Commentary by Louis VIS
On Sunday morning, I went to attend the recording of BBC Points West’s EU Referendum debate in Bristol. By the end of the debate, I was left deeply disappointed by the fact that the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign had managed to make so many inaccurate claims, that the ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign did not have the time to respond to all of them. As explained in a previous article, if voters are to make an informed decision on 23rd June, it is vital they are given accurate information. This article will therefore challenge three of the main Brexit myths.
Voters are constantly told that the European Union is made up of unelected bureaucrats and politicians. This is a deeply flawed argument. Whilst the European Commission is made up of unelected civil servants from all European Member States, the Commission’s role is to propose laws and legislations, which then have to be approved by both the European Parliament and the European Council.
The Parliament is made up of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), which are democratically elected by citizens from across the European Union every five years. Furthermore, the President of the European Commission is actually elected by the party having won the majority of seats in the elections. Thus although Jean-Claude Juncker (the current President of the European Commission) was not directly elected by citizens, the European’s People Party (EPP) had made it clear that if they were to win the election, they would choose Mr. Juncker as their candidate. This does not just apply to the President of the European Commission. Indeed, all European Commissioners have to pass a Parliamentary hearing before being appointed. Ultimately, the Parliament has the authority to prevent Commissioners from being appointed (a right they have already used several times) and/or force the Commission as a whole to resign (which was done in 1999).
The European Council, is made up of the Heads of States from all 28 Member States, which themselves have been democratically elected at a national level. One should therefore understand that without the approval of both the Parliament and the Council, proposals from the Commission cannot become law.
Ultimately, the EU’s democratic structure is very similar to the United Kingdom’s. In the UK, laws are proposed by civil servants (unelected) but have to be approved by both the House of Commons (democratically elected every 5 years) and the House of Lords (unelected). Thus if anything, the EU is actually more democratic than the UK, where only one of the Houses of Parliament is democratically elected by its citizens.
The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world and will therefore not have any problems in negotiating its own trade deals with other countries. Unfortunately, this argument ignores the fact that the UK became the world’s 5th largest economy as a Member of the world’s largest trade bloc, not as an outsider. Even though Norway, Switzerland and Iceland all managed to negotiate an access to the EU’s single market, that access remains limited and is tied to a vast number of rules and regulations set by EU Member States rather than themselves. In the words of Nikolai Astrup a Norwegian Conservative MP: ‘If you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway in the European Economic Area’.
The ‘Leave’ campaign also claims (albeit wrongly) that the UK’s voice is not being heard in the EU (a group of 28 countries). Even if it were true, how on earth would the UK’s voice be better heard when left to its own device in a world of around 200 countries? Similarily, Brexiteers blame (once again wrongly) Mr. Cameron and his negotiators for bringing back a worthless deal from Brussels. Yet, it is difficult to see how Brexit would suddenly make those very same negotiators any more competent, when having to negotiate trade deals with powerful countries such as China, Canada or the USA. Ultimately, once out of the single market, cities like London would lose out to other English-speaking cities within the EU like Dublin.
Many believe that voting to leave on 23rd June would magically reduce migration to the UK. This ignores the fact that half of the UK’s migration comes from outside the EU or that migration also brings huge benefits. During the EU Referendum debate on BBC Points West, a farmer and pie-maker explained to the audience that they had to employ workers from other EU Member States because of the shortage of local manual labour. Although Mr. Farage claims that adopting an Australian point-style system would be the only way to ensure that skilled rather unskilled migrants entered the UK, one does not need to employ an aero-space engineer to fill pies or pick asparagus. The reality is that the vast majority of British citizens do not want to do unskilled manual work for a low pay and long hours. These same citizens should therefore not prevent others from doing the jobs they neglect. Furthermore, as Alan Johnson (a Former Labour Home Secretary) told an audience in Glasgow, to control migration one would have to distinguish between tourists and workers. The only way to do so would be to impose visas, a theory which the ‘Leave’ campaign rejects without providing alternatives.
Although referendums are often seen as an expression of democracy, in reality some political decisions are simply too complex for citizens to make on their own. Teachers are expected to teach and lawyers are expected to maintain the rule of law. The same applies to politicians. They are expected to lead a country, not ask us to do it for them. It is therefore disappointing to see that Mr. Cameron and his colleagues have failed at their job. With the exception of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), every other political party in the country supports the UK’s EU membership. Unfortunately, because Mr. Cameron did not have the courage to stand up to his backbenchers, the country is now on the verge of making the biggest mistake in its history.