Brexit Issues


Loss of Sovereignty

A recurring theme of the Brexiteers is that that the UK needs to take back sovereignty from the EU.  This is absolute tripe.

(1) Concluding a treaty with one or more states is a sovereign act.  Every treaty generally contains provisions as to withdrawing from it.  That too is a sovereign act.

(2)  Every treaty involves some pooling of sovereignty.  Governments enter into treaties all the time and they do so because they see an advantage in so doing and prefer to have matters between the member states regulated by the provisions of the treaty.

(3) For example the UK is a Member of the United Nations and a Member of NATO – joining those treaties involved pooling our sovereignty.  We have to abide by the rules of each organisation.  Is that good or bad ?  So far as the UN is concerned the UK is one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.  In other words, we punch above our weight.   So far as NATO is concerned, we can rely on the other NATO countries to support us in our Defence.  In both cases the pooling of sovereignty works.

The EU – a single market treaty has very great advantages, not least because the nations which pool their sovereignty then have greater clout when negotiating with other trading nations.  For example the EU single market is comparable in size with that of the USA so we can negotiate with the USA as equals.

A good example would be international civil aviation.  After WW2, aviation treaties were usually negotiated bilaterally  The USA used its greater clout to get treaties which favoured the US Airlines.  But since the UK joined the EU,  the USA has had to negotiate on the basis of equality and EU airlines (including British Airways) have benefited enormously.  So have we as passengers.

The member states of the EU together can and regularly do benefit from this pooling of sovereignty.  For example,  exports from the USA or China to the EU now have to comply with EU standards on product safety and the like.  Those standards are considered desirable by all the individual member states.  We are protected from shoddy goods  which might otherwise be dumped on us.

It is true that some aspects of sovereignty should be protected:   National Security, Defence, and Currency are good examples.  The UK rightly pools sovereignty on Defence issues through NATO which brings in the USA and Canada and because France has finally understood the need for NATO, it too now participates more fully in that organisation.

The UK wisely opted out of both the EU single currency and the Schengen Single Travel Area and we continue to use our own money and police our own borders.

The Net Migration Issue

Whatever other reasons they might dredge up as being a reason for leaving the EU, the Brexit campaigners’ primary objective is to stop immigration from other EU member states to the UK. Many people in the UK are somewhat contemptuous about all foreigners.  Few other nations have quite so many disparaging expressions for those who are not of the same ethnicity:   “bloody foreigners” and  “the wogs begin at Calais”, Some refer to the French as “frogs”, the Germans as “krauts” or “boxheads”, the  Spanish as “spics” or “dagoes” etc.

Sadly, there is also a far nastier background,  namely the early efforts of many, particularly in the Conservative Party,  to discriminate against non-white migrants to the UK.  The late Sir John Betjamin’s poem “In Westminster Abbey” neatly lampooned the approach of the Tory ladies of his day:-

Keep our Empire undismembered, Guide our Forces by Thy Hand, Gallant blacks from far Jamaica, Honduras and Togoland; Protect them Lord in all their fights, And, even more, protect the whites.”

The British Nationality Act 1948 provided that all subjects of the Crown in the UK and its colonies were to be designated Citizens of the UK and Colonies and citizens of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Newfoundland, India, Pakistan, Southern Rhodesia and Ceylon were also British Subjects and Commonwealth Citizens.  Every such person had the right to live and work in the UK and in fact many of them who are here in the UK have the right to vote in this referendum.

The UK Population in 1948 was 50 millions.  But when one considers the size and populations of our then colonies and the self-governing Commonwealth states, the numbers of people then entitled to come and live and work in the UK was substantially more than the total UK population.  The 1947 population of undivided India alone was circa 390 millions.  The Commonwealth today comprises 54 states and a population of 1.8 billion – 30% of the population of the whole planet.

The UK had a labour shortage at the end of the war, People started to come to the UK from the Caribbean starting with the Empire Windrush in 1948. Those who came to this country were the object of a lot of very nasty racial discrimination.   Yet many of our public services, London buses, national health hospitals and old peoples’ homes could not have functioned without the incoming workers.  By 1961  immigration from the Commonwealth had reached 135,000 per year.

A Conservative ‘Rab’ Butler brought in the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act to limit Commonwealth immigration but Enoch Powell and others in the Conservative Party did not think the 1962 Act went far enough.

In 1962 Powell made his notorious Rivers of Blood speech in Wolverhampton (see the entry on Wikipedia).  The then Conservative leader, Edward Heath sacked Powell from the shadow cabinet, but the evil genie of racism was out of the bottle.

Racism pure and simple became an issue in the 1964 General Election at Smethwick  (see the entry on Wikipedia).  The slogan used was: “If you want a nigger neighbour – Vote Labour”.

It is important to remember that the racists who opposed lawful Commonwealth immigration in the 1960’s are essentially the same people who now oppose EU migration.  They simply don’t want any “bloody foreigners” living next door.  These are the people who vote UKIP and the Brexiteer faction within the Conservative Party, not to mention some even nastier people.

The Home Office, the ONS and the Net Migration Statistics

The present Conservative Government has pandered to Brexiteers within its ranks by the publication of  “net migration” figures and by claiming to have an objective to reduce net migration to 100,000 per year.

Since the UK is outside the EU Schengen Zone, the UK has control of its own borders.  In theory,  every person entering or leaving the UK  is required to present documentation upon entering or leaving the UK.   It ought therefore to be possible to have very accurate statistics from the UK Border Agency about entries and exits,   but, unsurprisingly the mechanisms to capture and report on entry and exits at our borders appears to be beyond the wit or competence of the Home Office and the UKBA.   This  is another example of a problem endemic within our government – an inability properly to manage large IT systems.

In consequence, instead of using hard data from border entry and exit to produce reliable statistics, net migration estimates are produced by the ONS based on interviews conducted for what is known as “The International Passenger Survey”, that is to say on nothing more certain than on responses to interviews with travellers at points of entry and exit to the UK.   The validity of  such estimates is, to say the least, doubtful.  Recent ONS research on NI Registration suggests that the ONS estimates  based on the IPS Survey may understate Net Migration.

What does matter is that in order to appease the “Wogs begin at Calais” movement within the Conservative Party, the  Government introduced a target of limiting net migration (including EU migration)  to 100,000 per annum.

This was a serious mistake.  Governments should only set targets for things they can control.  Since the UK is bound by the EU free movement requirements, the only impact of this target is on non EU migration and has involved some quite disgraceful ill treatment of non EU citizens and, indeed, of UK citizens with family in other countries.

Once upon a time, when a UK citizen chose to marry a person from outside the UK, the lady acquired UK citizenship at the moment of marriage.  Indeed, the Passport Office (then managed by the Foreign Office – not the Home Office) would arrange to send the lady’s passport in her married name to the Registrar officiating at the marriage so as to ensure that the lady could go abroad on honeymoon under her married name and avoid any unpleasantness at frontiers or at the honeymoon hotel.  Contrast that with today’s disgraceful treatment of the foreign wives of UK citizens.  The monstrosity of the Home Office treatment of wives from India, Pakistan and other Commonwealth countries is particularly bad and this may well be a reason why some prominent voices from the UK Indian, Pakistani and other Commonwealth communities in the UK are now supporting Brexit – perhaps in the hope that  the ending of EU migration would make Commonwealth immigration easier.

On 19th May 2016, the BBC reported the Priti Patel Curry House Claim.  Priti Patel is not a backwoods Tory.  She is Minister of State for Employment.  Therefore she must well know that for so long as the Government seeks to meet its ludicrous target of limiting net migration, the counting in of EU citizens who have free movement rights denies proper treatment of visa applications from the Indian Subcontinent – and, indeed, from every other part of the Commonwealth.  But the answer to that is simple:   exclude EU movement from the net migration statistics.

What is not proper is to imperil the free movement and other EU rights of the millions of  UK citizens (including many who, like Ms Patel, are descendants  of  the British Raj) by campaigning to leave the EU.

By reason of its own incompetence in relation to net migration statistics, the Government has played into the hands of UKIP, the Conservative Eurosceptics and worse.    Arguably, the right course of action for the Government might have been to say to the rebels that there was a majority in the House of Commons for remaining in the EU and that any MP would wished to oppose the will of Parliament would have the whip withdrawn and any Minister would be required to resign.

Economic Issues

One of the major issues in this debate  has been the inability of the Vote Leave campaign to produce any coherent explanation of how the UK economy would survive post Brexit.

Yes, the Vote Leave campaign has a a few economists advising it.  Many of the were collected by Boris Johnson while he was Mayor of London.  They are typical of the “loony right”  and the best they can say is that the UK could trade on World Trade Organisation rules. Indeed, Gerald Lyons from the Economists for Brexit said to the BBC precisely that: The reality is that the UK can leave the European Union and trade freely under World Trade Organisation rules

But Peter Sutherland, the former Director General of the WTO, told the BBC: “The UK economy risks a “huge blow” if it relies on the agency’s global trading rules in the case of an EU leave vote. The UK’s services would be particularly vulnerable, while manufacturers would face “appalling complexity”.  “The WTO would not give the right to provide services,” he warned. “At the moment the banking system of Britain provides services all over Europe because by being part of the European Union they have what’s called a single passport and they can operate everywhere. If Britain left the European Union it would not have a single passport and many financial services companies might say ‘we can’t have our headquarters in a country that is outside the European Union’ and they might well move.  This would be a huge blow to the British economy.”

There are, of course, many economists, the vast majority of who consider that Britain is better off within the EU than out.  There are a few nutters and some of these have lined up with Vote Leave,  But are we to risk our futures and those of our children on the arguments of a few nutters, whether politicians or economists ?   Hopefully not.