Monday, 6 June 2016

EU Referendum - my thoughts

The EU referendum - my arguments for Bremaining.

In this increasingly heated (on Facebook at least) debate about whether the UK should leave the EU, I've mostly joked and cajoled, in the way that one does when one assumed most of your audience share the same opinion as you. In the past this has served me well, as most comedy club audiences over the last 20 odd years have proved sympathetic to my view of the world.

My most recent dalliance with satire, 2014's Socks show "...And So Am I" had as its high-points the UKIP Song (which may have crossed into Al Murray territory with some people not getting the joke & thinking it was actually pro-UKIP, though how you could get to lines like "We'll have no more refugees, throw them back into the seas" and not get that we were joking, I don't know), and the Oh What A Lovely War On Terror Song. 2015's Minging Detectives show divided audiences every night with Hello Muddah, Intifada. In all cases, I know where I come from (I don't like war or xenophobia), and most of the audience do too.

But with the EU referendum that's changed. Until this year, the notion of leaving the European Union was something argued for by the UK Independence Party and no-one else of note. Okay, there were Eurosceptic right-wing Tory MPs, the most extreme of whom defected to UKIP, but that just emphasised the fact that it was a desire of right-wing xenophobes who disliked immigration of all sorts, and whose anti-European politics mingled easily with an illiberal anti-leftie, anti-human rights, anti-welfare state, anti-arts, anti-culture, anti-helping anyone other than your immediate family kind of narrow-minded Little Engladerism that I hate, despise and oppose.

Now, it seems, Brexiteers include not just swivel-eyed neo-Nazi loons, but normal people. On my Facebook I've had a few people, including comedy writers and cartoonists and acquaintances I know fairly well, who are pro-Brexit and are getting fed up of the only anti-Brexit argument they hear being the same ones we had been using for UKIPpers.

They're tiring of we Bremainderers (there must be a collective term) highlighting the leading lights of the Brexit campaign (Farage, Boris, Gove) and its supporters (Katie Hopkins, Putin, Trump etc) and suggesting they are tainted by association. They say this is a childish bit of name-calling that doesn't address the arguments. And I guess they're right. So, let's have a go.

Why should we stay in the EU?

The trouble for me with this question is the fact that anyone's asking it. My automatic response is "Why should we leave the EU?" I'm quite happy in the EU. I'm a beneficiary of it, I believe in its principles, and it's never done me any harm.

Being told we're voting about whether to stay in the EU is like being told "we're voting for everyone to be chucked out of their house, then you can apply to get back in your house, with a slightly different lease". Oh yes? you ask. Who's deciding what'll be in this new lease then? "Leave it to us" reply a collection of politicians, none of whom you would vote for.

Would everyone who wants Brexit also vote for Gove, Farage, Bojo, IDS et al? I must assume they would, since voting for Brexit IS voting for all of the above. (Hang on, does that mean I'm voting for Cameron? Not by choice, no. I'm voting to not vote in the first place, so I am voting for none of the above, including the above).

Because why leave the EU? Who wants to and why? Well, we know the publishers of right wing national newspapers want to be independent of Europe. Rupert Murdoch famously said 'When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.' One can only assume his fellow publishers have similar reasons, they've certainly spent enough time persuading their readers to vote Brexit for a long long time.

So, why else to leave the EU, if you're not a newspaper owner with some sort of vested interest? This is where is becomes hard to make the pro-EU case without it turning into a constant refuting of the anti-EU case.

The Brexiteers list, and often repeat, the reasons they want to leave the EU, all of which seem spurious, bogus, or just plain lies.

Brexit: We send £350m a week to Brussels.
The facts: No we don't.

Brexit: 70% of Britains laws are made by Brussels.
The facts: No they're not

Brexit: If we stopped spending this money on the EU, we'd spend it on the NHS
The facts: Really? IDS? Gove? Farage? Bojo? The saviours of the NHS? Anyone who can make that argument with a straight face is most likely a psychopath.

Brexit: The EU is run by unelected officials / it is undemocratic
The facts: No it isn't. According to "The EU has more democratic controls than a typical international organisation"

Brexit: We can't control our borders because of the EU
The facts: If we were part of the Schengen passport-free area, this might be arguable. As it is, we've chosen not be to part of that system, so we already have more border controls than other European countries

Brexit: We get terrorism because of being in the EU.
The facts: We've already explained away the border controls argument. So which terrorism is the EU responsible for? The home-grown terrorists responsible for 99% of incidents in the UK to date, or the ones from outside the EU, responsible for all the rest?

Brexit: The Common Agricultural Policy - it is bad
The facts: The Common Agricultural Policy - it is boring.
And as to whether we would be better or worse out of it, everything I have read (and I've read more than I wanted to), leaves me with an equal pile of arguments pro & con. For every farmer that relies on subsidies to survive, there's a farmer who'd be better off without the restrictions. I may never find the answer, there may not be one. Both sides will never agree.

The arguments for Economy, Trade and Jobs all reach the same stalemate, indeed these are the areas that have been bandied about most in the headlines, with Cameron & Osborne making the case one way, their Brexit opponents making it the other. The statistics appear to cancel each other out, with the most important of them being entirely speculative. No-one can say, so we're back to the "why leave the EU?" question we started with.

Sovereignty and immigration. These seem to be the two final bugbears that need unpicking. Brexit says the UK needs "its Sovereignity back" and that the UK needs to control immigration.

I believe Britain has "its Sovereignty", in as far as it has a monarchy, with which I don't agree and which I am loathe to support, and it has a democratic government which has so much control over the laws of the land that it's been able to be hoodwinked into running this ridiculous referendum. Why we need any more of that kind of Sovereignity I don't know. And why we'd like to give more decision making over to the sort of people who bang on about "Sovereignty" rather than counterbalancing it with the opinions and values of other enlightened nations, I do not know.

You see I like co-operation, and naive and idealistic as it may seem, I believe the founding principles of the European Union , and the project that has seen a growing number of countries working towards these ends is a good thing that has maintained peace in Europe.

And finally immigration.

Brexit: Immigration = bad
Me: Immigration = good

So, why vote to leave the EU? I don't know. I simply do not know. I cannot find myself able to empathise with anyone who wants to leave the EU, when there is nothing I can see that makes that a thing worth doing.

I am worried that people are being driven by right wing madmen into the hands of right wing madmen, and every time I look at the line-up of people publicly backing this cause I find people whose values I do not hold, and whose motivations I mistrust. But it is happening, and how it will turn out I can not imagine.

I will continue to caricature Brexiteers as UKIP-pers, and if they feel they are a different beast they can try and persuade me why I should think otherwise. The debate will continue.

Further reading: 
Gary Younge on how ridiculing Brexiteers doesn't help.
Washington Post on the Rise of the Far Right
Stephen Hawking on how Brexit Spells Disaster

Russell T Davies on Brexit: "I’ll vote in, of course. Mainly because everyone who’s campaigning to get us out is a fucking idiot. You look at them – there’s Gove, there’s Boris Johnson, there’s IDS. My mind is made up!"

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