I can’t make head nor tail of the economic arguments for or against Britain’s membership of the EU. Both sides present compelling arguments for the benefits or catastrophe of remaining In or Out.
I don’t know how much sovereignty we have ceded to the EU as Vote Leave claim, or how corrupt and/or inept the officials who run the Union are, or whether we are needlessly sending rivers of cash to the EU (though this graphic puts that in perspective).
But I do know this – it’s simple for Vote Leave to present a convincing argument. When times are tough, as they are for many, it’s far easier to say ‘Let’s change things’ and leave the EU, than the Vote Remain message of ‘Let’s keep things the same’.
Some Leavers talk of ceding power to unelected politicians and leaders, yet are seemingly happy with our own unelected politicians in the House of Lords. And we have a Queen for heaven’s sake – the ultimate unelected leader, who isn’t even appointed by anyone.
But mostly, this debate is being driven by one thing – immigration.
Even the economic arguments I read about leaving the EU seem to lead back to one thing – we’re better off without foreigners, whether they’re in the UK, potentially on their way, or working in Brussels.
I constantly read comments from people who claim being anti-immigration isn’t racist, and yet fail to acknowledge the connection between all the non-white people in the UK and the immigrants they either are or are descended from.
The vote seems to have divided generations – those likely to vote Leave are also almost overwhelmingly older voters. Under 40 are pro-remain majority, over 50 pro-leave, with those in their forties marking the transition demographic. This makes sense. I have never known a UK that wasn’t in Europe, yet they remember us joining it.
I read of some Vote Leavers wanting to make Britain great again. As well as sounding horribly like a Donald Trump slogan, I never understand when exactly are they referring to. Comments such as ‘We used to do fine by ourselves’ are common – except we didn’t. The UK begged to join the Common Market in the sixties, but were rebuffed – finally managing to do so in the seventies. The post-WW2 boom was well and truly over, and we needed Europe. My older brother remembers playing in bombed out derelict ruins in sixties London. As a country, we were broke – and a little broken.
How have the older generation forgotten this?
My parents – now in their late seventies – occasionally still surprise me. I was prepared for an awkward dining table conversation about the referendum, when they both stated they are for Remain. More than that, my mother was angry that the older generation (i.e. her generation) were being so selfish and voting out when younger generations overwhelmingly want to remain.
It’s easy for me to be pro-EU when I perceive the issue as being driven by anti-immigrant sentiment. While I am British, my parents were post-WW2 immigrants. My wife is also an immigrant, and my daughter is a foreign born dual nationality citizen. Beyond that, the simple fact is this – without the EU, my wife’s EU passport, and her right to live and work in this country because of it – my family would not exist.
A small example of the benefits of this mixing of peoples from being in the EU is The Grufallo – the much beloved children’s book and all the other collaborations between writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler would not exist were it not for the EU. Counterpoint that with UKIP’s poster, implying that hordes of brown people are poised to swamp our tiny island because we are in the EU.
The other issue I have with Vote Leave is this – the men driving it all have something to gain: Power. Taking a racist or anti-immigrant stance (whether you believe it or are simply a political opportunist) has a long and horrific history of being a sure way to gain power – so long as the message can be made palatable. Vote Leave have been achieving this until now. I hope the UKIP ‘Breaking Point’ poster may prove to be the breaking point in this appearing acceptable.
I know which side I am on, and I am increasingly horrified about which way the vote could go. This is not a general election which can be overturned in 4 years time, or tempered by popular opinion or our own unelected representatives. This is a Yes/No decision that will impact us for generations to come.
So I am not saying you are a bigot, racist, or xenophobe if you want to leave the EU. The argument that has been presented is a compelling one. But I am saying you’re allying yourself with a campaign driven by those who are.
And if they win – as far as I’m concerned – we all lose.