Making sense of the UK's EU referendum
The full guide to the UK referendum on EU membership can be downloaded here.
With only a day left until the EU referendum, it’s more important than ever to be well-informed. Therefore, we have put together an easy-to-read overview of the major issues at stake. We have looked through both pro-Remain and pro-Brexit arguments in newspapers, expert opinions and political statements and digested them for your convenience. Given our belief that the state should look after its people, particularly ordinary citizens, we have tried to look at the debate by keeping in mind what would be in the best interests of the common man.
It has become hard to distinguish fact from fiction, particularly on the Leave side, which has been promoting anti-intellectualism, even conspiracy theories of EU-funded, elite-run institutions conspiring to try keep the UK in the EU. This makes it hard to inform people, particularly those working class people who may have the most to lose from a Brexit. So big is the distrust now that almost half of leave voters think that the referendum results will be rigged against them.
Although people would not hesitate trusting their doctor’s treatment suggestions when ill, a fomenting a very deep mistrust of “experts”, as evidenced by Gove’s “British citizens have had enough of experts” has been a centrepiece of the leave campaign. This anger directed towards the elites, ironically fomented by the elite Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, is impeding any sound judgment of facts.
Immigration has been, by far, the main issue used for drumming up Vote Leave support, which has fomented fears of the country being overrun by asylum seekers, benefit scroungers and even terrorists. Vote leave have successfully managed first to inflame a fear of migrants and second to hold the UK’s membership of the EU responsible for this “loss of control” with slogans such as “take back control of your country” adding fuel to the fire.
However, it would be also dangerous and unfair to completely dismiss people’s doubts about UK’s EU membership, as such attitudes only help further fuel the distrust of what appear to be out-of-touch elites. If average UK citizens do not believe that they are benefitting from EU membership, that is a serious problem and the fault lies primarily with UK governments. They have done little to fight rising inequality and have been every ready to blame domestic problems on “Brussels”, with little effort to inform citizens about the positive contributions of the EU.
Those left behind are angry, with working classes in disadvantaged areas misplacing the blame on immigrants and often being misled by politicians themselves. The UK’s apparent low unemployment figures obscure the fact that it is the number of self-employed people, often doing precarious, low productivity, low paid work that is rising.
Arguments that leaving the EU will slow growth, trigger a recession, endanger pensions, lead to budget cuts and hurt the NHS, have been branded “project fear” by the Vote Leave camp. While most of these claims from the Remain camp are actually substantiated by facts, some may have gone too far even claiming that a Brexit will bring about the destruction of Western political civilisation.
After months of following the EU referendum debate, it is still hard to identify concrete gains for the average citizen from leaving the EU. The UK will be unable to change its geographic location, so it will remain exposed to the fortunes of Europe and the EU. Having access to and fora for interactions with other European governments has been an asset for the UK and its influence abroad.
We believe that the arguments given by those who support leaving the EU do not withstand scrutiny. They show major cognitive dissonance, painting the UK as weak and bullied by the EU while at the same time strong and influential if it were to leave. It is hard to believe that EU membership is changing the UK’s abilities and character to such a great extent.
Worryingly for the UK citizens, Vote Leave campaign has also used tactics similar to the ones used by Donald Trump, the US presidential candidate –outright lies, conspiracy theories and misinformation among the public in order to create catch-phrases that resonate with those feeling left behind. This is a dangerous path for the UK, as it impoverishes the political debate and renders rational deliberation very difficult.
On the day of the referendum it is important to remember that the EU has been instrumental for efforts to abolish mobile roaming costs, it has improved the working conditions of workers, access to European healthcare services and freedom to travel and work across the EU. It has also been key for protecting the environment, animal welfare and has adopted strongest wildlife protection in the world. While the EU does have its problems and does need reform, it would be in the UK’s national interest to stay in the EU to both influence and drive reform efforts. The UK’s voice has already been heard by the EU, with the European Council President Donald Tusk agreeing that the EU needs to have a “long, hard look” at itself. Leaving the EU will not “teach the elites a lesson” as Brexiteers hope. Instead, it will deepen political divisions in UK society and put the economy at risk.
It is important to think ahead. If the young want to stay in the EU, so it would be the responsible thing to have a long, hard look at what would be in the best interests of the average UK citizen in a few years’ time. We believe that in a globalised world in the 21st century it is in everybody’s interest, especially that of future generations', to be citizens of the UK, citizens of the EU and citizens of the world. Those who think parochially will undoubtedly get left behind.
We will be voting Remain, as should all of you.
Linda Zeilina is Special Advisor to the Managing Director