Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Brexit: Out of the frying pan, into the fire


After "Project Fear" proved such a success in the Scotish independence referendum it was always going to be the case that both sides of the EU referendum debate were going to try to use emotional fear and anger based arguments to herd people over to their side of the debate; the extremely short time frame (holding the referendum less than two months after the local/mayoral/assembly elections) meant that there wasn't ever going to be enough time for a proper fact-based debate; and the fact that there are Tories on both sides of the argument meant that both camps were always going to end up slining a load of insults and lies around.

An awful lot of people are extremely disappointed with the dishonesty and fearmongering rhetoric from both sides, and desperate for a reasonably unbiased appraisal of the EU debate. I can't promise to offer a completely unbiased analysis because the only way to be completely neutral about such a serious subject is to remain entirely apathetic, which I'm not. However I will try to explain my position without resorting to the kind of fearmongering rhetoric, ridiculous hyperbole or ludicrous fantasy land promises that have plagued the referendum debate so far.


Democracy

The typical Brexiter whinge about the 28 member European Commission being unelected is a ridiculous red herring. The UK has an unelected head of state, an unelected central bank, an unelected civil service and the most bloated unelected legislative chamber in the entire world (the 800+ member House of Lords). However, anyone with any knowledge about the "do it again until you get it right" Irish referenda on the Lisbon treaty, the TTIP corporate power grab or the appalling treatment of Greece by the European Commission-ECB-IMF "troika" will know about the contempt for democracy that runs through many of the EU institutions.


Of all of the countries in the EU, the charge that the EU institutions are undemocratic looks by far the most ridiculous coming from the UK. Our bloated unelected House of Lords is an extraordinary affront to democracy in comparison the the European Commission. The democratically unaccountable European Central Bank is mirrored by the democratically unaccountable Bank of England. What is more, the current UK government stand charged with cheating their way into power by fraudulently misdeclaring their expenses in over two dozen marginal constituencies.

Voting for Brexit because you dislike the anti-democratic elements of the EU, and in the process handing far more power to the bloated anti-democratic House of Lords and a Tory government that stand accused of unlawfully cheating their way into power makes no sense whatever.


Hard-right economics

The EU has a lot of positive aspects (things like labour rights, environmental regulations, visa-free travel between states ...) but it also has some extremely negative characteristics too, most notably the fact that it is riddled with hard-right neoliberal economic dogma like the unaccountable central bank, the policy of forcing ideological austerity onto member states, and the "competition rules" that prevent governments from nationalising industries even if they have a strong democratic mandate to do so.

The problem with voting for Brexit because you dislike the hard-right economics of the EU is that such a vote would empower the much more radically right-wing fringe of the Tory party to begin tearing up all of the good things the EU provide, whilst continuing, or most likely intensifying the fanatical Tory agenda of loading the burden of austerity onto the poor and ordinary whilst handing out huge favours to the super-rich types who bankroll the Tory party.

David Cameron and George Osborne have already distributed tens of billions worth of public property (including hospitals, schools, transport infrastructure, the Royal Mail, the publicly owned banks ...) to their wealthy mates at massive discounts, and in many cases even completely for free. Anyone who expects that an even more radically right-wing Tory party wouldn't continue, or intensify this fanatically right-wing agenda of distributing public assets to private beneficiaries must be living in some kind of fantasy land.

Austerity

The EU has undeniably been guilty of imposing socially and economically destructive austerity onto countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal. Even when it's absolutely clear that austerity economics is causing severe economic stagnation, shocking levels of unemployment and massive capital flight the EU have pushed on with their ideological agenda.

The problem with Brexit is that it would further empower the Tories, who are the most fanatical austerity fetishists of all. In most of the other EU countries who have suffered the consequences of ideological austerity there was at least an element of compulsion to force their government to engage in such destructive and self-defeating policies. The Tories on the other hand have engaged in ideological austerity simply because they want to. They know perfectly well that it's just a con job to rebrand the same failed Tory policies (mass privatisation, repression of wages and labour rights, the upwards redistribution of wealth & shrink the state fanaticism) as being somehow "necessary" or even "financially responsible".

The Brexit enthusiast Iain Duncan Smith has even openly admitted that the economic fallout from leaving the EU would mean even more ideological austerity from the Tory government.

Voting for Brexit because you dislike ideological austerity would be like cutting off your entire arm because one of your fingers hurts.


"Red tape"
 

One of the classic arguments for quitting the EU is that it creates too many regulations that tie up British businesses in "red tape". The problem with this particular argument is screamingly obvious. The EU represents 44% of the British export market, which means that unless British businesses want to drive themselves to bankruptcy by creating bespoke items just for the UK market, they're still going to have to make sure their products comply with EU standards, but the UK will no longer have any say in how these regulations are applied.

The idea that quitting the EU will exempt British businesses from EU regulations is staggeringly naive. If British producers want a global market for their products, they'll have to comply with EU standards, whether the UK is in the EU or not.


TTIP
 
One of the most disingenuous of all the arguments for Brexit is that the UK supposedly needs to quit the EU in order to escape the TTIP corporate power grab. The first thing to note is that various EU member states have vowed to veto TTIP. Greece have said they will never ratify it, the French have said they won't ratify it in its current form, and countries such as Ireland and Denmark would likely have referenda on it, so it's far from certain that it will ever see the light of day.

On the other hand, if the UK vote to leave the EU, that would leave the Tories in prime position to negotiate their own pro-corporate trade agreements with whoever wins out of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Given that the Tories are so fanatically in favour of TTIP that they refused to even exempt the NHS, it seems extraordinarily optimistic to think that they wouldn't cook up an even worse corporate power grab deal with the Americans, given the opportunity.

No plan

The fact that the Brexit campaign is riddled with poorly considered arguments like the ones detailed above is secondary to the fact that they simply have no plan for what a post Brexit economy would look like. As the former British ambassador to the UN Peter Marshall puts it "Brexit is not a policy, nor a programme. It is not even a scenario. It is more perhaps a protest or a grievance. That explains the emptiness of its campaign. It runs on assertion, assumption and criticism of the Remainians, rather than on rigorous or consistent analysis".

The Brexit camp have no actual policy for what a post-EU British economy would look like, all they have is a sequence of highly optimistic assertions about what the UK "could" do outside the EU. From a Tory government investing more in the NHS, to a Tory government scrapping Zero Hours Contracts, the Brexiters are prepared to promise anything whatever to convince the gullible into voting the way they want them to.Their combined unfunded spending pledges already add up to over £112billion, when the UK's net contribution to the EU is only actually £8 billion. The pro-Brexit Tory minister Chris Grayling has even admitted that all of Vote Leave's post-Brexit policies are just fictional "options".

If the leave campaigners actually had a detailed plan for what the post-EU British economy would look like it would be possible to take them seriously, but when all they've got is hot air "options" that they back down on as soon as they're challenged (like they did over their spurious energy bill claims), then nobody in their right mind would put their trust in such a dishonest bunch of hard-right fanatics.

Conclusion

An awful lot of Brexiter arguments fall to pieces upon closer analysis. Aside from the fact that a lot of their core arguments make no sense whatever, there's also the much more important fact that they have no real plan for what a post-Brexit economy would look like. It's absolutely clear that these people are willing to say absolutely anything in order to convince gullible people into backing their irresponsible calls for the UK to bail out of the EU without any plan for what comes after.

If they had an actual plan, then we could subject it to scrutiny and judge it on its merits, but since all they've got is a load of weak arguments, outright lies and and idle speculation about what they could do after quitting the EU, then the rational stance has to be "no thanks", at least until they come back with an actual plan of action.

It doesn't really matter how fond you are of the EU, because as it stands, bailing out of the EU and empowering the fanatical right-wing fringe of the Tory party with nothing but a load of uncosted "options" in lieu of anything even remotely resembling an actual economic plan would clearly be an extraordinarily dangerous gamble, and most likely end up being a classic example of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.



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