a potential exit with consequences nobody can truly know under the illusion that it will mean ‘regaining control’. A referendum shouldn’t be an expedient to get a party or a Prime Minister out of a tight spot and shouldn’t be scheduled for the high point of the social disillusion with government and an international refugee crisis we’re going through now – a kind of political total eclipse.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Even the term Brexit has become the nom de guerre of the event and if anything embodies the ignorant and bellicose approach of much of Britain to the EU it is the bare-chested drunken thugs of the English football support. Away from the hushed corridors of Brussels there will be citizens in many member states quietly delighted to jettison the boorish Brits and their endless complaints, renegotiations and opt-outs.
We are now reaping what has been sown for 40 years by a political establishment which never consistently embraced the concept of a wider Europe beyond the idea of a massive Sunday market in which to flog our goods. Our politicians failed to agitate for an end to the mendacious and racist newspaper agenda which soured any and every attempt to inform the public. They played the game of othering Europe as if we weren’t actually part of it, allowed the idea to germinate that decisions we didn’t like were made by faceless foreigners when the UK had its own commissioners, senior civil servants, a permanent presence in the Council and 73 British MEPs.
Deflection is a tool of the political trade and is used by them all to divert attention from their own shortcomings. How convenient for a patriotic MP to blame the garlicky Europeans for everything from business bureaucracy to farming.
European statecraft always required an aspect of political insight lacking from too many of the British contingent who thought first of Little England, then Dead Empire followed by Friends Across the Atlantic and, finally, of the Continent. It may have changed now but MPs used to insist that MEPs had no automatic entry to the Westminster Parliament – they may be elected (by PR), they may even be of the same party but they won’t get in to our club.
We haven’t really had a debate at all, more a slanging match about the costs and the petty ways membership compromises national action. Without the moral underpinning the argument has descended into hysterical warnings that nobody believes and as a result the economic case has been buried as the Outers abandoned it in favour of the race agenda. And that in turn is essentially emotional as nearly everybody thinks there are many more immigrants coming in than there are in reality and believes they are here to scrounge. Yet the only incomers I see scrounging are a handful of street beggars (organised by East European gangs) who collect the cash. The thousands of immigrants from Europe are coming here because there is work for them. That’s work they’re happy to do while many locals are not.
It was revealing on the ITV debate that the Outers peddled the idea that Brexit would stop immigration and give Britain control of its borders. If that is to be true it must also mean we have no access to the Single Market since freedom of movement is a bedrock of that market, as the grim-faced tormentor of Greece, Herr Schauble, pointed out this week.
Even if there is an initiative to relax this rule in the face of immigration concerns in other states, there will still be a requirement for open borders for those moving for work. Britain cannot do a deal with Brussels which avoids this reality. The £350m a week figure, already discredited, will be undermined even further when we take account of the cost of access to the Single Market (Norway pays 90 per cent of a full member’s fee). We will pay heavily. We will still have open borders from Europe and we will have no say whatsoever. Even in Cameron’s pathetic pretend renegotiation European incomers don’t qualify for in-work benefits for four years.
The Britain envisaged by the Outers of course has a deeper plan – Singapore Mark Two in which the UK becomes the offshore tax avoidance centre for Europe. Forget the Panama Papers…the right wing neo cons who will succeed the current crop of right wing neo cons will ditch the European rights we now enjoy in favour of severely restricted rights, especially at work, and draw in investment from those unconcerned with social conscience. Who, you may wonder will carry the can for this low tax, low rights regime? As ever, it will be the same disillusioned working men and women who vote to come Out.
Or am I scaremongering? It looks to me that the Tories have inched open Pandora’s Box and suddenly the lid has been flung out of their hands. There is no knowing where the fall-out from this vote will take us. I laughed to hear one of those ever-so smug voices on Any Questions (a woman from some financial website or other ) declaring unequivocally that Brexit will NOT lead to a second Scotland referendum.
This had the feel of someone desperately reassuring herself by making statements that don’t allow qualification. Part of the argument – which is true – is the fall in the oil price which has hit our economy and our confidence.
But wait a moment, what if Brexit leads immediately, as the Bank of England and major institutions forecast, to a relative collapse in the British economy? The Pound fell this week when a poll put Out ahead. Suppose many of the warnings are actually realised and Brussels puts its price on market access and the Brexit voters see they’ve been duped…what if the relocation of banks and global employers becomes real and thousands of jobs are lost or transferred?
Companies always use/abuse economic circumstance to their advantage so the oil price crash has been used partly to perform surgery on staff numbers and amid a general slow down all manner of cuts, justified or not, would be effected. In this case and with a leap to the Right in Downing Street, might not an independent Scotland – all the while receiving warm messages from Brussels – become a more appealing prospect? The process takes two years, lots of time for the cold reality to become real and for the ground to be prepared for pro-European Scotland. In truth, there is no telling. All the rest, including this, is conjecture.
These are interesting times but, frankly I think they are also dangerous times. Hold on to your hats.