Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Corbyn gives the EU seven out of ten .

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's 7 out of 10 rating for the EU seems to me about right.    Even its most enthusiastic supporters don't rate the EU as perfect, but that makes it difficult to defend as, like a dog with a bone, the Brexit speakers worry and worry at the bits that aren't right.  The major  weak spots they identify a seem to be:

Sovereignty, or, as they skilfully phrase it, "taking back control."  Sure, we have to knuckle down and do as the EU says on certain issues, but these comprise only about 13% of our legislation.  And of the other 87% we can't always do as we like. As with most other nations, we are party to a web of commitments made with the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, NATO,  the Law of the Sea and innumerable international, multilateral and bilateral treaties and agreements.  We can't (or rather shouldn't) invade another country without a UN resolution; we can't, (or rather shouldn't) torture or arrange for the torture, of any human being. 

And of course it is a nonsense to say that EU regulations are made by "faceless bureaucrats" in Brussels.  They are all approved by the Council of Ministers, in which we have our  member,  and, today, approved by the European parliament, in which we have our share of members.

Red Tape.  It is difficult to define or quantify red tap, but someone has calculated that there's more of it comes from Westminster than from Brussels.  Some regulations, such as on which side of the road to drive, are obvious common since, and it is equally sensible to have limits on maximum speeds in certain areas. No one disagrees, although we don't all always obey.  Regulations to maintain or improve our environment, such as rules about the cleanness of beaches and rivers, to hold back climate change, reduce pollution of the air and sea, must surely be welcomed, and clearly require international co-operation.  Many of us welcome measures to protect the rights of workers, especially part-timers, agency workers and women.   Where we feel the regulations are unfair or unnecessary we have the chance to have our say.

The money. The Leave campaign now seems to have accepted that our contribution to the EU is nowhere near as much as it says on their bus.  I think I heard one of them quote £8bn a year on the radio yesterday.  This, after leaving, is no longer all to be spent on the NHS.  Farmers will continue to receive subsidies and  universities research grants as at present, and some of the £8bn will put to abolishing VAT on domestic fuel, There will even be £650m to help Yorkshire.

However,  those making these promises won't necessarily be the government making decisions even if there is a Brexit win.  Given their stripes, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that other tax cutting will be high on their agenda.  And given that our net contribution to the EU is only 0.6% of GDP, it only takes a 0.6% fall in GDP for that "extra" money to be wiped out, and a bigger fall will mean that we have cut of our nose to spite our face.

Immigration.  The leave campaign are anxious to assure us that their objections to immigration are not motivated by racism or xenophobia - perish the thought.  No, their worries are on pressure on the NHS and other public services, especially schools and (hardly still public) housing. However, none of their leaders have been prominent in the past  in demanding more  expenditure on schools or houses, nor, until very lately, on the NHS.  The dependence of the NHS and care homes for the elderly  on immigrant labour at all levels is ignored.  How my own life is made so much richer  and more comfortable by immigrants or is described in this earlier post.  Maybe yours is too.  Whether it is or not, world population movements are not going to stop, whether we're in our out of the EU.  International co-operation  on managing the movements humanely is clearly required (despite the EU's abject failure so far)

In my view the creation of the EU is the most exciting and far sighted civilising development in Europe in the past half-century.  I am saddened that my country was not an enthusiastic participant at the beginning, appeared to expect, even hope, that it would fail, then decided that we had better be in it rather than out.  Since then we have been semi-detached, grizzling,  members and I am amazed at the tolerance of the major founders in being so anxious to keep is in.

Leaving and sulking again on the sidelines, is, in my view, a cowardly and potentially  self-destructive option.  As Rafael Behr argues in today's Guardian: "When the leavers speak of 'taking control' they mean casting off from our continental harbour into the swell of unregulated global markets in a vessel crewed by Tory mutineers whose constance is scuttling governments not running them."

There are still, after half a century many imperfections in the EU, just as there are, after a many centuries, imperfections in the governance of the UK, but the progressive future is to remain within the Union and work with partners to iron them out.  Corbyn's 7 our of 10 amounts to 70%, which would get you first class honours in one of our universities, so it's really quite an attractive option.

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