Sunday, 19 June 2016

My country right or wrong

Watching St George’s flag bedecked England football fans singing the national anthem as they fought with French police and Russian hooligans, the aphorism “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” never seemed more apt. Three weeks earlier I visited the same shops and bars now being laid waste, and was met with courtesy and kindness. I wonder what reception I would receive now …

Why is it that accident of birth should lead some to believe absolutely – so much so that it was worth fighting for – that our country is superior to all others? It’s undoubtedly true that in many spheres – technological innovation is one – we punch superbly far above our weight. Yet, despite our ability to create wealth, poverty is rife and inequality causes division – a cause for shame.

Some may argue that “My country right or wrong” for long served us well. Without pride in the flag and unquestioning obedience, would tens of thousands of our young men have gone the fields of Flanders a century ago, certain of the terrible fate that awaited them? Their courage was not alcohol or drug-fuelled but based on an unflinching sense of duty.

Had they stripped away the layers of patriotism, those men might have seen they were instead being asked to fight for less noble causes, less worth dying for – resources, trade, space. These have lead to a thousand of years of conflict on mainland Europe.

Yet the last 70 years have seen uninterrupted peace in Western Europe. The fates of nation-states are so intricately entwined, cooperation, learning, sharing, trading has replaced sending thousands to slaughter.

Let’s celebrate what is best about England but acknowledge the value of working closely with our European neighbours and vote to remain in the EU on 23 June.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Case for Bremain

In the debate around EU and sovereignty, it is one of the great ironies that those who were arguing during the Scottish independence referendum debate that Scotland could retain its sovereignty even if it remained part of the United (Kingdom) are the same people now arguing that the UK cannot retain its sovereignty if it remains part of the (European) Union. They also argued that Scotland could not possibly survive economically on its own – yet believe that a UK outside the EU is perfectly viable. What is certain is that a UK vote to withdraw from Europe will see the end of the UK: Scotland’s desire to remain part of the EU far outweighs its wish to remain in the UK.

The Brexiters’ loss of sovereignty argument is similarly incoherent. Those who argue that we have ‘given away’ our sovereignty to the EU in the same breath argue that in one bound we can be free – all it takes is the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, and the UK is no longer ruled by the Eurocrats. Well, you can’t have it both ways – either sovereignty has been given away or it has not. In fact, the UK Parliament has been and always will be sovereign. All that has happened is that the Parliament we elect has chosen, for the time being, for certain purposes, and for our greater good, to ‘share’ sovereignty with another body – also elected by us and staffed by our own bureaucrats. At any moment – today or tomorrow – Parliament could repeal the 1972 Act and sovereignty would once again rest solely in the UK Parliament. In no sense is this the total and irredeemable surrender of power some would have you believe.

I remain very firmly of the belief that we should remain within the EU, albeit an EU that has been reformed, and which prioritise local self-reliance rather than unsustainable economics of free trade and growth. I support Bremain for the following reasons:
  • Jobs 3.5 million British jobs are directly linked to British membership of the EU’s single market – 1 in 10 British jobs.
  • Exports & investment The EU buys over 50% of UK exports (54% of goods, 40% of services). Over 300,000 British companies and 74% of British exporters operate in other EU markets. American and Asian EU firms build factories in Britain because it is in the single market.
  • Trade The EU negotiates trade agreements with the rest of the world. Outside the EU Britain would have to renegotiate trade deals alone. While the EU is the world’s largest market, a UK outside the EU would not be a high priority for other counties to negotiate a trade deal.
  • Consumer clout British families enjoy lower mobile phone roaming charges, lower credit card fees, cheaper flights and proper compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled. These sorts of benefits could not be achieved by Britain alone.
  • Power to curb the multinationals The EU has taken on multinational giants like Microsoft, Samsung and Toshiba for unfair competition. The UK would not be able to do this alone.
  • Freedom to work and study abroad – and easy travel 1.4 million British people live abroad in the EU. More than 14,500 UK students took part in the European Union’s Erasmus student exchange scheme in 2012-13. Driving licences issued in the UK are valid throughout the EU.
  • Clean environment Through commonly agreed EU standards, national governments have achieved improvements to the quality of air, rivers and beaches. Good for Britain and good for Britons holidaying or living abroad!
  • Peace and democracy The EU has helped secure peace among previously warring western European nations. It helped to consolidate democracy in Spain, Portugal, Greece and former Soviet bloc countries and helped preserve peace in the Balkans since the end of the Balkans War. With the UN it now plays a leading role in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and democracy building.
  • Equal pay and non-discrimination Equal pay for men and women is enshrined in EU law, as are bans on discrimination by age, race or sexual orientation. This benefits Britain and British people who live in other EU countries.
  • Influence in the world As 28 democracies, and as the world’s biggest market, we are strong when we work together. Britain is represented in many international organisations in joint EU delegations – giving Britain more influence than it would have alone. The EU has played a major role in climate, world trade and development. If we were not part of the EU we would have no influence over its laws but if we wanted to continue to trade with the EU we would have to implement its rules. Norway withdrew from the EU 40 years ago, but still enacts three-quarters of its legislation, with no say over the content of those laws.
  • Cutting red tape Common rules for the common market make it unnecessary to have 28 sets of national regulations.
  • Fighting crime The European Arrest Warrant replaced long extradition procedures and enables the UK to extradite criminals wanted in other EU countries, and bring to justice criminals wanted in the UK who are hiding in other EU countries. Eurojust helps UK authorities work with other EU countries’ to tackle international organised crime such as drug smuggling, people trafficking and money laundering.
  • Research funding The UK is the second largest beneficiary of EU research funds, and the British Government expects future EU research funding to constitute a vital source of income for our world-leading universities and companies.