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I have been pondering some of the responses to a Facebook post yesterday in a pro-EU forum. Contributors were asked to say whether they voted “remain” or “leave” back in June 2016 and to say why. The majority of responses came from people who voted “remain”. What struck me was the way in which the reasons for that decision mirrored the reasons usually given for a “leave” vote, and the gulf in perceptions, not just about membership of the EU, but the world view that it revealed.
I guess it’s been obvious for many years that such a gulf existed but prior to the referendum it was relatively hidden. Since then it has led to accusations of ignorance and treason from both sides. So what are these different perceptions and how can the gulf that separates them be bridged?
“For 40 years membership has never been a real problem and still isn’t. The economic, social and cultural benefits of membership are incalculable.” (JS)
Clearly that view is in complete opposition to those who believe that the EU is the source of all the UK’s recent problems.
“The EU protects the European continent’s food supply, ensures sustainable fish stocks, protects the environment and aims to ensure that as larger global powers become economically stronger the EU maintains strength and European values through unity.” (RV)
Again, a view that is contrary to the “leave” camp’s belief that the EU’s agriculture and fisheries policies are damaging to rural and coastal communities across Britain.
“I think we need immigration and we have lots of Polish where I live and I really like the Polish – they work hard and are polite and a lot nicer than some other people. They have brought footfall to our High Street which was becoming deserted.” (SH-C)
In contrast, there were, at the time of the referendum, a number of vox-pops on television in which people complained their high street was no longer recognisable with all the Polish shops and foreigners taking jobs.
The same contributor to the forum also said this: “It’s quite a good idea to have other higher courts to look at matters of say human rights,” a point echoed by another: “I voted remain because the EU’s laws are the only thing protecting the ordinary people of this country from exploitation by our politicians and employers.” (IR)
A sentiment which is in direct opposition to those who want to “take back control of our laws”.
“I value my right to live, work, study or retire anywhere from the West Coast of Ireland to the Black Sea, or from the Arctic Circle to the edge of North Africa. I think that the EU guarantees standards and conditions which successive Tory governments try to remove. I think it’s much better to resolve disputes between nations with a legal process instead of dispatching the armed forces.” (DF)
A recognition of the way in which the EU’s Freedom of Movement principle is a two way street benefiting many British students, workers and retirees, a fact that many who voted “leave” either ignore or deem to have been gained at too high a price.
“We have huge global challenges to solve and we can do that better as a block.” (JC) A sentiment expanded upon by another contributor: “I voted for Remain mainly to keep our sovereignty. Without being part of the biggest trading block in the world we’ll be a punching bag for larger powers such as the USA, the EU and China upon which we depend economically more than they depend on us and therefore can force us to do things against our will. Inside the EU we have a fair share of power and say in what the rules are and are protected against unfair bullying by larger powers such as China or the USA.” (SK)
The idea that pooling sovereignty with our neighbours actually strengthens that sovereignty is completely alien to those who believe we have lost sovereignty and can only regain it by leaving the EU. Such people seem unable to grasp the idea that making trade deals with anyone involves a quid-pro-quo and that any deal we reach with any of these larger powers is likely to involve the loss of some of the “control” the UK is intent on “taking back” from the EU.
“Because the EU has, in 40 painstaking years, cleared away protectionism and created an actual free market where countries can trade with each other without barriers, which improves our ability to export, and lowers prices. And countries have valued that so much that they really want to join it, that’s how three former fascist dictatorships and ten former communist countries have come in to the EU and become richer, more mature democracies.
When I was a child, about half the countries now in the EU were very hard to visit. Now we can travel there freely, live, love and learn across a whole continent, and the understanding we have gained about each other is what keeps our peace.” (JS)
There are several things here that “leave” voters would contest. For a start they see the EU as a protectionist bloc that uses tariffs to exclude imports from non-member states, ignoring the many free trade arrangements the EU has made with underdeveloped countries, providing tariff free access for certain goods and, inter-alia, making nonsense of the claim by some pro-brexit MPs that we can have cheaper imports from those countries when we leave. Secondly, I think I can say without being accused of elitism that most of the people who voted “leave” have no interest whatsoever in understanding their fellow Europeans.
I think that AD sums up perfectly what all these “Remain” voters believe about the EU: “European unity, security and freedom of movement. Rejection of nationalistic sovereignty.”
And therein lies the crux of the problem. Half the country welcomes the opportunities that EU membership has provided, remembers the horrors that red blooded nationalism brought to Europe twice during the last century, and rejects the idea that the accident of being born in any particular place makes you better than someone born elsewhere. The other half clings to the antiquated notion that being “English” makes them superior. That, certainly, is why we hear so many cries of “Traitor”.
I grew up believing that being English meant more than that. I was proud that English men and women, alongside other Europeans, had developed a set of values that had the potential to make the world a better place. The sentiments that underpin the “leave” campaign are diametrically opposed to that world view. I wish I knew how to undo the damage done by those in the media who have spent 40 years denigrating the EU and those very English values it stands for. I fear that it is too late. I fear for the future of the UK and the young generation that is about to have taken from it the many opportunities their parents took for granted.
In the course of an on-line discussion about Brexit yesterday a hard-line leaver told me he wanted, among other things, “a right to deport people detrimental to the UK without the ECJ overriding our court’s decisions.” I pointed out to him that the ECJ does not do that. The body that does is the ECHR (The European Court of Human Rights) which is separate from the EU and which Brexit does not impact. This confusion between the two courts is endemic among Brexiters and needs to be properly understood.
The ECJ (European Court of Justice) exists to enforce the various directives issued by the EU in pursuit of its competition policies.
For the most part these concern things involving workers’ rights, consumers’ rights, safety and environmental issues and energy conservation. Member states are supposed to incorporate the substance of such directives into their own legislation. If they fail to do so that gives their businesses a competitive advantage over businesses in those states that have adopted the particular directive. The disadvantaged state can take a case to the court which will investigate and make a judgement which could lead to the offending member state being penalised.
If/when the UK is no longer a member state it will be able to repeal those laws introduced in response to directives that it deems to be restrictive of free and fair trade. The ECJ will no longer have jurisdiction.
Of course, any subsequent trade agreement that we negotiate with the EU, or with third countries, will contain rules and regulations which will need to arbitrated upon by some body not unlike the ECJ.
The WTO has a “Dispute Settlement Body” which operates in much the same way to ensure that agreements entered into are respected by all parties.
“It monitors the implementation of the rulings and recommendations, and has the power to authorize retaliation when a country does not comply with a ruling.” (Quoted verbatim from https://www.wto.org/ENGLISH/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/disp1_e.htm)
So, post Brexit, the UK will not be free to “control its own laws” when it comes to matters of international trade.
Let’s turn now to the ECHR, the body that enforces the European Convention on Human Rights entered into by all 47 members of the Council of Europe. Originally drafted in 1950 (when there were only 10 members of the Council), it is based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 3 of the convention prohibits torture.
It is this provision that has lead to the difficulties encountered by the UK government in seeking the deportation of certain individuals who claim that the country to which they were to be deported was governed by a regime in which torture was permitted.
The Convention was enshrined into UK law by the 1998 Human Rights Act. Since then the Conservative Party has discussed the repeal and/or replacement of that act. As this article indicates, post Brexit any “loss of human rights protection will be mitigated as long as the UK continues to be a member of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Brexit alone will not remove this particular impediment to deportations.
A new Bill of Rights could. Such a bill could have been enacted pre-Brexit and may well be enacted post Brexit, although only if the Conservatives are able to increase their majority in a future general election.
It is the confusion in the minds of many UK citizens over this, and other aspects of EU membership, that convinces me the 2016 referendum was flawed and needs to be revisited, with the option of withdrawing the Article 50 application to leave.