For or Against

There’s so much destructive talk around at the moment (against this, against that) that I wanted to write something constructive. What I want rather than what I don’t want.

Of course I shall write about the relationship between the UK and the EU, it is a subject which is totally dominating UK politics at the moment. So, in terms of a future agreement, here’s what would make me happy:

  • freedom of movement. I’d be happy for it to continue, just like (in theory) it does today. And, of course, if it is necessary, you guarantee the rights of people who do settle here. The UK has two sorts of immigration – that from the EU (which can’t be controlled and which has decreased since the referendum), and that from the RoW (which can be controlled). While immigration from the EU has decreased, overall immigration has stayed roughly the same, so therefore RoW immigration has increased. But the point I’m making is that whenever a government minister talks about “control of our borders”, I see it as jingo rather than something credible. It doesn’t overly bother me, and I don’t think it much bothers politicians either.
  • trade. I’d commit to maintaining (or even exceeding) EU standards. But only until further notice – I wouldn’t attempt to bind my successors. For that I’d like for the UK to trade freely with the EU – I am wary of the term “union” because, depending on context, it often seems to imply some restriction of the two parties’ ability to trade with third-parties. To be clear, I see something which allows the UK and the EU to trade with each other, but also which doesn’t place any constraints on them trading with third parties. If either the UK or the EU subsequently chose to lower its standards, then I see no problem with the other party possibly walking away from the deal.

So, by those two stances, the problem at the Irish border goes away. We (the UK) don’t fear people coming via Ireland, Ireland doesn’t fear our goods becoming inferior (or vice versa) and flooding their markets. I mean, I’m more of a republican than a nationalist anyway, so I wouldn’t be particularly bothered if NI wanted to align itself away from the UK somehow (either as an independent nation or as part of a united Ireland), so long as that’s what its population wanted. But my beliefs make for a homogeneous border in any case.

  • On justice, the key thing for me is that the citizen is subject to a set of rules, and is judged by a court if they’ve fallen foul of those rules, and that court itself is implementing rules defined by by politicians who make up those rules and who are elected by those same citizens. So it kind-of comes full circle. I don’t much mind whether the rules are made in London or in Timbuktu, as long as there is traceability back to the electorate. In the case where the UK is involved in EU institutions, we have to accept that we’ve now left the EU, so if an institution is then subject to the ECJ, so be it and the UK has to accept that. If we don’t like that, we either set up our own parallel institution, or we do without.
  • On the system of representation, I’m happy to be represented (i.e. that somebody is elected to analyse proposed legislation on my behalf), but both the UK and EU systems are flawed. I’ve mentioned before in this blog about different countries of the EU having more MEPs per capita, where, really, that level ought to be flat. Similarly, I’ve mentioned how we could reform the UK’s FPTP system – the one thing it was claimed to have going for it was that it gave a strong government, but even that is now clearly known to be nonsense. But I think that we need consensual politics rather than the adversarial politics we see at the moment. Every government should be a GNU.
  • On general sovereignty, I think it is a red herring. Just, really in terms of… if you want to do a trade deal with X, then X will have certain specifications that must be conformed to. So, who’s calling the shots? I see sovereignty as pretty parallel- we’re all so interconnected that sovereignty is an illusion. I suppose you might argue that sovereignty is the ability to decide whether you trade with X or not, but unless you trade with somebody, you’re on skid row.

There’s obviously a lot of stuff I’ve left out here, but I suppose these are my “rules of thumb”.

“People’s Vote”

I wanted to make a bit of progress on my app today, but it is a Sunday and I also wanted to talk about this idea of a “people’s vote”.

I watched a political programme the other day, which had a politician claiming that we were all a lot better informed about the EU now than 2 years ago, so we should have another vote.

The politician in question is a former party leader – I’ve even voted for that party in previous elections. so I’d expect some synergy on many issues, but not unfortunately on this one.

Better informed? Well, I might be in a minority but if I felt ill-informed on an issue I might be reluctant to vote on it, or at least to gen up on the issue beforehand. It’s not as though we were taken by surprise. But people weren’t reluctant to vote – if you look at voter turnout, a higher proportion of us voted in this referendum, than have in any General Election post-2000! (You have to go back to the 1980s, I think, to go higher).

Better informed with a view to what? To changing our minds? Is that what happened to the politician, as they’ve become better informed? No, they called for Remain at the time of the referendum and have remained of that view ever since, just becomemore entrenched. So why do they assert that anybody else is different? I think that actually, they understand this completely, but they’d like to go against the referendum result, because they know better.

But does this politician know more than the rest of us? Very possibly, just by virtue of being an MP, but remember that they are calling for a fresh public vote, so, really, it’s the public’s level of knowledge which is the important metric here.  I’m afraid it smacks of pompousity to me – “I was sufficiently switched-on to think that the EU is a good thing, but you’re a bit dimmer, maybe it has taken you a couple more years to come to my conclusion?”

Or maybe we haven’t come to that conclusion?

I must admit that I like referendums, they are the public’s most direct way of implementing democracy, and I would be happy to express a view on the final deal or on the future relationship with the EU, but politicians are somewhat more vocal, and are saying that one of the options should be to make as though the 2016 vote never happened. What am I afraid of? I’m afraid that by then, we’re in a place in which politicians decide to adopt some referendum results but to ignore others.If they want us to have faith in the voting system, you have to keep faith with every vote.As I’ve already said, I once felt sufficiently sympathetic to this politician that I even joined the party they led for a time, but I fell out with them on this issue – just really because I believ in every vote counting equally.

To this point I have been quite defensive about my reasons for not having a second referendum, but, actually I feel it is appropriate to go on the offensive. I want to leave the EU because I think it is a flawed organisation – why don’t they see the same flaws that I see?

I see meetings happen, not just behind closed doors but unminuted, and have a problem that the general public isn’t represented transparently enough. Why don’t they have a problem with this? And don’t let’s get started on how an EU president gets elected. Actually, let’s. What constituency do they represent? Who stood against them for the role? How many votes did they all get? Or, maybe try another tack? Perhaps they could tell me why, in the European Parliament, Malta has more than 10x the number of MEPs, per capita, than France does? Why is this acceptable?

I mean, you might argue this one by saying that the role of the European Parliament is not the same as national parliaments, that it is more “committee-oriented”. Fair enough, but MEPs are the only people who are elected by the citizenry of Europe. You’re on dodgy ground altogether when you argue that MEPs  – the only elected officials – aren’t central to the EU’s process.

And,why is it acceptable that even people who are sufficiently senior nationally that they sit on the Council of Ministers, are not allowed to even enter proposals to be discussed by that Council of Ministers? Instead, resolutions must be proposed by the Commission, who are the civil servants of the EU and who are appointed, not elected. Can you imagine if officials in Downing Street determined Westminster’s agenda? What an uproar there’d be?

But I could go on to talk about e.g. the Eurogroup. I can maybe buy that an avid federalist might be happy that the EU – a bloc of soverign nations – even has it’s own economic policy, although I myself don’t. I can even buy the appropriateness of the name provided it did indeed represent those countries who have joined the Euro project. But somebody please explain why George Osborne was included, as the UK is not in the project. Why, also, does it meets in private, unminuted meetings? such that the citizenry have no idea what goes on? Where’s the transparency here?

In many ways I can feel quite close to a Remain/Reform agenda here, although my analysis is that the EU will not reform. Not in my timescales (a few years) at any rate. If I meet someone with a Remain/Reform view, I just say “fair enough”. They at least acknowledge that there are things wrong with the EU, even if I don’t share their optimism that change will happen.

But it does disappoint me that a lot of people wanting to remain in the EU don’t acknowledge its problems. And aside from all my criticisms of the EU, if people don’t respect the last vote, why on earth should people believe they’ll respect result of the next?