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EU in or out? Dog fights and dog whistles

Liberty Global is donating nearly €900,000 to the Remain Campaign lobbying for the UK to stay in the EU when it comes to the seminal referendum vote next week.

Ironically, the Brexit campaign would say liberty (from Euro law makers, red tape etc, etc,) is what they are campaigning for. They’d also say Liberty is exactly the kind of global corporate the EU is made for, and that they are backing the ‘ordinary working man’ against the elitist consensus.

Oh, the layers of irony; the most vociferous Brexiters are mostly right-wing politicos who have spent their careers proselytising global capitalism and profiting from it. That doesn’t mean they don’t believe the EU = a democratic deficit inwhich elected national governments can be overridden by apparently unelected bureaucrats. It just means they are being disingenuous about their reasons. As are the Remainers.

There are nuanced arguments on both sides. There is an apparent democratic deficit, although through the EU Parliament and the European Council there are democratic mechanisms but they are opaque and dislocated. Whether we remain or not, the EU must reform to make them more obvious and connected to electorates.

There is also the truth of the EU foundations being about preserving peace in a previously historically fractious continent (how many Europeans don’t have a near ancestor who fought in, or was disrupted by a major conflict). And then there’s its role in stabilising and ‘turning westward’ the shaky and orphaned states that were set adrift by the Soviet failure.

But all of this is a little too ‘big picture’ and idealistic to play in the dogfight of a referendum – a referendum we weren’t ever meant to have; Cameron and the pollsters badly misjudged the election – he thought it would be another coalition and he would never have to chew on the referendum bone he had thrown his rebellious back benchers.

So, in a dogfight you have dog whistles. For OUT; it is the only way to control immigration from the EU. For IN; if we leave the economy will tank and you will lose your job.

It ill behoves anyone living a nice, professional middle-class existence to deride fear over mass immigration from the EU. We have relatively lax labour laws, a minimum (soon living) wage – as we should – and everyone speaks, or aspires to speak, English. We also have an aging population which needs looking after, and needs someone else to take the tax burden of looking after it. So, hundreds of thousands of Europeans have arrived and they’re not going to stop; conservative official statistics predict 3.3 million in the next ten years: ten cities the size of Nottingham. If you live where the low-skill, low-wage industries are drawing in the economic migrants, then pressure on local employment and public services is very real. It is no surprise the UK ranks bottom of developed European country leagues for per capita productivity and per hour productivity. This isn’t sustainable in the long term.

But, just leaving doesn’t help. Britain would also have to leave the Free Market (otherwise free movement of people persists) and that would make the economy tank; doubtless not catastrophically, but badly. Advocates have to be honest about the price that would be paid in terms of a semi-permanent disabling of the UK economy if it went off alone into the globalised world.

A globalised world in which it would punch its much reduced weight – and thereby voluntarily absent itself from playing any significant part politically, diplomatically, economically in addressing any of the world’s many major problems. And that includes leading the way in reforming the many structures in Europe that both sides agree are broken.

To leave would be liberating but only in a ‘if at first you don’t succeed, give up’ kind of a way.

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