Have you ever had a really good friend who was about to make a terrible, terrible choice, and wondered whether to let her get on with it or say something?
You’re terrified for her, but her mind seems made up, she gets angry as soon as you challenge her… But in the end, you think, what is friendship if it isn’t speaking your mind?
Well, my friends are all of you, and next Thursday, we, as Brits, will make a momentous, once in a lifetime decision: to stay in the European Community, or to leave, and I’m terrified, truly waking-up-at-three-am terrified, that we’re going to make the wrong choice next Thursday, so here’s my contribution. It’s a fairly long read, but an easy one, but if you’re thinking of voting out, I beg you, as a friend, to hear me out.
- The Oldies versus the Youngies.
I’ve spent some time debating this referendum with people of different ages, and the biggest arguments are happening between the under thirties (a massive 73 per cent of whom want to remain in the EU) and the over sixties (63 per cent want to leave.)
Between these two groups there is total incomprehension and increasing anger.
So whether you’re young or old, let’s try to understand the others’ point of view.
The over sixties grew up feeling incredibly proud of being British. We had won the war, after all, hadn’t we? We had survived the Blitz, beaten off Adolf, and shot down a load of Luftwaffe. We still had the odd colony here and there to supply us with cheap tea, and after years and years of post war misery, the sixties happened. We had never had it so good.
And these are the years the Oldies remember when they try to imagine what Britain would be like outside the EU.
Memory is an inaccurate tool, though, unfortunately. It tends to favour good memories of the past rather than bad ones (and thank God for that).
But if you’re basing a generational decision on your memory, then you probably should remember also that Britain begged to join the EU twice in the sixties and seventies and was refused (by General De Gaulle). That we were known as the “sick man of Europe” in the seventies because, as the French, German and Italian economies thundered ahead in the new trading block, Britain’s economy stagnated until we became far poorer than even Italy.
And that, shame of shame, we had to go to the IMF for a bailout, the first major world economy to do so. (Until then, the IMF bailed out what were known as “third world” countries).
In fact, despite what rose tinted memory will tell you, Britain has done exceptionally well since it joined the EU, overtaking both France and Italy in terms of GDP per head.
Unfortunately a series of right wing governments have repeatedly given tax breaks to the wealthy while slashing public spending on benefits, public services, and the NHS, resulting in the most unequal society in the EU. So the poorer people of the UK haven’t felt these benefits and have come to associate these constant cutbacks with the EU, but figures show that Britain really is much much richer since joining the EU. It just needs a government that wants to share it all out a little better.
So dear Oldies, please do have a deeper dig into your memories.
Try to remember the blackouts, the strikes and the terrible food of the seventies as well.
And try to remember every tax break every Tory government ever handed to a rich person when you’re trying to understand why you can’t get to see a doctor.
Now the most bizarre and upsetting thing for the Oldies is the fact that their 25 year old nieces and nephews are voting to remain. It’s incomprehensible to them, and either there’s something wrong with the youngsters (such as their inability to listen to how brilliant Britain was in the sixties) or they understand something the oldies don’t.
Now this is going to be hard to hear, Oldies, but that is the case. They do “get” something you don’t. And here it is.
Your niece, Susan, house-shared with a French girl Marie-Pierre when she was at college. She went to visit her a few times in Paris and had an awesome time.
Your nephew James fell in love with a Swedish girl. She went swimming in a 12 degree lake once. She was mad, and blonde, and beautiful and he never quite got over her. He thinks often of visiting Sweden and dreams of bumping into her again.
Your son Steven works for Airbus in Bristol. His colleagues are Spanish, Italian, German and French.
And your daughter Jessica wants to move to somewhere sunnier next year and has been learning Italian and browsing properties in Sicily.
And they’re all meeting up in a Tapas restaurant next friday owned by James’ swarthy Spanish friend Rodrigo.
These under-thirties have grown up as Europeans. They know people of all nationalities. They know they can live and work and one day retire to any of 28 countries, and they like that.
And they don’t worry about “those” people in Brussels making decisions anymore than they worry about “those” people in London. We are those people. We elect them.
They understand that we live in an exceptionally beneficial part of the world where no one dies of hunger and no one is put to death for being gay, where people of different nationalities can work together and laugh together and get married and make little half Italian/half Scottish Eurobabies and celebrate it with proper Champagne.
They like the fact that they can pop off to Berlin for a weekend without a visa, and go see a doctor there for free if they get a case of Deli Belly.
And they see as an unrevocable god-given right the fact that if they meet a girl called Petra there, they can stay and live and work there. Why wouldn’t they be able to?
Above all, they “get” that feeling European is a wonderful thing. It fosters opportunities and friendships and businesses and love affairs.
And yes, it prevents war.
The Leave campaign sneer at this idea. “Pfff!” they says. “As if we’re going to have a world war just because we leave the EU.”
But conflict is easy when you don’t know your enemy. It’s far easier to drop a bomb on Iraq than on France, when your niece would start screaming about you bombing her french friend Maire-Pierre and Steven would be worrying about his colleagues (and his job). Knowing people from other countries does change everything and the European project has been incredibly successfull in getting us to realise, after centuries of war, that we’re all just people, we’re all just Europeans with similar values and similar cultures, and a shared history of great thinkers and scientists and artists and thinkers.
So these youngsters are terrified that you’re about to shut their future down for them.
They know how bloody complicated it is to live and work in the USA or China or Australia because they know people who have tried to do so.
If Britain chooses to leave the EU it will be like being the kid who gets locked in an apartment in Bradford for the summer holidays. Forever.
“Yes, I know little Jean-Paul is spending the summer in Florence and the winter in the Alps skiing, and I know he’s visiting his aunt who has retired to Greece, but you’re going to stay here in bloody Bradford Boris. So shut up and get on with it.”
So please, Oldies… I know you think you’re doing what’s best for the youngsters, and you have so often got that right in the past, but just this one time, please listen to what they’re telling you instead. Please let them choose their own future.
The problem of course is that the OUT brigade have inundated us with so many untruths it’s impossible to see the wood for the trees. But it’s pretty easy to spot a liar when you try.
Just take Boris, Gove and Patel (who have ALL campaigned for privatisation of the NHS) offering to spend 100m of our mythical 300m a week fee on the NHS. I mean… I know and you know they aren’t going to do that, right? Which means their #1 claim is a big fat lie.
As John Major (who is hardly a communist revolutionary) said “The NHS is as safe with those three as a mouse would be with a hungry python.”
We’re worth more than that. Please don’t let them f***k us over.
After many hours of painstaking and mostly boring research, here are a few of the main Boris myths slain.
1. Cost & Trade.
Over the years, through a series of spunky (some might say selfish) prime ministers, Britain has negotiated the best deal of anyone in the EU. We have a special rebate other Europeans call the “Thatcher” rebate where we get about half of the mythical £350 million back from the EU. We escaped the mess that is the Euro when all new members have to be in it. We avoided Schengen and got to continue to control our borders (which is why you have to show your passport at Gatwick) when countries who aren’t even in the EU but trade with it have been forced to join it. It’s a truly one-off deal whether you like it or not.
The EU makes up 45% of our trade, so it’s clear to everyone except your Guinea pig that we won’t do very well if we can’t continue to trade with a club that contains ALL of our geographical neighbours, and there are, despite what anyone tells you, only four models for doing that.
– Either we stay in, which means we keep on paying into the EU budget (think of it as a stall-holder/EU healthcover/Border Fastlane/Retire-to-the-sun fee which works out at £8 per month, per head – less than Netflix), but retain our special opt-outs, our capacity to shape EU law, and retain a veto on any new laws the EU may decide to pass (such as Turkey joining).
– We go with the Norway model which means following all EU laws INCLUDING free movement of people (but lose our veto and our seat at the table) and continue to pay in almost as much as we do now.
– We go with the Switzerland partial access model (they also pay in to the EU budget but don’t have a veto and don’t have full access to the single Market.)
– Or, the final option, we tell the single market to bugger off, in which case they impose tariffs on everything we sell to them as they do to everyone else outside the EU.
Now Britain has the world’s second most important financial sector – the City, and you need to know that for it to continue to be #2 it needs access to the single market. Every major financial corporation is making plans for moving their headquarters to either Frankfurt or Paris in the case of a Brexit.
If Britain leaves, the French (who would like it to be Paris) and the Germans (who would like it to be Frankfurt) can bring the City of London crashing to its knees with a single stroke of a red “market access” pen. And they will. That’s 100,000 jobs and approximately 3% of our total national product.
Now think of everything else we export. Nissan make cars in Britain because they can sell them to the whole of Europe. BMW make Minis here for the same reason. If Britain can’t retain access to the single market then they will be forced to move elsewhere. That means less money and less jobs. And there are hundreds of Nissans, BMWs and Airbuses all making plans to bugger off.
So that’s trade. We either stay in, continue to trade, and continue to have a veto on new laws, or we leave, but continue to pay in and accept free movement of people, or we bugger off and our economy crashes.
There are an estimated 2.1 million EU nationals working in the UK.
There are an estimated 1.2 million UK nationals living and working in the EU.
They all pay taxes wherever they are, and national statistics show that EU immigrants in the UK contribute significantly more than they take out in any form of benefits. They also claim less benefits than UK nationals overseas, and cost less in healthcare than all those aged Brits drinking themselves into an early grave in Spain.
What are all these EU immigrants in the UK doing with their days? Well, they’re picking daffodils, digging holes in roads and working in the NHS. In fact there are so many immigrants working in the NHS (26% of doctors, 14% of overall staff) that the director has said it would grind to a halt without them. So immigration isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The great Turkey bogey-monster.
The leave campaign have been waving burning Turkish flags around for some time now, but it’s sadly, like the £350 million claim, just a big fat lie.
The EU has 35 rules of convergence before a country can be considered for membership.
These include things like functioning democracy, gay rights, and freedom of the press.
Turkey has met one out of the 35 so far ( 1!!! ) and shows little sign of getting anywhere near with the others.
And even if it did, all member states have a veto on other countries joining.
Which means that Turkey will only ever join the EU if Britain votes for Turkey to join the EU. You want to stay in but have a veto on further enlargement? That’s exactly what you’ve got right now.
Leave the EU, close the borders.
This is the final lie of the leave campaign I’m going to bother with.
Because if we want to continue to trade with Europe (which we do, see #1 above) there is no opt out from the free movement of EU citizens.
If we do not wish to crash our economy, we have to accept free movement of EU citizens. That is the rule of the single market and no one has ever managed an opt-out. As explained above, this means letting Polish nurses work in our NHS, and letting your niece go and live in Tuscany.
Finally, if you’re still having trouble weighing up these options, have a look at these two lists. The first are the main people who think we should stay. The second are the principle actors who think we should leave. Now, you might not trust some of the people in list #1 (I personally wouldn’t trust Cameron further than I can throw him, and I reckon I could throw him a very, very, very long way). But read the list and think about it. Who do you think has your best interests at heart? Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin? Michael Gove or the Royal College of Midwives?
Come thursday, please do the right thing.
We’re all counting on you.
Group 1: (Remain).
• Governor of the Bank of England
• International Monetary Fund
• Friends of the Earth
• The Royal College of Midwives
• Institute for Fiscal Studies
• Confederation of British Industry
• Leaders/heads of state of every single other member of the EU
• President of the United States of America
• Eight former US Treasury Secretaries
• President of China
• Prime Minister of India
• Prime Minister of Canada
• Prime Minister of Australia
• Prime Minister of Japan
• Prime Minister of New Zealand
• The chief executives of most of the top 100 companies in the UK including Marks and Spencer, BT, Asda, Vodafone, Virgin, IBM, BMW etc.
• Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations
• All living former Prime Ministers of the UK (from both parties)
• Virtually all reputable and recognised economists
• The Prime Minister of the UK
• The leader of the Labour Party
• The Leader of the Liberal Democrats
• The Leader of the Green Party
• The Leader of the Scottish National Party
• The leader of Plaid Cymru
• Leader of Sinn Fein
• Martin Lewis, that money saving dude off the telly
• Alan Sugar
• The Secretary General of the TUC
• National Union of Students
• National Union of Farmers
• Stephen Hawking
• Chief Executive of the NHS
• 300 of the most prominent international historians
• Director of Europol
• David Anderson QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation
• Former Directors of GCHQ
• Secretary General of Nato
• Church of England
• Church in Scotland
• Church in Wales
• Director General of the World Trade Organisation
• World Bank
Group 2: (Brexit)
• Boris Johnson.
• Michael Gove.
• Leader of UKIP
• Britain First
• James Dyson
• Donald Trump
• Keith Chegwin
• David Icke
• Vladimir Putin
• Marine Le Pen.