In tomorrow’s referendum, I’m planning on voting remain.
Economically the argument is pretty much over. In the short-to-medium term, leaving the EU would be damaging to Britain’s economy. The only uncertainty is how bad. In the long term it’s harder to say. Nobody really knows.
I am not interested in arguments about some spurious notion of ‘sovereignty’. Even outside the EU, we are party to hundreds of treaties and international agreements. The idea that Britain must be governed exclusively by Britons, and that foreigners will inevitably be working against our interests is nonsense.
I have not been swayed by arguments about democracy. There are ways in which the EU could be more democratic, and I would like to see some reform in these areas, but the same is true of the UK; in some ways the EU is more democratic than Britain is.
I am concerned that entrenched corporate interests are too powerful in the EU, and that it is being used to impose neo-liberal economic policies on poorer countries, to their detriment. But I am far from convinced that leaving would help Britain in that respect; not with the political landscape as it currently stands. I have even seen it argued that this is our fault, that Britain is one of the worst influences pulling the EU away from Social Democracy and more towards corporate cronyism. Indeed, the most compelling argument I have yet heard in favour of leaving is that we are a toxic influence on Europe, and that they would be better off without us. But I am not fully convinced by this argument either. Germany has been very influential in protecting its banking interests at the expense of Southern Europe and I don’t see that Britain leaving would change that.
Leaving the EU would be very damaging to the sector in which I work. Research and academia benefit hugely both from EU funding and from the free movement of people that makes international collaboration far easier. My job (which I value for purely selfish reasons) and the good work of the people I work with (which I value because they are of benefit to humanity) would both be threatened by leaving the EU.
Migration is a complicated subject. But it’s worth noting that although EU citizens are free to live and work in Britain as they please, nobody else is guaranteed that right and yet despite it being entirely within their legal power to do so, successive governments have not cut non-EU migration to the tiny trickle that they so often promise. There are good reasons for this, both economic and ethical. But the point is that leaving the EU wouldn’t be an effective way to cut immigration even if that were a desirable goal. We can cut immigration anyway, we just don’t, because it isn’t necessarily a good idea.
As for EU migrants, I look down my friends list on Facebook and as well as lots of English people and various other Britons, I also see people from 21 other EU-member countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden. Now we could quibble over the distinction between ‘friends’ on Facebook and actual friendships. I will admit that I don’t know all of those people all that well. But still, they are all people that I have some contact with and whom I like, and many of them I would never have met were it not for free movement of people within Europe.
Conversely, when I consider the list of people I consider to be utter shits, I could name quite a few Britons.
I love Britain and I love England. This country is my home, its culture is the one in which I grew up and there are many things about our national character that I adore. We still have much to offer the world. But for me that love for my country does not imply any kind of Great British Exceptionalism. We are no longer a great power on the world stage, and I do not think we should seek to be again. If we are to have any influence in the world it will be through cooperation with our peers. And our peers are not China or the USA. They are Germany and France, Spain and Italy. And, as their economies grow faster than ours, Eastern European countries like Poland are not far behind.
Britain is not a special case. We do not have a monopoly on greatness. Our crumbling union cannot stand alone, nor should it seek to. If we are to be truly great, it must be as part of something greater.
We are currently one of the richest and most powerful countries in Europe. We can be a key part of the second-largest economy in the world. Or we can be an increasingly irrelevant backwater, an impotent satellite of both the USA and of the Europe we turned our back on.
The EU as it stands is not perfect. It needs reform in several areas. But it is not irredeemable, and to abandon it because of some misguided notion of British Exceptionalism, or as a protest against a perceived elite (note how the leave campaign is led by members of the establishment just as much as remain is, unless you think that Boris Johnson’s amiable buffoonish persona somehow exempts him from being a part of the ruling class, or that Nigel Farage is really a maverick outsider and not just a twat) would be a foolish move.
I won’t deny that my position is, when all is said and done, largely instinctive and aesthetic. I want to be on the side of remain because being a part of a united Europe appeals to my internationalist sensibilities. But even if I recognise that fact and try to look at the arguments and consider things impartially and pragmatically, I still come down on the side of remain, albeit with some reservations. My heart says stay, but my head says stay as well.
Count me in.