We need to challenge some of those Brexit statements


Well, the ‘official’ EU referendum campaign has finally begun. Funny, it appears to have been going on for months already.

I was interested to see the images of the two official campaigns juxtaposed the other day in the BBC report on my TV screen. The ‘Leave’ campaign was illustrated by old footage of Tories Grayling, Gove and Whittingdale etc. manning the phone lines, whereas the ‘In’ footage showed Tory, Labour and Lib Dem politicians, including the Prime Minister, doing the same thing. For an organisation that has tried so far to be unfailingly impartial in its reporting of the campaign in its ‘phoney war’ stage, I have a feeling that the BBC has possibly given the ‘In’ campaign a visual leg up, by showing its multi party nature. Now, whether we get politicians of different parties actually sharing a platform as we did in 1975 is a different matter.

So far, the arguments for and against have been pretty well rehearsed. We should park immigration for a moment, which could be the deciding factor, but which will still pose problems for us whether or not we stay in the EU. As an EU pragmatist, who thinks that, on balance, leaving the EU now would be a massive gamble, I do have to say that some of the arguments being put forward repeatedly by the Brexiters need challenging.

Let’s start with sovereignty. I tend to take the Johnsonian view of patriotism. For me, what is more important is to work with my neighbours. If compromise is required in a few specific areas I can live with that. I just wish that people would stop saying that we are ruled by Brussels. If you want an honest answer, many of us up here in Lincolnshire are fed up with being ruled by London! Oh, and I shall be roaring England on in the upcoming European Football championships. As far as sport is concerned, I think I could pass the Tebbit test.

“The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy”. That appears to be the economic mantra coming from the Brexit side. So, how did we get to this exalted position? It wasn’t surely from making things. We stopped doing that on a large scale decades ago, thanks mainly to stroppy unions, weak management and Mrs T. In fact, the same arrogant attitude that the world owes us a living that pervaded in the 1950s, 60s and 70s appears to be alive and well and living in the Brexit camp today. No, we are probably where we are today largely because of our ability to shuffle money around in the City and elsewhere, which, together with our easy access to Europe’s single market has proved very attractive to major firms across the world.

According to last week’s Guardian 100,000 financial services jobs could be lost if we vote to leave. It would seem pretty easy to transfer that desk and computer to Paris or Frankfurt compared with building a new car factory in the Czech Republic and there surely goes your fifth position in the world economic rankings.

“We don’t want to be part of a European Super State”. Neither do I, and I have a sneaking suspicion that neither do the citizens of most of the other member states of the EU either. I reckon that the EU In ten years time will be a very different animal from what it is today. Are you listening, Nick Clegg? Indeed, are you listening Mr Juncker? It might not quite be the Common Market that I and millions of my fellow citizens voted to stay in 41 years ago; but it will still be a place in which I hope that my children and grandchildren will thrive long after I have gone.

I have one final thought. Despite all the claims and counterclaims from both sides, the ‘Remain’ campaign clearly needs the active involvement of the Labour Party and its Leader more than ever before. It’s time to leave those egos at the door and to forget differences for a while. Hostilities can be resumed AFTER 23 June.

* John Marriott is a former Liberal Democrat councillor from Lincolnshire.

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  • “leaving the EU now would be a massive gamble”
    And one this country would lose. It’s a globalised world now, no one has special treatment.
    Do you remember the story Hatters Castle where Brodie’s business as a hatter is destroyed. A rival company moves next door and attracts all his customers. Part of this is due to Brodie’s pride, as the customers are driven away by his delusions of superiority.

  • Michael Berridge 18th Apr '16 - 4:18pm

    Let’s see if I have got this right. Here’s my checklist so far.

    Immigration: to get the trade deal that we want, we’ll have to concede free movement of labour – so there’s no point in leaving.
    City and finance: the uncertainty has already hurt the economy – and we’ll damage it more by leaving.
    Brussels bureaucracy: Whitehall bureaucracy is just as bad, if not worse – so there’s nothing gained there by leaving.
    European Superstate: the EU is already like cats in a sack – so we can safely stay in.

    As for the Euromyths – accounts never signed off, costs us 55 million a day, no funny bananas – it is the Don’t Knows we are after, not the committed Europhobes, and those who have yet to decide have more sense than to fall for those stories … don’t they?

  • As liberals we need to make the case strongly for free trade and free movement, and for open markets.

    Much of the Brexit propaganda is about free movement of labour being supposedly a bad thing, and the continued obsession with the problem with Turkey being in the EU. These people need to be questioned head on as to what their problem with Turkey is (and I fear it is xenophobic). Immigration must be championed. We cannot allow the myths about immigration to fester any longer!

    Additionally we see the bizarre spectacle of supposed right wing Brexiteers against the TTIP and ISDS and against offshoring and free trade. We must argue strongly for TTIP and ISDS and debunk the myths spread about this by both the far left and the far right.

    Finally a lot of the other stuff involves protectionist and socialist themes “you can’t renationalise the railway in the EU”, “steel will be crushed” and so on. We must strongly make the case in favour of globalisation and privatisation.

    Miriam González (Clegg’s wife) has written a powerful piece defending free trade, the EU and globalisation in the Guardian. This is the view we as liberals must promote.


  • Richard Underhill 18th Apr '16 - 4:34pm

    Stimpson 18th Apr ’16 – 4:24pm Turkey has numerous adverse judgements in the European Court of Human Rights. Cyprus has a right to veto the admission of Turkey. France would be required by law to hold a referendum. AK means clean in Turkish, but power corrupts and absolute power ……. ……….

  • To be honest, even though I’m a Lib Dem voter, after much huffing and puffing, I’ve decided to vote out. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that I can’t pass up on.

  • John,
    Personally. I don’t yearn for a golden age or want to go back to anything. To me it’s like an opportunity to leave a partner I no longer fancy or want to live with. To be honest, I think the remains will win and the power of the electorate to effect change of any meaningful kind will continue to dwindle.

  • paul barker 18th Apr '16 - 7:02pm

    Of course, when people say “I want my country back”, a lot of them mean they want a Britain minus all those Immigrants & their decendants. One of my biggest fears about a Vote to Leave is that it would unleash a wave of Racism & Xenophobia which would itself generate a backlash. More Riots perhaps?
    Then there is the almost certain prospect of Cameron & Osborne being replaced by figures much farther to the Right. Throw in a good, old-fashioned “Run on The Pound” & we would face the sort of crisis Britain hasnt seen since the Early 1980s at least.
    Of course we cant say any of these things too loudly without being accused of Scaremongering & Hysteria.

  • Nonsense is not the sole prerogative of the Brexiters. I refer the Hon Members to today’s statement by Mr Osborne.

  • Grayling has taken to repeating a line that French farmers and German car makers would not be able to sell to the UK in the event that the EU imposed a tariff on British goods. Someone please tell him that a tariff would not stop any trade but would increase the costs of goods to British families whilst endangering exports as their price increased to overseas consumers. Since we export more cars than we import I have no doubt the Germans and French would love to make a grab for Mini, Nissan, Honda, and Toyota car plants with no trade barriers. Any tariff, and price hikes, we imposed on EU goods would be entirely the responsibility of the British government and the public would be right to punish said government. It is infuriating that he is getting away with this nonsensical rubbish unchallenged.

  • Ed Shepherd 19th Apr '16 - 5:54am

    An interesting debate but some facts are needed. Please correxlct me if any of the following statements are untrue. The UK ks the eleventh biggest manufacturer in the world. Manjfacturing employs more people in the UK than are employed in financial services. Manufacturing contributes more to UK GVA than financial services. Nissan and Mini are already owned by the French and Germans.

  • Peter Watson 19th Apr '16 - 7:50am

    One thing that confuses me about the argument that “we buy much more from them than they buy from us” is that surely this is not a great state of affairs. Perhaps it would be easier to change this within the EU than without, I don’t know, but is there a reason why we would want to be so proud of being a large net importer?

  • If the UK votes to remain in the EU on 23 June can we Brexit at a later date if we realise staying in was a huge mistake?

  • Jenny Barnes 19th Apr '16 - 8:57am

    While the Germans will of course want to continue to export their cars, and so will be enthusiastic for a trade deal should we exit, the East Europeans will insist on free movement of people being part of such a deal. So if free movement is a show stopper for the UK side, there won’t be a trade deal. One could certainly expect the trade negotiations to take several years.

    ‘How good, how good, does if feel to be free. And I answer them most mysteriously: “Are birds free from the chains of the skyways?” ‘ (Dylan)

  • Pat
    It is a much more worrying question,if we leaveand all the fears are realised, how do we get back. A risk too far

  • Cameron runs the country (sort of) with 37%, and some local Councillors get elected on 33%..

  • Richard Underhill 19th Apr '16 - 11:10am

    BBC2 Newsnight on 19/4/2016 had a 200 page Treasury document, supported by a minister for Remain and unread by an MEP for Leave. Nobody was promising to analyse it and of course the BBC is neutral.
    Evan Davies said we do not need more ‘facts’ we need ‘counter-factuals’.
    Renegotiating trade deals after an exit would take two years (Lisbon treaty) or more by agreement with the remaining members whose structure we would be undermining. Many deals take much longer. Some do not happen at all.
    The short term economic consequences are strongly negative. The medium term economic consequences are likely to be negative. The longer term consequences of anything are more difficult to predict. John Maynard Keynes was right to prioritise the near term.

  • Richard Underhill 19th Apr '16 - 11:16am

    Swiss banks do not have a banking deal with the EU, so Swiss banks are in London. If the UK leaves the EU Swiss banks are likely to leave London for Frankfurt or Paris.

  • John
    “Having lived and worked abroad as a young man I quickly learned that we are just another country as far as most of the world is concerned”
    Having lived and still working abroad as an old man I can confirm that is still the case.
    What is changing is the creation of economic unions in different parts of the world.
    Forming a partnership isn’t a sign of weakness and don’t forget the Germans are our cousins.

  • To me the leave/Remain campaign is not about the economy. It’s about democracy. I want politicians to be scared of the electorate and for the electorate to grow a backbone. If we remain it will just be more decades of impotent whining about governments not that many people want.

  • Why should I leave it there? All my comments are short, not filled with claims to know what other people think and polite.

  • “The difficulty in voting yes, or remain, is knowing what we are voting yes to. “ petermartin2001.

    Well from today’s “post-exit EU-UK trade vision” by Michael Gove, it is clear the BREXIT campaign want us to join them in their collective “happy ever after” fantasy that only happens in feel good movies…

    I just laughed at Boris Johnson yesterday, when he confidently asserted that the Bank of England, with all it’s skilled personnel could get things wrong, hence we shouldn’t believe their 200 page warning about the potential downside to BREXIT. However, we should believe his (Boris’s) word – that life will be wonderful after BREXIT; his evidence and rationale? none, just trust me, I’m Boris Johnson…

  • Michael Berridge 19th Apr '16 - 4:25pm

    Glenn, you tell us:
    “To be honest, I think the remains will win and the power of the electorate to effect change of any meaningful kind will continue to dwindle.”
    I hope you’re right about the Remain vote. I fear your protest vote will be fateful.
    I don’t agree that the electorate is growing more impotent. The last two elections have delivered a coalition and a small majority. Social media do far more for ordinary voters than the letters pages of the press ever did.

  • “Grayling has taken to repeating a line that French farmers and German car makers would not be able to sell to the UK in the event that the EU imposed a tariff on British goods.” Stevan Rose

    Picking up on the globalism theme, I think the debate is getting too focused on UK-EU trade. Once the UK steps outside of the EU and the single market, very different rules will apply. Today, companies such as Apple (US) and Samsung (South Korea) have to comply with the rules of the single market to trade with the UK, after exit they do not. Hence they can release new products in either the EU or the UK and block their (grey) export from one to the other, refusing to honour guarantees on EU products used in the UK etc. …

  • Michael Berridge,
    I rarely if ever read newspapers. To me the problem is getting people to vote. Currently we have turnouts of 60% or so and low levels of trust in MPs. I think that’s unhealthy. One of the things that worries me about the EU referendum is that I suspect the turnout will be low and I don’t want the future decided by the few people who can be bothered to turn up. People need to take this vote very seriously and most of all turn out. Otherwise it will turn into an endless squabble about legitimacy.

  • Gordon Lishman 19th Apr '16 - 7:29pm

    The conventional wisdom emerges above that the 1975 referendum was only about joining the Common Market and not a body with ambitions to develop its political links. Actually, the 1975 government booklet on the referendum and the Yes campaign leaflet both referred to political union. Of course, more people then remembered that we were only a short time beyond a world which for the previous millennium had involved actual wars involving France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain, Sweden………… It was only the No campaign which concentrated only on the economic arguments.

  • Not sure I understand the democracy argument. The European Parliament is elected, proportionately. The Commission is appointed by elected Governments. The Council is composed of elected national politicians. EU civil servants are no more or less accountable than civil servants anywhere. We can leave the EU any time if an issue arises that we cannot agree an exemption from and cannot live with, so the UK Parliament is always sovereign. We have not ceded sovereignty, rather we share it with other democratic countries because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. A lot of EU regulations are about protection of social freedoms, of the environment, of food standards, of workers rights. Would I trust a Brexited Tory government to preserve those protections? No way.

    I would also point out that in the event of Brexit, Scotland may well nevertheless remain as an independent country. Leaving the rump UK with a Tory majority that would be extremely difficult to depose.

  • There is another area where the BREXIT argument is deficient, namely the regulation and calling to account of international companies. Currently, the EU are undertaking an antitrust investigation against Google. Some years back it conducted a similar investigation against Microsoft, which whilst many consider the final demands weren’t sufficiently harsh, they did cause Microsoft to make changes to relevant products and pay the fines imposed. From the posturing of Google, we can see that they are clearly worried that the EU may well find against them. As a member of the EU we can have both an input into such antitrust hearings and directly benefit from the outcome. As a non-member we will be unable to perform any meaningful antitrust investigation and impose sanctions with any real expectation that they would be complied with, nor would we be in a position to exert any real influence over the initiation of any such proceedings in the EU (or elsewhere). Instead we would be restricted to the role of bystander, just as we were with the US antitrust proceedings against AT&T and IBM…

  • Stevan Rose
    I think the problem is the turnout in the UK for euro elections is normally around 35% and a decent size minority of those vote for a party that wants to leave the EU. I can understand why some question how democratic the European Parliament really is. Also Lib Dems complain about the House of Lords, but is the appointment of EU Commissioners any more democratic than the way Peers are appointed?

  • Slightly off topic! With respect to anti-trust investigations and the imposition of penalties that may be deemed appropriate, it would seem that TTIP and it’s ISDS as they currently stand will present a massive hurdle to the enactment and enforcement of any changes deemed necessary and the collection of fines etc. …

  • Alex Macfie 20th Apr '16 - 8:24am

    @malc: If voters choose not to take elections to the European Parliament seriously, then frankly that is their funeral. That said, the style of campaigning for Euro elections adopted by the main parties is deeply unhelpful, because they hardly ever talk about actual European issues (i.e. issues that are discussed and voted on by MEPs). The Lib Dems are as bad as the rest. The Clegg/Farage debates said nothing about the role of MEPs in shaping legislation and holding the Commission and Council to account. we did not give voters reason to vote for Lib Dem MEPs rather than MEPs from some other party, because we said nothing about what our MEPs had done to achieve our specifically liberal vision of the EU. This, and the free publicity we gave to Farage and UKIP, basically meant we were giving our blessing to the political establishment’s conspiracy of silence over the European Parliament. It validated the idea that MEPs don’t matter and that it is therefore safe to vote for loonies and fruitcakes in Euro elections, if it is worth voting at all.

    Comparing the HoL to the European Commission is apples & oranges really, as the former is a revising chamber (part of the legislature of the UK), while the European Commission is the executive branch of the EU, so more properly compared to the cabinet. But there is no parliamentary scrutiny of appointees to either the Cabinet or the House of Lords (and if there were, it would be meaningless, given the government’s in-built HoC majority). By contrast, the European Parliament can veto Commission appointees, and can also sack a sitting Commission. And this is a meaningful power, due to the lack of any payroll vote: MEPs are not elected to do the Commission’s bidding.

  • malc:

    EU commissioners head branches of the EU civil service. They are part of the executive machinery; Peers have votes (unlike commissioners), they are part of the legislature. To help avoid a situation where one country gets the lions share of EU civil servants, each state puts forward a nominee. Arguably this is an inefficient practice, but unless you think civil servants should be elected, democracy should not be the issue.

    Jeremy Heywood, Bob Kerslake, Ian Watmore… What do the names of these powerful figures mean to anyone? Do you think they should have been voted into office? Do you think that voting for heads of civil servant departments ought to be Lib Dem policy?

  • Even if I campaigned my socks off, against Cameron in the seat of Witney back in May 2015, his safe seat would prove very difficult to shift. But campaigning hard against Tories in a marginal like say Bolton West is very worthwhile, not least because even though I might not be able to touch Cameron, I can with hard campaigning work, get rid of Michael Green MP and reduce Cameron’s majority [i.e. reduce Tory power].
    The point I’m making is that here in the UK, there is a democratic ‘line of sight’ for the voter to work and make real change to the seat of power at Westminster. That democratic ‘line of sight’, here in Britain, is a bit thin at times, but it does exist, for campaigners who put in the hard work, to make concrete changes.
    But,….in the EU system,.. where is that same ‘line of sight’ for a voter or campaigner to get rid, or reduce the power of Juncker and his ilk? I see no amount of door knocking,..petitioning,.. writing to your representative,.. leaflet dropping,.. that can put a dent in Junckers power, or a cold sweat on his brow.
    In short,..I can think of several ways a UK voter can ‘worry’ Cameron, but apart from the threat of Brexit, I cannot think of even one way to worry Juncker under the EU system. ergo ~ The EU is neither democratic nor voter sensitive?

  • J Dunn: As I stated above, the European Parliament has the power to sack the Commission, so you can write to your MEP(s) and ask them to support a motion to do that. And MEPs are able to amend and veto legislation, and as there is no payroll vote, the Commission cannot be sure of getting its entire agenda through as originally written.
    And since the most recent Euro election, the European Parliament has been able to vote for the President of the Commission, with the party groups each putting forward their own candidate. Juncker was the candidate of the European People’s Party, which won the most votes EU-wide. Now in other EU countries, the parties promoted their choice of candidate for President in the election. That they did not do in this country is a problem with the political culture in this country with respect to EU elections, and not a problem with the EU per se. As I have repeatedly said, my own party is as much to blame as the others for this. And if your complaint is that there was not option for voting for Juncker in the UK because of the lack of an EPP-affiliated party, well this is no different from not being able to vote Tory or Labour in Northern Ireland for the general election.

  • Stevan Rose 20th Apr '16 - 9:03pm

    “I think the problem is the turnout in the UK for euro elections is normally around 35%”

    65% are expressing their view that they just don’t care one way or another, which they entitled to do. When it comes to politicians, frankly the choices are uninspiring and unattractive. In my own constituency last year I had a Labour MP with expensive tastes in expenses, a Tory obsessed with bin collection intervals and dog dirt, an invisible outsider Lib Dem, and a Kipper who fortunately got nowhere. The quality of candidates is generally poor. For EU elections I note that a significant number of candidates are former MPs booted by the electorate once before, often for good reason, but the list means no choice. When I look at the UK MEP’s I see no-one I have any admiration for. When I look at the UK Parliament, there are maybe 5 I could enthusiastically shake hands with. None in the Lords now Shirley has retired. Most people have a choice of dull and uninspiring party hacks for candidates. If I didn’t hold a party card I would probably deliberately spoil my ballot in protest, as I have done several times in the past.

    I don’t think 65% abstaining reduces legitimacy but it may point to major issues with all parties. No idea how you fix that. I might also theorise that there are no real fights left to fight and politics is now all about tinkering around the edges. All the big stuff has been done in 2016 Britain. Hence no need for great thinkers and reformers. We have universal heathcare, pensions, education, consensus (largely) on workers rights, social and gender equality

    There are really only two subjects that I can get excited about… misrepresentation of the EU and abolition of the House of Lords.

  • I get this TWO referenda thing. We vote Leave,… Juncker freaks out,.. calls us back into the shop,.. offers us alloy wheels and a full tank of petrol,.. and we have a second referendum on the new improved deal. So far so good.
    But what about a second referendum if we vote Remain, only to find 12 months down the line that we were cheated? How so? We already know that the ‘Cameron Deal’, is not legally binding on the EU, but there are further suggestions that the EU has lots of new legislation planned which is even more financially draconian than the stuff we have now, but is being held in a dark cupboard out of voter sight until after the 23rd of June referendum?
    So,..If we vote Remain,… but find that even more sovereignty destroying legislation was secretly being held back to cheat us into voting Remain,… can we invoke that same Second Referendum?
    It’s only fair?

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Apr '16 - 10:57am

    I have a query.

    Much is made of our potential to do deals with other world economies, but will other world economies see us less important and therefore will our power to deal and negotiate with them be much diminished?

  • “We’re the fifth largest economy in the world.” – But a minnow in many areas, such as steel production…

    Given the at times emotive nature of Anglo-French relationships, I wonder if the UK BREXIT’s whether the Tour would grace these shores again – Remember it was the Tour starting in Yorkshire in 2014 – combined with sustained UK successes that had a major impact on tourism and cycling in this country – says he looking forward to marshalling at the 2016 Womens Tour among other events.

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