I wrote this article to note and clarify my understanding of the main issues in the Leave – Remain debate.
I voted Remain but as time went by I’m now a Leaver. I found it useful to place the reasons for Leave or Remain into three domains. The domains are Economic, Sovereignty and Democracy. Domain selection has no expert rational; it is my convenient method for articulating a few key aspects of the case for Leave or Remain. The domains are not nuanced, though there is overlap.
Remain or Leave: the game is not over. Noting that the EU referendum in May 2016 resulted in a marginal result for Leave, the debate continues across a wide front. MPs will have their say once the negotiations are settled with the EU towards the end of this year. Polls, while fluctuating, do not indicate a significant change in voting intentions from the 2016 result. Yet indications are that when MPs express a view on the final agreement, they might well vote to Remain against the referendum result.
As far as I can make out, among the principal cases for the Remain domain, is the economy. Within this, more column inches are given over to the perils of the UK economy, should we leave the EU. There are though economists (economists for Free Trade) who make the case for Leave. Economists on both sides of the debate – because at present that is what it is, a debate – use economic data to guide their interpretations, leading to forecasts and consequences. Some forecasts, whether for or against remaining in the EU, but especially those making the case for remaining often do so with timeline projections up to 15 years – some shorter, some longer. The case is made, so it is assumed, with the finest available statistics and peer review, to inform the conclusions veracity.
The sovereignty case for Leave is one of the UK, or frequently sloppily called England’s Westminster, parliamentary system, being unadulterated at all cost. Mantras such as ‘Take back control’, and ‘Let’s protect our sovereignty’ are shibboleths coupled with negative views of ‘Brussels’. The issue of an overly bureaucratic administration is linked with an obsession of ‘Brussels democracy’, or lack of.
Venomous comments are reserved for the European Commission (EC is the civil service of the EU). The ‘Brussels’ gravy train’ may be muttered. Issues of naming our MEP and let alone knowing how to contact one, only adds to a feeling of democratic distance, if not haplessness in attempting to influence EC and EU decisions (a popular pub question in recent times is ‘Name the four MEPs representing Wales?’). This is a far cry from the ease of access to Welsh Government AC/AMs and our Westminster MPs. The attractions of a familiar parliamentary democracy in the UK feeds a pejorative view of EC bureaucracy, which perhaps, had an influence on those with an inclination to vote Leave. Geographical and psychological distance may readily sully one’s view of the EU and sooner or later the opinion may become an entrenched prejudice.
It might well be that cases in the popular press of a lack of transparency in EU policy decisions and EC civil service appointments, may foster a feeling that the EU, and the EC in particular, are self-serving and not accountable as directly as political representation in the UK. There is a persistent myth (reliably recycled every year by some UK newspapers) that the European Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the EU’s accounts, but this is false, in fact they have been found to be error-free. But the perpetual myth does little to reassure those in the sovereignty domain that our taxes are being managed judiciously.
Lastly, to those in the Democracy domain, of which I am one. The UK’s democratic system, for all its flaws, especially the pressing need for fairer systems of representation, is noted for its unwritten constitution; it has served us well for generations and seen off the threat of existential forces, both internal and external. Our enduring (often unconsciously) emotional attachment to our various forms of devolved democracy – if not quirky on times, especially to foreigners – is one that suits a characterisation of who we are. We are people who greatly value free speech, with all its exceptions and of speaking our minds with measured impunity, and being responsible, should we wish, for engaging in a participative democracy.
Our democracy with its endearing features and odd procedures and processes, including, paradoxically the non-elected House of Lords, is a form of Nation State Management, that has promoted and embraced the plurality (not always of course) of respective country administrations that we would readily lose, at our peril, if we were to Remain.
Implicitly we cherish our democracy. It is both robust and flaky, constantly attempting to facilitate an innovative economy, promotion of creative and traditional arts, manufacturing product design, efficient retailing, contemporary, historic and traditional cultures and our never ending direct pursuance of fairness. This is what, I believe, many in the UK, while maybe be without substance in some cases, are fearful of losing by remaining in the EU. Strong political forces for greater integration amongst some EU Member States will only reinforce Leave voters to stay Leave voters.
Finally, there is a paradox in changing my mind from Remain to Leave. The more I learned of the opinions of expert economists with their forecasts on the negative consequences of Leave, the more I became concerned that the powerful economic case for Remain would subjugate the essence of our democracy in Wales and Westminster. Therefore, in this light I will settle for the evolution of our liberal democracy, chancing my arm with Leave economists.
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