By Max Morris-Edwards
It’s been three years since the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU. Let that sink in. Three years. Do you remember a time before Brexit?
The gift of hindsight has afforded us a cruel reality: that we can say with certainty that the Brexit that 17.4 million UK citizens voted for is at this time unachievable (and that it is very unlikely that all leave voters wanted the same shade of cliff-dive-Brexit on the Euroskeptic spectrum). Yet we trundle on, making the same arguments day after day for and against the cause, in a psychotic Groundhog Day of pulling apart families, communities, friendships.
At some point one must ask why. In December 2015, a poll by Ipsos MORI found out that only 1% of people thought the EU was a major issue – 59% believed this the following April, somehow sparking an interest in the EU that was not previously there. In the interest of transparency, at the time of the referendum I was 17 and too young to vote. If I was old enough, I honestly would have voted to leave the EU. I remember being caught up in the Leave fervor. Yet, true to democratic form, three years have passed, and I am an ardent Remainer. Either way I am not allowed to affect my own future on the matter.
The main argument that caught my admittedly naïve eye was the infamous ‘£350 million for the NHS’ bus. Since the conservative government’s implementation of austerity, leading to massive underfunding for the NHS, leaving the EU appeared to be a solution to this problem to my unassuming eye.
However, the £350 million is referring to the gross figure that we send to the EU as our membership fee. We get a lot of that back in subsidies, such as the common agricultural policy. Also, unlike any other EU country, we are reimbursed 66% of the difference between what we contribute and what we receive back from the EU. This is divided amongst the other member states, so the other EU countries literally pay for us to be a part of the EU.
Similarly, the misinformation spread by the leave campaign reached unprecedented, xenophobic, grotesque lows with the infamous anti-immigrant poster, splaying: “Breaking point: The EU has failed us all” across a backdrop of Syrian refugees. However, the UK is not a part of the EU common asylum policy, meaning that the UK decides how many refugees they accept into the country and not the EU.
It is understandable that some desire stricter immigration reform, and it isn’t entirely irrational for people unaware of the literature to jump to the conclusion that leaving the EU would allow us to “take back control” of our borders.
The frustration lies then with how the literature isn’t even considered on the matter; that EU Citizens’ Rights Directive: Article 7 states that in order to come to the UK without a job, you must have ‘sufficient resources’ to not become a burden on the social assistance system’ of the UK and have ‘comprehensive sickness insurance’. So, anyone complaining about immigrants abusing the system have our own government to blame and not those “unelected bureaucrats” in Brussels.
When asked why they want to leave the EU, many Brexiteers will say that they do not want to be ruled by Brussels – as if the Belgian city rules over Europe like a dictator and without UK citizens having a say on anything. This assumption of a loss of sovereignty is largely over-perceived because Brexit campaigners often used this as a tool to get the general public on board.
If you look at the procedural structure of the European Union, it becomes apparent that we are not ‘ruled over’ by a foreign entity. Depending on the nature of the meeting, either our head of government or relevant minister will attend meetings at the Concilium, where our broad goals are set, and legislation is accepted. Our elected government choose a commissioner to attend the European Commission where new legislation is proposed – the people we vote for work for us in Europe.
Then we have the European Parliament. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected by the general public in all member states and share power over the EU budget and legislation with the Concilium. The UK, joint with Germany and France, has the most MEPs at the European Parliament. Upon review, arguments over bureaucratism in the EU may be legitimate, but there is realistically very little weight to the argument that we have lost sovereignty.
These realities can be lost in a media quagmire; in a world where celebrities and influencers can reach millions of followers with the tap of their thumb, it is important for their statements to be factual and relevant as they can easily affect public opinion. Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of The Who, responded to a question regarding Brexit: “If you want to be signed up to be ruled by the mafia, you do it”. In my opinion this sort of exaggerated statement is on par with believing the government are lizard-people. Michael Caine, acclaimed actor of Italian Job and Zulu fame, said that he would: “Rather be poor and in control of his future than rich and with no control of it”. The audacity of a multimillionaire living in the USA, telling ordinary citizens of the UK that is okay to be poorer than you already are is bewildering.
It may seem like there’s no reason why anybody would want to preach the gospel of Brexit further, and that we should chalk it down to misunderstanding. After all, if Brexit isn’t going to work for the collective good of the nation, what is all the fuss about? Unfortunately, there is a side to Brexit that is relatively unknown to the general public and if this knowledge surfaced during the referendum campaign, it is likely that Britain would have voted to remain in the European Union.
Were this information readily available to my 17-year-old self, I would reconsider my position
There is a strong contingency of Brexit financiers and campaigners who are motivated by tax evasion laws and personal profits rather than so-called ‘sovereignty’. In 2015, the UK rejected EU plans to clampdown on industrial scale tax avoidance and offshoring – multinationals would now have to report where they make profits. It is no surprise that conservative, UKIP and DUP MEPs were against this as many of them have stakes in these businesses, putting their own wants in front of the greater good.
Take Crispin Odey for example. Crispin Odey is Boris Johnson’s ally and a London Hedge Fund manager who reportedly donated £14.9 million to Leave campaigns, and allegedly shorted the pound before the referendum, transferring 65% of his funds into gold and making £220 million in the process. He has now allegedly bet a in the region of £350 million that British firms will suffer under a no deal Brexit, despite vocally supporting No Deal. How comforting for us to know that key Brexiteers are not only predicting our economy to crash but are actively ensuring they profit as a result.
Nigel Farage too allegedly played a part in affecting the value of pound sterling. He was saying that it “looks like Remain will edge it” when the votes were being counted, despite seeing polls that favored Leave, reportedly in order to make the pound stronger – only for it to take a sharp depreciation after when the votes were counted and it was announced that leave had won. This has led to accusations of insider trading (moving the markets in order to profit).
One sitting politician who is often accused of putting their own interests first is Jacob Rees-Mogg. It appears he only remains popular possibly because he dresses and speaks like Victorian butler, regardless of his fittingly archaic views on topics such as abortion. Jacob Rees-Mogg is a major shareholder in Somerset Capital, the investment management firm he co-founded which invests money in emerging markets. Speculatively, the reason he advocated to not be a part of the single market and customs union may be to create a barrier to trade between the UK and the EU, diverting trade to emerging economies, making his business more profitable. It is cynical but predictable; after all, his father self-published a book titled The Sovereign Individual: The Coming Economic Revolution and How to Survive and Prosper in It, which details how to profit from disaster capitalism.
Furthermore, the UK is currently under investigation from the EU for giving multinationals special treatment when paying tax, which is against the EU’s competition policy. Unlike France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK has also refused to prevent their arms manufacturers selling to Turkey who in recent weeks have been accused of committing war crimes against the Kurds in Syria. The EU foreign ministers unanimously agreed that they condemn Turkey’s military action against the Kurds, but there was no unanimous agreement in implementing an embargo on arms sales – the UK being one country to continue selling to Turkey. It seems that personal profits once again come before the collective good.
Suddenly, it feels to me that the UK have been shortchanged by a selection of the economic elite masquerading as the everyman. Were this information readily available to my 17-year-old self, I would reconsider my position – fortunate then that I couldn’t vote the first time round.
Time for a second referendum? I think so.
Image credit: Dunk