The EU neverendum

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I did make myself a promise not to tackle politics in my blog. It’s an incredibly divisive topic and there isn’t much humour in it. Certainly not at the moment.

But the EU referendum is much too big a topic to ignore. And I am deeply worried about the division it has caused in this great nation of ours.

Let’s start with the bleeding obvious. A lot of people in this country are very angry with the establishment. People are calling this a victory for the ordinary person, a wake-up call to Whitehall and Brussels. A kick in the goolies for the elite. A chance to make Britain/ the UK/ England great again. Take control of our own destiny. A chance for the ordinary voter to have their voices heard, for once.

There is a sense of empowerment, of positive change, of a new start.

Yes, and some people are seeing it as a chance to kick the foreigners out. British jobs for British people. We voted leave, so now they should all leave.

This is a deeply held view amongst much of our population. Most of the 52% who voted to Leave the EU did so with a very strong conviction.

We must listen to them. There is no point in calling the Leave voters racists. Some were, undoubtedly, but by no means all. Most are genuinely worried people.

That’s not the question. The big question is …  do we know what we have just voted for?

The Leave campaign’s bus said that we would save £350 million a week by leaving the EU. This should be spent on the NHS instead.

And that would be a mightily powerful argument. If it was true.

The problem is that it’s a lie. £350 million is the total gross amount that we send to Brussels each year. Well, actually, it’s £342 million, but let’s allow the Leave campaign to round up by £8 million a year.

That is not what we actually pay out. The UK has a rebate on our contributions. This means that the actual amount we spend is £100 million less. Let’s reset the bidding at £248 million.

But even that isn’t correct. That’s what we spend, but it takes no account of what we get back. Subtract the money that the UK receives from the EU and we get to a much less impressive £136 million.

Okay, I hear you say, it’s only £136 million and not £350 million. But at least it’s something. Surely that money should be spend on the NHS instead of going to the EU?

Except there is another problem. The UK benefits from our EU membership through our tariff-free trade with EU member states. All the major economists agree that this easily wipes out the £136 million a week figure.

We don’t know what the economy of an independent UK might look like. The Leave campaign are talking about making Britain great again, but the reality is that they don’t know. To be fair, the Remain camp don’t know for certain either.

But what we do know is that every credible economic organisation has warned that the UK economy will slow down, at least in the short to medium term. The more gloomy forecasts are talking about a recession which might take years to recover from.

The Leave campaign tried to dismiss this as scaremongering. They also tried to muzzle Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, arguing that he wasn’t allowed to tell the public what the Bank of England’s analysists were forecasting.

I don’t know about you, but I think I would rather have the information and make my own mind up about it. I don’t want politicians stopping me from knowing something that doesn’t help their cause.

We voted for Brexit and the inevitable has happened. The economy has tanked. At the time of writing more than $2 trillion has been wiped off the value of shares worldwide. Employers are talking about recruitment and investment freezes. Some are starting to talk about job losses.

If even a tiny part of that happens, it wipes out the savings from not being in the EU. Voting to leave wasn’t a protest vote against austerity. It will almost certainly cause more austerity.

But that’s not the elephant in the room, is it? We need to talk about immigration.

For many people, this was the big issue. Boris is now trying to backpedal from it, but it can’t be denied. People are very worried about immigration. Foreigners taking our jobs. The NHS can’t cope. We feel like strangers in our own country.

That feeling is very real. It can’t be denied or argued away.

In some ways, it is a natural evolutionary instinct that all humans have. We want to protect our tribe. We feel nervous and threatened by people who are not like us. We are worried that they might take away our things – land, food, possessions.

Many of the 52% who voted Leave did it to stop or control immigration.

It’s problem time again. There is a really uncomfortable truth that many politicians are afraid to say, but I’m going to say it. Purely from an economic point of view, we need at least some immigration.

I know, I know, I know. That sort of sentiment annoys a lot of people. It feels wrong. It goes against all those caveman instincts about protecting the tribe.

Hear me out.

This isn’t a zero sum game, even though we think it is. There aren’t a limited number of jobs to go around, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

The reality is that the more people come to this country, the more jobs are generated to look after them. Shopkeepers, nurses, doctors, dentists. This is particularly important to the UK as we are an ageing population. We need the influx of young workers to help keep the country going.

The Treasury calculates that our economy gains from having immigrants. One report from 2014 said that immigrants pay £5 billion more in taxes than they take from the public services.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re not impressed by that. You don’t trust the Treasury. You want those foreigners out.

Well, I’ve got some bad news for you. The Boris part of the Leave campaign has no intention of reducing immigration. Everyone who is here now can stay here. Future levels of immigration will not be significantly different from what they are now.

So you thought you were voting to stop immigration? We can have the debate at some other time about whether it’s a good idea or not. All I can say is this – Boris doesn’t think that a vote for Leave will change levels of immigration.

If we are not voting to reduce austerity or immigration, then what did we vote for?

Kicking the elites in the goolies? Ah no, we’ve just handed power to Boris, swapping one Old Etonian Prime Minister for another. Somehow the right wing Eurosceptic elites of the Tory party have persuaded traditional labour voters to vote for them. How on Earth did that happen?

Ah, but, this isn’t about the economy or immigration. It’s about control. Taking back control. Britain ruled by Britain and not by faceless unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Rule Britannia!

Except that one doesn’t quite work either. Despite what the Daily Mail has been banging on about for years, the EU actually has relatively little to do with our democracy. It largely deals with things that we’d probably want to keep anyway, like safety standards for manufactured goods. The EU isn’t the big nasty that it has been portrayed to be.

All of that gives us one huge headache. A large proportion of the public has just voted for a pack of lies. I don’t blame the public for falling for Boris’s honeyed words. He can be persuasive and charming. And underneath all this is the real need to listen to people who feel disenfranchised by the business of politics and the economy.

I do blame Boris and Gove. They have repeatedly lied to the public and they’re now busily breaking their promises.

We now need to heal a nation that has been needlessly divided. That seems impossible right now, but I’m ever the optimist. I think there is a way. I have a six point plan.

  1. Tell the truth. Boris should show a modicum of humility and admit that the £350 million was a mistake. He should come clean about immigration. Politicians on all sides should admit when they don’t know something. We think that the economy will probably tank, but we could be wrong.
  2. Listen to the public. This result has happened because large parts of the public are deeply upset and angry. Politics has failed them. We need to put that right.
  3. Listen to the experts. The flipside of the establishment listening to the public is that the public need to listen to the experts more. Not every establishment figure is trying to fool you.
  4. Make a big pile of as many copies of the Daily Mail as we can find. And then let’s have a bonfire party.
  5. For Leave and Remain voters to start talking to each other. Friendly, amicable, listening.
  6. If in doubt, refer to #1

This morning Lord Heseltine made what I thought was a brilliant suggestion. Boris, Gove and Farage should now negotiate with the EU on a new deal for a UK outside the EU. When we see exactly what the deal is, that is when the country should decide whether to take it or not. That could mean a general election or, heaven help us, another referendum.

Just please make it an honest one this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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