In this opinion piece, EMNI member Dennis Kennedy offers his rebuttal at some of the claims presented by those advocating Leave ahead of the Referendum on 23rd June.
My Rebuttals of Leave Claims and Why I will vote Remain on 23rd June
By Dennis Kennedy
1 To vote to leave is to vote for abandonment of the European policy espoused since the 1960s, by both Labour and Conservative governments, and by the Liberals. That policy still has majority support in those parties and in the House of Commons.
Leave Claim: “EU is not what we voted for in 1975”
2 It is not true to say that the European Union today is radically different from the European Economic Community the UK joined in 1973. The EEC was then already formally committed to the achievement of full economic and monetary union, a commitment endorsed by the UK at the Paris summit of October 1972. The goal of a single European currency was already under discussion.
Leave: “We haven’t had a say in all this”
3 The UK has formally endorsed all the various Treaties which have expanded areas of competence transferred from member states to the EU, have improved the decision-making mechanisms of the union and have approved the membership of 18 new member states.
Leave: “A Vote for Remain will see the UK part of an EU super-state”
4 There is no commitment to the creation of a single European super-state. The goal of ‘ever closer union’ set in the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and endorsed by successive British governments over the past 43 years, is a form of words which encapsulates the commitment of member states to develop the unique form of cooperation and sharing of authority, and of sovereignty, which is the European Union. Each step to a ‘closer union’ has to be in the form of a new Treaty agreed by all member states.
Leave: “EU is run by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats”
5 European laws are not made by ‘unelected bureaucrats in Brussels’. The power to legislate lies with the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament – the Ministers are politicians representing the democratically elected governments of the member states, the MEPs are politicians directly elected by the citizens of Europe.
The European Commission is both a bureaucracy and a unique supranational college of 28 political appointees nominated by the member states, appointed by the Council of Ministers, and approved by the European Parliament. This college has the key role of proposing legislation, but only within areas of competence assigned to the EU by the Treaties unanimously agreed by the member states. Commission proposals become European law only if they are agreed by the Ministers and the Parliament.
Leave: “A vote for Brexit would allow UK to reclaim its sovereignty”
6 By leaving the EU the United Kingdom would not ‘reclaim its sovereignty’. It would still be bound by the NATO Treaty to go to war in defence of any member state under attack; it would not be free to trade how and where it wishes – international trade today is not free trade, but trade regulated by regional, global and bi-lateral agreements. The UK’s ability to negotiate favourable terms as a single state would be much weaker than that of the EU.
7 The United Kingdom is currently the second strongest national economy in the EU. In a Union founded to ensure the economic and social progress of all its peoples and in particular to reduce the backwardness of its less favoured regions it is obvious that the cost of running the Union and financing its programmes must fall on the wealthier states. At present eleven member states are net contributors – that is the money they pay into the EU budget is less than the total they receive from EU funds. The UK’s net contribution in 2014 is reckoned to have been the equivalent of 1.4% of the UK’s total public expenditure. NI has been, and continues to be, even with enlargement, a net beneficiary of membership.
Leave: “There will be no border between NI and ROI. We can continue with Common Travel Area.”
8 Since January 1993, under the EU’s Single Market regime, there has been no visible physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – no custom posts, no check points, no long queues of commercial vehicles waiting to cross. No proponent of Brexit has yet indicated how the UK would ‘reclaim control of its own frontiers’ on the island of Ireland. The Common Travel Area agreement between the UK and Ireland covers only the movement of people, not goods.
Leave: “EU wants to eradicate the nation state.”
9 When the movement towards European integration began in the aftermath of World War II its prime objective was political, not economic; it was to bind together the nation states of Europe, particularly France and Germany, in a union which would make war between them both unthinkable and impossible. The way to do so was by means first of a common market, and then by broader economic union. The goal was not to eradicate nation states, or to suppress national identities, but to contain them within a wider European organisation and identity.
The result was a unique experiment in supranational governance – not a federation, certainly not a super-state, but a binding set of institutions with a supra national core. From the six member beginning in the 1950s, it has grown to 28 member states, with others still anxious to join. For the UK to walk out in a fit of jingoistic pique would be tragic for Europe, and disastrous for the UK.
An EU identity
10 The institutions of the EU played only a minor, if helpful, role in restoring a measure of peace in Northern Ireland. Much more important is the idea of a European identity which can be shared by both sides of the apartheid-like British-Irish divide enshrined in the Belfast Agreement. If we all can see ourselves as European, then we cannot be all that different from each other. If we are living in a European union, then it may begin to matter less whether our immediate address is Irish or British.
Dennis Kennedy is a long-time member of EMNI and is a former journalist and lecturer. He has worked for the EC Office in Belfast.