My word, there’s a lot of nonsense being said about the EU referendum, isn’t there?
Some of it had an airing on the BBC’s Question Time yesterday evening (June 2), and This Writer was watching – and tweeting – along with a couple of million other people, all of whom (apparently) had an opinion about it.
Let’s see what nuggets of wisdom we can dig out of the debate:
- Will leaving the EU decrease chances of getting a house? Yes. Because Tories won’t build any – they want prices to rise.
At least one person came back to me after I suggested this, claiming that house-building under Margaret Thatcher was much higher than under New Labour. That may be true (I haven’t checked recently) but it doesn’t change the fact that house-building now is at an 80-year-low.
2. There is a huge amount of racism informing much of the debate. An audience member, referring to people from foreign countries living in the UK, actually said, “We need breathing-room”, or words to that effect. He was, of course, paraphrasing Hitler, who said the same words in 1938, prior to World War II. Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.
3. It is not true to say that no country has ever left the organisation now known as the European Union. When it was still the European Economic Community, Greenland quit – over fishing quotas, if memory serves. That moment cannot be compared with anything the UK might do, as the two countries are hugely dissimilar, but the fact remains.
4. Frank Field claimed David Cameron called the referendum in order to keep the Conservative Party together, rather than in the interests of the UK. There is much to support this claim – Cameron wanted to halt the rise of UKIP, which had stolen two of his backbenchers, and he wanted to quell dissent among the backbenchers who remained. How do you think that’s working out for him?
5. There was considerable debate about workers’ rights. Owen Jones was correct in his analysis – that workers’ rights in the UK are only protected because of EU laws that this country cannot repeal while it is a member. If the UK votes to ‘Leave’, then the Conservative Party will dismantle those rights and we can kiss goodbye to working time limitations, sick pay, holiday pay, weekend pay and any other hard-won rights that have been enshrined in law since the 1800s. And no, just because we had such laws before the EU came along, that doesn’t mean the Tories won’t end them.
6. The claim that the UK has lost sovereignty to the EU is bunk. For clarity: We are not at the mercy of the bureaucrats in the European Commission. The Commission proposes new EU laws, but the UK may send any such legislation back for reconsideration, or may veto it altogether. EU laws only come into effect in this country if they are ratified by the UK’s Parliament.
7. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was mentioned by Owen Jones – and quickly buried by the others. As the proposed agreement currently stands, it will support the increasing privatisation of public services and protect such moves with the threat of legal action against any government that tries to re-nationalise a privatised business. It will drive down the quality of goods to a lowest common denominator, set by the USA. And it will drive down workers’ rights and wages to a lowest common denominator, also. The deal is the subject of lengthy – and private – negotiations between the EU and the USA, and the only way to improve it is to be part of those negotiations. Other EU nation states have expressed serious concerns about the deal in its current form and seem likely to veto it if it goes unchanged. If the UK leaves the EU, of course, the Conservative Government will be free to strike whatever deal it wants – including one that is even worse for UK workers.
8. A consensus grew among viewers on Twitter that many of those planning to vote ‘Remain’ were doing so because they believe the UK needs the EU to provide checks and balances with regard to the Conservative Government and its plans for our future. They do not trust the Tories to act in the best interests of the people. This of course attracted claims that anyone voting ‘Remain’ in order to hinder the Tories was actually voting for David Cameron and George Osborne, which is nonsense. The referendum is not a vote for a particular party or any of its members – it is a question put to the UK electorate. One might just as well say voting ‘Remain’ is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn (which is true, in exactly the same way it would be a vote for Cameron, even though they are very clearly not campaigning on the same platform).
9. Labour – and Jeremy Corbyn – were criticised for failing to make clear that the party’s policy is to support ‘Remain’. Mr Corbyn himself has blamed the media for misrepresenting him. David Dimbleby tried to say that Corbyn had claimed anyone sharing a platform with Tory ‘Remain’ supporters was betraying the party, but this was itself a misrepresentation; in fact, Labour policy on this is a response to events in the Scottish independence referendum, when Labour did campaign side-by-side with the Conservatives, and it allowed nationalists to claim there was no difference between the two parties – a claim the did enormous harm to Labour in the 2015 general election.
10. Labour’s Frank Field stuck the knife into his own leader by claiming that Jeremy Corbyn’s attitude was problematic because he is suspicious of the EU. This is another misrepresentation. Corbyn is, indeed, suspicious of the EU – but he is far more suspicious about the intentions and actions of a Conservative Government freed from its obligations under European law. Rightly so.
11. Mr Field went on to claim that migration into the UK from Europe has caused a fall in wages. This is not true.
12. Claims that EU laws and regulations were responsible for the UK’s problems met strong opposition from people on Twitter, who saw the referendum as an attempt to distract voters from the real cause of such problems – the Conservative Government in Westminster.
13. One question asked whether David Cameron’s days as prime minister are numbered. This seems likely, whichever way the vote goes. Not only is he facing a revolt from his own party, but the entire government may be removed if the election expenses fraud inquiry unseats more than 17 Conservative MPs, as seems possible at the moment.
14. Frank Field damaged his standing among Labour supporters – possibly irreparably. As one person on Twitter put it: “My timeline full of Labour MPs disagreeing with/despairing at Frank Field and Conservative MPs tweeting his quotes and agreeing. Hmm.”
Taken as a whole, there’s reason to be cautiously cheerful after this debate.
People aren’t willing to accept the word of politicians on either side at face value and are basing their decisions on the difference between what’s said and what they are experiencing.
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