The EU Referendum

21 Jun

Yes, with the vote happening this week I am writing a blog about the the thing that is so big that it even gets mentioned in sermons and used out of context as cheap gags by comedians, so you know it’s dominating the thinking of many people around the UK.

And my reason for writing it is 2 fold. The first is that I have spoken to some people, even one of the few people who who frequents here whenever there is a post to be read, and they are having trouble getting to grips with it all, so my hope is to cover it in a way that makes the basics of the arguments of either side accessible, as well as try to put an element of theology into the mix (although I am not sure that a theological angle can decide one way or the other on this issue, as I believe both sides could make a case in this way). The second is that I have a view that I wish to express, and in doing so I hope to address some of the things that people are saying that I think are either inaccurate or simply missing the point. For the record I am in favour of leaving the EU, and barring an unforeseen change in the information and my views on it that will be the way I will be voting. However, in the first part I aim to be as impartial as possible, in the hope that I do not misinform anyone.

So, let’s begin!

 

So, first things first, both sides have now got official campaign groups, Britain Stronger In Europe (now on referred to as Remain) and Vote Leave (no on referred to as Leave). They are the organisations that get to spend officially designated limits, so that the spending is balanced, meaning the campaign is theoretically fought on a fair basis. There are other organisations, most notably Grassroots Out and Leave.EU for the “Leave” side of the debate, but none of these are the official groups. They are allowed to campaign, however they have reduced spending limits that are designated according to each group’s believed representation of the UK population.

Remain highlight 8 key areas as important to their campaign: Jobs; personal finances; workers’ rights; the risk of leaving; Britain’s place in the world; UK business;  UK economy; the NHS.

Their arguments are, among other things, that there are many jobs that are dependent upon our membership of the EU, that workers rights are guaranteed under EU law, that prices will increase if we leave the EU, that the UK economy will suffer and possibly go into recession like back in 2008, that certain areas of the UK are dependent on EU funding, that the influence we have on discussions on the international scene would be reduced and that, as a result of the economy suffering is we leave the EU, our services like schools or the NHS will have less money available to them.

The response to these points include that workers rights are now a part of UK law, so not dependent on being in the EU, and would only go if the UK government chose to get rid of them, that any prediction on the state of the economy is pure guesswork beyond a vote to leave the EU, that the money that is used to fund areas in the UK comes out of the money we give the EU and so would be able to remain in place and that our influence in many areas in the world is already diluted due to the EU taking over in areas like the World Trade Organisation, rather that the UK having it’s own voice in negotiations.

The Leave campaign focuses on 5 key areas: Leaving the EU saves £350m; regaining border control; regaining control in immigration; greater control over trade with countries outside the EU; control over our own law-making.

Leave’s arguments are that the money that we send to the EU, £350 gross, would be able to be pumped back in to the UK economy, that we would be able to decide who comes into the country in all cases, rather than just for people from outside of the EU, due to having the return of a border with the EU and a removal of the freedom of movement of anyone from within the EU, that the UK would no longer be represented by the EU in negotiations and thus our own interests will be at the heart of any negotiations with other countries and organisations and that our own government will be the only body that decides what laws they will put in place, with the UK people being able to vote for or against the government based on the laws that they bring in, rather than the laws that are put upon us by the EU.

The response to these points include that the figure of £350m is a misleading one, even when it is mentioned that it is a gross figure rather than a net one, and the figure of £350m is actually split rough;y in 2, with half going to the EU and the other half coming back in the form of the UK rebate and grants to various areas, such as farming. There is also a question over the issue immigration, given that the number that David Cameron said was his aim for reducing immigration has been surpassed by non-EU migration to the UK, without including EU migration, and so Remain would argue that immigration is not an EU issue. It is also argued that our bargaining power is enhanced by the EU negotiating treaties on our behalf, as the EU is a group of 28 nations, rather than just 1.

With both of these arguments I would recommend looking at both the main campaign groups’ websites to see their information, but then also look at the BBC EU Referendum Reality Check webpages and see if the critiques the BBC raise on the arguments, as well as extra information, helps in understanding.

 

When it comes to a Christian perspective, I do not believe that there is an overwhelming argument one way or the other. I do, however, think that there are arguments for both sides that can be taken from Christian values and beliefs.

In favour of Remain, we can look at the idea of “love thy neighbour”, the idea of working together and the idea  that comes from “pay unto Caesar”. “Love thy neighbour” could suggest that we are called to look to those across the English Channel and seek to help our neighbours  when they are in need, which includes money going to the EU to be able to help countries like Greece, Italy and Spain when they are struggling economically, indeed the idea of love would suggest that we must respond to our neighbour when they are in need. Working together, something that is a big thing for the Church in the call from Jesus’ prayer for His disciples across the world when he prays “let them be one, just as You and I are One”, could be seen to mean that we should be looking to work together with the other nations of the EU in particular, as well as other nations around the world. And the “pay unto Caesar” argument would simply refer to the fact that we are in the EU means that there is a cost, as indeed there is for all members, to pay for our MEPs and the various elements of bureaucracy that happens in the EU and it’s equivalent to the civil service.

In favour of Leave, the theology of “love thy neighbour”, stewardship with the parable of the talents and “thou shalt not steal” can be used to argue against EU membership. “Love thy neighbour”, despite being used to argue in favour of Remain, can also apply for Leave as we can see that whilst the EU benefits it’s members with trade it puts huge tariffs on developing nations’ exports, various countries in Africa for example, and thus the argument here is the question of “who is our neighbour?” and the suggestion that actually our neighbour can no longer be defined by geographical positioning. Stewardship, could argue that the money that we spend on the EU is at least questionable in it’s value, particularly in regards to the grants that we pay for through what we pay to the EU, as it has to be spent in particular ways, as defined by the EU. One area in particular that this is seen is in the way that the fishing communities have been treated by the EU, whereby fishermen were paid to scrap their boats rather than being allowed to carry on fishing in UK waters, as a result of the Common Fisheries Policy. Finally, the idea of “thou shalt not steal” can be seen in the form of British sovereignty being taken from the British people without their consent, in other words it has been stolen. Having spoken to both my parents, and others who voted in the referendum of 1975, and none of them remember voting for anything other than joining a trading organisation, sovereignty was never spoken of, other than the fact that British Law would remain above any EEC (now EU) laws.

As I have said, I do not think that there is an argument from a Christian perspective that points either way decisively, but some people will hold certain theological principles higher than others that will inform their views on the matter. I would, however, recommend listening to the recording of a debate, hosted at Woking United Reformed Church and chaired by Justin Brierley from Premier Radio. it gives a wider debate, from a Christian perspective, and is a very informative nearly 2 hours of listening.

 

Now, for my view!

First off, I want to point out that while I am in favour of leaving the EU, none of what I am about to say has anything to do with being racist. I work regularly with young people and their parents and many of them are originally from other countries. Indeed, many of them come from countries that are in the EU, and I have no wish to remove them from the UK. So, with that in mind, here is what I think on the matter.

I have been against the EU for some time. Indeed, I have been against the EU since either 1989 or 1990, back when it was the EEC. All from a lesson in what is now known as Year 5, I read some things which I cannot remember specifically now, but I can remember a cartoon about Margaret Thatcher’s ongoing issues with her fellow EEC heads of state and the feeling has stuck. I then found myself questioning the viability of the EU, as a result of the fun that went on over the BSE problems with British beef in the 1990’s. When it started, in 1996, British beef was banned from being traded in the EU, rightly by the EU commission. 3 years later, the Commission removed the ban, yet France and Germany refused to import it. When the UK sought to take legal action against France, France then threatened to sue the EU and the whole saga took a further 3 years before France finally allowed British beef back into France. Read here for more info. The basics of this show that there are countries that are happy to follow the rules and there are other countries who are happy not to follow the rules. The problem is that the EU are incapable of enforcing the rules on it’s members, as the ultimate sanction of ejecting a member state will never be enacted as that would go against the EU’s central concept and aim – ever closer union. No political organisation or union can ever be truly viable unless all members are prepared to follow the rules, and the organisation itself is prepared to sanction members that break the rules with the strongest necessary means available to bring about conforming behaviour that works for every member.

Fast forward to now and we find even more issues. We have the Euro saga, where a group of most, but not all, members of the EU have a shared currency but no shared interest rates or taxes, which are key parts of keeping a currency stable, and they have helped to bring about much pain and suffering, not to mention antidemocratic regime change, in both Greece and Italy as a result of both countries needing financial aid. We have the freedom of movement in the EU, which means that a theoretical 500 million people could move to the UK and we have no way of stopping them all. There are ways of stopping some, for example people convicted of certain crimes, but if someone from the EU, who has no criminal record, seeks to come to the UK for the purposes of work then we have no way of stopping them. Whilst this in and of itself could be seen as a good thing, indeed there are many statistics that point to the benefits of migration on the UK’s economy, the basic fact about a nation’s economy is that you need to know how much you need to spend on certain areas of the budget. Areas such as housing, the NHS, schools and so on. These are things that people who come to the UK, particularly those who come with families, will require of the UK government, and even with the concessions that David Cameron is claiming from his supposed renegotiation, these only stop financial benefits. We cannot stop migrants using hospitals, GPs, schools and getting accommodation. The more housing is needed, the higher the prices get. For example, the average monthly rent for houses here in Newham is £1,335. That is well over 75% of my monthly income! And whilst the average family income for Newham, as of 2012, is just over the national average, again from 2012, that figure is roughly the same as my income, making the average resident of Newham have less than 25% of their income to spend on food, bills, transport and then luxuries such as a TV, the internet and so on. As a result of prices like this, it is not uncommon (and those words can be taken as typical British understatement!) to find houses full of people who have come to this country to earn a better wage than in their home nation, pay as little as possible on housing and so on and they are able to meet the high rents by squeezing 15 or more into a small 3-bedroom house! This means that rents continue to be high, but wages will remain low (another issue with immigration, as migrants are happy for low-pay work as it is still better than what they could earn at home) and so the general quality of life in the UK deteriorates.

So, we have an organisation that we belong to that doesn’t work. Not only does it not work, but it seems disinclined towards the idea of changing how it does things. It is run by people who are appointed, rather than elected, with the elected MEPs only being able to agree to what the appointed Commissioners decide the EU should do, and as a result of the EU’s rules on migration it leaves the UK incapable of truly controlling it’s own finances as it can never know how much it needs to spend on various services as it never knows how many people are going to come to the UK and use them. The biggest query for me in all of this is, why people think it’s a good idea to stay at all. If something is broken and incapable of being fixed, you get rid of it! Therefore I will be voting to get out of the EU on Thursday, as I see no other way of being in control of the public finances, controlling our own borders, controlling our own laws and regaining our sovereignty as a nation. I know there are potential economic issues ahead if we leave, and I would not be surprised if we suffer in the short term if we do vote to leave, but for me the benefits by far outweigh the losses.

If you want to know more reasons why voting to Leave is a good thing, here are some links:

Brexit The Movie (reasons to leave from a Right-of-centre political point of view)

Lexit The Movie (reasons to leave from a Left-of-centre political point of view)

Brexit: Facts not Fear (a video by Toby Young giving a lot of facts around both the last referendum and the current one)

A blog by Dr David Bull on the reasons why he is voting to Leave

George Osborne says that house prices will go down if we leave the EU, meaning it will be easier for people to buy their first house.

Stuart Rose, chairman of the Remain campaign, says that wages will go up if we leave the EU.

 

At the end of the day, however, the most important thing is that you go out and vote. Hopefully, if you have gotten this far down the post, you are someone who is either very bored or very likely to vote in the referendum. If you are still undecided, do keep on reading to inform your decision. As many people have pointed out, there is no “status quo” option in this referendum, as a vote to Remain will be seen as a vote in favour of the core aim of the EU, “ever closer union”. If that is something you want then vote to Remain. If not, vote to Leave. Just remember that we will not be staying as we are after Thursday, so your vote is more important than it ever has been.

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