Project fear and the Brexit trajectories - remarks at a panel debate on 18th May

Good evening, as Richard as alluded to I am a steering committee member of Pro Europa, a Brussels based organisation that support the UK's membership of the EU that supports IN campaigns in the UK, provides information sessions on the EU and hosts events on "Brexit". I worked previously as a lawyer in Scotland and am currently undertaking a masters in European Studies at KU Leuven. I will share some of my thoughts on the rhetoric of the campaigns so far and the possible implications of Brexit on the UK.

Those who advocate the "Leave" option have a relatively easy task in that they can criticize the European Union and propose we leave it while not providing a remedy to the problems they see with it. This is a comfortable place to be. The "Remain" side are forced to consider whether their belief in the EU is misplaced and if the institution they thought were working have failed them, their families and communities. The truth is we know that because of the EU we have peace between its member states. It has been European legislation that protects our air quality, protects us from age and sex discrimination, allows parents to take urgent parental leave for family reasons and offer protection against discrimination levied at the LGBT community. 

Unfortunately both sides have engaged in fear mongering, such as David Cameron debate the likelihood of World War III. The "leave" side are capatalising on this with half truths about the EU which is either bread from ignorance or blatant falsehood to obtain support from citizens who a limited amount about the EU. UKIP and other organisations are able to spread this misinformation because of the hostile anti-EU press in the UK which is owned by a handful of people. The citizens are not being informed about the EU properly. They are left with the mistaken impression that the EU is undemocratic and corrupt to the hilt. One example is the mistaken believe that the European Commission imposes laws on all of Europe's citizens without question. The reality is that the Commission proposes legislation either of its own accords or by any of the institutons asking it to make a proposal. The proposals are debated and amended by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. We have representatives of the UK in the Commission (albeit not in their capacity as a representative of the UK but the EU), in the democratically elected European Parliament and sitting as ministers of a national government that we elected in the Council of the European Union. In this respect it is more democratic than the UK system as the House of Lords is not elected. 

The fear mongering has to stop and neither side can afford to rely on it in their campaigns. They must learn from the independence referendum in Scotland. The side that was voting to stay in the Union engaged in negative campaigning and their initial 20% lead was reduced to 10% on election day. With the polls for the EU referendum being virtually neck-and-neck both campaigns run the risk of losing unless they use positive campaigns to enthuse the public and create debate.

When anyone states that they wish to vote to leave the EU the most important question to ask them is "what do you mean by Brexit?". Many are not sure what they are voting for; only that they know they are frustrated with the EU as reinforced by a hostile press. There are three options for what Brexit may mean. The first is to have a Free Trade Agreement, the second is to join the European Economic Area and the third is to remove ourselves completely from the EU and trade with the rest of the world.

The Swiss model is to enter into a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. If you want rid of EU laws then this is not the option for you as Switzerland still has to adhere to European law in terms of free movement of people and goods in order to access the European Single Market but are excluded from the free movement of services, including financial. This has caused the Swiss banks and financial institutions to relocate to London to allow them to trade with the EU. In the UK 13% of our GDP is in services. In 2012 our global share of financial services was 29%. The UK has a monopoly compared to other European member states in terms of financial services. It would be unlikely they would allow that continue after we leave the EU.

Furthermore, the Swiss are obliged to take EU migrants and have to pay for the privilege of their reduced status while they don't have a seat and the negotiating table. If they fail to implement EU law then they don't get the benefit of the Free Trade Agreement until they comply with it. In short they pay, obey and have no say. This is not fear mongering but the likely reality of leaving the EU. 

The Norwegian model is the same. They are part of the European Economic Area and they are bound by European law to access the Single Market. They have tariff imposed by the EU on agricultural goods as they are not party to the Common Agricultural Policy. Again they obey, pay and have no say. With the reality of these two options I am at a loss as to how UKIP and vote-leave can claim that we are being dictated to now by the EU and have lost of sovereignty in an undemocratic system. The truth is that these two option, which they advocate, would render us impotent. We enjoy more freedom than any other member state with various opt-in and preferential treatment.

The last option is to go it alone. UKIP and other parties will say that we should return the UK to its former glory during the days of the British Empire. The British Empire is no more and it was not an ideal situation for those in the colonies. The UK is capable of being innovative in its investments such as signing up to the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. Presently we sell around 45% of our goods to the EU but the EU only sells 8% of their goods to us. Who do we trade with if not the EU? We would require to sign bilateral trade agreements with other countries to trade goods and services. The time it would take to sign an agreement is unclear. The FTA between Canada and Korea took 9 years and 14 rounds of negotiation. We would still need to implement the trade rules under the World Trade Organisation. In the EU the 28 members speak one voice at trade negotiations. This helps solidify the bargaining power ensuring the EU and the UK gets a good deal. Simply, we do not know what will happen in the event of Brexit but what we do know is our trade power is magnified through the EU and the UK is stronger in a strong EU.

If the FTA or EEAS options are selected there will be no cleansing of EU law and customs, a reality many have likely not considered. Whichever option is selected it is likely that David Cameron will remove himself from office, clearing the way for an anti-EU and anti-integration leader. As UKIP does not have the sufficient seats in Parliament to govern the next Prime Minister could perhaps be Boris Johnson – a man who has been very vague in his understanding of the EU and is itching to get into Downing Street. If the vote leave campaign are true to their cause they will choose to leave the EU completely. To do anything else would be counterintuitive to their cause. 

Going forward the positive case for the EU must be made such as the ambitious EU lead climate policies and the 12 billion euros being invested in the UK for research and development. The EU will be the second largest donor after Germany. The UK has the Presidency in 2017. This is the perfect platform to push for a pro-UK agenda and get the UK economy back on trade and to stimulate growth in jobs and investment. Consequently these are the aims of the EU too. We need to engage with the young undecided votes and secure the "grey vote" for the older generations who have become dissolution with the EU. We need reform within the EU but we cannot push for this or exert our influence from afar and without a seat at the decision making table. David Cameron's reforms were a good first step but changes need to be made to ensure the EU is working optimally.

An understanding of the European process can be found in a quote by Robert Schuman, the founding father of the EU, "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity".

 


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