Tomorrow (Thursday 23 June) the (Dis)united Kingdom is holding a referendum to decide whether its four constituent countries should stay as members of the European Union or not. The fact that I refer to the “United” Kingdom as the “Disunited” Kingdom may suggest that I want out of the European Union. But, I don’t.
I think Wales benefits hugely from being a member of the European Union (EU). At the moment, Wales cannot make the decision about our membership on our own, it is decided at a (D)UK level, which means England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all pooled together. So, it may be the case that Wales (and Scotland) decide they want to stay in the EU, but the overall DUK vote is “out” because most of the DUK’s population is based in England.
I am not sure what the reaction to such a scenario would be in Wales, but I am fairly sure that in Scotland it would trigger another referendum for independence. In September 2014 you may remember that Scotland held a referendum to decide whether they wanted to leave the United Kingdom. The “no to independence” won by 55% to 45%; but it is widely thought that a vote to leave the EU when Scotland are overwhelmingly in favour of membership of the EU would trigger another referendum for independence from London. Personally, I would love to see both Scotland and Wales gain independence from London, but I would prefer that not to happen because the DUK votes to leave to EU.Scotland is not only far more independently minded than Wales, it is also more pro-EU. I think Wales is more pro-EU than England, but not by as much as I would like. Which surprises me, because Wales benefits hugely from being a member of the EU. We are too small a country to do a lot of things on our own, and working at a European level to deal with big issues is just the kind of Europe in which I want to live. Wales also receives more back from the EU than we pay into it; EU grants have helped rebuild the ruin caused to Wales by 11 years of Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister.
There have been a huge number of lies and misinformation during this referendum campaign, but one of the things I wanted to take issue with is the lie about how our lives in the DUK are now governed by “unelected officials in Brussels”. First, let me say something about the system of government in the DUK for those not living here who don’t know how it works.
The general election, which was held in May of last year (2015), saw the Conservative party win an overall majority in the House of Commons, even though they only got something like 20% of the popular vote. That is because of the “first past the post” system that is used in British general elections. Even though 80% of the adult population didn’t vote for them, they can pass any laws they wish to in the House of Commons because they have more seats than the rest of the parties put together.
Secondly, the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, has some 800-odd members, not a single one of whom is elected! The House of Lords has law-making and law-modifying powers. True, there is the “Parliament Act”, which allows the House of Commons to rail-road something through even if the House of Lords opposes it, but the point I am trying to make is that the so-called “home of democracy” (Britain/England) is one of the most undemocratic countries in Europe!
And, this lie that laws are made by un-elected officials in Brussels really bothers me. Who votes for these EU laws? The European Parliament, that is who.
They are elected by member states of the EU. Ironically, in the DUK, the EU elections are done by proportional representation, far more democratic than the first-past-the-post system used for the London government. Yes, the laws may be proposed by “unelected mandarins” in Brussels, but most of the laws brought before the British Parliament are proposed by unelected mandarins in Westminster – the civil service.
If a majority of the EU’s parliament pass a proposed law, each country’s representative (usually the leader of that country’s government) makes the final “ok” about that law. It is a far more democratic system than we have in Britain. So, the argument that we are ruled by un-elected officials in Brussels is just a lie, and does not stand up to any level of scrutiny.
It is possible that the main issue on which people will decide how to vote is immigration. Some people feel that the DUK is drowning under a tide of immigrants. Let me again explain some things to readers who do not live in Europe, or do not know how the EU and Britain’s immigration works. The EU has the principle of free movement of people. So, any one in any member state can go and live and work in any other member state. The only restriction on this, as far as I am aware, is that you may not be able to claim welfare benefits from a country which is not your own, and you may not be allowed such free movement if you have a criminal record. Britain is not in the Shengen zone, so even EU citizens coming into the DUK must show a passport upon entry. Thus, they can be refused entry if there is a legitimate reason to refuse it.
There was a man on BBC Radio this morning who was saying something which has been shown time after time to be true – Eastern Europeans are prepared to work much harder than “British” people. If it were not for these hard-working people, a lot of the menial jobs in Britain would not get done. The British economy depends on such hard-working people, be they from Eastern Europe or beyond the EU; and if these people were not here who knows who would pick fruit and clean office buildings and work in fast food restaurants, because “British” people largely shun such jobs.
Also, more than 50% of the immigrants to Britain come from beyond the EU. The DUK Government has complete control over who it allows in from outside the EU. So, to think that leaving the EU will somehow stop the “tide” of people coming to work and/or study in the DUK is a fallacy.
Study after study has shown that immigrants, be they from within our beyond the EU, are a boon to our economy. They add far more to the British economy than they take. The DUK’s economy would suffer if these immigrants were not allowed to come here.
As of my writing this, the polls are neck and neck; within the margin of error there is nothing to choose between the “remain” and the “leave” camps. I sincerely hope the undecided will realise what a massive error it would be for the countries of the Disunited Kingdom to turn their backs on Europe. We should be working with our European neighbours for a better, safer and more prosperous Europe. Not throwing our toys out of the pram just because the EU is not perfect.
Of course it’s not perfect, but it is far more democratic than the Houses of Parliament are! And, by staying in it we can help improve the EU so that more of its citizens (all 508 million) feel that it is a model for how to cooperate internationally.