Naked Politics Blogger
The EU referendum was difficult for me. It was never likely that I was going to do anything else but vote to remain. But it was an uncomfortable and reluctant vote to remain. Like a lot of left-leaning people I saw my vote as the lesser of two evils, rather than a step towards a better country.
The EU, despite some clear merits, is not a good organisation in my mind. Its enormous bureaucracy is clearly open to the influence of lobbyists and special interests (as the huge lobbying industry swallowing up large areas of Brussels is testament too) and it has a questionable history with accepting free and fair democratic decisions. The EU pressured Ireland into holding a second referendum on the ratification of EU treaties when it did not get the answer it wanted on two separate occasions. Then there is Greece. On three occasions, two General Elections won convincingly by Syriza and an emphatic referendum result, the Greek people have rejected EU bailout conditions. Yet, despite this, crippling austerity as a result of these conditions being forced on Greece has stolen the hopes and aspirations of a generation of Greeks; youth unemployment is at 44.4% in Greece. It is, I’m sure, just a coincidence that the overriding of democratic choice in Greece has kept the pockets of European bankers neatly lined.
If, therefore, you happen to be someone who believes that democracy is, in general, a good thing then the EU is a rotten organisation. The depth of the rot is such that I considered it perhaps best that we no longer play a part in it, even despite the benefits of the EU, which I considered to be the free movement of people and improved scientific co-operation amongst other things.
However, the referendum was about more than this simple weighing up of the pros and cons of the EU. The rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK and across Europe and the sense of xenophobia that was increasing in conjunction with that feeling meant that the referendum stood as a test of the attitude of the country. It is clear that a vote to leave is not automatically an endorsement of prejudice but a vote to remain became, especially due to the nature of how the campaign was fought, a deceleration of tolerance. I, therefore, made that declaration on June 23rd 2016 and was truly disappointed on the following morning.
In the time that has passed however, and despite an immediate and deeply concerning sense of radical bigotry that emanated from the result, the momentum of hatred has thankfully not continued. The level of scare-mongering on the streets and in the papers seems to have returned to the (still too high) levels of pre-referendum Britain. Whilst I am not satisfied with what remains, I am encouraged that the face of the country has not drastically changed, typified by the utter rejection of UKIP and failure of elements of Tory rhetoric in the General Election this year. The result of the referendum is clear, in as far as the UK has to leave the EU. As a democrat and citizen of the UK, I accept that as what I think is reasonable for my government to execute.
The return to normality is, on the one hand, positive, but on the other, we see the Tory Government and the EU falling back into shape in all the worst ways now we have started the negotiation process. The sight of David Davis and Michel Barnier trading guarded barbs at a press conference last week was the personification of my apathy towards Tory Britain and the EU. The EU is squabbling over the money the UK should pay and the UK refuses to make clear insurances to the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
Starting with the first of these points, the EU is demanding, some report, a £100bn Brexit fee. Whilst I appreciate some of the financial commitments of the UK should be paid, £100bn seems grossly over what could be expected; to contextualise how much money that is, the NHS cost about £120bn last year. The EU demanding almost an entire year of NHS funding stinks of the kind of moneyed interests the EU is blighted by and is a clear demonstration of their fury over democratic decisions not in keeping with what they want. They know that we will not pay that much and are using it as a stick to beat us with.
For the UK’s part, the flimsy assurance the Government have given to EU citizens who have been in the country for five years at time of Brexit do not go anywhere near enough to respecting the fact that many thousands of people are still living in panic and confusion as to what will happen to them when we do leave the EU. This is unacceptable and immoral, but is exactly what I have come to expect from the party who cares little for anyone who is unlikely or unable to vote for them in elections. The Prime Minister must, absolutely must, set out, in explicit detail, the rules she will enforce on people trying to make better lives for themselves and their families in the UK when we exit the EU.
So, where do we stand? I am convinced that we will have maybe another year of grandstanding and brinkmanship on the part of both the UK and EU before a deal is actually quite rapidly agreed and signed. The grandstanding and brinkmanship that is currently on show, however, shows, in its clearest terms, the ugly side of the EU and the Conservative government. I am uncomfortably braced for more of the same.