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To be (a part of the EU) or not to be

I have refrained from writing about the referendum more as it seems to me to have long since departed from reality and turned into a contest about which side can tell the biggest fibs. The simple basic truth of the matter is that nobody really knows what will happen if the UK leaves the EU. What we do know is that things will remain more or less as they are if the UK stays a part of it. There are indications and warnings, however. When the polls suggest "Brexit" is going to be more likely, the value of the pound takes a hit. Industry leaders, countries across the world, and others have said that the UK should remain. I think the biggest overseas voices in favour of leaving the EU are Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. One is tempted to follow that with "with friends like those...".

So with that in mind, while there may be a need for an emergency budget following a Leave result, I'm not sure where those billions of deficit are coming from. Probably the same creative accounting that gives us the much quoted and much disproven Leave campaign figure of £350 million. It is quite likely that the pound sterling will tank (plummet, nosedive, any phrase you like) following a Leave result. How much this will damage the economy is undetermined. It may recover somewhat, or it may freefall until a person's entire salary buys only the basic food essentials. Think I'm joking? Look what happened in Russia when the Communist state collapsed. And these problems are not even contemplating a likely referendum for Scotland separating from England. Potentially Northern Ireland as well. The indicators do not bode well for UK leaving the EU, but I do not think that anybody can say exactly what will happen should that come to pass.

Furthermore, the government is going to need to tread carefully because while Leave and UKIP will no doubt herald a huge success if the vote turns out to be 50.5% to leave and 49.5% remain. Is it wise to take the entire country into unknown territory when there is not a clear majority? (I would consider somewhere in the region of 66%-75% to be a clear majority)

It is unfortunate that so much of this campaign revolves around lies and emotional pandering. Boris Johnson makes speeches often described as "barnstorming" but the so-called facts don't stand up to scrutiny. But, then, one is not supposed to think, one is supposed to feel, to believe. However, one can't help but feel and believe that this may have been a contributing factor in the murder of MP Jo Cox. Was she killed by a Syrian migrant? No. Was she killed by one of those billions of Turks that will flood the UK? No. Polish plumbers? Jihadists? No, no, and no again. This was a British man who believed in Brexit enough to murder a woman who was pro-EU.

Maybe it is time to look at what the EU is and what it is trying to achieve. In fairly recent history, Europe was ravaged by wars. As a child, I wondered about a plaque on the fireplace in the grand hall of my school. It stated that the First World War was "The War To End All Wars". The peace of that barely lasted a generation before a disillusioned man made great nationalistic speeches (sound familiar?) blaming the ills of the world on a specific section of society (replace "Jew" with "foreigner" — sound familiar?). Europe, frequently ravaged by war, set out on an unlikely path. A path of creating an institution where the countries of Europe can come together under democracy and peace, as opposed to war and colonialism. This is probably a wise move, as America's development of nuclear weapons put out a pretty stark warning that, should there be a World War Three, it will play out as nothing less than utter catastrophe.

There are many misconceptions about the EU and voting in general. Let's approach some of them.

The EU are unelected officials

While it is true that the senior staff of the European Commission are unelected, you'll find that most bureaucrats on the planet are not elected. Those people, who are appointed by the elected governments of the various member states, not only have to report to the European Parliament, they also don't have the power to make final decisions on EU directives. Those decisions are made by the Council of Ministers which is comprised of ministers from the elected governments, and the European President who is rotated and elected by the ministers. The general direction and approach of the EU is itself guided by the European Council (which is not the Council of Europe) which is made up of the elected heads of government of the member states. In addition to all of this, the entirety of these EU groups have to answer to the ratified treaties and the European Court of Justice. So while you cannot directly elect who is in "power" in Europe, it is really not that different to the fact that most of the public of the UK cannot vote for David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn. Only those in their constituencies can vote for them. The rest vote for the party, and the party itself chooses its leader. That leader? The prime minister? He is a member of the European Council and it all trickles down from there.
There simply is no independent Brussels government overruling everybody's national sovereignty.

The EU are making the laws now

While the UKIP may like to quote astronomical figures regarding the percentage of UK laws of EU origin, a House Of Commons Library Report (heavy reading) puts the figure at around 7%.

The EU are often derided for making directives about the straightness of bananas. The truth, as is often the case in EU directives, is not so much to ban bendy bananas but rather to place bananas into categories so that consumers can know what to expect — think of it as "quality control" for a product. Is this such a bad thing? EU directives, when you stop mocking them and actually start looking, are aimed at two things.

The first is harmonisation. To make things equal across the EU. This has benefits for the citizens, as a bar of chocolate in Romania can resemble a bar of chocolate in France, for instance. Think about it — what defines "chocolate"? The rules on white chocolate are far less strict, and as such you are extremely likely to find that the ingredients are sugar, cocoa butter, milk (usually in powder), then the other additives and things I can't be bothered typing. What you might not realise is that it is extremely likely that white chocolate is more than 50% sugar. That's probably why I like it, but think if you're feeding it to your children, you might as well just be giving them sugar lumps. So, back to chocolate. What is chocolate? How do you define chocolate? How would you make chocolate from over there be the same as chocolate from over here? Now expand that to all sorts of other things, including bananas, of course.

While on the subject of bananas, "the EU has forbidden the sale of bananas in groups of more than two or three". I don't know who said that, but it is about as much rubbish as all the other claims. One needs look no further than a supermarket to see:

To the right, some less attractive looking bananas specifically wrapped in groups of three, four, or five, for people who are less fussy about their bananas and just want to grab a specific quantity.

The second aim of EU directives? Improving living conditions. Improving labour conditions. Improving work safety. Improving personal safety, such as the quality of bathing water at beaches and rivers. Improving life. The EU was behind the push to remove lead from petrol. It may be that this, done to reduce pollution and the possibilities of lead poisoning, actually had an unexpected consequence — a reduction in the rate of crime. The current trouble with the transfer of personal data between the EU and the US is that we as European citizens have a certain expectation of privacy. Something that large American companies seem to have difficulty understanding while tracking us around the internet (consider: every time that Facebook "Like" button appears on a website you have visited, Facebook knows you have been there even if they don't know who you are, and thanks to a cookie, is quite able to tie your activity all around parts of the internet with helpfully embedded social website links). This is getting geekier than I wanted for this article, so I'll just say that the European Human Rights directives give us an expectation of privacy (among many other things). Things the EU gives, and things the EU tries to protect (even if really slowly).

Other things the EU is trying to implement are rights for workers such as paid annual leave, no discrimination for agency workers, more rights for part time workers, no discrimination on the basis of things such as gender and sexual preference. Granted, some of these things were already a part of British law prior to the EU directives, however some...were not.

The never-ending hole into which money is poured

One of the main myths of the EU is about how much money is thrown at the EU by the UK. The typical estimate is £50 million per day, this is how much the Leave.EU campaign will give away to somebody who can correctly guess the wins/draws/loses of Euro 2016. This figure, extrapolated to a weekly cost, gives us the £350 million stuck on the side of the Boris campaign bus. Think how much we could all help the NHS if we could direct that £350,000,000 per week to the NHS. Well, that would be nice if it was anything even resembling true.

In the course of a year, the UK is expected to make a contribution of £18 billion. However, there is a rebate of £5 billion that is applied straight away. Then the EU itself makes contributions back to the UK, mostly farming subsidies and support for poorer regions such as The West Country. This amounts to around £4 billion, and would need to be paid by the government if not the EU.
Therefore (the exact figures vary, so this is approximate):
Membership fee on paper — £18bn
How much the UK actually pays — £13bn
How much it "costs" the UK after subsidies returned to the UK are taken into account — around £9bn
So take that £350 million fee written on the side of the campaign bus and at least halve it.

But, wait, hang on. That's a huge amount of money, right? Well, per week it is around £24 million, per day it is about three and a half million, and per person per day it is, um, 40p. Yup, the EU and its benefits will cost you 40p per day. I would be quite happy to pay that. And next year? Maybe less, because the EU is looking to refine its budget.

The Herald Scotland says that estimates are that the membership of the EU is worth around £90 billion to the UK economy, with some three million jobs relating to the EU. As the Brexit campaign says, the UK is one of the prime trading partners with European countries, however it is worth noting that the UK only needs to experience a reduction of trading output of 0.6 percent to wipe out the same amount of money as the cost of EU membership.

Turkey joining the EU

Not likely. As much as Leave.EU would like to "scare" people to believe that Turkey is imminently joining the EU, it is simply not going to happen. There is a deal in place between Turkey and the EU regarding numerous things, but Turkey remains out of the EU. Given that the member states will have to agree to Turkey joining, and given that there's no way in hell Cyprus is ever going to agree to that (not to mention others), I think we need only see this stupid scare tactic for exactly what it is — a stupid scare tactic. Wait, can I say it? Yes! I will: Scaremongering!

Council houses and benefits for immigrants

Let me tell you a story. When I first came to France, I was covered by the UK on my E111 (now called EHIC). This lapsed after two years. For the next three years, France was not in the slightest part interested in me. I did not qualify for any sort of medical coverage, help for finding a job, or anything at all. As far as France cared, I did not exist.

After I had been in the country for five years, as evidenced by tax declarations made every year, I was then eligible to be treated exactly the same as any French person with respect to benefits and such — because this time spent in France meant that I now had a tie to the country instead of just walking in and expecting things. This means that I qualified for the CMU (like basic NHS) and a jobseekers allowance (which was half of what the government considers the poverty limit). In return for that, I had to send off loads of job applications (very few companies bothered to reply), go on pointless courses — exactly the same sort of stuff that the British JobCentre inflicts upon its victims. I then found a job (and now pay into the social system, the Sécu), and the rest is history.

Read that carefully.

It is entirely and completely within the EU rules on freedom of movement, immigration, etc. One can be considered to be treated the same as any citizen after five years (with something to prove an association to the country).

So if UKIP / Leave is correct in that all these hoards of migrants (and I don't mean Syrians, I mean existing EU countries) walk into the UK and get council houses and benefits, them please kindly look at your own government. The EU says that EU citizens can legitimately enter the UK. It doesn't say that the UK has to pander to their every need from the moment they come in. For more details on the truth of benefits and medical coverage, please read this.

Saving the NHS

If you are a nurse, you can wear a cute uniform. Okay, that's an utterly male perspective. Unfortunately nowadays respect is lacking and pay is poor. The matrons that used to oversee things have been replaced by levels of middle management. With the open access to EU nationals, the NHS is still short by a huge number of nurses. All those foreigners who could work in the UK yet there just aren't enough people willing to be nurses. I suppose, post Brexit, the government will have to grit its teeth and pillage the medical services of a country like the Philippines (again) or one of the Commonwealth countries to try to make up the numbers.

That, coupled with an aging population, plus the NHS selling off patient records (in some cases regardless of whether or not said patients know or consent) — there are many problems with the NHS and kicking out the foreigners (who basically are presently running it, not taking up all the beds) and throwing non-existent money at the problem is not going to fix it.
Please note that I wrote non-existent money here. Where and how Brexit is going to find this money has never been explained. As soon as they are questioned on this topic, they give their ever-popular reply of "scare mongering!".


Next Thursday

Next Thursday I will not be voting. Even though I am technically entitled to vote (I have not been out of the UK for more than 15 years), the last time I voted in an election was for The Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Paddy Ashdown. He hung up his hat in '99, and I voted for him most likely in 1992. Which means "sorry Rick, get lost". There's democracy for you.
So I hope that on Thursday sense will prevail and the majority will realise that sticking with what we currently have and trying to reform it from the inside is going to be far better than ditching association with the EU, then having to subscribe to those same EU directives (without having any say in the matter) in order to trade with the EU...all for thinking of how nice the UK was back in the fifties, an era and time and way of life that quite simply no longer exists. Britain is part of a global economy now and should react to that, rather than chasing dreams of yesteryear.



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VinceH, 20th June 2016, 22:57
I'm confused. 
Under your "Next Thursday" sub-heading, you explain why you aren't voting - without actually explaining why you aren't voting. 
You say you are technically entitled to vote - the 15 year rule doesn't apply to you because you haven't been out of the country that long. 
You then mention when you think you last voted - which was 24 years ago. Okay, fair enough - but is it relevant? 
So where does "sorry Rick, get lost" come from? That sounds like you're saying you aren't entitled to vote, when you've already said you are. 
So what gives? What am I missing? 
(As an aside, there is IIRC a proposal to change the 15 years rule - though if it is changed, it won't be for a while yet.) 
On the subject of the actual debate: I'm a little disappointed that your post manages to mix some very valid points with the same sort of objectionable commentary that both sides have been guilty of - such as the Nazism comparison in your fourth paragraph. Tut tut. 
FWIW, my position from the start has been somewhere in the middle but leaning towards remain. Sensible campaigns with factual, meaningful, information that don't rely on worst-case-scenario speculation being passed off as actual facts might have changed it one way or the other. 
As far as I can see, the absolute worst case scenario if we leave will be a zombie apocalypse, while the absolute worst case scenario if we stay will be a zombie apocalypse. :/ 
MattH, 21st June 2016, 13:17
I think what Rick's getting at is that, despite having left the UK less than 15 years ago, it was more than 15 years since he was registered to vote. It's the last date of registration that counts for the eligibility.
Rick, 21st June 2016, 14:35
Tut tut indeed, but just imagine how the headlines would have gone if she was killed by an immigrant. Farage would be on every channel that has an EPG number explaining a lot of things that would make the rest of us ashamed to be British. 
As for the voting thing, it has been widely said that you can vote if you last lived in the UK within 15 years, but that isn't actually the truth. It is if you last registered to vote within 15 years. But then journalists and accuracy, never two words that belong together. ;-) 
Hmm, did somebody mention zombies?
VinceH, 21st June 2016, 16:14
What do journalists have to do with it? The 15 year rule is explained here: - that appears to be the government website, not the Daily Ruddy Fail. 
Now that *sort* of says what I think you are now saying: 
"You can register as an overseas voter for up to 15 years after leaving the UK, as long as: 
- you’re a British citizen 
- you were registered to vote in the UK within the  
previous 15 years (or, in some cases, if you were  
too young to have registered when you left the UK)" 
However, my original interpretation of that second bullet point was that you needed to have been registered to vote in the 15 years leading up to the point you left. 
But cripes... I've just went into it as though I was overseas.  
Within only a few questions, having at no point asked me when I left the UK - which could have been last year. It did ask when I was last registered to vote, so I threw in April 1992.  
Result? "Sorry, you cannot register because it has been over 15 years since you left the UK" 
That is fundamentally wrong. And by fundamentally wrong I mean utterly, utterly broken, based on a flawed assumption rather than actual facts. 
VinceH, 21st June 2016, 16:16
Oh yeah - zombies. 
I suppose, if the outcome is to be a zombie apocalypse, the decision might be a case of whether you want your brains chomped by a 'native' or a 'foreign' zombie. Like it'll make any real difference! ;)
Rick, 21st June 2016, 17:59
Must refrain from making disparaging comments about the cuisine of various countries...
VinceH, 21st June 2016, 21:25
Don't forget we're talking raw here. There's no way I'm cooking my brain for any zombies to chow down on - no matter what nationality they are.

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