The arguments for Brexit: Explained

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call Brexit among the most divisive political votes in history. Whether Brexit will be positive or negative for the UK still divides the opinions of most of the 70 million inhabitants of the UK. The main consensus amongst progressives is that Brexit will mostly be negative; both politically, socially and most importantly, economically. But then why did more than half of the UK vote in favour of it? In this article I intend to explore some of the main underlying points in favour of Brexit, and evaluate the grounds for their support.

One of the most salient arguments brought forward by Brexit supporters is the bureaucratic nature of the European Parliament. Supporters believe that Brexit would return power to the government, and by association, the British people. This idea appears particularly unfounded as all ministers of the European Union are elected from their respective national government. The United Kingdom itself hold regional elections to decide it’s MEPs, however, that isn’t to say these elected MEPs won’t act in the interests of their home country or even the local communities that elected them. In 2015, many of the elected MEPs for the UK, notably those of the United Kingdom Independence Party, refrained from adhering to parliamentary conduct in protest at the European Union. However, this issue isn’t unique to the European Union and has existed virtually as long as democratic institutions have.

The ability to take control of laws and policy

One of the main requirements of being a member state in the Eurozone (the free, single-market of the European Union that allows the free movement of goods and people across Europe) is to adhere to the European Court of Justice. The European Court of Justice is the main law-making entity in Europe and ensures that all EU countries abide by the laws set down by the European Union. Currently, it is comprised of one judge from each EU member state and 11 advocates for the Union itself. The main argument of pro-Brexit politicians is that the European Court of Justice takes away the ability for the UK government to manage its own laws and gives power to the EU and away from UK citizens.

Whilst this is true to some extent, the European Court of Justice also provides several opportunities for UK citizens to control the UK government through the Court. The most notable example of this is through the European Court of Human Rights, which forms a Court of law above the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, that theoretically each EU member state must adhere to the ruling of. The European Court of Human Rights provides another avenue for citizens who think the government, or justice system, has wronged them to seek legal help.

However, the usefulness of the European Court of Human Rights in managing the UK government is itself questionable. The UK government has failed to adhere to guidelines and rulings made by the Court. The most prolific example of this came in the decision in 2003 to introduce the Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences (also known as indeterminate prison sentences), which allowed judges to instil no fixed term limits when convicting criminals to be imprisoned if they are deemed to be violent or a danger to the public, even for crimes that would originally only confer a 1-2 year sentence. While the UK government did abolish the handing out of Indeterminate Prison Sentences in 2012 after a European Court of Human Rights ruling that it was in breach of human rights, the abolition didn’t comply with the recommendations to revoke the current indeterminate sentences handed to over 3,500 prisoners in the UK who were currently serving no fixed prison sentence term. To this day several hundred IPP prisoners are still trapped in custody, some for crimes that would otherwise have seen them walking free decades earlier.

Our continued place in the European Single-Market would ensure that we were still required to adhere to all laws created by the European Court of Justice, however without having a UK-representative on the Court itself. This means any deal involving membership of the single-market would result in still having to abide by EU law.

Trade and the Membership Fee

In 2016, the year following the Brexit vote, the UK paid over £13 billion  to the European Union for membership, a tariff that must be paid by all member states. While this is considerably less than the ‘£250 million a week’ fee ,famously mentions by the Vote-leave ‘Battle Bus’ during the vote, it is still a considerable fraction of UK GDP.

We must however consider that a sizeable number of this is given back to the UK, of around £4.5 billion each year. This is mostly given in the form of grants to research projects, and the UK’s many tourist attractions and national landmarks. The biggest recipient of the money in terms of geographical areas of the UK is Cornwall, due its huge international tourism spots.

The case for a financial reason to leave the EU is also further complicated by how it is almost completely impossible to even estimate the amount of money the UK makes each year from free-trade, free-movement, and other various services discounted by EU membership, such as a relaxation to the Rules of Origin restrictions relaxed on products within the EU. This has been hotly contested by lobbyists, policymakers and analysts since long before the Brexit vote, possibly even since the UK has been in the European Union itself.  The lack of consensus and ambiguities on what exactly makes the UK the most money from being a member of the EU makes this point one of the most difficult to disrepute.

Whether trade would be better or worse off without the European Union is also a very hotly contested topic. Brexit supporters argue that the European Union decides the trade regulations and partners for its members, denying the UK the ability to manage its own trade and determine its own trade partners. Yet this argument fails to understand the very reason why the European Union was created in such a way in the first place. The European Union was designed to have the single market to ensure European Countries would have larger bargaining power with the new world-superpowers seen rising in the far-east and the United States. These large powers are forced to do business with the entirety of Europe, as opposed to being able to strong-arm smaller and economically weak individual European countries (such as the tactics employed by the Trump Administration in recent years with Mexico and Canada) into deals that would only benefit the larger powers.

As argued by Brexiteers, the United Kingdom, boasting the 5th largest world economy, can gather the economic power needed to ensure fair trade deals are made with other superpowers, most notably by gaining the backing of the United States through a ‘special relationship’ that favours US-UK trade. But yet again, this argument is too simplistic when compared to reality. It is true that the UK has the 5th largest GDP of any country in the world, but the relative difference in GDP between the UK and the two largest economies, China and the United States, is immense. The International monetary fund found in 2017 that the United States had a national GDP 10 times higher than the UK.

This is also further complicated by the role the United Kingdom plays as the only fully English-Speaking country to reside in the European Union. The United Kingdom is often regarded as the ‘gateway to Europe’, and has developed a vast financial economy off the ability for the United States and far Eastern investment firms and banks to do business in the UK and make use of its easy access to the Single-Market.

It is questionable whether the UK would be able to sufficiently make use of its economy to stand on its own feet without the need of the European Union. There may also be a legacy of nostalgia towards the days of the old British Empire and the United Kingdom’s ability to stand as a world power. The reality is the UK has yet to prove such a feat is possible after so many years sheltered in the Single-Market.

Immigration

Immigration is by far the most contentious issue in the Brexit debate. There is a general assumption that the Pro-Brexit argument in terms of immigration, is that the free movement of workers between European countries has contributed to a huge rise in low-skilled migrants into the UK. This argument was somewhat hijacked during the Brexit vote considering the Migrant Crisis, where there was a flood of refugees from conflicts with Islamic State and the Syrian Civil war moving across the Mediterranean and into the European Union through Italy. Another issue backing the immigration argument for Brexit is that the flood of migrant workers from countries that give lower salaries for the same jobs (such as Eastern European countries that often make use of their lower economies to provide less pay for low-skilled and skilled workers), move to the United Kingdom and take the jobs of UK nationals.

According to data from the office of national statistics for September 2018, there are currently 2.25 million non-UK EU nationals, compared to 1.24 million non-UK nationals from outside the EU working in the United Kingdom. However, only 881,000 of the EU nationals working in the UK are from Eastern European countries, and the number of Eastern European Migrants in the UK has been steadily decreasing since September 2016, where it peaked at just over 1 million workers. The United Kingdom has seen relatively steady increases in the number of UK nationals working in the UK over recent years.

Another issue, particularly around the ‘Migrant Crisis’, is that even though part of the argument in favour of Brexit included discussion on whether the European Union would force the United Kingdom to ‘share the load’ of refugees from the Middle East, the agreement to bring refugees into the UK wasn’t decided by the EU, but instead by a joint agreement between France and the UK. In that situation, the United Kingdom did have control over its borders and instead chose to let migrants in. A further issue with the Immigrant Brexit argument is that leaving the European Union might make it more difficult for the United Kingdom to deport illegal immigrants, as currently, EU law allows for quick deportation of illegal immigrants either to other European Union countries, or countries close to the European Union.

Similarly, under directive 2004/38 of the European Union, specifically article 28, member-states do have a certain amount of discretion to avoid the abuse of freedom of movement, notably to ‘guard against the abuse of rights or from fraud’ to ‘adopt necessary measures’ which can include deportation. EU law already allows for migrants who abuse the freedom of movement to be sent back to their home country.

Brexit will fundamentally change the United Kingdom, in terms of its economic make-up, its ability to control policy, it’s government’s accountability, and the United Kingdom’s place on the world stage. Whether this change will be overall positive, negative or could even be considered as anything beyond ‘complicated’ is a topic that will be debated for many decades to come. The arguments in favour of Brexit, while mostly being simplistic in their depiction of very complex political and financial situations, do reflect genuine dissatisfaction with the United Kingdom, neoliberal policies and institutions such as the European Union.

The Capitalist and The Half Bloody Prince- The West and Saudi’s horrific relationship

In a capitalist world where the warfare and fossil fuel industry marry each other and are ideal for the elite to profit of, there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia proves to be a top customer and provider. Despite the country’s countless human rights abuses in their own country as well as in Yemen and Bahrain, business has carried on as usual. The mysterious disappearance and murder of Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi has once again, fired up the debate of whether countries should continue working with Saudi Arabia.

In 2017, the USA sold $110 billion worth of arms to its Arab ally, the UK sold $1.1 billion and Russia sold $3 billion worth of weapons. In a lot of cases, some of the weapons being sold are illegal to use, transfer or stockpile under international law, for instance, the sale of U.K made cluster bombs and their use in Yemen is a breach of the 2008 Convention of Cluster Munitions (a treaty the U.K is a signee of). Saudi Arabia’s involvement and weapon usage in Yemen has not only intensified the conflict but has been a catalyst to what the United Nations has described as “the worst humanitarian crisis” with between 8,670 to 13,600 people dead, 22 million people displaced, a cholera outbreak as well as a famine caused by the bombing of ports and farming fields. The indiscriminate and ruthless attacks by the KSA has made it difficult for aid to be brought in by aircraft.

The Kingdom’s brutal clampdown in 2011 on anti-government protesters in Bahrain through the use of excessive force and suppression is another example of a lack of regard for human rights.

The stench of human rights abuse doesn’t just stretch to Bahrain and Yemen, it reeks at home too. The Saudi Royal Family rule over their people with nothing but tyranny; from the imprisonment of Safar al Hawali after he attacked the country’s close relation to Israel in a three thousand page book, to the lynching of homosexuals to their involvement in the Khashoggi affair. This has all happened while Prince Mohammed Bin Salman shows the world the illusion of “a progressing Saudi Arabia” with the lift of the women driving ban and the opening of cinemas. To add salt to the injury, the KSA has a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

When confronted with the question of why countries still do business with the Kingdom, many politicians such as Donald Trump have come out with the same answer which is something along the lines of “Saudi Arabia is a key partner in fighting terrorism” however the extreme, twisted and warped version of Islam the Royal Family promote is the backbone of many terrorist groups in the Middle East, including the so-called “Islamic State” and Al-Qaeda (both which have committed attacks on Western soil). In fact an inquiry has gone into investigating allegations of Saudi Arabia financially funding these extremist groups and it seems as if the allegations have rung true because when asked about the inquiry during the Prime Minister’s Questions in UK Parliament, Theresa May responded that the documents contain “information which may be sensitive to the Saudis”.

Surely for any country which wishes to uphold human rights and fight terrorism, this is more than enough evidence to cut all deals with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, right? Under capitalism its economics over people hence politicians and businessmen completely overlook these atrocities. Luckily for Saudi Arabia, it has good relations with the three biggest competitors (The United States, Russia and China) in the international capitalist free market thus it is not seen as an opposition to them but an ally instead. Why not impose economic sanctions on the country in the same way America did on countries like Cuba, Russia and Venezuela? Those countries were/are opposing competitors to the USA, they are a threat to their position in the capitalist markets. Under capitalism, rivers of blood are allowed to run as long as the cash flows.

So should we, the West continue to shake hands and sign deals with the Kingdom? The answer is no, absolutely not. Their disgraceful human rights record should be enough to discontinue relations with them for any decent human. Will the Saudi’s continue being an ally to Western capitalism? Unfortunately yes and it will continue for a very long time. With the country coming close to scraping the bottom of the oil barrel, these “reforms” brought in by the Crown Prince will open the country up to more foreign businesses and building contracts thus saving it from an economic downfall and putting it one step ahead in staying immune in the international capitalist free market.

Demand Democracy Day: Join the campaign for Proportional Representation

 

Whilst over the past few hundred years, society and democracy have developed and changed beyond recognition, our voting system has failed to keep pace. Indeed, for decades, our system of First Past The Post has resulted in disproportionate election outcomes. Yet, without a hint of irony, the government has announced the first week of July will be hailed ‘National Democracy Week’. Despite being billed a celebration of British democracy, this week-long event comes as our government still refuses to even consider, let alone support a more proportional electoral system.

First Past The Post: The issues

Whilst today, all adults are allowed to vote- thanks to First Past the Post (FPTP)- most of the population do not have a vote that truly counts or is an influence in the composition of Parliament. Most recently, in the 2017 general election, 68% of the votes cast had no impact on the result, either going to losing candidates or simply bolstering ‘safe seats’.

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First Past the Post ultimately fails to establish a reliable and fair link between a proportion of votes won by parties and the seats gained. This occurs because the system is concerned mainly with the election of individual political candidates rather than the representation of political parties as a whole. In recent decades, our electoral system has often resulted in ‘systematic biases’. Indeed, the disproportionality of FPTP is not random. Certain parties (namely the Conservatives and Labour Party) achieve well in elections, while other small parties frequently suffer.

Often, large parties benefit at the complete expense of smaller parties and therefore political diversity is suppressed. The ‘winner takes all’ effect means that 100 percent of representation is gained in each constituency by a single candidate, and therefore a single party. Winning candidates tend to come from large parties, as these are the parties whose candidates are most likely to be ‘first past the post’ in the sense of winning plurality support. With First Past the Post, Parliament fails to reflect the way citizens vote. It denies millions of people representation of their choosing. In the 2017 general election, for example, the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and UKIP received 11% of votes between them, yet they shared just 2% of seats. The 2015 General Election was even worse. The same three parties received almost a quarter of all the votes cast, yet these parties shared just 1.5% of seats.

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Consequently, voters are discouraged from supporting small parties because they know that they are unlikely to win seats, and even more unlikely to win the overall elections. This is the problem of so-called ‘wasted votes’. A proportion of voters are therefore inclined to vote for large parties on the ground that they are the ‘least bad’ of the two because rather they are their first preference party. Yet, it isn’t just votes for losing candidates that go to waste. Votes for winning candidates above and beyond what was needed to win a particular constituency, count for nothing. A seat won by, say, a 40,000 vote majority has the same outcome as a seat won by a single vote: both elect just a single MP.

However, MakeVotesMatter hopes to change this. That is why on 30th June, the pressure group will be launching ‘Demand Democracy Day’, a day of national campaigning. In a hope to advertise the benefits of Proportional Representation (PR), members from the group will be hitting the streets to talk to the public, test the government’s “celebration”, sign people up to the group’s petition and demand that political figures support fairer votes.

Proportional Representation: The way forward?

Proportional Representation allows politicians the possibility of working together, co-operating and coming to a consensus in the long-term interests of the country. It makes policy-making by consensus possible, enabling lasting decisions to be made on crucial issues.

Significantly, most democracies use some form of PR for their general elections. There are a variety of different forms- each with their own features. Crucially, no proportional system is as flawed as First Past the Post. What’s more, many systems of PR-which boast strong constituency links, enhanced voter choice and greater accountability-are undoubtedly better.

MakeVotesMatter does not campaign for a preferred voting system. Instead, it aims to build greater consensus between political parties and organisations about the requirements of suitable proportional systems. Even so, there are a number of tried-and-tested forms of Proportional Representation which would be more than appropriate for use in general elections.

The UK could, for example, greatly benefit from the Additional Member System. Already used to elect the Scottish Parliament and for general elections in Germany, half the number of MPs are elected to single-member constituencies. The other half would be elected to represent ‘multi-member’ constituencies. This is highly beneficial. In Scotland, such a system means that each voter not only has one Member of the Scottish Parliament accountable to the constituency but seven MSPs responsible for their region. Here, there are greater opportunities to seek true representation.

 

 

 

Why Ireland should be a model for British Republicans

On Saturday May the 19th all the hype will be over and the next Royal Wedding will take place between Henry Windsor and Megan Markel. Indeed from much mainstream media coverage, it would seem that the entire country has brought into the pageantry in an obsessive way very much reminiscent of the last Royal Wedding in 2011. However are the public the fanatical Royalists that the media likes to claim? Not according to some polls, with Optimum claiming that fewer than half of 18-34 year olds agreeing that the monarchy should continue and that only 22% of the public want Charles to become King. In a similar vein, You Gov claim that 52% of respondents weren’t interested in the forthcoming Royal Wedding.

However, there is little discussion on the left regarding republican alternatives to the monarchy with the standard of debate on the issue on the rare occasions it is raised not being particularly edifying. Is this because of a paucity of ideas on the left regarding what a British republic would look like a lack of support for republican ideas on the left or a fear that moving to a republic is unpopular with the public? Another question worth asking is why did Jeremy Corbyn shy away from any debate on the issue when questioned about it by Jeremy Paxman during last year’s general election.

There have been figures within the Labour Party throughout its history who have opposed the monarchy. Jeremy Corbyn is obviously one example (although he has said that it isn’t a ‘battle that I’m fighting’) but other Labour leaders such as Keir Hardie, George Lansbury and Michael Foot were known republicans while that firebrand of the left Tony Benn introduced the 1991 Commonwealth of Britain Bill in Parliament which advocated a secular Britain with an elected President. Indeed Benn himself is quoted as saying ‘The existence of a hereditary monarchy helps to prop up all the privilege and patronage in our society’. There are a number of current Labour MPs who are Republicans such as Paul Flynn (Newport West), Emma Dent Coad (Kensington), David Crausby (Bolton North East) and Richard Burgon (Leeds East) announced that he believed the head of state should be elected when he was swearing his oath of allegiance to the Queen (the late Tony Banks MP for West Ham used to cross his fingers). In some ways perhaps it’s surprising that there isn’t more what is more anti-Socialist than the idea of inherited wealth and titles? How can the Monarchy be ‘for the many not the few’?

In terms of other parties the Green Party of England and Wales has an official policy of republicanism with Caroline Lucas being a particularly keen advocate while Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood was famously disciplined in the Welsh Assembly for referring to the Queen as ‘Mrs Windsor’ and is a fervent republican as are many Plaid members although it isn’t official party policy. In Scotland, the SNP confirmed that they would keep the monarchy if Scotland became Independent but the Scottish Greens favour a republic.

However one of the dilemmas that republicans face is what sort of republic and indeed what sort of Presidency do they want? At the moment the republican movement appears timid and unclear in its vision perhaps just the sort of lack of clarity that helped the Monarchists win the 1999 republic referendum in Australia. Visiting the website of Republic, the main anti-monarchist campaign group offers some clarity pointing out that they want ‘the monarchy abolished and replaced with an elected democratic head of state’. There are also a number of statements about how the abolition of the monarchy will enhance the British democratic culture and improve tourism however, in general, it is short of substance.

Beyond rather tiresome comments about the failure of Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth period one of the most common criticisms of British republicanism is ‘I wouldn’t want Blair, Thatcher, Trump etc’ as President. This ignores the fact that they became President it would be on the basis of a popular mandate and the fact that successive Prime Ministers have become increasingly Presidential. This clearly leads onto a discussion about the difference between a President as Head of Government and Head of State and in contrast a Presidential model where the President is a non-political Head of State. It seems clear that critics of republicanism site the Presidential systems they know best such as the USA, Russia and France where the President has both roles and can often act in a highly authoritarian manner.

However, surely British republicans need to avoid advocating for a ‘super President’ and argue for a democratically elected President to represent the country as Head of State rather than a hereditary monarch who is performing the role simply because they were born into the role. However, if the ‘super Presidents’ of the USA, France, Russia and China (who have now effectively appointed their President for life) aren’t suitable models where should we find inspiration? Germany could be one example with its ceremonial President performing very similar duties to the Queen. However, in terms of democracy there is a slight snag perhaps because of the fear of populism following the Third Reich the founders of the Federal Republic in 1949 decided that the German President should be elected by a federal assembly of German politicians. This may well be better than a hereditary monarchy but to a degree it smells of a political fudge and in Italy the situation is similar with the President being elected by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

However, there are better models. In Austria the President performs a largely ceremonial role and is directly elected, but in 2016 the Presidency became embroiled in controversy with the rerun election between the Green candidate Alexander Van De Bellen and the far Right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer. However we can also look closer to home and see the Irish Presidency as a model. Since 1937 when the Irish Free State (the 26 counties free from British colonial rule renamed the Republic of Ireland in 1949) adopted its own constitution an Irish President directly elected by the people has performed the same ceremonial functions undertaken by the Windsor family in Britain.

Interestingly for a then staunchly Catholic nation, the first Irish President Douglas Hyde was actually a Protestant as was Erskine Childers President in the 1970s. The reverse situation is still impossible in the UK where Catholics are banned from being Head of State under the Sectarian Act of Settlement. As with any political system some Irish Presidents have been better than others with all Presidents prior to 1990 being members of the dominant Fianna Fáil party with Easter Rising veteran Eamon De Valera being the most famous but the key point has always been that unless unopposed Irish Presidents were elected by the people. Indeed while there have been bad apples such as Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh who resigned the Presidency in 1976 following a row over security legislation with his own government recent Presidents such as Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and the current incumbent Michael D. Higgins have been inspirational.

Mary Robinson was nominated by the Labour Party, very much the third force in Irish Politics, and won the Presidency in 1990 ending the Fianna Fail hegemony as the first female President who brought energy and experience based on her background as an academic and barrister. Robinson helped facilitate a gradual social liberalisation of Irish life particularly in relation to homosexuality as well as meeting a number of members of the British Royal family and then Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams which at the time was considered a bold move. Mary McAleese was the first Irish President to be born in Northern Ireland and helped build links not just with the UK by inviting the Queen to Ireland in 2011 but also Protestants in the Republic of Ireland by taking communion at a Church of England service. Michael D. Higgins was also supported by the Labour Party is a veteran left –winger who is also a fluent Irish speaker as well as a prolific poet and writer.

Isn’t it about time Britain joined our Irish neighbours in promoting egalitarianism, merit and talent over hereditary class-based privilege?