The EU Referendum Hokey Cokey
One foot in, one foot out – Britain’s hokey cokey with Europe finally came to a head at the weekend with the announcement that the in/out referendum will be held on 23 June.
This referendum has profound implications for Europe and Britain, threatening to imperil the unity of both. But for now at least, it’s a spectacle of politicians – mostly White male members of the Conservative party – trading blows in a macho contest to see who will come out on top.
So far London Mayor Boris Johnson, described in less than flattering terms by former MP Jerry Hayes as a “copper bottomed, double dealing, hypocritical little shit” has dominated the headlines. Would he or wouldn’t he campaign to stay In? No, as it turns out, and judging from the reaction on both sides you’d think he had the ability to exercise mind control on the British public and make them vote for Brexit with the fatal certainty of lemmings falling off a cliff.
His detractors are furious because they know that this referendum is an emotional issue as much as a practical one. A lot of people feel that the EU of today has strayed very far from the Common Market that Britain voted to join in 1975. Britain opted not to join the Euro or sign up to the Schengen Agreement, which abolished internal borders in much of the EU. The Schengen rules are likely to change this year following the Paris terrorist attacks and the migrant crisis, both of which prompted a lot of anxiety about borders.
Cameron’s promise of a referendum in the Tory Party manifesto at the last election was contingent on him securing a special deal from the EU to address some concerns, most notably to cut migrant benefits, make sure that Britain is exempt from further political union in Europe and secure special status for pretty much everything else. While many in Europe have looked askance at our attempts to get special snowflake status, Cameron did get a deal (which has since been overshadowed by the Boris story). Migrant campaigners have long pointed out that the child benefit paid to those with children in their European country of origin is less than 0.5% of the total child benefit welfare bill, but Cameron was keen to abolish it anyway. In the end he settled for the payments being made at the rate of the home country rather than Britain’s, but some estimate that at least half of the savings made by the measure will be spent on the cost of holding the referendum in the short term, while other calculations suggest that the extra administration for this measure might cancel out the savings in the long-term.
In the end, Cameron’s deal was more about Tory party management anyway, giving some degree of cover for those in the party who want to vote to stay In but don’t want to back the EU as it is, given how this is a traditionally divisive issue for the Tories. And then there’s the state of the Union as Scotland realises that it (narrowly) voted to hitch its caboose to the British train that might take it out of Europe, a situation that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned will trigger another referendum on independence.
Look away from the internal politics and the spectacle of White Men Dancing and there is actually a lot to consider. Those in favour of Brexit say that Britain pays more into the EU than it gets back and that British business will do better without “red tape” from Brussels. And Iain Duncan Smith says that we’re at greater risk of terrorism inside the EU, if you think the head of the Department of Work and Pensions, which has come under fire from anti-austerity and disability campaigners for inventing positive stories about welfare sanctions, is to be trusted.
The “In” camp says that free movement benefits Brits as much as the rest of Europe and that we’ve got a seat at the top table of nations as part of the EU. The EU is also our biggest trade partner so by staying we keep that relationship sweet.
But these are all conceptual. What’s tangible, what you can see, are people. Migrants. So while the Brexit camp says migrants from the EU are threatening British jobs and the welfare system, the “In” camp points out that migrants come to work, not claim benefits and give more than they take out of the system.
The next four months will see more of these arguments.
There will be wild claims. Scaremongering.
Stuff about Boris’ hair.
Banks and other business will mutter about leaving London.
There will be polls.
There will be polls about whether you believe in polls anymore after the General Election.
But in the end, the choice is yours. In or out?
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White Mend Dancing is a weekly column. Kiri Kankhwende and Maurice Mcleod keep an eye on Westminster. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.
Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an Msc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and has been a contributor to BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News. Find her on twitter @madomasi
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