There’s a strange irony in the fact that the EU referendum takes place on my very last day of Year Abroad. It ought to be enough that I’m significantly stepping down my involvement with France and Germany today. I really, really hope the rest of the country won’t be doing the same…
This was going to be an article: continuous prose, carefully constructed, flowing seamlessly. But when it came to writing it, I just couldn’t do it. I can’t quite grasp how monumentally mammoth this referendum is. Maybe it’s denial. The fact that the non-expert public and their potentially very misled preconceptions are being allowed to decide something so terrifyingly important is hideously irresponsible and scary. The reason I found it so impossible to make a piece of prose out of this is that the issue is so complex, so awful. And I care so much. Brexit is a disastrous idea from every possible angle.
Bad things that could happen if we left
1. Although he says he wouldn’t, popular consensus is that Cameron would be forced to resign.
Don’t like Cameron? No, me either. News of his resignation under other circumstances might send me jumping for joy. But be under no illusion. Boris Johnson, buffoon, expert of inappropriate comments and public school ignorance, certainly wouldn’t be an improvement. Cameron is Tory Lite in comparison.
2. Our EU membership makes our country what it is. Leaving would change everything. One in ten British jobs are linked to EU trade: if we left, 950,000 British jobs could be lost. And for those lucky enough to stay employed, the average wage would fall by £38 a week. Which is a lot. Petrol prices, grocery and energy bills, transport and roaming charges would rise. The pound would fall. Experts predict a recession. The EU secures important workers’ rights which effect everyone: the right to paid holiday leave, maximum working hours, equal treatment for men and women, rights for part-time workers, health and safety standards at work, parental leave and protection against discrimination based on sex, race, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation. Without the EU, all of these are up for debate. And I have a sneaky suspicion that Boris and Farage would send them to the bottom of the priority pile. Not a rich white man? You’re screwed. (source here)
3. The right wing argument that we need to ‘control our borders’ fails to take into account the wonderful, diverse and valuable contributions migrants make to our society. I am constantly shocked and saddened by these narrow-minded, xenophobic attitudes. For the past fifty or so years, Britain has been a fantastic place to live and work because of diversity, whether that’s because your Indian doctor is truly inspirational, because the Polish deli does really good food, or you know, because people are different and variety is fab. However, I fear that anti-immigration stances are so deeply ingrained that I’m fighting a losing battle. The Leave campaign hasn’t pledged to stop immigration completely, but the unwelcoming messages sent out by a country who tightens its borders, prison guard style, would send Britain plummeting in world popularity rankings. And a Britain where so many of our diverse population no longer feel welcome, and where all the fascists who voted to close the borders are left, would be a very nasty Britain indeed. I do not want to live in a country which has voted in favour of xenophobia. It’s brewing all over Europe, but to vote it in is to legitimise it. Please.
(I could also mention the laughably ironic correlation between people who hate immigrants and people who consider retiring to Marbella to be life’s ultimate goal…)
4. Being able to travel to so many countries without special permission is a huge privilege, and one that I am not ready to part with. Most British people have holidayed abroad – we soak up sun on Spanish beaches, we ski in the Austrian alps, we interrail from Amsterdam to Budapest, God we even fight other football fans in Marseille and vomit all over the other sunburnt lads in Zante, and our EHIC cards cover the costs of any medical damage – and so we take our position of Geographical proximity and our door-opening passports for granted. We mustn’t.
5. “But Norway can do it! Canada can do it! Look at Switzerland!”
Yes. Look, and listen. Experts tell us from every angle that copying these models would not lead to the post-Brexit utopia Boris promises. The Canada model is particularly unrealistic, as explained far more eloquently here than I could. Norway and Switzerland still pay a huge amount to the EU in order to access its markets, but with absolutely no say. More on that here and here. In short, the vague ideal promised by leave campaigners, the one where we stay prosperous as ever but save money and break free from rules, has never been achieved, and there’s absolutely no reason why we would succeed.
6. With the rise of ISIS, it has never been more important to work together with our European neighbours. Not only does the xenophobic rhetoric of the leave campaign play into their hands, but we need to remain a member of the EU to work together, sharing security, intelligence, and solidarity.
7. The EU funds vital scientific and medical research projects, subsidises farming, creates job-creation schemes for young people, and supports infrastructure projects including broadband networks, better roads and new bridges. In a recession, our government would not be able to replace these grants even if they wanted to. More on that here.
7. Why should other countries help us?
We have far too high an opinion of our tiny island. It’s a strange sense of entitlement – probably the same sense that leads thuggish football fans to believe they can cause riots in France – to assume that the rest of Europe would want to assist a post-Brexit Britain. It’s the same kind of over-confident self-assurance that leads UKIPers to believe that migrants would actually rather live on our rainy rock than the sunny once-haven that they called home, had they a choice. The remnants of Britain’s old Empire Mindset are fighting to be heard. Don’t let Australia’s presence in Eurovision lull you into a false sense of security. We may no longer be so welcome.
8. It seems increasingly, terrifyingly possible, that Trump may become the next US President, and he’s already hinted that he’s not so bothered about us. It would be wildly irresponsible to cut our ties with Europe if we find that, in a few months’ time, our special relationship with the US is no longer quite so special…
Bad things about the Leave campaign
1. There’s an eerily uncanny resemblance between Boris and Trump. I mean this both in appearance and in policy, and I’m only half joking.
2. The names ought to speak for themselves. Who thinks Britain ought to remain? Virtually every respected academic, economist, and world leader. Who thinks Britain ought to leave? Boris, Gove, Farage, and Putin. Not a respectable woman to speak of – unless you count Katie Hopkins, and, well, I don’t. The teams are clear, and picking a side ought to be easy.
3. The Leave campaign has been hijacked. Their xenophobic, anti-immigration rhetoric appeals to vulnerable voters who have been led to believe that immigrants are stealing their jobs. It’s been a campaign of fear-mongering – resulting in Jo Cox’s death. And it’s managed to avoid any solid discussion of what would actually happen. The money we might save by leaving has been promised to causes as varied as the NHS and Football, depending on the mood of the moment. But there is no solid plan. This is like signing divorce papers without talking about the finances or custody of the children first, and it would be a very messy divorce indeed.
4. It has become painfully clear that there is no possibility for a left wing Brexit. If that had been the case – if a legitimate Leave campaign in the real interests of ordinary people had shown itself – this might have been a very different issue. But it isn’t, and any ‘socialists’ who can bring themselves to vote leave without considering the full implications for immigrants, people of colour, disabled people, women and the working classes, are both disgracing and kidding themselves.
Really good things about staying (because that’s not the same as just ‘don’t leave’)
1. The EU has facilitated Europe’s transition from a continent ravaged by war to one of peace, free movement, discussion and trade. It’s really beautiful. It’s not worth losing. I want to live in peace and company, not in an isolationist land of suspicion and threat. We’re better as a team.
2. We are all European and our shared cultural identity is not to be underestimated. Sure, Britain isn’t ‘the same’ as France, or Germany, or anywhere else in Europe, but neither is Spain the same as Poland, or Italy the same as Sweden. Just in the same way that two places as different as Surrey and Cumbria can belong to one country, our countries can belong to one union. We’re all citizens of Europe, and our differences are to be embraced.
3. Today’s world powers are huge countries. China. The USA. Russia. Brazil. Size isn’t everything, but size matters. The UK is far too tiny to compete on an international level. The EU is the comparable power, and at the moment, we’re lucky enough to be at the forefront of it.
4. My year abroad has been funded by Erasmus. I’m not the only one. Hundreds of thousands of EU students every year spend their year living, studying or working, in another EU country. It’s the most wonderful opportunity, and it would be such a huge loss. The EU lets us travel, but the money it gives to students provides so much more than that.
Admittedly, Labour’s – and especially Corbyn’s – failure to take centre stage in referendum discussions has made this seem like a Conservative issue. It might seem you’re siding with the Tories whatever you do. Please, don’t be put off. As wrong as siding with Cameron might feel, we must. (And I know I’d rather be siding with Cameron – and a whole host of respectable voices from across the political, economic and academic worlds – than Boris, Farage, and the hatred that killed Jo Cox).
This is not like an election. Every vote counts. And, as counter-intuitive as it seems, apathy here effectively translates as a vote for a huge, terrifying, and disastrous change. We must vote remain. It is absolutely vital.