It’s difficult to put into words my disappointment with the result of last week’s referendum on British membership of the European Union.
For much of the campaign, it seemed unlikely that the result would be anything other than United Kingdom remaining part of a union which the country has been part of for 43 years.
Aside from avoiding a future path packed with uncertainty, such an outcome would have been the same as if no referendum had taken place at all. And with so many people undecided, or simply not qualified to make a confident judgement on such an important issue, it would at least have allowed more time to get to grips with the facts, and to understand the consequences better.
This is especially true given the dreadful way in which the issues were communicated – with both sides guilty to some degree, but the leave campaign undoubtedly causing greater confusion.
Each argument put forward by the remain camp that warned of a dangerous consequence of leaving the EU was met with a simple accusation of scaremongering. And even the statements released by normally-trusted independent bodies were undermined by accusations that the advice wasn’t impartial and only intended to support the “remain” campaign.
It was as if the purpose was to discredit every claim by people qualified to offer analysis of the issues, but without countering the claims with any genuine substance. Over-simplified claims relating to a number of topics that were important to voters were repeated, and there was little or no attempts to provide honest explanations of the risks involved with leaving the EU, nor provide any balanced arguments.
This wasn’t as true of the “remain” campaigners, who often spoke of the imperfections of the EU set-up and by no means portrayed the organisation as being without its problems. The campaign was fought on the basis of it being in Britain’s very best interests to remain a member in spite of the issues.
But that message was drowned out by the momentum being gathered by a growing number of voters subscribing to the idea that the EU was holding the country back.
With expert opinion disregarded as being untrustworthy on the basis of a failure to forecast the global credit collapse of the last decade, it was, ironically, characters of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson who more and more people started listening to, despite their campaign being more about securing votes to realise a political agenda than to openly and honestly provide information on the risks associated with leaving.
The main messages which ultimately delivered a successful campaign centred around the UK’s EU membership fee, immigration, big business, and UK sovereignty of laws.
The amount of money Britain pays to retain its membership was used purely to suggest that it could be spent on the NHS instead. But the figure used failed to take into account the money which Britain receives from the EU, as well as the fact that the money wouldn’t necessarily be available anyway, should the economy experience even the slightest weakening due to an EU exit.
Some of the most deprived areas of the country have been among the biggest beneficiaries of EU funding, as have small businesses and universities, who receive hundreds of millions of pounds towards research projects which include research into treatments for rare medical conditions. For the same levels of funding to continue, the Government could be forced to introduce further austerity measures in order to find the finances needed.
On the issue of European laws being imposed on Britain, this was also simplified to suggest that Britain is forced, against the will of its elected politicians, to adopt a whole series of laws which wouldn’t otherwise be in place.
The precise number of laws that have been passed down over time is unknown, but among the many which do exist are a large number of laws which serve to benefit UK citizens. The decision to leave now hands control of those laws to a Conservative government, who won’t necessarily retain all of the laws which protect the rights of people – whether in general life or at work.
Immigration was another hotly-debated topic, and potentially the issue which, more than any other, swayed people towards voting to leave. Immigration would be better controlled and therefore would reduce once we were out of the European Union, said the campaigners.
But rarely, on the “leave” side, was there any mention of David Cameron’s deal earlier this year which would ensure that in-work benefits could not be immediately claimed by people migrating to the UK. It was due to take effect following the referendum and would have partly addressed one of the very problems being raised by the “leave” campaign.
The deal was subject to UK remaining an EU member, however, and will no longer be introduced. Instead, there is a risk of UK Border Agency staff being relocated from the French border at Calais, to Dover – making it easier to cross the channel and make it onto British soil.
And one final issue causing a fuss was the big businesses, who were used to push voters towards the “leave” option. After all, if the big business leaders were all campaigning to stay, then it must be clear that EU membership exists as a mechanism to benefit the wealthiest in society – at the expense of the poor. Therefore, the best way to hurt big business executives would be vote in the opposite way.
At least a couple of flaws exist in that argument. Firstly, top managers and directors of large organisations rely on their businesses being successful in order to continue picking up bonuses year after year. And if their businesses suffered, it wouldn’t be the people at the top who would be the very first to be affected, but rather the tens, hundreds or even thousands of workers at the opposite end of the organisational pyramid, whose jobs would be placed at risk.
Having now voted to leave, the consequences of doing so are becoming more apparent as the days go by, and will continue to do so during the weeks and months ahead.
One of the most talked-about topics already is the UK’s access to the European Single Market, which allows free trade between countries who are signed up to it. Being a member of the EU is not a pre-requisite to accessing the single market; Norway and Switzerland, both non-EU members, are two examples.
Access is not free, however, and the amount which the UK would have to contribute for it to continue enjoying the benefits of free trade within the world’s largest economy will involve a cost which could end up being a high percentage of the current outlay to the EU’s coffers.
Also, access to the single market would be permitted only by accepting other terms, one of which would certainly be to allow the free movement of people – another blow to the hopes of those who thought that leaving the EU would enable Britain to have the best of both worlds. Britain would be subject to EU trading laws, but would no longer be able to participate in writing them.
Meanwhile, business-related negotiations would involve business leaders, who will demand that the UK Government does whatever is needed to maintain access to the single market. Failure to do so could result in some businesses relocating to other European countries, damaging the UK economy and potentially resulting in job losses.
So all in all, Britain’s exit could be a pretty disastrous outcome for those thought that Britain could reduce immigration, write its own laws, retain economic growth whilst bringing the big business executives back down to earth, and still have a huge pot of money left over each week to spend on the NHS.
After all the debating, perhaps the eventual outcome will ultimately end up pleasing no-one.