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Dear Britain…

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Feel the fear and do it anyway, that was the self-help battle cry of the 90’s.  And when it comes to politics, it’s a maxim that voters need to live by.  With the UK’s EU Membership Referendum (or Brexit) looming ever closer, I’d like to send a little message from Ireland to our neighbours across the pond and it’s this: whatever way you decide to vote, don’t let your decision be motivated by fear.

Negative campaigning seems to be the most popular approach when it comes to influencing voters.  ‘Put the fear of God in them’, is what our Irish rugby captain Paul O’Connell used to say in his pre-match speech and it seems to work.  Let me remind you of our last European referendum in Ireland, the Lisbon Treaty.  It became clear by the end of the campaign that half of us didn’t even understand what we were signing up to, but the common consensus was that we didn’t want to lose even more of our autonomy to Europe.  So we voted no.   Seeing as we were the only ones who had the opportunity to vote on the treaty, we were giving a voice to the 500 million European citizens who were denied a vote on Lisbon.  We were the catalysts for a forward move towards a social Europe, a Europe that cherishes it’s citizens.  I was so proud of our nation.  Despite our size, it seemed we had an equal voice in Europe and if we weren’t happy, they would respect our sovereign decision.

But that was until Europe told us we got the answer wrong.  We were supposed to have voted yes.  So our government decided that we were going to keep having this referendum until we got the right answer.  That’s European democracy at work right there!  And that’s when the scare tactics really began in earnest.  Along with the promise of jobs, investment and a ‘fairer’ Europe, apocalyptic tales of Ireland’s isolation on the fringes of Europe were rife.  How would we survive out in the cold?  Unbelievably, the referendum was rerun and under the guise of attaining special conditions like keeping our tax rates and our ‘highly restrictive’ abortion laws (thanks for that Europe), Ireland voted yes.  It’s amazing what a bit of fear can do.  And talk of money.

They did the same thing in Scotland – worrying the heads off people that they would be kicked out of Europe and would have to reapply for membership.  Well guess what Scotland?  You might be out of Europe now anyway, except you’ll have Wales, England and Northern Ireland for company.  The problem in these debates is the polarising views – left and right – that end up with people shouting their extreme positions at each other and the majority of people who are probably in the middle don’t have their voices heard at all.  What I think citizens really want is a certain amount of autonomy when it comes to making their own laws and deciding where their money goes.  No-one seems to understand what goes on in Brussels and the European Parliament.  All we know is that we get ‘directives’ from people who have never even stepped a foot on our soil and couldn’t possibly know what our citizens need.

What began as a mutually beneficial economic agreement has turned into a power hungry, elitist governing power that can tell farmers in the west of Ireland not to cut the turf on their own land or fishermen not to fish their own waters (giving the rights instead to European trawlers) yet refuse to step in when it comes to negotiating deals with pharmaceutical companies (Ireland pays up to 40% more than UK for the same drugs).  Not only do they issue directives, but they can block you from making decisions for your own people.  Eleven European countries have objected to Ireland’s recent decision to put health warnings on alcohol products.  Finally, our government is addressing this massive health problem of alcohol addiction that has been affecting our citizens for decades, but the European Commission fears that it will be a barrier to free trade!  It’s this kind of interference that makes me question the role of Europe and where this path is leading us?

If the British public do vote to exit the EU, what is there to be so afraid of?  Maybe it will be better!  The truth is, nobody really knows.  Nobody can guarantee economic stability.  Look at what happened to us with our banking crisis – in many ways, being in Europe made things worse for us.  Germany refused to let our banks burn the bondholders (because most of them were German) and we ended up saddling the public with billions worth of private debt.  Even the IMF have admitted that the European Central Bank gave us a terrible deal, and we had no control over inflation rates or interest rates that might have eased the austerity measures imposed on us.

It would be erroneous of me to suggest that Ireland didn’t gain from it’s membership in the EU, but is that a reason to keep supporting a system that is hungry for more control and more ‘unity’?  Perhaps we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I think we need to ask the citizens of Europe what they want from the union and instead of terrifying them into giving the right answer, actually listen to what they have to say.  If Britain speak up now, I think it will be for the betterment of Europe.  It might be the catalyst for actual reforms and maybe we’ll come up with something better, instead of clinging to what we have now because we’re too afraid to leave.

8 thoughts on “Dear Britain…

  1. Good post, but none of us are going to be out of Europe though, it is a geographical entity. If the ‘Kippers general election vote is anything to go by then support for leaving the EU is just as strong in Wales as in England. The ‘pro-EU’ stance of many Scots is a misguided belief that it could facilitate independence, which of course it won’t, it would just mean that the residual sovereign powers at Westminster would be transferred to Holyrood. Quite how a country with one per cent of the EU’s population could have any influence on how it is run is something that the SNP can’t answer. As for the Six Counties, I’m just hoping that Brexit will provide us with the opportunity to divest ourselves of them. No-one apart from Glasgow Rangers’ fans thinks that they are ‘British’. If passport controls are introduced by Britain and Ireland – all of Ireland that is – then fair enough, it makes far more sense than trying to secure the insecurable Irish border.

    1. Indeed, we’ll always have Paris – I mean Europe (geographically speaking!) Interesting idea that Brexit could lead to a referendum on Northern Ireland, but that’s a whole other conversation. For now, the UK has an opportunity to vote on EU Membership, giving its citizens a voice and a say in how their country should be run.

      1. I’m hoping that the introduction of passport control between Britain and Ireland means that we divest ourselves of Northern Ireland by stealth. I used to support to principle of a ‘European Union’. I now realise that it is fundamentally flawed. Brexit, with other countries following suits, offers the best hope for a peaceful demerger of the EU. The alternative is a violent implosion, as per Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union; the signs are already there that this will happen.

  2. Great post Evie. You know with the initial aim of European peace and security, I guess you could argue that the EU was formed out of fear. Fear will always play a part and in the case of Brexit you’ve got credible experts from both sides warning about possible repercussions: will leaving the single market harm the UK or open it up? It’s an enormous exercise in democracy and sovereignty and the British have got to base their decision on facts but, who do you believe? The electorate will listen to Cameron and Farage and decide who they believe the most or who they fear the least!
    The buzz word at the moment is trade, it’s at the centre of the argument because fewer trade deals means less productivity which leads to less growth and just this evening the ceo of the World Trade Organisation said the UK could be waiting years to secure deals with other trading partners. Investors would be reluctant to put money in a country where they don’t know what the rules are. Then you read another report about how going solo would be the best option since there is a queue of trading partners as long as your arm only too happy to sign new deals!
    Like you say, no-one really knows or will know how a new landscape will look until they get out there and map it and I agree that the citizens of Europe deserve to be heard but unfortunately I think fear will shadow everyone’s ballot on June 23rd, just like when we ‘did voting wrong’ in 2009.

    1. Haha, ah yes, when Ireland ‘did voting wrong’! We got it right in the end though, didn’t we?! Who knows, if England votes to leave, Europe might give them a second chance to change their minds too. They’re very generous like that. It’s good to see a democratic vote on the subject, but it doesn’t help voters decide when all they’re getting are conflicting ‘facts’ about what may or may not happen. It’s just interesting watching the same kind of scare tactics play out after what happened here with Lisbon.

  3. This is the third time I’ve read something this week relative to this subject. I’ve been so engrossed in the political reality show we have going on here in the states, I haven’t been paying much attention to what is going on across the big pond. Since I need to understand more to make a half educated comment on the subject, there is one aspect I am in favor of in any decision like this is: educate and inform the people then let them decide.

    Great topic that is going to send me on a EU current affairs quest! 🙂

    1. Absolutely! Yet that’s exactly what’s missing here. Instead of educating and informing people, politicians from opposing sides with vested interests are just trying to frighten people into voting a certain way with scare tactics. Like most things in life, you have to educate yourself and make an informed decision from there. I’m only on the sidelines here in Ireland, but even our politicians are telling us that Brexit would be bad for Ireland, which is a completely baseless argument. Here’s an interesting article by economist David McWilliams http://www.davidmcwilliams.ie/2016/05/19/official-ireland-has-it-all-wrong-we-could-win-big-if-uk-opts-for-brexit

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