Friday, 3 June 2016

Brexit #2: what is and what might be

Vote Leave figurehead Boris Johnson has been taking flipflopping to new lows in his hijacking of the EU referendum, but even the most decided of the rest of us would probably admit to thinking there are pros and cons to being in the EU (although for us those pros and the cons will be different things).

I wonder though how many of us would admit that at least part of our inclination to vote one way or the other is due not to some fixed aspect of the EU's setup, but to our desire to either keep or change some temporary political circumstance that just happens to be the way we do or don't want it to be for the time being?

For example, I'm more in agreement overall politically with the current inhabitants of the EU institutions than I am with the current Tory UK government, due to our stances on issues like the refugee crisis, climate change, workers' rights, etc, and I can't deny that that's one of the attractive prospects about voting to remain. Of course if we were to vote to leave the EU then the UK government could theoretically reinstate many of the things I like that the EU currently gives us, like the maximum 48-hour working week, but would it?

In this FT article Joshua Chaffin wrote about how "Cornwall took in more than €654m from Brussels during the EU’s 2007 to 2013 budget cycle" (as part of the EU's scheme for taking money from wealthier areas and giving it to more deprived ones), and whether that's having an impact on Cornish residents' voting intentions. Boris has said the UK could redistribute money like this on its own without cycling it through Brussels first if we vote to leave, but one resident told Chaffin that "The EU’s been a much better mechanism for getting money from the wealthier parts of Britain to the poorer parts than our own government’s ever been”.

Likewise, when I spoke to an academic for a Brexit piece I contributed to for work, and put it to her that the UK government could, if we vote to leave, choose to more-than replace the research funding we currently receive from the EU with the money leavers claim we'd save, she said: "Nobody can convince me that if we weren’t part of the EU then the amount of research funding that’s available for the humanities around minorities or marginal groups would be increased under the present government. That’s absolutely inconceivable.”

In both of these examples, short-term thinking brushes up against long-term, and pragmatism up against wishful thinking. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about these situations.

In his book And The Weak Suffer What They Must?, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis writes about how "Greek and Italian politicians [...] extended an intriguing offer to voters fed up with them" when their countries were considering joining the EU's single currency: "Keep voting for us and we shall soon rid you of ... our rule! Once monetary union is complete, our country will be administered de facto by Northern Europeans [...] Most Greeks I know secretly welcomed that offer [...]"

And look where that got them...

Maybe it isn't wise to make long-term decisions on the basis of short-term circumstances.

Right now I dislike Tory austerity (with the UK not in the Eurozone, we don't have to worry about Eurogroup austerity) and like EU's stance towards online privacy protection, for example, but in the future might I lament a more left-wing UK government being unable to introduce a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions because a more right-wing EU doesn't want one?

I think the best thing on June 23 will be to vote in line with whether you think the fixed aspects of EU membership or non-membership are good or bad: having a continent-wide system of governance, being able to influence that governance, being in some respects controlled by that governance; free movement; free trade.

But I suspect transient concerns will end up playing as big a role, if not bigger.

No comments:

Post a Comment