Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Anti-Brexit Talking Points

On Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, hand-delivered a six page letter from Prime Minister Theresa May to the EU Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels to formally begin proceedings related to Article 50 to get Britain out of the European Union. So far this has proved problematic, to say the least. Basically, it's not as easy as we'd been led by the Leave side to believe. Now what?

If you read my earlier posts on Brexit you'll see I'm not personally keen on it. The Pirate Party UK is publicly ambivalent about it due to our commitment to democracy. Personally, I believe that democracy requires a well-informed populace and that the people who voted Leave didn't really know what they were voting for based on every interaction I've had with Leave voters since the referendum. It's hard to balance the arguments when they basically swing between "EU is bad, oppressive, corrupt, and is stifling our growth" and "Do you realise the harm that leaving the EU would do to our society and economy?" but I'll do my best.

The arguments


While I've never been keen on ever-closer union I'd have thought that after all the effort the Leave side put into persuading the public to vote out they'd have had some plan for actually leaving in place, but they haven't. Their arguments for leaving are basically:

  • Control immigration
  • EU stifles UK economy
  • Brussels bureaucrats rule the roost
  • Freedom to shape our own destiny
  • Stick it to the Establishment

Okay, let's take a closer look at their arguments.

Control immigration


...existing producers obtain protection from the EU through its high trade barriers on food and manufacturing, [and] benefit from EU regulation that supports the aims of large lobbying businesses against smaller competitors and who gain from taxpayer-subsidised cheap unskilled EU labour... - FROM PROJECT FEAR TO PROJECT PROSPERITY, An Introduction, by Patrick Minford for Economists for Free Trade

"The foreigners be takin' our jobz!" has been the rallying cry from the Leave side since the first time we voted Tory in a generation, but is there any truth in it? In May 2014 I wrote:

This is what they're thinking:

You know it, I know it, and the cat on the wall knows it. No amount of patient persuasion is going to convince them otherwise because they honestly believe the narrative the Far Right have sold them; that all their woes can be laid at the feet of the Foreigners Flooding Our Shores. This is why they believe it; neither Tory nor Labour governments have done anything to solve their problems.
The fact that there's no truth in UKIP's assertions is nothing to do with it. British people are seeing the cost of living rise and they've been provided with a scapegoat, a gift that keeps on giving. Try to imagine how crazy things would be if UKIP actually ran the country and decided to halt all immigration, or at least slow it down. - Owning The Narrative: How The Far Right Wins In Elections, by Wendy Cockcroft for On t'Internet

Well we're in that situation now: the Tories have effectively marginalised UKIP by taking over from where they left off and are now in the act of trying to slow down or halt immigration - with horrific results. Look, we're either being swamped by immigrants who then take priority over local people or we're not. Per Migration Watch this is indeed the case. However, the Oxford University's Migration Observatory hasn't just counted the numbers, they've crunched them. Basically, some migration is short term for study then return while some people do indeed remain. The Office of National Statistics has also stated that migrants are essential to our economy and that cutting their numbers will harm it. The most interesting part here is the role played by unskilled workers: they're keeping the economy afloat because they're more willing to work longer for lower wages than we are. The "longer term gains to growth through enhanced innovation and entrepreneurial activity" have yet to be seen and the promises thereof are based purely on fantasy economics; right now in real time people are suffering because of Brexit — and we haven't even left the EU.

Controlling our borders - we could, but we're not


It's hard to forget UKIP's 2014 scare-mongering posters of the white cliffs of Dover with an escalator on it with the words "No border. No control." written on it. Per crossbench peer Karan Bilimoria, Britain doesn’t need to ‘take back control’ of immigration. We already have it.

But the biggest deception is this: we could easily have taken back control of our borders already under European Parliament and Council Directive 2004/38/EC, which allows EU member states to repatriate EU nationals after three months if they have not found a job or do not have the means to support themselves. In this month’s debate on the House of Lords EU subcommittee report on EU migration, I challenged the government on why we were not availing ourselves of this directive – and I got no response. - Britain doesn’t need to ‘take back control’ of immigration. We already have it, by Karan Bilimoria for The Guardian.

The reason why we're not keeping accurate records or repatriating people per European Parliament and Council Directive 2004/38/EC, which allows EU member states to repatriate EU nationals after three months if they have not found a job or do not have the means to support themselves, is because a) the government is scapegoating immigrants to justify austerity and b) we need them for cheap labour. If the government didn't want them here, they'd get rid of them, is what I'm saying.

EU stifles UK economy


In any scenario where Britain is no longer a member of the EU, we would be able to focus any trade negotiations on the sectors that are of vital interest to the UK, rather than having to compromise with the general interests of 27 other nations.

Europe is economically stagnant and not where we will find long-term growth. Its economic performance unfavourably compares with other developed nations: it is inefficient, makes poor decisions and has repeatedly proven incapable of reform. - The EU is holding our economy back – and Brexit could set it free, by Howard Shore for The Telegraph

There's also the matter of "regulations" and "red tape" apparently imposed by the EU, not to mention dwindling competitiveness and stubborn protectionism. Well if that's true wouldn't we be better off outside the EU? Not if our new passports are going to be made in Germany or France; has the cost of importing them been taken into consideration?

Really?!


Ehh... no.  Brexiters proclaiming the benefits of the lower Pound are having to wind their necks in as the latest figures for the economy come in. It's not looking good.

“The service sector, which was the main driver for economic growth in the second quarter, appears to have slowed,” said Amit Kara, Niesr’s head of UK macroeconomic forecasting.

“We see a modest recovery in the second half of this year in response to strengthening global growth and a weaker currency, but on the flip side, consumer spending is likely to be weighed down by weak wage growth and investment spending held back by Brexit-related uncertainty.”

It came as data from the Office for National Statistics showed exports fell in June while Britain’s manufacturing output stayed flat on the month. - Economy slows again as UK exports fall despite hopes of a boost from sterling's weakness, by Tim Wallace for The Telegraph.

This was supposed to be about being more competitive. "If you build it, they will come," kind of thing. Except that's not how businesses work.

How businesses work in the real world


Case in point: I bought some cheese truckles from The Great British Cheese Company's stall in Manchester's St. Ann's Square. Flip me, they're delicious! Their website is well-designed and searchable, too. Okay, enough plugging; these fist-sized lumps of loveliness are £4.50 a pop, or £13.00 for three. I bought three. Yes, I got the strawberry and prosecco — you only live once! The point is, a manufacturer like them has to buy in stock to make the stuff with, then pay staff to make the stuff. Then they have to pack and transport the stuff, then pay for premises to sell it at unless they can get a distributor to take bulk orders. What happens if they can't sell enough stock to cover their manufacturing costs? Changing dietary habits and food fads are as much a bane to the food business as tightened fiscal belts. So... according to the Economists for Free Trade, the answer is to produce more. They really said that:

Competition increases productivity and so employment because higher wages paid for by higher productivity make work more attractive; competition  also increases our general welfare because we produce more.

Erm, no. Wrong. First of all, my cheesy friends have competition from other producers providing equally delicious goodies to tempt me to open my purse. If I don't buy from the Great British Cheese Company, they'll just have to hope their nefarious scheme to get us hooked on flavoured cheddar by offering tasty little bites of it to unsuspecting passers-by works on someone else. If they can't cover their costs they can't pay their bills to their suppliers and if they can't pay their suppliers they can't "produce more" and end up going under. They could try dropping prices but as I said they've got to cover their costs. Successful businesses are the ones that make a profit, people. No profit, no wages. And companies running on a shoestring budget, barely getting by, can't afford to raise wages. Producing more, then, doesn't make us wealthier — shifting more products does, and in the case of the Great British Cheese Company that requires having enough customers with disposable income to pay for fancy cheese.

What has Europe done for British businesses, then?


See for yourselves:

GDP stats chart
GDP Stats. Click to enlarge

EU membership worked by removing tariffs between member nations and making it easier to move goods — and producers of goods throughout Europe. Basically, it's cheaper to export goods to member nations and sell them there than to non-member nations. That's the benefit. It's so good even Nigel Farage is in favour of it. Really!


Hey Nigel — maybe we could call this new entity "The European Union." Just an idea, mate.

Brussels bureaucrats rule the roost


This is a favourite. Apparently, we've got no national sovereignty, Brussels gives Westminster its marching orders, or something. Okay... let's take a closer look at this, shall we?

The EU Commission


I've had stand-up fights with these people. Remember the battle to stop ACTA?

...the multi-national treaty, ACTA, has been rejected in the European Parliament despite a last-ditch attempt by supporters to delay it by calling for the vote to be put on hold pending referral to the European Court of Justice. Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht says he's going to refer it anyway, but let's celebrate the day democracy won over corporate interests. - Happy Independence Day, Internet! by Wendy Cockcroft for On t'Internet

We won because our elected representatives in the European Parliament voted against ratifying ACTA, killing it stone dead. Brexiters' lies depend on confusing the Commission with the other institutions that run the EU. The European Parliament has the final say on laws and treaties, after which they're referred to national parliaments to be ratified, and as I've pointed out, they're elected. The Daily Express has pointed out the six most important officials in an article declaring that they stand in the way of Brexit. They actually don't. Bear in mind that this is the paper that claimed removing EU medicinal and banking agencies was "punishment." Does the Express want Brexit or not? Why would these agencies remain in a non-member country? Sheesh!

Red tape restrictions


Well one of the issues that got a lot of attention was the demand that farmers in receipt of EU money should declare it on billboards funded by themselves; something along the lines of "We're in the EU money," I presume. So now we're out of Europe, what happens to the grants they used to have to advertise having received? They're not going to be replaced by our austerity-loving government, are they? Hey — perhaps the Economists for Free Trade should pay them a visit to encourage them to produce more — and pray they can shift it. We wouldn't want more butter mountains, would we? Wait...

GMOs, etc.


One of the restrictions the Tories are excited about is on which crops can or can't be planted. When the "anti-science" epithet is levelled at anyone who dares to question GM it's hard to argue the toss without looking like a crackpot conspiracy theorist, but Monsanto and Bayer are either trying to own our food or they are not; I've got no objections to GM on principle, I just don't want to be at the mercy of a giant corporation where my din dins is concerned. This is why they frame the debate in terms of "Frankenstein food with human genes in — you're eating Auntie Jean!" Concerns based on emotion or religion are easier to dismiss, aren't they? Needless to say, the anti-regulations crowd are just thrilled at the prospect of handing us over, lock, stock, and barrel, to giant multinational corporations. And needless to say, the EU is being vilified for trying to protect us from them. It's not as if bio-diversity is essential to soil health and sustainable food production, innit? Oh, right.

The European Court of Justice


The Court of Justice of the European Union - to give it its full name - is the EU's highest legal authority. It is based in Luxembourg.

It is actually composed of two separate courts - the Court of Justice and the General Court. From 2004 to 2016 there was a third court, the Civil Service Tribunal, but its work is now done by the General Court.

To avoid confusion this article will refer to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to describe the work of the entire institution.

It's not to be confused with...


The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which is a separate institution.

The ECtHR is based in a different city, Strasbourg, and is not part of the European Union.

It is the ECtHR not the ECJ that has often upset British politicians by making it harder, for example, to deport terrorist suspects. - Reality Check: What is the European Court of Justice? By Chris Morris for BBC News
 
Brexiters being Brexiters, they do of course confuse the two. Ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ has become a Brexit red line since we're supposed to be taking back control of our laws.

Can we leave it behind?


Okay... here's your problem: you know how we can, in theory, decide our own destiny by signing up to trade deals with other countries (more about that in a bit)? Well in practice we'd end up tacking on to existing FTAs (free trade agreements) in which we'd have no say as non-members: we'd be signing up to a done deal in each case. Anyway, any issues with the legality of the articles of FTAs signed up to by the EU would be dealt with by the ECJ. And we'd have to accept it since we're in a buyer's, not a seller's market where trade deals are concerned. It's the consequence of having a smaller market; we've not been an empire for some time and the Commonwealth countries have trade deals with the EU — they're not really interested in us. There's also the matter of existing cases and the degree of influence EU case precedents will continue to have. Brexiteer David Davis has recognised this and has proposed a kinda-sorta alternative that he clearly hasn't thought through because he's painted himself into a political corner by making this a red line issue.

Freedom to shape our own destiny


If anyone objects to the growing sarcasm in this post, too bad. This point is the one that makes me either laugh or grind my teeth, depending on what mood I'm in. You see, if we are to trade with other nations on a preferential basis we will have to enter into a trade agreement with them. Since the current trend is to negotiate these in secret this is problematic. The reason is, when we the people eventually do find out what's in them we are generally not best pleased. E.g. procurement clauses designed to increase competition threaten tax-funded services, i.e. the NHS. This is why I sided with the Left over TTIP and CETA. Only they have got our backs over this.

ISDS


I've already mentioned that FTAs between Europe and other countries that we sign up to will be under the jurisdiction of the ECJ. They will also be under the jurisdiction of unaccountable tribunals via the ISDS (investor-state dispute systems) clauses and regulatory cooperation, i.e. "non-tariff barriers."


Basically, we either shred public-interest legislation or risk being sued for unfair expropriation — or breach of contract. One of the poster children for opposition to ISDS is Egypt V Veolia: Egypt's contract was not to do anything to increase the company's operating costs. Then it went and raised the minimum wage. Result: lawsuit. Arguments in favour of Veolia are basically, "But contractual obligations!" It seems the workers weren't producing enough, thereby attracting higher wages, amirite? Eh? Oh, right.

Plain packs and pollution


My native Ireland was threatened by tobacco companies for bringing in plain packs legislation, but then they were expecting either CETA or TTIP to get through the EU. Arguments over ISDS prevented that so it's not going to happen. Ireland has banned plain packs. Meanwhile, in Romania, Gabriel Resources is suing over not being allowed to destroy three villages, four mountains, and priceless archaeological heritage. The case is still dragging on. It doesn't matter that sometimes the country wins; the cost of fighting these cases can be prohibitive. The point is, if you think that leaving the EU gives us the right to choose our own destiny, you're deluded. ISDS will ensure that multinational corporations will choose our own destiny for us and we won't be able to run to our elected representatives for help since our "international and contractual obligations" will prevent them from doing so. Romanians are kicking off against Gabriel Resources; imagine the government crackdown that'd happen if they lose their case. You don't have to imagine too hard; it's happening here over fracking.

New trade opportunities


If you're wondering what trade outside the EU looks like, look no further than this:


Yep, we're grovelling to the most horrible regimes on the planet because, having squandered our banking sector, we're pushing armaments to dictators. That's our trading future, people. Yay.

Stick it to the Establishment


This last point is the most ridiculous one. If anyone believed that voting for Brexit would stick it to the Establishment they're deluded. They're sticking it to all of us. This is why some of us decided to fight back by going on a March for Europe. The angle that this is the will o' the people ignores the fact that most of us have changed our minds as buyer's regret kicks in due to rising costs of living. Meanwhile, the Establishment is doing very well, thank you very much. Indeed, there's even a re-leaver faction, I kid you not. Whether the figures are accurate or not, it is a thing — I've seen it myself. So... how are we doing?

Rainbows and kittens, per UK govt.


If you search the gov.uk website on the term "Brexit" you will see a rosy picture of a Brexit future, as if all of the real problems I've outlined here ('tis but the tip of a massive iceberg) don't exist except in the warped, bitter minds of remoaners like myself. There's even a plan to launch a shipbuilding renaissance. Okay... a closer read between the lines shows they're hoping the companies will offer more apprenticeships and that trade deals will provide the destinations to ship goods to. This isn't a plan, it's a prayer. This is the same government that wants to be in Europe but not the EU; with judicial co-operation but not with the ECJ. There's actually a Department for Exiting the EU. So then, how's it all going in real life?

Withdrawal bill


The Withdrawal from the European Union bill has attracted a fair amount of scrutiny on Twitter. Lawyer David Allen Green has examined it carefully and he's not happy.




One of the defining aspects of Brexit supporters is their complete ignorance of the legal implications and of legal procedure. I follow Ian Dunt and David Allen Green and still know sod all but I know more than Brexiters do. It's mad, I know, but surely to goodness if you wanted to oppose a thing you'd find out as much about it as possible then make a plan to actually defeat it, right? I can't help thinking that the whole Brexit campaign was about powerful people stirring stuff up and betting on the outcome. Why? The Brexit brigade is woefully uninformed. All they've got is hate for foreigners and a vague notion that bureaucracy is bad on principle (it's not). I've not yet met one who can honestly engage with my objections and the vast majority seem to be of the libertarian persuasion. And now they seem intent on turning this country into a right-wing dictatorship.

Conclusion


Brexit is a colossally bad idea. There can only be either a bad Brexit (soft option) or a worse one (completely out, no deal, trading on WTO regime). Our government is slowly coming around to that idea as are the architects of this country's descent into madness. PerLabour's Keir Starmer:


Is this really the best we can do while there's still a chance to do a U-turn? Maybe we should ditch this disaster and turn the good ship HMS Britannia around while we still can.

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