Thursday, 16 June 2016

I voted Leave. Here's why.

We're a week away from the EU referendum. Having a postal vote, I've already voted, and as the title of this suggests, I voted Leave. Let me explain why.

First, let's go through the reasons that didn't influence me. They include the economic arguments. Economists, frankly, are pretty bad at forecasting anything even in clear circumstances with a limited time horizon, so the idea that any of them can be clear what might happen under either outcome of the referendum, and certainly ten years from now, is laughable. That said, I have found the Remain side's suggestions as to where the economy might go to be the more ludicrous.

Next, it's not because I'm a 'Little Englander', or "a little bit racist", or any of the other more insulting accusations from the Remain side (I choose to live abroad for some of the time for goodness sake; I also choose to work in a job that necessitates spending time in possibly the most multi-cultural city on the world). Let's lump immigration into this as well. I have no problem with immigration, it's part-and-parcel of our history. I do have a bit of a problem with the selective immigration that the EU entails, and the fact that there's a total disconnect between immigration policy and public sector planning systems, particularly for health and education, but that's as maybe - one of the Leave side's arguments that I find most spurious is the one that net immigration can be reduced significantly simply as a result of leaving the EU; it probably could be, but not without a) accepting that we wouldn't have unfettered access to the Single Market, and b) radically reforming our social security policies.

I also didn't vote Leave because I'm overly concerned about the sovereignty of the British parliament. It seems to me that on the things that really matter (how we tax and spend, whether we go to war, etc.), we have plenty of autonomy - even if the EU does create an unnecessary bureaucratic burden for small businesses, which is what the anecdotal evidence does suggest. So nope, that's not it either.

There are two related reasons why I voted Leave: democracy and history. Let's take democracy - despite the fact we have MEPs and a European Parliament, I believe the EU is anything but democratic. There are several examples of this, ranging from how it creates law, to how it's managed the problems of the euro. On the former, unlike regular parliamentary democracies, where parties are elected on a manifesto of proposed policies and laws, all our representatives in Brussels and Strasbourg can do is review, amend and block proposed legislation that is created by the Commission - it cannot create its own. The constitutional position is not exactly the same as the House of Parliament/House of Lords in the UK, but it's not a million miles apart either.

But there's more to it than just the EU's structures and law-making process - it's the approach and attitude of the people that run it too. Jean-Claude Juncker said in 2015 "there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties", and that, for me, says everything; no choice about the continuation of the euro currency, no matter what hardships that creates, no choice about ever-closer integration, despite the clear will against that even in traditionally strongly pro-EU countries, like France, where I write this, and no choice about...well, who knows what else, which is part of the problem.

It's all very well taking a noble view of whether the system is democratic or not, but it would be quite reasonable to question whether that's really more important than the long term prosperity of the UK, and everywhere else for that matter. It is - and history tells us why. And it is that among countries who have a reasonably well-established history of democracy and the rule of law - and you can count most of the longer-serving EU members in that category, to a greater or lesser extent - powerful governmental institutions that aren't rooted in democratic principles, and especially ones with an expansionist agenda, will eventually fall, or be overthrown, or be fatally ignored. And when they do, they leave a heck of a mess behind them. I don't quite know what that mess will look like, though at its best it'll be severe economic trauma, of the kind we've already seen in Greece, and at its worst, well, perhaps best not to think about that... I believe that will happen to the EU sooner or later, and when it does, the UK will be far, far better placed if it's had some time on its own in the world, creating its own new set of alliances, treaties and agreements.

The argument that I found most persuasive in favour of Remain was put forward by the owner of the consulting firm I work with. He, a 50-something, generally right-wing, small business owner, said that while his head told him to leave, he feared that doing so would bring about the demise of the EU, and he didn't want that on his conscience, so he'd be voting Remain. I see his point, but I think the UK's exit will merely accelerate, rather than cause, the EU's disintegration, for all the above reasons.

So there we are. I don't think leaving will mean the UK is 'turning its back on the world'; I want it to do precisely the opposite. I want it to forge a new identity and a new way of being that still includes lots of people coming to our shores from abroad, in a way that makes it the best place in the world to live, work, be ill, be healthy, be creative, and do business. We have got it in us.

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