Question Time debate shows how misleading the EU referendum campaign has been

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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:

  1. 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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19 thoughts on “Question Time debate shows how misleading the EU referendum campaign has been

  1. jeffrey davies

    house-building now is at an 80-year-low the building is done by all those privat charities or so called housing like gwalia or the likes not council so rents higher in this sector the tory way

  2. Nick

    question time has always been rubbish and just goes to show how thick and stupid this country is

    the only person with any brains is the presenter and always has been

  3. aussieeh

    I want to vote remain, there are numerous exellent reasons to do so. What puts me off is the vast amount of corruption that is so blatant, it’s no wonder the Tories think they can get away with anything. Then again if we are outside the EU there is nothing we can do against it, are the EU still refusing to let auditors see their books? Just exactly what is it they are hiding?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Auditors gave the EU accounts a clean bill of health for seven years in a row, up to the most recent accounting year. They’ve been signed off. So I think you’ve been misled there.
      I do think there is corruption – the article to which I’ve linked pretty much says so – but you’re right; if we’re outside the EU there’s nothing we can do and it will carry on.

  4. Joan Edington

    I agree with all this Mike but surely you could have got something in about Neil Hamilton. He was ranting ten times worse than he did as a Tory and worse than David Coburn and Nigel Farage put together. No sign of his old (falsely) amicable demeanour.

    ” 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.”

    I wish this one hadn’t been at point unlucky 13, unless it’s unlucky for the Tories of course.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I couldn’t take Hamilton seriously because my first impression of him was that these days he looks like a cross between Worzel Gummidge and a muppet (the way his hands kept pawing at the desk was very Muppet Show-ish).

  5. John

    Hopefully they are in the minority (quite possibly even Tory trolls), but I’ve read a few comments on both YT and Twitter, describing Corbyn in shall we say not very nice terms, with regards to his being anti-EU previously and now suddenly pro-EU. Some people even think he’s been got at by the Blairites! Even last year, during the leadership debates, he described the EU in not exactly good terms. Can’t help wondering if this has thrown people somewhat?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Maybe, but it’s perfectly clear that he has put his own doubts to one side for the moment, because he knows the threat posed by a Conservative Government without the EU to put a check on its excesses, is too great to let pass.

      1. Wanda Lozinska

        Many of the Labour MPs now campaigning to stay in voted out in 1975. Jeremy recognises that there is an awful lot that is wrong with the EU but that only by staying in do we have a chance of reforming it. EU Socialist MEPs form the largest group and do have the power to change things.

  6. Martin Taylor

    Surely, point 5 and point 6 are contradictory. In point 5, you set out how the EU is able to hold the UK government in check, by denying it the right to alter any EU laws while still a member. Yet in point 6, you insist that the UK government, and parliament, have the right to reject, send back, or veto EU laws. This amounts to extolling both sides of the sovereignty coin.

    Are you not asserting that the UK government has a powerful influence in the process of EU law-making, while being thankful that they have little?

    You also say that:-
    “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.”

    If we are so weak, so stupid, and so cowardly to allow them to do so, then it is no more than we deserve. Surely, we have the democratic right, and a duty to our forebears, our descendents, and to ourselves, to eviscerate such a vile government.

    It is all well and good to cheer on the EU for holding the Tories in check, but it is the same EU that held a Socialist Greek government in check, and it is the same EU which may wish to neuter future Labour government policies.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      There’s no contradiction.
      Point six states that the UK may change or veto any proposed law that comes to this country from the EU.
      However, as point five also makes clear, once an EU law has been agreed by a member state, that member state must abide by it.

      As far as I can tell, there’s no reason a member state can’t seek to amend an EU law, should there be a need; times change and laws should change with them.

      Moving on to your concern about the Conservative Government dismantling workers’ rights: You seem to be labouring under a misconception. The UK electorate allowed the Conservative Party to form a government after 24 per cent of us voted them in at the May 2015 general election. Barring the loss of enough seats to make the Tories lose their Parliamentary majority due to the expenses fraud inquiry, that means if the UK leaves the EU and the Tories then decide to strip working people of their rights, there is nothing we can do to prevent it.
      All the weakness, stupidity and cowardliness they need either happened more than a year ago – or will happen on June 23.

      On your last point: The financial ‘Troika’ that humbled the Greek government included EU organisations alongside the IMF, which isn’t part of the EU. The UK is not in hock to any of these organisations and therefore may not be hindered by them. As for neutering future Labour policies, are you referring to TTIP? That is a huge concern, as you will know if you have read the many articles on the subject that have been published on this site. However, other member states (though not the UK – Cameron is all for it) have already made it clear that they will not ratify it in its current form. The EU is divided on the subject. It is up to us, and our fellow EU citizens in the other 27 member states, to ensure that our governments act for the public good and not their own short-term interests.

      1. Martin Taylor

        “As far as I can tell, there’s no reason a member state can’t seek to amend an EU law, should there be a need; times change and laws should change with them.”

        This is central to the claim that we should remain to have influence on the shaping of new EU laws, or the modification of existing EU laws. It is an honest position to take, and I have no problem with people who support this idea.

        My objection to those who are promoting Remain to the Left, on the basis of a dishonest argument that this government, and future Tory governments, can NEVER overturn the rights of workers, which runs contrary to their stated ability to influence EU law-making.

        In other words, you can legitimately claim that the government has democratic influence with its feet under the EU table, but you cannot then imply that the rights of workers are set in stone and beyond Tory influence. You can claim one or the other, but not both.

        Essentially, I am very uncomfortable with the proposition that the Left should be pro-Remain, on the wrongful premis that it presents an permanent opportunity to rein in the Tories. The only sure way to do that is to vote Labour, and keep voting Labour. A future Labour government can easily overturn anything that the Tories could come up with in the next four years (incidentally, I have just placed a very large bet that they won’t last that long).

        I would also deny your assertion that, if we leave the EU and the Tories have their bonfire of workers rights, that there is nothing that we can do. Those rights were hard fought, and our forebears fought for them, with blood and much pain, and were not gained by the benevolence of the those who wielded power over us. Are we now so cowered that we would not prevail again? I think not.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        How often have you see an incoming government overturning the actions of the previous government immediately? There are cost implications – possibly huge ones, remember.
        I see you are still scrambling my words. If the UK remains in the EU, then it remains subscribed to the rights of workers as enshrined in EU law. If a Tory government would want to change those rights, it would have to introduce proposals into the EU law-making process and secure the agreement of all 27 other EU nation states. That is a much larger endeavour than simply repealing the laws relating to workers’ rights in the UK, which is what the Tories are likely to do if ‘Leave’ has the majority on June 23. It would take much longer, meaning a general election may happen while it was ongoing and the voters would have an opportunity to throw out the government initiating the change.
        So your claim that anyone is implying the rights of workers are set in stone and beyond Tory influence is wrong. They are much better-protected if we stay in the EU, though.
        Also inaccurate is your claim about the Left being pro-‘Remain’ on the premise that it is a permanent opportunity to rein in the Tories. As I mentioned, times change. It is, however, our best opportunity to rein in the Tories now.
        I find your claims both misleading and dangerous, but thank you for giving me a chance to clarify why this is the case.

    2. Florence

      Corbyn has confirmed that we should remain in the EU at many Referendum meetings, speeches and rally’s, one if which I attended last night. Labour are committing d to stopping TTIP in the EU. It’s just that the Media never report that.

      I mean if we’re all social media savvy enough to follow a blog then if anyone is sitting wondering what Labours position is, or how much Corbyn has been.invved in the campaign, they should simply look around starting with the Labour Party on FB, website and YouTube. Corbyn and his team have many speeches online if you actually want to hear what is said.

  7. Martin Taylor

    You are correct in that nothing in government happens immediately, and there may well be huge costs involved in repealing previous legislation. However, this rule also applies to the incumbent Tory government when dealing with EU law, which as you have stated, is now ratified and part of UK law. They have 45 years of EU legislation to contend with, so should the Tories choose to go down this route, it will take a whole lot of parliamentary time to get anywhere near to their goal. In fact, I would go as far as to say that, if Leave is the outcome of this referendum, Boris and his gang will be so tied down by the task of unraveling the UK from the EU, that their heads will be spinning for years to come. If they last that long.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Wrong. Their ‘British Bill of Rights’ is already in the pipeline so all they’d have to do is repeal the EU laws and replace them with that. They could do it in the next Parliamentary session.

  8. Wanda Lozinska

    Ref point 11. Unscrupulous employers are attracting people eg from Eastern Europe and paying very low wages, which undercut British workers.* However this is not the fault of the EU but of our government’s failure to legislate against this practice. Jeremy Corbyn intends to tackle this issue.

    *(These workers can live cheaply, crowded into rented accommodation whereas British workers may have mortgages and other expenses).

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