Today the UK votes on whether it will remain a part of the EU or go off on its merry way. The vote gives people the choice between two storied British traditions: meddling in the affairs of its continental neighbors (Remain) and annoying the French (Leave). I hope the UK chooses to remain and, for that matter, continue meddling.
Much of the campaign waged by the "Leave" camp centers on the issue of migration, as one British friend told me once "this is essentially a referendum on immigration." But, it isn't about migration, it is about EU membership, of which migration plays a small role that, often, has nothing to do with what Leave campaigners are talking about.
For example, Leave, has made a big fuss about the issue of migration from Turkey, which is not an EU member. When faced with this obvious truth they mentioned a possible visa-waiver program that was being negotiated between the visa-free Schengen zone and Turkey. Only problems with that argument are that England isn't part of the Schengen zone, so this doesn't apply to Turkish travelers to the UK who would still need a visa, the agreement in question isn't likely to be approved and the overt racism inherent in the argument.
Again, Leave campaigners weren't deterred. They argued that Turkish travellers could sneak into the UK from the EU. It is unclear how voting to Leave would stop that from happening though as control of travel to Britain by non-EU citizens is already within the UK government's control.
The other arguments by the Leave campaign focus on taking back "control" from Brussels (the EU's capital). It's never exactly clear what they would take back "control" of... besides, of course, control over immigration. They scream and shout about how "unfair" and "undemocratic" the EU is but, ironically, UKIP, the most pro-Brexit political party, has only ever won an election when it came to voting in the EU's parliament (they only have one seat in the UK parliament).
What about the economy?
That's where the Leave campaign is weakest. In a good case scenario a decision to Leave the EU would undoubtedly weaken the UK's economy. Uncertainty about what comes next will defer investment and hiring decisions and when the dust settles many companies will likely "onshore" a lot of functions to the EU. The best part about this is that for the UK to retain access to the EU's common market and not weaken its economy if it leaves, it would have to guarantee the "freedom of movement" (aka immigration) that the Brexiters are so angry about... a sort of damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario.
Facing unanimous expert opinion that a Brexit would hurt the British economy the Leave campaign has decided to dismiss experts and encouraged voters to not be afraid of these doomsayers...
In the extreme scenario that a Brexit vote would lead to the slow disintegration of the EU (something pro-Brexiters not-so-secretly hope for) that would be even more calamitous for the UK's economy as both the UK and its biggest trading partner would go through years of uncertainty.
- Brexiting will reduce immigration from countries that have nothing to do with the EU for reasons we can't explain.
- We need to take back control of things that are so important to us that to articulate them would blow our mind.
- The EU has no democratic legitimacy except for the fact that it is composed of a number of democratically elected government and it gives us, Brexiters, our only democratic avenue for complaining about how un-democratic it is.
- Don't listen to experts who say Brexiting might hurt the economy because experts suck.
- Don't be a coward and vote for Brexit.
When faced with that impenetrable wall of "coherent and logical arguments" it should come as no surprise that I am not swayed.
But voting to Remain in the EU shouldn't just be about why the Leave campaign has failed to make a solid argument for exiting. On balance the EU is a force of good, for the UK, Europe and the world. True a bureaucratic, terribly-accented, often contradictory force of good but a force of good nonetheless.
Look at it this way, between 1870 and 1945 Germany invaded France three times. In the 70 years since then that has happened a grand total of zero times. I like to think the EU played a small role in making sure that was the case.
Some people like to say that the EU isn't a complete success because, I don't know, not every European is born into a gilded birthing pool. But when you think about where Europe started from then the EU really is a smashing success.
Imagine for a second that Africa created a new African Union and that caused it to be the most peaceful continent on Earth with the highest standards of living whose biggest concern was whether the finance minister of Burundi wears a tie and how to incorporate all the Brazilians that are suddenly flocking to its shores... well, that would be a success no?
This isn't to diminish the rough decade that the EU has had. Low growth and depression era unemployment stats in Southern Europe and former industrial regions are nothing to scoff at but that doesn't justify discrediting the entire EU.
In fact, instead of arguing whether the UK should stay in the EU the argument should be about how much more involved should the UK be. The UK can offer Europe a third path between German style austerity and French style "Je don't give a fuck" approach to economics and social inclusion. It can offer leadership in areas like monetary policy, innovation, law and, ironically enough, integrating lots of immigrants.
It is for all these reasons that I hope the UK votes remain in today's referendum.
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