This started out as an email to my family, who are debating furiously on email about the EU referendum, immigration … and the Armageddon which will happen tomorrow if the wrong side wins.
My big question to all you Brexiteers is this: imagine you are in court and the judge says “ignore all the press coverage”. Now tell me what is your problem with the EU? How has it affected YOU? How has immigration or the European Commission rules affected you personally? Let’s talk from a strictly personal perspective — and PLEASE add your comment below the article.
This is my experience of the EU:
- I lived in Romania for many years with no hassle from the visa authorities because of free movement of peoples in the EU. I also set up two businesses there, ran projects and bought properties. Less hassle than in UK due to EU-encouraged reforms which often result in less bureaucracy.
- I have worked on several EU funded projects for the Romanian Government and also in former Yugoslavia. I met lots of EU officials, all of whom seem well educated, open and keen to do the right thing. No sign of corruption. My proudest moment was playing a bit part in the EU’s role in reforming Romania’s child welfare system, resulting in a complete stop in babies being institutionalised. Their orphanage problem is now history (but they still have a host of other social problems to deal with).
- I helped the Romanian government negotiate their entry into the EU, on the Justice and Home Affairs chapter, which is why I was sceptical about the ease by which Scottish nationalists assumed they could breeze back into the club having declared independence. I’m not sure if the EU has been good for Romania: the economy has improved, and freedom of movement is great for people but the influx of big business is terrible for the ancient village life and the forests, which are more under threat than ever. The EU is both good and bad, like all governments.
- In Liverpool, where I now live, the NHS Addictions Unit is run by a psychiatrist from Pakistan. I went to a seminar with GPs and about 80% of them were from the subcontinent. When I go to the doctors most of the staff are immigrants. What would the NHS do without them?
- I currently live in a street in Toxteth that is filled with immigrants from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. My house was derelict before my housing association did it up, along with 12,000 other properties. Liverpool has over 40,000 empty houses and (like Scotland) needs immigrants to fill houses, jobs and schools. The economy is booming. Immigrants are bringing this city back to life and the only problem is that there’s not enough of them; the city is still empty as it was losing population between 1970 and 2010. They come because our economy is growing and we need them for their skills. Welfare benefits which are really hard to get for East Europeans. Do you know anyone who is claiming benefits? Funnily enough yesterday, in Little Venice, I ran into the only Romanian-in-Britain I know who has claimed benefits, and she was jailed for running a scam. You can see the BBC report here. I also met a bunch of homeless Romanians in Liverpool who have neither homes nor jobs but none of them mentioned benefits, all asked me about how they can get jobs. They all knew they can’t claim benefits.
- I work the health sector. At Castle Craig Hospital, which has 120 beds and 80 staff, they are always searching for therapists and other staff. They have a Romanian cleaner, driver, PA to the director, nurse and doctor. Over 15 Romanian addicts have come there for rehab (at a cost of about £20k each). Many of their staff are immigrants and they say “if only we could recruit therapists from the USA where there is a surplus, but the visa requirements are too much hassle.” I once worked with a lady from Silicon Valley who told me the IT sector’s message to Washington DC was simply “give us more Indians”; they are desperate for more highly trained immigrants and every growing economy needs them.
And here are some more of my opinions/observations:
I agree with some of the Brexit criticism of the EU. I really don’t like it as an institution and I know it better than most; I’ve been to the Commission and the European Parliament many times. It needs to be reformed, slimmed down, streamlined, made more democratic and accountable. And it can be done. Remember this story from 1999, when the entire European Commission resigned en masse after a devastating report by an independent committee of inquiry which found that they had “lost control of the administration”.
Yesterday on Radio 4 was a veteran BBC correspondent who had been in Brussels 16 years, She said: “finally the European Commission have woken up to the fact that there is a problem” and she believes (as I do) that the commission can be radically reformed. Actually, what will happen is that the 28 sovereign governments which totally control the EU will insist on it. Those who believe in “ever closer union” are a rapidly shrinking minority who will soon be marginalised.
And this is in fact the main point: the European Commission is nothing but an administrative structure that operates under the control of 28 nations. It has a bureaucracy, it may well be corrupt, it is run by an old fool (Juncker) who doesn’t like change. They key point is that all laws, and all decisions about the structure/funding of the commission, have to be made by the European Council which is made up of 28 elected heads of governments. If those Prime Ministers decide to send Juncker back into retirement, and radically reform the whole institution, it could happen tomorrow. We may be reaching that point where these governments are ready to do that. The commission, like any civil service, will whine and scream and threaten armaggedon but they can be fired and a new lot brought in to change it.
Without the full support of the 28 member states, the European Commission would fade away.
A final point: whatever the outcome of today’s referendum Britain will be okay. If we leave the UK, the EU may well collapse (it’s a lot less powerful than people assume) but something good could replace it, and Britain may well be at the centre of it. If we remain, there will be unstoppable pressure from all over Europe to reform the EU — not just tinker and fiddle and promise and obfuscate — but strip it down and rebuild it.
To all my family: please add a comment under this article; share your wisdom with the rest of the world and don’t just send an email.
Photo credit: Ageing Provocateur
- The Fabulous Funeral of Angus Wolfe Murray - February 28, 2023
- Do you have any funny, unusual or interesting memories of Angus Wolfe Murray? - January 18, 2023
- Ukraine must learn from Bosnia’s disastrous peace treaty - March 10, 2022
Thanks for hosting such a lively and balanced forum.
I’m posting this just a few hours after the result came in, and stunned at the ‘Leave’ win.
Putin for one must be laughing all the way to the Krime-lin.
Will Boris and Farage still be smiling in a few years? Probably, as they got what they wanted. Let’s see if the rest of us get what we deserve…
Have an independent weekend,
Very nice, Rupert. I learned a lot from your piece. Sitting here in our little place in Poland
I’m worrying about whether I’ll have to revive my Polish passport if the Brits vote to leave. My own choice is purely emotional: Polish born and only in Britain by historical accident. Never chose it! But I confess, without going into the technical details, that I think there must be something odd about a country that wants to detach itself from the continent. I also remember what a miserable place Britain was in many ways before joining the EEC. As AA Gill put it, you couldn’t even get decent bread in restaurants. Nothing but tasteless buns. I think it’s extraordinary how membership of the EU and the phenomenon of immigration have enriched Britain and the lives of the British in many, many ways.
The rest of us are in. To keep it together en famille. We’re from Scotland, England, Ireland, Romania, Poland, Indonesia, Califórnia, México. Why would we want to isolate ourselves when so many of us come from so many places?
Hoping remain vote prevails!
Like so many others I struggled for clarity in this jungle of misinformation and reluctantly decided weeks ago to join Leave, despite the horrors of Nigel and Boris. Your emails advocate Remain. They are well argued and perfectly formed. It is difficult to dispute them. All I can do is respond with my own take on this difficult decision.
The money is crazy. We send the EU a small fortune every week, half of which comes back with strings attached. These strings tell us what to do with that money. If we don’t like it we get fined and have to send the money back. Who tells us? Brussels civil servants.
The EU has failed. Germany appears to be the only member who is not in debt. Unemployment in Spain for the under 30s is 25%. When Cameron talks of the EU being an asset for jobs, I think of that. Greece is a basket case. When their new government came to Brussels to offer fresh incentives to help their country, they were ignored, not listened to and told to go home and do what they were told. Italy is corrupt. Portugal is bust. The euro is sick.
The Brussels/Strasbourg monthly swap over is nuts and too expensive to laugh about and only continues in order to placate the French, poor things. It’s a case of Emperor’s new clothes.
Immigration: the open door policy will flood the country and cause havoc for doctors and teachers and housing authorities. Cameron’s no-financial-help-for-four-years is a sop to the Tory right wing and won’t stop incomers who want jobs, not handouts. Canada’s policy since the Fifties has been “We take the people we need, not those who need us.” It has worked well for them. A city the size of Newcastle every two years is scary. I have a friend who’s daughter-in-law teaches in a primary school in London. The majority of her (little) pupils don’t speak English which makes her job v stressful, some might say impossible. That’s by the by. Everyone knows the immigration argument. No need to blah blah.
Small businesses are being held back by EU red tape. It’s not only expensive. It wastes a lot of time. “We want our country back,” wails Nigel. He has a point. As part of the great European union we are one voice among many. They like/want us because we give them all that cash. Gordon Brown’s battle cry, “We should lead Europe, not leave it,” sounds sexy but means nothing. We cannot lead. We need the endorsement of 27 others. No country can. Only the bureaucrats. Let’s not forget that every time we have backed some proposal or other it has been voted down. Reform appears to be a figment of some sick imagination unless they (whoever they are) decide on majority voting.
What started out as a Common Market, free trade and all that, was infinitely sensible. Once it became the blueprint for a United States of Europe, with its own parliament, banking system, currency and (possibly) army, it started to fall apart because there is no equality among members. Also, Britain pays the money, sticks to the rules, unlike others, and still imagines it has an influence, which may be true in the smaller sections and outer reaches, but not on the grand scale.
Are the rats (Leavers) fleeing the sinking ship? Yes. I don’t accept that they are a raggle bag of faux fascists. The Labour party has suddenly woken up to the fact that a large percentage of what used to be called the working class wants out. Why? Immigrants, open borders, the people flood most likely.
If I am beginning to sound like a UKIP spokesman, my apologies. I vote Liberal (I’m staying with this sinker) and have little time for the Leave leaders, except Gove and Grayling. I happen to believe that the EU is a busted flush with a false sense of its own unity, as demonstrated by their response to the Syrian refugees and am not swayed by the big shots and bigger organisations who, like Tusk, prophesy Armageddon if Leave prevails. Noone likes change, especially those nice bankers and charming investment brokers who play games with other people’s money. Everyone has their own agenda and it’s usually connected to self interest.
The EU has helped keep the peace for 70 years. Yes.
In a rough neighborhood (global society) it is better to belong to a gang than stand alone. I agree as long as the gang is well managed.
NATO is not the EU and has kept us safe (sort of). Didn’t do anything about Crimea, however.
Open borders for the young is great. Yes.
Coming together, being a family of Europeans, up close and personal, touchy and sooo feely. It’s all about the people. Oh, yeah!
The head remembers how the unity of the EU collapsed during the refugee crisis and proved itself dysfunctional. The heart says we must help those poor people, we must help those poor countries, we have a duty to humanity.
Torn? Yes. In bits? Not quite.
Britain can stand alone. Trade won’t stop. Compensation for farmers, scientists, the arts, fishermen et al will continue.
The heart says let’s hold their hands, let’s wipe away their tears.
The head says the EU won’t die if we leave. It might reform itself in order to survive. Principles are worth fighting for until those principles are corrupted. The idea of the EU has always been beautiful but the reality casts a long shadow. Where lies freedom? In or Out? Perhaps freedom is another illusion. Trump says the Muslims are to blame. Well, that’s not true. What is?
The vote is close. Take a deep breath…