Clegg and Common Sense: How the Remain Campaign Needs to Keep a Level Head
The European Union Membership Referendum looms ever closer for the United Kingdom and unsurprisingly, the rhetoric has become increasingly desperate. Boris Johnson, the Leave campaign’s most active, fanatical and often nonsensical advocate, has warned of the EU’s attempt to realise Hitler’s and Napoleon’s dreams of European unification in an interview with the Telegraph. He obviously doesn’t know the unspoken rule that as soon as you mention Adolf Hitler in a debate, you are conceding an argument and desperately clutching at straws.
In a stunning show of Trump-esque rhetoric, Johnson continues to stoke the flames of anti-immigration sentiment and puppetry of Brussels over the stiff upper-lipped independence of the UK. If Johnson has been keeping any eye on the US elections, he has caught onto the fact that extravagant isolationist and xenophobic rhetoric is the key to running for office and it sounds like Johnson has the Tory leadership in his gun sights.
This leaves us with a very messy EU debate. The media are stoking the fire for the Leave campaign and so a balanced argument can be hard to find. However, out of the ashes of a dying political career, an unlikely hero has risen for #Remain, the UK’s pro-EU campaign, in the shape of Nick Clegg, ex-Liberal Democrat leader.
Clegg views this referendum as not simply a vote on not one union but two. After the close defeat of Scottish independence two years ago, a vote to leave the EU gives an indisputable impetus for the Scottish National Party to be allowed their second referendum, and leaves the No campaign with little to argue the case to stay. A UK that has to readjust to a European departure will be even shakier in its recovery if it must deal with a Scottish departure as well.
Clegg also points out that the EU referendum is not simply a vote for in or out, but rather for how the UK will view itself as a nation for the coming years. A vote to leave is a vote for isolationism, something that we as a nation are firmly against. This goes beyond simple involvement in European affairs: the UK economy must also be considered. 50% of UK trade goes to Europe and 80% of our industry lies in services. Severing our access to one of the largest open markets in the world will do nothing but push us back into the past as we scramble to renegotiate trade deals and fair agreements. Clegg has presented himself as the no-nonsense campaigner in the referendum, offering common sense backed by rationality rather than inflammatory rhetoric.
Some find it easy to dismiss access to 1/3 of the world’s economic market and free movement of labour if the Brexit becomes a reality. You can hear anti-EU campaigners scrambling for their keyboards as they respond with their own rebuttal, the benefits of trade deals outside of the EU, one of the strongest arguments in Brexit’s arsenal.
The best example of a trade agreement with the EU from the outside is, unsurprisingly, Canada. The example works because Canada is economically strong with a decent growth rate and much like the UK will have to do, has built trade deals without the aid of a huge multilateral organisation, relying on NAFTA for its economic output. CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) is Canada’s attempt to trade with the EU, reducing 98% of tariffs on Canadian produce.
CETA was passed for ratification in August 2014, and that was it. It has yet to be ratified not only by the EU council and parliament but also each of the 28 member states involved. After two years, the agreement is no closer to being passed even though the idea was first suggested in 2009. To return to the UK, it must be taken into consideration the fact that there may very well be some bad blood between the UK and the EU if a Brexit does happen, which could land the UK in a long renegotiation process in the midst of economic stagnation.
Aside from the easy arguments against Brexit regarding the economy and cross-border policing, as well as quality controls on imported produce and the ease of having the European Convention on Human Rights, it should also be kept in mind that a Brexit would have ramifications outside of the UK as well.
It is easy to overlook the number of British citizens that live in Europe itself and the influx of citizens that would have to return to the UK due to a lack of a visa and residency issues as well as issues of affordability. It is estimated that 1.2 million UK-born people live in the EU, with around 330,000 living in Spain alone. In our hypothetical scenario, these people could essentially become ‘illegal immigrants’ overnight. Spain could begin asking retirees to pay for their own healthcare, as European Health Insurance would become defunct, and may even curb access to healthcare outright. It all depends on the vindictiveness of EU member states against UK nationals, but this isn’t a gamble that the UK government and its people should be willing to take.
As Nick Clegg said, this isn’t simply a question of in or out, and this isn’t a referendum on purely how the UK feels about the EU. The wider reaching consequences of a Brexit would ring worldwide. This article hasn’t begun to explore what Brexit means for the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the USA, as Obama has threatened that Brexit would result in the UK being put ‘at the back of the queue’ in negotiations in the future. The point stands that the EU referendum has been distinctly UK-centric when it isn’t. The debate has erupted into absurd arguments and outrageous declarations about seizing back power from Brussels. What we should be thinking about is that when the dust settles and the inflated sense of self-worth fades, have we really seized independence? Or have we locked ourselves in a decade of negotiations, referendums and focus groups to pick up the pieces of our broken nation?