Controversy as Electoral Commission Guide Tells Voters to Vote Remain

Over the weekend it emerged that thousands of UK households have received a postal vote guide implying that they should use their postal vote to vote Remain in the referendum. Initially reports named Bristol City Council as the main guilty party in distributing the biased voting guides but since then it has emerged that hundreds of thousands of these forms have been sent out across the country.

With the Electoral Commission withdrawing the forms and urging councils to remake any of their voting guides, one has to ask whether it is not a case of too little, too late. Indeed, the very fact that no one at the (supposedly neutral) commission saw a voting guide which explicitly led voters as being a potential controversy casts serious doubts on both their competence and their neutrality.

In a referendum which has been frequently accused of being a case of the establishment vs the people, a scandal such as this is likely to play directly into the hands of Leave campaigners. The Electoral Commission should never have allowed this to go out, if a voter guide at a general election had suggested which party to vote for there would be serious doubts over their ability to be an impartial guarantor. Such an error is unheard of and deeply concerning.

So what do you think? An honest mistake or something more sinister? A biased guide or is everyone overreacting? I leave those decisions up to you. As far as I’m concerned, whatever the reasoning behind the guides, such incompetence is a worrying sign as we move closer to the referendum.

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The Positive Case for Brexit

Brexit is an inherently positive concept. It is not the insular isolationist picture so often painted, but rather something progressive. Embracing global free trade, revitalising democracy and local government, moving forwards into a globalising world. These are distinctly positive, forward thinking messages, and it is also important to remember that when we talk about leaving the European Union that it is a departure from a political union, not from Europe. We can love Europe, love European culture and love our European neighbours without having to be in a political union with them.

The European Union represents a bankrupt economic union. It is one of the world’s only stagnant markets (indeed it has had a stagnant growth rate since 2008) and a market with which our trade is significantly declining (even without including the Rotterdam effect which distorts our trade figures to show increased UK-EU trade).

This stagnant market is something we are tied to – in effect by continuing to be a member of the EU we are paying for exclusive membership of a declining market. It’s exclusive because the Common External Tariff puts a significant barrier on trade with non-EU nations; because thanks to EU law we are unable to negotiate free trade deals of our own.

What Brexit offers us is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move out into the global market. As the fifth largest economy in the world we would be able to have not just free trade with 27 nations, but free trade with 196. That’s free trade with the EU as well as with the growing markets of the world – countries like China, India, the United States, and all the other economic powerhouses of the next twenty years.

Economically, it is a choice between standing back and being happy with less than we could achieve, or stepping forward and embracing global trade. When people say we cannot have the best of both worlds they are wrong, Brexit is at its very foundations a choice between the EU or the EU and the world.

What about democracy? Democracy is an inherently liberal concept. As a classical liberal, one believes that decisions which affect people should be made as close to them as possible, not by Eurocrats in Brussels and Strasbourg. In a democracy, decisions are made by people we can see, people we can hold to account, and fundamentally, people we can throw out of office.

In the EU we cannot see the people who make our laws, we cannot hold them to account, and we cannot throw them out. That is not a democracy. Jean-Claude Juncker who as President of the only EU body with legislative powers is, in effect, the EU’s Chief Legislator, was elected by 0.0000043% of the people he governs. That is not a democracy.

Worse still, the EU affects UK democracy even where it does not have legislative powers. When power gets pulled up the chain from a national legislature to a supranational one, the national legislature pulls up powers from local government. Local government is weakened to a point where it no longer matters (as we see from turnout in the mid-teens for practically all local elections).

If we leave the EU we can revitalise our democracy, pulling powers back from a supranational, antidemocratic body and bringing them into national and local governments, so that the decisions which affect Southampton are made in Southampton, and the decisions which affect the United Kingdom are made in the United Kingdom.

The UK and its predecessors have been at the forefront of innovation and invention, world culture, and change for the last thousand years or so. Let’s return to a position where we can lead the world once more. European cooperative efforts on everything from security to climate change do not require membership of a political union. Cooperation between Britain and our European allies is inevitable regardless of what happens on June 23rd – but let’s do more.

As a global player once more, free from the shackles of the EU and able to stand up and made our voice heard, Britain can lead the way on global cooperation, cooperation on climate change, cooperation on tackling corruption, cooperation on global poverty. These are issues which require global cooperation. Let’s lead it.

On June 23rd you have a choice: be in a bankrupt economic union, an antidemocratic political union, an unsafe security union, or become a global Britain, a Britain able to stand on the world stage, able to trade in the global markets. We could be a Britain able to lead once more, rather than being constrained to merely follow.

Buying a Tugboat?

The Leave campaign are often derided as ‘isolationist’, which is frankly a fallacy. At a recent debate the accusation was thrown at me that as a campaign we want to ‘drag the United Kingdom out into the Atlantic’, which if you ask me sounds like an unnecessarily costly enterprise. How would one source a tugboat large enough? How expensive would the repairs on the Channel Tunnel be? But I jest, it is clear that the only people who envision a Brexit where Britain has been dragged out into the Atlantic are the In campaign. Perhaps they imagine it will come just after war, disease and pestilence! Nonetheless, joking aside, the prospect of a metaphorical tugboat is intriguing, so let’s consider just a few of the things we could drag back to Britain if we were to leave the European Union.

We could drag back our freedom to trade. The Common External Tariff marks the European Union’s answer to Donald Trump’s wall, a barrier preventing free trade and cooperation between nations within this customs union and those outside. A barrier which prevents the United Kingdom engaging in free trade with nations whom we lack non-tariff barriers to trade with, nations whose trade deals are written and signed in English, nations with whom we have pre-existing historical linkages. But alas the CET is not the only barrier, a key part of dragging back our freedom to trade is regaining our seat at the world’s table. Let’s use our tugboat to grapple onto our seat at the World Trade Organisation and drag it back into its place at the high table, so that we can form free trade deals with the growing economies of the world and the markets of tomorrow.

We could drag back our democracy. The EU is not just undemocratic but antidemocratic. Jean-Claude Juncker was elected by 0.0000043% of the 600 million residents of the European Union. Juncker of course being our Chief Legislator as President of the only body with the power to propose legislation. Democracy is about power being wielded as close to the people it effects as possible, it is about being able to see our representatives and to hold them to account. When you cannot vote out your legislators, you are not living in a democracy. We cannot see the people that make our laws, we cannot hold them to account, we cannot throw them out. Let’s use this tugboat to drag back legislative powers and revitalise democracy in the United Kingdom, pulling powers down from a supranational body into the Westminster parliament and pulling down further powers from Westminster into local government, so that decisions which effect Southampton are made in Southampton and decisions which effect the United Kingdom are made in the United Kingdom.

We could drag back our sovereignty, we could drag back our control, we could drag back crucial legislative areas. Most importantly, let’s use our tugboat to drag ourselves out into the world. Let’s put Britain back at the forefront of world change, we can lead the way into a new era of global cooperation on trade, global cooperation on climate change, global cooperation to tackle poverty. There is nothing that can be done by 28 nations that couldn’t be done better by 197. We are a great country, a country of innovators and inventors, the country of Brunel, of Shakespeare, of Chaucer. We have led the world before, let’s do it again. I do not want to use a tugboat to drag Britain out into the Atlantic, I want us to use it to drag us back out into the world again.

‘Brexit is Regressive’ and Other Myths: Part III

The third and final instalment of my myth buster series will cover three of the biggest myths I have heard from the Inners in recent weeks. In today’s edition I will take on the usual arguments from the In campaign, and in an unusual turn for my blog I will also be taking on the President of the United States. The safest choice on June 23rd is to Vote Leave, here is why.

Myth: ‘Brexit is Regressive’

Regressive. Really? Do you know what is regressive? Being within a 28 nation customs union which prevents trade with growing economies like China, India, Canada is regressive. Shutting out the world at the expense of our friends and allies outside of the EU bubble, that is regressive. What isn’t regressive is a desire to have free trade with the whole world. A desire to engage in the distinctly liberal ideal of globalised trade and globalised markets is the epitome of a progressive nation. Calling Brexit regressive is not just unsubstantiated, but fundamentally wrong.

Do you know what is regressive? Giving away popular sovereignty to a series of Brussels (and Strasbourg) based Eurocrats, unelected, unaccountable, permanent. Membership of an organisation so illiberal in structure that it would not meet its own democratic entry requirements is not progressive but regressive. It is, I will admit, extremely ironic that if the European Union applied to join the European Union it would not be admitted, but that is the level of regression that we are talking about. Jean-Claude Juncker was thrown out by the people of Luxembourg to become President over 28 nations. That is regressive.

Do you know what is regressive? TTIP is regressive. The Green Party, considered by many to be one of the most progressive parties in the United Kingdom, oppose TTIP as, as Natalie Bennett puts it, it will ‘blow apart the power of our democratic decision making’. Yet the Greens are largely in favour of staying in the EU…which is bemusing.

If Brexit is regressive, and this is an argument thrown mainly by the left hand side of the political spectrum, then why has it been supported by so many people hailed as progressives? Tony Benn was an arch Eurosceptic, David Owen is a committed Brexiter, the No campaign in 1975 was led by Benn, Foot, Castle and the SNP and Plaid Cymru – hardly a regressive bunch themselves. Indeed, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, a deeply principled man, was against the European Union right up until he became leader of the Labour Party – perhaps deciding that his principles against the EU were outweighed by the principled belief that he should always be opposed to the ideological position of the leader of the Labour Party!

Myth: ‘Students will be worse off’

There are so many angles from whence I could attack this myth. The most recent variant of it I have seen is this idea that it would make it harder for British students to study abroad. I’m afraid then that I must have missed all of the British students studying at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the thousands of other universities across China, America, India, the Middle East, Japan and the rest of the World who don’t seem to have been hindered by the fact that their university of choice lies in a country with which we do not share a political union.

As for current EU students in UK universities, there have been many concerns about the effect on them in terms of fee increases or even deportation. These are merely scare stories. Current students, be they EU, UK or international, have signed a contract guaranteeing them a place at their chosen university for the duration of their course on a given set of fees. Changing that fee structure or revoking their rights to study doesn’t just violate UK law but is also a ludicrous policy for a university or a government to employ. It won’t happen. Not just that, but a majority of current EU students are on three year courses which finish long before the two year exit period for Brexit.

A myriad of other myths surround the effects of the EU on students but I alas do not have the requisite time to cover them all. This article would also be approximately three miles long before I’d finished it. Things like our membership of Interrail or Erasmus (which both have non-EU nations within them) would not in any way be threatened by Brexit. Students can only benefit from a future free from a bankrupt customs union and an antidemocratic political union.

Myth: ‘We’ll be at the back of the queue’

Taking on the President of the United States for spreading a myth is an unusual treat, but nonetheless this week’s edition of my myth busting series requires me to deal with the ludicrous assertions of Mr Obama. Barack Obama was right on cue from Downing Street when he told the British public that we should vote to stay in the EU. The obvious rebuttal I could make here, where I point out the irony of a politician whose public would never accept a supranational organisation making their laws from afar, or where I could remark that it seems logical that a President who has created a deal for themselves like TTIP would never risk that being lost, would seem strong – but I won’t say that.

Instead I will focus on this notion of the world’s fifth largest economy being ‘at the back of the queue’ for a trade deal. The notion that the United States of America would snub a preferential trade deal with one of its largest trading partners, the fifth largest economy in the world. The notion that the United States of America would make itself wait for a free trade deal with the second largest economy in the world that does business in their language thus reducing non-trade barriers, one of its largest trading partners, the fifth largest economy in the world. Should I keep going or do you get the picture?

Fortunately for the people of the United States, the man who claims to want to put Britain at the back of the queue will only be President for less than a year. I struggle to see his successor sacrificing the prosperity of the American public in their first year in office – let’s not forget they have a second term to win.

Barack Obama says Britain will be at the back of the queue, which is gratifying in a way, because at least he acknowledges that outside of the EU we will be allowed to be in the queue at all. More than that though, we will not be at the back of the queue but the front of the line. It would make no political or economic sense to do anything else.

Conclusion: Nine myths busted in total and certainly the biggest and nastiest of those myths put out by the Inners. We must Vote Leave on June 23rd, no ifs, no buts – the only choice for Britain and our future is to leave the European Union.