BEFORE YOU START: Please note that although I currently volunteer for both the Stroke Association and Age UK, the views expressed in this blog are strictly my own. I am not a spokesperson for either (or, indeed, for any) organisation. I am based in the UK and the blog therefore has a UK bias - I've tried to use the Glossary to explain any terms which might be ambiguous, but if you think there is anything I've missed, please message me. Lastly, you'll find typos here, although I do my best to correct them. There are reasons for this, which you'll discover as you read.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018


As I see it, there were three possible stances for the UK's referendum:
  • the EU is cool,
  • the EU is broken, but we're better off fixing it from the inside,
  • the EU is broken, so we're better off getting out.
Personally, I think that the first option just doesn't hold water. For example, that there is no public mandate for things like the Eurogroup, which nevertheless wields power, let alone why a collaboration of nations even needs an economic arm. Even the composition of the Council of Ministers. So if I meet people who argue this, then I'm likely just to move on, as I don't think we'll be productive discussion. My bar for what I consider to be "democracy" is very high, so that probably explains why we're on different pages. For example, many people would claim that that the UK Parliament is democratic, but I'd argue that a "first past the post" system, which means that one party or another will have a huge majority over everyone else, based on a difference in the number of votes of just a couple of percent, is fundamentally unfair. So whilst somebody might argue that "first past the post" is a form of democracy, I'd argue that it's a pretty unfair form. Sure, you can argue that "first past the post" gives you a decisive result, but shouldn't politics be about coming together and thrashing something out which suits as many people as possible? How are you going to make stuff work, once you get beyond the four walls of parliament? You might also say that "first past the post" provides a built-in safeguard against extremists - but really, if a party gets 10% of the vote, does it not deserve to get 10% of the weight in parliament? No matter how distasteful its views may be? I'm a firm believer that, if someone has distasteful views, then you argue with them and....people aren't stupid. And if you're arguing sense against nonsense, who needs a safeguard? For these reasons, I'm also against no-platforming, but that's another topic. Getting back to the EU, the Council of Ministers comprises people who are there by virtue of being elected according to the foibles of their home states.... So actually, if I'm debating Brexit, then quite soon I'm talking about electoral reform instead.

Either of the last two options is reasonable, people could quite justifiably have voted In or Out, so I'm not going to bash people whichever way they voted. In that respect it is very much like a personal relationship with problems - some couples choose to try and make a go of it, other couples go their separate ways. It's impossible for a bystander to say that one course is correct, and the other wrong. Furthermore, as I was growing up, the EU (or the European Economic Community, as it was then) quite happily split all the main parties down the middle. Tony Benn, on the left, and Enoch Powell, on the right, quite happily campaigned for a No vote in the 1975 referendum.

Other Labour stalwarts such as Michael Foot also came out against. These were honourable men, so it is particularly disappointing to hear the Labour Party of today, and its supporters, talk as if every Brexit supporter is a mindless racist.

My own view of Europe is more aligned to Tony Benn's, so I supported Brexit. I won't go into his whys and wherefores, because they're probably on YouTube, but broadly, he was against on the grounds of democracy. I'm not sure whether he also talked about the sovereignty issue, although I can imagine a UK Member of Parliament might. I must admit I have no preference whether I'm governed from London or from Brussels, as long as I'm governed by someone who was elected democratically. And I don't see a lot of difference between the UK and the EU in that respect. I live in a very safe Tory constituency, but don't vote Tory myself, so I have no voice in the UK parliament. I see leaving the EU as a start-point toward all-round reform, not an endgame in itself. In fact, I believe (you might have guessed) that the single most important issue that we face is electoral reform, even Brexit is on a lower level from that. But I was asked for my opinion specifically on the EU, so I gave it.

So let's think it through. Democracy is important to me, but things like immigration aren't, in fact I very much like being in a diverse community. Also, the standards enforced by the EU, for the most part, protect things (and people). So if I look, say, at the Irish border question, I can see that there is a border there already for many things, a line where if you step one foot either side, different rules apply. Today. Things like laws, taxes, currency. The two big exceptions post-Brexit will be goods and people. Neither of which bothers me. If anything, I can see a relaxation of standards more likely to come from the UK rather than from the EU, so Ireland should probably be wary of dodgy British imports. For people who do consider immigration an issue, then I foresee a problem. How do you keep people out without a hard border? Possibly, you let people in, but you restrict services such as health care and social security, just on the grounds that economic migrants might be more likely to seek help from the state? You can place restrictions on employment, say. Although much of this exists already, but in a half-baked form. To do this properly, you need to check people's identities, so you're possibly talking about Identity Cards once again. What a banana skin that was for New Labour, only ten years ago! Plus, of course, you still have all these people running around the countryside so, if it is merely their presence to which people object, the problem still exists. And simply "wishing" for there to be no border, as I'm hearing from the Brexit negotiators, is not enough, not if Brexit was driven mainly by immigration, as we're told. But there again, I don't see that war is a foregone conclusion either. A resumption of the Troubles is only one possible outcome, of many. I think the Good Friday Agreement is something of a fudge, but the numbers who voted for it showed clearly to me that both Irish and Northern Irish people were fed up with war. So I think it was a relatively small number of people who were responsible for all the violence. But then, that is usually the case, in any conflict. And there are still conflicts.

Anyway, I want to wrap this up as we're getting a bit long. I just wanted to quickly add a couple more things - first, that because of Brexit, I allowed my membership of the Green Party to lapse. It may well be that I vote for them in future elections (they still want electoral reform, which was their main attraction to me in the first place), but I wasn't comfortable staying a member. As I've already said, I see nothing wrong with people holding a view either for or against, and a party should accommodate this. But the Greens are overtly pro-EU, and every time they say this, it makes me uncomfortable. There are honourable reasons for supporting Brexit, plus of course one could easily ask why the Greens (or anybody who is pro-EU) aren't crying out about reforming the EU so as to make it more democratic.

Very lastly, I just wanted to deal with a couple of issues very quickly. For me, economics comes a firm second to democracy - I think you sort your foundations first, then worry about the rest of thehouse. So economic arguments don't sway me. And, I think I made my mind up about the EU in about 1990 (Maastricht), so to now claim that the result was null and void because of overspending, or dodgy Facebook campaigns, in 2016 is not something I take seriously. I wouldn't particularly mind another referendum (although my mind hasn't changed on the basic question - I haven't heard a peep from the EU about how it improves itself for the people of Europe, even since the referendum), as long as its purpose wasn't just to overturn the result of the first. That basically says that there's no point in ever having a referendum again, because we'd just have another to overturn the result, so why bother at all? Just keep the status quo and spend the money on something else! Certainly, no point taking part in one - a waste of energy. So I think any referendum should ask a different question. Indeed, it seems quite sensible for people to make a decision based upon the terms of the deal - but this I see this as a three-way question: to accept the deal, to reject the deal and to leave, and to reject the deal and to stay. Of course, it could be argued that we have already decided the leave/stay aspect.

I mean, if I learn anything from this whole process, it's that issues are often quite complicated, far too complicated to be settled by a simple Yes/No question.

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