Robert Milne joined the Ecology Party in 1979, graduated in soil science in 2006, and published a book on organic vegetable gardening in 2010. He campaigns for food gardening to be brought into the school curriculum, and as you’ll see, has strong views on Brexit. This is an updated version of the paper we published in April 2018.
1 Who was qualified to vote?
There are thousands of pieces of legislation that EU member states are subject to. Deciding whether to remain in or leave the EU was a very big and complex issue. Surely, one needs to be familiar with most of that legislation in order to be in a position to decide. Perhaps, to qualify for a vote, one should have had to attend a year’s evening classes on the subject.
One of the points about having elected members of parliament is, I suggest, that it should be part of their job to be better informed than the average voter on matters about which they have to decide. One hopes, also, that they are above average in intelligence and wisdom.
In every walk of life – law, medicine, teaching, hairdressing, child care – people undergo training and gain qualifications. Yet when it came to the immensely complex and affect-everyone issue of whether to remain in or leave the EU, the Government was content to leave the decision to people who had had no training in the subject and whose knowledge of it was not tested. Arguably, none of us was sufficiently well informed to make a decision on membership of the EU. However, there are some basic principles that can be applied to help us come to a decision.
It seems to me to be an act of faith rather than logical to assume that a majority of those who vote in a referendum will make a decision that is in the best interest of the nation as a whole or even in their own best interest. For most of the First World War most of the population supported the continuation of that senseless carnage. If there were a referendum on free beer I dare say there would be a majority for that. Unless BBC Radio 4 was highly selective in whom it chose to interview in the weeks and months following the referendum, it was apparent from interviews with Leave voters that they voted Leave on the basis of a tiny amount of very one-sided information, a couple of simplistic slogans, and much wishful thinking. For many years before the referendum most national newspapers’ coverage of the EU was negative. It is not surprising that so many people still think the EU is bad for Britain. So much so that many supporters of Brexit give the impression that, for them, the EU is a tyrannical monster that we must distance ourselves from, no matter what the cost. Twenty seven other nations don’t think that. How is it so different for us?
It is not known how well informed voters were about all the complexities of the EU, how much they understood, to what extent they were misinformed, or how altruistic and objective each voter was in coming to a decision. There was much anecdotal evidence to suggest that many who voted Leave did not really want Brexit and thought Remain would win, anyway, but they merely wished to make a protest vote against David Cameron’s government or, mistakenly, the EU (see below).
In 2012 David Cameron commissioned a Review of the Balance of Competences between the EU and the UK. He expected it would reveal that the EU’s legal powers were excessive, justifying a renegotiation of EU treaties. However, the review found that the EU served Britain well, and British businesses were satisfied with it. The review was not publicised. Even during the referendum campaign it was not used. Instead, each household was sent a leaflet containing a mere handful of weak arguments for remaining in the EU. The electorate voted with a tragic lack of information with which to come to a decision. The grievances that led many to vote Leave were the result of failings of successive UK governments, Conservative and Labour, not the EU – Leave voters hit the wrong target.
It was one thing to have a referendum but quite another to act on the result, especially as the majority was small. Briefing paper 07212, published on 3 June 2015 and sent to MPs and members of the House of Lords, stated that the referendum would be advisory only, and not binding. To say, ‘The people have voted to leave the EU’ or ‘It is the will of the British People’ implies that everyone, adults and children, expressed a wish to leave the EU. That was not so. It was 17.4 million, between a quarter and a third of ‘the people’. (The UK population in 2016 was 65 million.) Only 38% of the electorate voted for Leave. Of the 12.9 million who did not vote, two thirds would have voted Remain (Ipsos/Newsnight poll, 29.6.16). If the whole electorate (46.5 million) had voted, the result would have been: Remain, 24.7 million, Leave, 21.7 million. The difference would have been greater if we take into account the unknown number of Leave voters who really wanted the UK to remain in the EU and were confident that Remain would win (the protest vote). I cannot imagine there were any, or many, who voted Remain but who really supported Leave.
I acknowledge that, initially, I discredited the Leave vote on the grounds that a majority decision is not necessarily in the best interest of the country but then made the case for Remain on the grounds that a majority of the electorate actually supported Remain. The point is, whether Remain or Leave is in the best interest of the country, regardless of how many voted for each.
Directly after the referendum there were two reports on Radio 4 News that there were higher than usual turn-outs in polling districts which, previously, always had low turn-outs for elections. Compared with the turnout in the 2015 general election the turnout for the referendum amongst those with a great deal of interest in politics increased by 1%, but amongst those with not much interest the increase was 11%, and amongst those with no interest in politics the increase was 13% (British Social Attitudes 34/The Vote to Leave the EU). Is it likely that voters who previously did not take part in the democratic process were, all along, experts on the EU and came to well- informed, deeply considered, altruistic and objective decisions?
1) A majority decision is not necessarily the best decision.
2) The referendum result was not a majority decision – of the whole electorate.
3) If the whole electorate had voted, for what they really wanted, Remain would have won.
4) In many countries, for such an important decision with such long-term consequences, a 60–40 vote or even two thirds majority would have been required or, more than 50% of the electorate.
5) As far as Parliament was concerned, the referendum was only advisory, not binding.
6) Three quarters of MPs voted Remain. (Remain 480, Leave 159, undeclared 11).
7) The electorate were asked to vote with nowhere near enough information on all the implications and consequences of leaving the EU and, particularly, in my view, over-simplistic and mis- leading information from the Leave side.
8) By the time we are due to leave the EU nearly 2 million young people, 82% of whom support Remain, will have joined the electorate. A proportion of over-70s, who mostly voted Leave, will have died. It seems unjust that those who will live the longest with the consequences of Brexit have had no say in the matter whereas those who have died since the referendum have.
9) Opinion polls now show that over 50% are in favour of remaining in the EU.
10) It is more important what people think and want now, with more knowledge of what Brexit will mean, than what they thought over two and a half years ago when much less was known.
Conclusions: 1) There is no mandate for Brexit. 2) It would be unjust for the EU to allow Brexit.
2 Fear of riots
Since the referendum I have had the distinct impression that if the Government were to change its mind about Brexit, or hold another referendum in which Remain won, there would be rioting in the streets, and that Government fears this would happen. Indeed, shortly after the referendum Nigel Farage hinted that this could happen. Later, a peer, perhaps with tongue in cheek, said that we would have to take to the streets and start breaking things. Fifteen Conservative MPs (the Brexit mutineers’) were named and pictured in The Telegraph (15th November 2017) for threatening to vote with Labour to prevent the date of Brexit being enshrined in law. This resulted in 11 of them receiving threats of violence. Note: Remainers have not taken to the streets and broken things, and I have heard no reports of Brexiteers being threatened with violence. On 12 Jan 2019 Transport Secretary Chris Grayling warned that failing to go through with Brexit would lead to more extreme politics in Britain. Is he implying that Brexit must be allowed to happen to prevent violence from the mob? 38% of the electorate voted Leave. They are not all potential violent rioters. I would guess a minority are. So, is this very important decision, affecting all of us, to be dictated by a minority of a minority? Is that now the Government’s policy?
For the Prime Minister to say that to have another referendum would be a betrayal of those who voted Leave and that, therefore, there should be no second referendum, is illogical. Suppose Tony Blair had said, in 2006, that to have another general election would be a betrayal of those who had voted Labour in 2005. Would Theresa May have been happy for there to be a perpetual Labour government? Fortunately, voters change their minds. I can only assume that the reason for Leave supporters objecting to another referendum is that they fear Remain would win. If a majority of the electorate do now support Remain it must be right, and democratic, for that majority view to be expressed. How can it be a betrayal of democracy to have more democracy?
Some say that a referendum is different from a general election – a rare, once in a generation thing. Exactly; it is because the consequences will be so enormous and for an indefinite period that it was so important the referendum was run fairly. The pre-referendum information was totally inadequate. Remain voters had some idea about what they were voting for but it was only in mid November 2018 that some details were revealed of what Brexit will mean, and that was only a draft, subject to change or not being implemented at all. Voting Leave back in 2016 was like buying a pig in a poke.
If another referendum does result in a majority Remain vote I fear that rioting is very likely, but if Brexit goes ahead I believe there is also a likelihood of rioting in the streets – eventually, as things go from bad to worse and Leave voters realise they were misled, to put it politely. Also, I cannot help wondering if some Leave-supporting politicians have changed their minds but have not declared that out of fear for their own safety and that of their families.
3 One simple reason for staying in the EU
Geographically, historically and culturally Britain is part of Europe. Europe has a club, therefore Britain should be a member. This alone is reason enough to remain in the EU. Yes, there is much that needs to be reformed in the EU but the answer is not to walk away, like a petulant child saying, ‘I’m not playing any more!’ The grown-up thing to do is to stay in there and try to change things through reasoned, logical arguments.
When the UK joined the then Common Market in 1973, how the system worked and what it did should have been brought into the school curriculum as a subject – European Studies. By 2016 most of the electorate would have been knowledgeable enough to make an objective decision about EU membership.
4 Mutual benefit of membership
The EU was set up for the benefit of its members. Why would any nation want to be a member if that were not so? It should be obvious to anyone, therefore, that if one member decides to leave, at least with respect to the EU, that ex-member country will be worse off than when it was a member. A number of EU politicians have said that this is what will happen. Britain is a major economy and a net contributor, but I believe those are not the only reasons other members want us to stay. The impression I have is that other EU members think we have made a foolish decision; they are dismayed and perhaps feel somewhat offended. Yes, of course, the prime minister will get the best possible deal, but the best possible deal can only be worse than the present one. The prime minister can still truthfully say that she got the best possible deal. The last two sentences were written in March 2017 and were, in November 2018, proved to be true.
5 Wishful thinking
Could a worse deal, with respect to the EU, be compensated for by advantageous deals with non-EU countries? Oh dear, it seems to me that we will be in a weak position because all non-EU countries will know that we will be rather desperate. Of course plenty of countries will be keen to negotiate deals, but to their advantage. Sir Martin Donnelly (former Permanent Secretary at the Dept for International Trade) said on BBC Radio 4 on 27 Feb 2018, ‘Brexit is like swapping a three course meal . . . for the promise of a packet of crisps.’
In a pre-referendum speech in support of Remain (April 2016) Theresa May said, “We export more to Ireland than to China, twice as much to Belgium as to India, and nearly three times as much to Sweden as to Brazil. It is not realistic to think we could replace European trade with these new markets.”
Brexiteers make much of sovereignty and taking back control but, post Brexit, we are likely to have less sovereignty and control as more powerful economies dictate their terms and lesser economies compete with lower environmental standards, workers’ rights and wages. In the EU we are not dictated to by unelected bureaucrats in the European Commission. The Commission drafts proposals but it is the Council of Ministers and the elected European Parliament that votes on the proposals. Between 2009 and 2015 the UK was on the winning side in 87 per cent of votes.
To hear some Brexiteers speak you would think we are still in the 18th century, when we swaggered around the world dictating trade terms, often to the ruin of traditional and well-established industries (steel in India, for example) and the disruption of the social order in many countries. The trading arrangements that the UK currently has, as a member of the EU, with non-EU countries, will no longer apply. We will have to re-negotiate deals with each country separately. This will be time-consuming (years) and costly, and the deals we eventually get are likely to be worse than at present. It is absurd to think the UK could get better, or even as good, trade deals with non EU countries than the EU has managed to achieve as a 28 nation bloc. The wildebeest that leaves the herd gets eaten by lions.
Through the EU the UK has access to 759 deals: 295 on trade, 202 on regulatory co-operation, 69 on fisheries, 65 on transport, 49 on customs, 45 on nuclear fuel, parts and know-how, and 34 on agriculture and food. There are also UN and WTO arrangements. (Financial Times)
As for the £350 million per week Brexit dividend – it would be laughable if it were not so serious. Such a simple calculation would only be relevant if nothing else changes, but everything else will change: trade with the EU and trade outside the EU. What is relevant, therefore, are the very complicated calculations of the over all benefit, or otherwise, taking into account all the changes in trading arrangements and the trade that actually results from them. Yes, we will save £350 m (£156 m in net terms) but, according to calculations by the Office for Budget Responsibility, even assuming a smooth Brexit, an orderly transition and a good future trading deal, the UK could soon be about £1.5 billion a week worse off. The growth we have already lost, since the referendum, amounts to more than £750 million a week.
6 Moral compromises and lowering of standards
Does Brexit mean we will have to accept even more goods from the Far East, undermining still further our manufacturing sector? In 2016 I searched for British-made light bulbs. I could not find any – it seems they are all made in China. Will Brexit lead to greater dependence on Chinese investment in the UK, resulting in the Government being even less likely to speak out against, for example, the 69-year-long brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet and the harsh ‘re-education’ of Uyghurs in Xinjiang? I foresee increasing moral compromises as we become dependent on trade with countries with corrupt and unsavoury regimes. Our trade will, therefore, be helping to prop upthose regimes. This process has already begun, with Theresa May’s visit to China in January 2018 and the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s visit in July. After Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in 1990 the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, did not visit Iraq to negotiate trade deals. Ashish Chauhan, head of the Bombay stock exchange, said in The Telegraph on 7 March 2018 that Britain should be wary of rushing into quick trade deals with non democracies, for example China.
It has been said that many people voted Leave out of disillusionment with politics, generally, and a feeling of being left behind in a globalised world. Were these the same people who, for the previous 50 years, chose to buy cheap goods made in China rather than (I would argue, better quality and better value) British-made items, thus putting out of business a big proportion of our manufacturing sector and destroying jobs in this country? For too long too many people have wanted high wages and cheap goods. The advertising industry and retailers are also responsible for the obsession with price, but British manufacturers have not promoted themselves well enough, in my view.
Britain and Europe have high environmental and worker protection regulations compared with the rest of the world. Post-Brexit I foresee, as part of trade deals, our having to accept imports of goods manufactured to lower standards and also, having to lower our standards in order to compete. It will be the aforementioned disillusioned Leave voters who are likely to lose out most. The rich will always find ways to prosper whatever the political and trading situation. (See badboysofbrexit.com). I think if Leave voters were to read about the ‘bad boys’ they would realise they have been misled, and many would change their minds about Brexit. The ‘bad boys’ do not like EU regulations that protect labour and the environment. Three times I have heard Jacob Rees-Mogg claim that, post Brexit, food and clothing will be cheaper. Possibly, but at what cost? More imports from sweat- shops undercutting what’s left of the UK garment industry, and food produced to lower environmental, workers’ rights and animal welfare standards undercutting UK farmers and food producers. The moral and environmental considerations are reasons enough to remain in the EU.
I suggest to supporters of Leave that they ask themselves what they have in common with Arron Banks, Matthew Elliott, Lord Guthrie, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, etc. Do they really think that these people are motivated by a concern for ordinary working people and are acting on their behalf?
7 Climate change implications
The EU, apart from the UK, is a ready-made bloc of 27 nations, with mostly similarly developed industrial economies. As a bloc they are nearer than Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australia/New Zealand. In other words, the rest of the EU is nearer than the rest of the world. In my view, climate change is a bigger threat to humanity than anything else (short of all-out nuclear war). If we must indulge in trade it should be, mainly, with our nearest neighbours and minimised with everyone else. Leaving the EU and increasing trade elsewhere means more carbon emissions and a boost to global warming. This point, alone, is reason enough to stay in the EU.
Over a hundred cargo ships are lost at sea every year. 80% of world trade goes by sea. More world trade will result in a proportionate increase in lost ships, lost lives and more people (crews) spending months away from their families, with all the social problems that must cause. More world trade also means more opportunities for plant and animal diseases to be moved around the world, and more disruption of sound communication between whales and between other creatures. Brexiteers never mention these consequences of trade.
Politicians seem obsessed with increasing exports (=carbon emissions). Exporting provides foreign currency which we then spend on imports (more carbon emissions). Consider, instead, concentrating on reducing imports by making more stuff ourselves; result, a reduction in imports (reduced carbon emissions) and reduced need for exports to pay for them (more reduction in carbon emissions). Win-win!
On 8 October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most urgent warning, yet, about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve the necessary reductions will require radical change in governments’ policies as well as in everyone’s personal lifestyle choices. What was the response from the UK government? I heard nothing. If you support Brexit it must mean you are also in favour of increasing global warming rather than trying to reduce it.
8 Long-term connections with Europe
During the last two thousand years we have had more contact (often violent) with Europe than with any other part of the world. Although there are delightful differences between European nations, we do share a great deal in common, culturally. I do not believe we have a similar level of understanding with Asian countries, for example. It seems foolish to distance ourselves from familiar neighbours in the hope of better arrangements with less familiar and more distant countries. Yes, there is the Commonwealth, where there is much mutual understanding, but there is the distance/carbon emissions problem with these countries, and they have moved on and made other trading arrangements since Britain joined the Common Market. They have not been sitting there for 46 years waiting to give us back favourable trade deals. Regarding the United States, as long as President Trump is in office, no country outside the US is going to get any free lunches from there. Perhaps the ‘America first’ policy will continue post-Trump. I would say we have more in common with Europe than with the US.
The EU is more than a trade organisation. It is the ‘more’ that many people object to, of course. We should stay in so that we can help determine how the ‘more’ develops. If we are out, not only will we have all the trade disadvantages of being out but the ‘more’ – closer co-operation politically, economically, militarily and culturally – is likely to develop in ways that take little consideration of Britain’s interests.
For more than a thousand years European nations fought each other. At last, after two terrible wars in the 20th century, we seem to have achieved a lasting peace, not least as a result of the creation of the Common Market. In a dangerous world with rising, potentially threatening, powers, a closer union is a good thing. We walk away from all that at our peril. Better the imperfect certainties of the EU than the unknowns of being outside. When I think of all the trouble we went through to get into the Common Market, it does seem foolish to be throwing it all away.
I get the impression that 27 nations, and more besides, have been looking on at this long, drawn out but determined process of national self harm with incredulity, unsure whether to laugh or cry. If we do leave the EU I believe that the other 27 nations will feel snubbed by Britain. They might see us as behaving as though we see ourselves as fundamentally different, above being part of the club and, even, superior. However they see us I think it will be in a worse light than before. However much the prime minister expresses the desire for a close and good relationship, the relationship will have been soured. It cannot be the same. We will always be the outsider, the one who no longer wanted to be part of the team, playing by the rules that have been devised for mutual benefit. All this will not be good for the many ways in which we will need to co-operate with EU nations in future. It should give us pause for thought that President Putin endorsed Brexit in his year-end message on 20 December 2018. He would love to see Europe break up and weakened.
Like most people I have not read the full draft Withdrawal Agreement but I have read the seven page, snappily titled OUTLINE OF THE POLITICAL DECLARATION SETTING OUT THE FRAMEWORK FOR THE FUTURE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE UNITED KINGDOM. It is some wish list! It seems to me to be an expression of wanting the benefits of EU membership without actually being a member and paying the subscription.
I have always felt as much European as British. This stems from a life-long love of European (including British) music, art and architecture, travelling in Europe, and working and socialising with people from several European countries. Now I feel embarrassed and ashamed to be British. In my view, Britain has made itself a laughing-stock by voting to leave the EU, and the Government seems determined to confirm that status by acting upon the result of the vote; remember, according to its own ruling on the matter (Briefing Paper 07212) it is not obliged to act on the referendum result.
Britain is no longer the dominant world power it once was. If the UK leaves the EU I can see us being increasingly alienated from our European neighbours, not just symbolically but in myriad practical and functional ways, as the other member states perhaps become more federal but certainly co-operate more in many ways concerning, for example, defence and security, climate change, environmental protection, and large research and manufacturing projects which Britain currently participates in and benefits from.
The Government should have the courage to say that, after much consideration, it has concluded that Brexit would not be in the interests of the United Kingdom, and the Government must fully explain the reasoning behind that decision. Of course, if they were to call a halt to Brexit we will never know what disasters will have been avoided. Leavers will complain they were denied the bright, prosperous future of being outside the EU, and denied ‘taking back control’. This is why it is vital the Government provide comprehensive and objective (i.e. truthful) information behind a decision to reverse the Brexit process and remain in the EU. There will be anger amongst those who voted Leave, they will feel betrayed, there might be rioting in the streets, but a full explanation of why remaining in the EU is in our best interests and why Brexit would be a terrible mistake will help to assuage that anger and might change some minds.
I do not think that being outside the EU will result in our being or allow us to be more powerful in the world, economically, militarily, diplomatically or culturally. On the contrary, I foresee future governments being preoccupied with (saving face and) saving the economy through a lowering of ethical and environmental standards in trading relationships, as already mentioned in the previous two sections.
I believe that immigration was a significant or the main reason that many people voted Leave. When the right of Free Movement of Workers was established in 1957 there were only six member states, six countries of comparable industrial development. I suspect it was not envisaged that workers would move from one state to another by the hundreds of thousands. It was only when eight former east European countries joined in 2004 that people began moving in those larger numbers, from the east to the west.
There are three parties involved in migration: the migrants, the country they come from and the country they move to. What are the effects of migration on each? Presumably, migrants benefit materially. That is their motivation. The effect on their home country, I suggest, is negative, as the country loses mostly young, hard-working people in whom much has been invested through their education and training. How does that help the economic development of those countries? Does emigration, therefore, tend to perpetuate the causes of emigration? Perhaps this was the case but now the economies of former communist east and central European countries are growing faster than most west European economies. This is largely due to EU funding. Perhaps the EU immigration ‘problem’ will resolve itself as workers are attracted back to Eastern Europe.
Opinions vary on the effects of immigration on the host country. There is competition for jobs and housing and pressures on education and healthcare. In some work sectors there is a depressive effect on wage levels. There is also much anecdotal evidence of positive discrimination in favour of immigrant workers: they are perceived to be good workers, less likely to complain and willing to work for lower wages. (They are a self-selected group that tends to have those characteristics). All these things cause resentment amongst the indigenous population.
We are often told that EU migrant workers benefit our economy because they pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits, but there are other things that should be considered. Some immigrants send money home to support family members;* some save as much as they can for a few years then return to their home country to buy a house or start a business; perhaps most buy food imported from their country in greater quantity, per head, than the rest of us do from the countries concerned; many immigrants make annual or more frequent trips to visit their home country. All these represent a net loss to our economy and the last two necessitate fossil fuel-powered transport and, therefore, contribute to global warming.
*An estimated £15 billion is sent out of the UK each year from immigrant workers, EU and non EU.
When climate change really starts to affect us here in Britain, causing problems of food security, I fear it could be immigrants who will be seen as the extra mouths causing the shortages. We should not kid ourselves by assuming that humans have become more civilised or moral over the centuries. There are plenty of examples, from the year dot to the present day and in many countries, of minority/immigrant groups being blamed and victimised when serious problems arise. In the long term, therefore, all three parties could lose out through migration. Or will we be happy to import food from our new trading partners in South America, Africa and India because we can afford to, while some people in those countries starve because they cannot afford to compete, and more natural habitat is destroyed to make land available to grow food for us? Perhaps future food shortages will induce EU migrants to return to their country of origin where there is more land per head on which to grow food. England is now the second most densely populated country in the EU, after The Netherlands and excluding Malta.
In 2018 the unusually hot and dry weather across northern Europe resulted in yields of some crops being reduced by between 15 and 50 per cent. Whether hot, cold, wet or dry, the weather is likely to become more extreme, impacting adversely on the supply of all foods. Currently, the UK imports roughly 40% of its food. It seems irresponsible to allow any immigration. Given global warming, there can be no guarantees that there will always be countries with a surplus of food to export to us. Every country should have at least the aspiration to feed itself. Many countries have allowed their populations to rise way beyond being able to do that.
All things considered, was it ethical or wise to allow immigration since the Second World War? Would more people have benefited by helping countries, where immigrants came from, through more education, training and technology transfer?
We often hear politicians say that Britain needs immigrants to fill vacancies where there are particular skills shortages. This policy is simply unethical. What they are saying, in effect, is that they wish to steal, from mainly poorer countries, the cost of educating and training those workers. I suggest that it is the responsibility of each country to educate and train the workers it needs to run its industries and services. Immigration allows employers to take the short cut of employing foreign-trained workers rather than offering training to those already living here.
One area of labour shortage, where East Europeans fill the gaps, is in vegetable and fruit production and other areas of food processing. Shameful! What’s wrong with British young people that prevents them doing these jobs? I have worked on farms in Norway and Iceland harvesting vegetables with people from various countries. We had more laughs per minute than in any other job I’ve done. Arduous and repetitive though farm work can be, wherever there is a group of young people working together they will always find ways to have a lot of fun at the same time. Probably my experience would have been even more enjoyable if I had been paid and if I had been of a similar age to that of the other workers; I was a volunteer (through WWOOF) and was in my late fifties! Everyone enjoyed being outside, doing useful work, sorting out problems, the camaraderie, and the challenge of occasional ‘weather events’. I can recommend to school leavers to take a gap year, not spending money merely travelling around the world but earning money on UK or any European farms. I would support the return of national service, provided there is a choice of going into the military or working in agriculture, conservation or care.
If the EU were to change the free movement policy and allow member states to cease all further immigration from other member states, it might persuade many Leave voters to support Remain. If the EU insists on the continuation of free movement, and Britain leaves the EU, it might lead to increasing demand in other West European countries to leave the EU, partly for the same reason but also because they will have to share a greater burden of contributions to EU funds to make up for the loss of the contribution from the UK. Although ‘free movement of people’ sounds like an entirely good thing (motherhood and apple pie) is it worth risking the break up of the European Union? It would be reasonable, I suggest, to offer relocation expenses. Only those who wanted to return would take up the grants. Therefore, they would be happy and their home country would benefit from the return of skilled workers with added experience. Pressure on housing and education in the UK would be relieved, and support for hate-motivated, anti immigrant groups would be reduced. At the same time, the Government has to get serious about ensuring that adequate numbers of young people are trained to do the jobs that, currently, they say we need immigrants to do. A simple and easy start could be made by careers advisers recommending to school-leavers that they take a character-building gap year working on fruit and vegetable farms.
In the campaign before the referendum, on BBC Radio 4, for example, the issues covered were very limited and not pursued in sufficient detail and depth. Little was said about pan-European scientific research and EU environmental protection regulations, and not enough said about the many and complex consequences for manufacturing and financial industries. We have seen some negative effects but Brexiteers say it’s not that bad and, anyway, the negatives will be more than compensated for by the great opportunities post-Brexit. We haven’t actually left yet. No one knows exactly what the consequences will be. Already, a number of international banks and insurance companies are moving all or part of their business from London to mainland Europe. Barclays is moving 250 billion euros of business to Dublin. In 2017 funding from the European Investment Fund to UK tech firms fell by 91%.
For months after the referendum I kept thinking, I’m going to wake up soon and find it was all a bad dream. Again, in the latter weeks of 2018 and continuing into 2019, it’s like a bad dream, you really couldn’t make it up – planning for giant lorry parks (just imagine the pollution on calm, cold days, hundreds of idling engines keeping drivers warm, or in summer keeping them cool) stockpiling food, medicine and other stuff; anyone would think there’s a war on. Can’t the Government see how demeaning this is for Britain and how utterly farcical it must seem to others? Still, I suppose we are providing a service – something to laugh at in these gloomy times. I have no wish to sound impolite to anyone but, from the perspective of 150 miles from Westminster, the statements of Brexiteers seem to come from a make-believe world of wishful thinking and are embarrassing to listen to. The situation has progressed from folly to farce.
The whole process is reversible. The former Brexit chief negotiator David Davis said in 2012, ‘A democracy that has lost the right to change its mind has ceased to be a democracy.’ I am very wary about having another referendum, for the reasons outlined in the first section, Who was qualified to vote? I have no confidence that the popular media would provide comprehensive, unbiased information. However, to say that there should not be another referendum is like saying that there was a general election in 2017, we don’t need another one! On 10 Dec. 2018 the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK may revoke Article 50 without the permission of the other 27 nations and also retain its rebate, opt-outs and the pound. This seems to me to be a very generous decision, given all the trouble the UK has caused over the past two and a half years.
The prime minister and other Brexiteers repeatedly state that leaving the EU will allow us to take control of our laws, our borders and our money, but they never provide any examples of ECJ rulings causing serious problems for the UK. If the Government is so keen to ‘control borders’ why haven’t they stopped or substantially reduced non EU immigration? As for the money – we’ll have less of it! Take back control? We never lost it.
The whole Brexit process is a colossal and immoral waste of time: MPs’ time, civil servants’ time, the time of managers in industry and commerce who will have to make changes to the way they operate. It is also a waste of time for politicians, civil servants and managers in each of the other 27 EU countries – and it’s a waste of my time writing and repeatedly updating this article! Parliament, and all of us, should be spending our time dealing with the real problems in the world: climate change, soil degradation, migration and refugee problems. Britain has respected skills in diplomacy. Working with other nations we should be using those skills to try to end the many conflicts that give rise to the terrible suffering of refugees. Brexit is an indulgence, a distraction, the product of greed and outdated, fanciful notions of Britain’s place in the world.
Now that we have more knowledge of the likely consequences of Brexit the Government should have the courage to allow a new debate on the whole issue, in much more detail than was the case before the referendum, and then to allow a free vote by MPs and hold another referendum. However, there is not time for all that without extending Article 50, which is possible, the other 27 would probably allow an extension, but there is a much simpler solution.
In her New Year message Theresa May urged MPs and the country to support her Brexit deal so that we can get on with the many other problems the country faces; but leaving the EU on 29 March will not be the end of the matter with regard to Europe, not by a long way. Then there will be the scrabbling around the world to find new trade deals. All of this – another referendum or international scrabbling – could be avoided by simply revoking Article 50 and returning to the status quo ante. Then the Government can, straight away, get on with all those matters it professes a desire to get on with. At the same time the Government must give a full explanation of why revoking Article 50 is in the nation’s best interests. There is no shame in doing a U turn if not doing so would result in a worse outcome.
The problem is, the other 27 nations might not want us to remain. The UK has caused so much trouble over the last two and a half years, and the previous 43, always wanting concessions and opt- outs, always seeking what we can get out of the EU rather than entering fully into the spirit and seeking how we can help its progress and development. Some unpleasant and insulting language has been used by some prominent proponents of Brexit. If we do want to remain in the EU we should be willing to eat some humble pie (the sort without cherries) and learn to be good Europeans. Most of us already are, of course. Fortunately, the signs are that the other 27 are remarkably forgiving! If we revoke Article 50 and stay in, the other 27 will, I believe, breathe a huge sigh of relief.
In a Radio 4 news clip recorded in France in November 2018 as Theresa May attended Armistice commemorations, a girl in the crowd was clearly heard to say, “Please stay with us.”
The EU: united where we need to be; delightfully different where we choose to be!
Robert Milne March 2017. Last updated January 2019.