Brexit Myths

The British people have been duped by some very clever rhetoric. A myth can be understood as a believable explanatory narrative that people can identify with – especially if it resonates with their feelings. The British referendum that resulted in the decision to leave the EU, and the resulting maelstrom of controversy, have been driven by myths that need to be exposed as such because they are at best half-truths.

Rule by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Britain is subject to rules that it voluntarily chose: notably the European Charter of Human Rights (to which Russia is also a signatory) and the trading regulations. Britain would have to comply with European regulations for any goods and services it exported to the EU, whether or not it helps to set those rules. People forget that Britain pushed Europe towards the Single Market, resulting in regulations that now apply to all the other EU countries. Britain’s influence on Europe has been stronger than Europe’s influence on Britain.

Britain returning to a glorious uncomplicated past. The world has changed. Leaving the EU is a radical step, the very opposite of a traditional Conservative position. Jacob Rees Mogg is advocating unrestrained free markets in what would amount to a grand experiment – the very opposite of his carefully-crafted traditionalist image.

Northern Ireland’s border problems. The so-called ‘Irish backstop’ issue has been blown out of all proportion. It is true that the peace process required an absence of border controls on the island of Ireland, but it is not true that there would be any problem if Northern Ireland were to be treated differently from the rest of the UK. It already has (or had) a devolved government without threatening the integrity of the United Kingdom, and it could continue to be part of the British economy with sterling as its currency even if its trade with Europe was differently managed. The real reasons that the Irish border has become such an important issue are that the DUP is worried about the symbolism of being in some ways closer to Ireland than to the UK and the hard-line Brexiteers wanted a plausible excuse for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Immigration caused by EU membership. An economy cannot grow without employing people, and many job vacancies have been filled by citizens of other EU countries. More immigrants will have to come from outside Europe, or the economy will have to stop growing, if free movement within Europe is curtailed.

Job losses linked to EU membership. Free trade has undeniably caused some jobs to be lost in Britain, but it has created more jobs than it has destroyed – as can be seen by our low rate of unemployment and a growing economy. The EU, though, is not an advocate of unfettered free trade; it puts up tariff barriers against the outside world, to protect its farmers and to be largely self-sufficient in food; it has also ‘protected’ some other industries by imposing tariffs. The style of Brexit advocated by idealists like Liam Fox would increase the impact of free-trade on jobs.

The EU being at a disadvantage in negotiating with Britain. The somewhat surprising assertion that Europe needs Britain, more than the converse, comes from a misunderstanding of the trade figures. It is true that imports to Britain from Europe exceed exports to Europe in total, but no single European country sends 40% of its exports to Britain. The loss of trade with Britain would be painful to Europe, but Britain would suffer more. David Davies repeatedly asserted that the German car industry would force Angela Merkel to make a good deal with Britain, and it is true that Britain buys more cars from Germany then it sells there, but Germany benefits hugely from its EU membership and the Eurozone – so European unity matters more than its trade with Britain.

Britain’s electoral system provides strong stable government. Theresa May’s disastrous election performance in 2017 revolved around her repeated mantra of ‘strong stable government’. She couldn’t deliver that because her party is deeply divided. The Labour Party is not unified either. The British system of ‘first past the post’ was designed to form strong governments with as little as a third of the popular vote. This system only works if parties are united and if there is one significant issue, such as government spend on public services for example, that separates them. The country is still divided on that issue but it also disagrees about how connected it wants to be to the rest of the world, the extent to which it wants to prioritise the environment, and other issues. Some limited level of proportional representation would benefit the country by offering more than just two choices of who to vote for – and coalitions can be just as stable as political parties that try to represent a ‘broad church’ of opinion, as Germany for example has demonstrated.

Brexit uncertainty would end if Britain were to leave the EU. If the EU Withdrawal Agreement had been signed last night, Britain would have spent the next two years negotiating the details of the future trading relationship – with more endless controversy. It would have meant less uncertainty though, than leaving without a deal. The only way to completely end the uncertainty would be to remain in the EU.

It would be undemocratic to remain in the EU. Many Brexiteers piously assert that democracy would be badly damaged if the country were to change its mind about leaving the EU. That is rubbish. The referendum in 2016 was marred by lies and “Signs of Russian Meddling”, and those who voted to leave did so for a variety of reasons which were mutually incompatible – so some were bound to be disappointed. That should, by now, be more apparent and a second referendum would legitimise a change of mind (although it is still by no means certain which way the vote would go). The terms of such a referendum should explicitly offer the choice between the deal that Theresa May has already agreed with the EU or reversing the decision to leave. It is unrealistic to expect the EU to restart negotiations for some new deal, and it has explicitly ruled out doing so. Whatever the result of a second referendum, it could not fail to be more legitimate than the first because it would be a more informed decision (and even more so if the above myths are widely exposed as such).

Socialising Risk

The principles which underpin Britain’s Welfare State are collectivist.  Society as a whole shoulders the burden of health costs so that no-one suffers by being unable to afford necessary treatment.  There is no reason why social care should be treated differently.  Everybody is at risk of needing social care, especially towards the end of their lives, and this can last for several years in some cases.

The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2017 general election contains proposals for covering the costs of social care which are individualist: the opposite of collectivist. Someone who needs a lot of care might pay most of the cost under these proposals – but those who die quickly wouldn’t have to pay tax to cover other people’s costs.

Ministers quite rightly point out that the total cost of social care is rising rapidly and it has to be funded somehow. Ever since Margaret Thatcher’s government, the party has followed individualist policies – so paying for one’s own care seems more attractive than asking everyone else to pay towards it.

The problem this time, though, is that wealthy people (who tend to support the party) stand to lose the most. They applaud low taxes, but they don’t like the risk that they are exposed to.  The outcry has already resulted in a government U-turn and Theresa May has, in a trice, lost her reputation for strong stable leadership.

If the party were true to Thatcherite principles, it would have held fast despite all the criticism.  Wealthy people could buy insurance to reduce the risk of being unable to pass their wealth to their children.  Even if such insurance policies are not yet available, financial services companies will quickly spot an opportunity to develop them.

Such a proposal would be very similar to the American Republican preferences on health costs: keep taxes low and let people choose whether to insure themselves against the risks.

British voters are presented with a clear choice between the principles of the welfare state or the individualist mantra of everyone being responsible for their own financial situation.

Britain’s Presidential Election

Britain’s general election, scheduled for 8 June 2017, is being conducted on presidential lines.  Theresa May is offering “strong stable leadership” and the Conservative Party’s publicity material is emphasising her personality rather than policy issues.  There are problems with this approach:

  1. She is exploiting a deep human instinct, in turbulent times, to look for a strong leader. She is offering authoritarian populism in the style of Donald Trump.  She presents herself as a strong negotiator, being confrontational, anti-immigrant, and making promises which will be hard to fulfil.
  2. Her desire to sweep aside opposition, and to dispense with the checks and balances of parliamentary scrutiny, is fundamentally undemocratic.
  3. Strong leaders tend to become hubristic, not taking advice and failing to harness the strengths of a cabinet team.
  4. The opposition in Britain is currently weak and divided. It does not have the appearance of being ‘a government in waiting’.  This makes it unelectable in Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system.  The opposition might win some seats by co-operation in a ‘progressive alliance’, but there is a real danger that it will not be possible to hold the government to account and that this could result in harm to large parts of the population.

The signs are, from her early interactions with the EU, that she is being confrontational in Brexit negotiations.  This is precisely the wrong strategy.  Britain and the EU need to work together to solve the problems presented by the Brexit decision.  Co-operation would lead to a better outcome for all parties.

Symbolic air-strike in Syria

Donald Trump has acted swiftly in response to Assad’s recent use of chemical weapons in Syria, by bombing the airfield from which the attacks had been launched.  A failure to respond would have appeared to condone a war crime.

His action was measured, and largely symbolic.  He had warned the Russians (and by extension the Syrians) of his intentions, which reduced the damage inflicted and reduced the risk of provoking Russia.  Russia’s subsequent protest is probably equally symbolic: not an overreaction and politically necessary.

There were both benefits and drawbacks to Trump’s strike. The benefits were twofold: the use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated, so some punishment was appropriate, and it will probably deter Assad from repeating such attacks.

There were two obvious drawbacks: he bypassed the UN and he bypassed Congress.  He may have taken the view that this was unavoidable. The stalemate in the UN Security Council would have prevented any action from being taken against Assad, and a request to Congress would have delayed him at a moment when swiftness was called for (though he should still ask for retrospective approval).

Trump’s action will have done nothing to help the process of finding the solution to Syria’s problems, but won’t have harmed it either.  On balance, it seems to have been a sophisticated intervention, in circumstances where the ideal course of action (a meaningful response by the UN) was not possible.

Seen as a gesture against the use of chemical weapons, Trump’s action is probably better than doing nothing.  It is important, though, that America doesn’t broaden its involvement in Syria.  Its only agreed role there is the battle against ISIS.  Russia would feel obliged to escalate if Assad is further threatened and, as noted in a previous post, peace talks cannot begin meaningfully until order has been restored in Syria.

Democracy under attack

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market on Monday, 19 December 2016.  Angela Merkel, in a televised broadcast, expressed concern that immigrants might be blamed – and the anti-immigrant Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party has done just that.  Angela Merkel faces an election next year, in which AfD is strongly placed to become Germany’s  largest political party – and the Berlin truck attack will help it to do so.

It isn’t only Angela Merkel’s political party that is under attack, and ISIS isn’t the only attacker. The whole of Western liberal democracy is under a 3-way attack: from an Islamic terrorist jihad to set up a universal caliphate, from a wave of anti-establishment authoritarian populism, and from Russian interference with elections.  These three directions of attack are not coordinated, but are nonetheless helping each other to undermine Western democracies and the EU.

ISIS is trying to polarise society.  It wants headlines, Western indignation and condemnation of Islam – so that more Muslims will join its cause in what it presents as a conflict between civilisations.  It did not have to arrange for the truck attack.  It merely had to radicalise an individual, provoking the attack, and then claim responsibility for it.

Authoritarian populism is a style of political leadership which feeds on people’s discontent with their current situation.  That discontent might come from job losses due to globalisation, from liberalisation in society’s attitudes on gender, from gross financial inequality, or from multiculturalism.  Donald Trump, AfD and Nigel Farage can all be categorised as authoritarian populists.  Some of their supporters have reacted to multiculturalism by supporting ‘alt-right’ racial supremacists, whose views are similar to Nazism.

It has been alleged that Russia influenced the US presidential election by hacking into email servers, and Internet attacks on German political parties have also been traced to Russia.  It has also been alleged that Russia is sponsoring the spread of disinformation on Internet social media.  Disinformation is an effective way of swinging elections: Breitbart used it to help Trump be elected and is about to launch a German site.  It has been suggested that Russia is also using disinformation as a political tool, to promote nationalism and to undermine the EU and NATO.

It is easier to describe the problem than to propose a solution.  The European Union was initially established to counteract the forces of nationalism and fascism that had led to the Second World War, but it and its members are now experiencing this 3-way attack.  Sadly, the EU is no longer seen by many people as a force for peace.  There is some justification for the accusations levelled at it: bloated bureaucracy, failing to listen to the people and the pursuit of a political dream that seems to threaten the autonomy of its members.  It is clearly imperfect, and unless it starts to address the population’s real concerns it is likely to collapse – but now it is needed more than ever.

Resisting Authoritarian Populism

Donald Trump was elected on a wave of anti-establishment resentment, in what has been called ‘authoritarian populism’.  This phenomenon is also growing in Europe, so it is important to understand its origin and nature, its prevalence, how it might gain power and how it might be effectively opposed.

Stuart Hall used the term ‘authoritarian populism’ (AP) in the book The Politics of Thatcherism in 1983, but as Bob Jessop pointed out in a 1984 critique, there are separate phenomena within it.  AP is a useful term when applied to a desire for a strong leader with a forceful independent foreign policy and impatience with liberal social attitudes.  Hall swept up Thatcher’s neoliberalism in his use of the term, but more recent writers have not done so.   “Populist authoritarianism can best be explained as a cultural backlash in Western societies against long-term, ongoing social change”, according to Pippa Norris in an article published on 11 March 2016, and she highlighted a popular desire for “a strong leader unchecked by elections and Congress”.  Her article cited the rise of liberal attitudes – to matters of gender, cultural diversity and global governance – as having caused sections of the population to become anxious and resentful.

An anti-immigrant stance is a feature of AP.  In this respect it overlaps with the term ‘alt-right’ that Sasha Abramsky used in an article published on 29 October 2016, entitled Make America hate again,  when explaining Trump’s success and drawing attention to the attendant risk of fascism.   The terms ‘far right’ and ‘radical right’ are also used by different writers to highlight similar political phenomena.

A recent YouGov survey of the prevalence of AP in Europe was entitled Trump, Brexit, Front National, AfD: branches of the same tree.  It depicted AP as “a core set of attitudes: cynicism over human rights, anti-immigration, an anti-EU position in Britain, and favouring a strong emphasis on defence as part of wider foreign policy.”  It found that “in eight of the twelve countries, almost half of voters – if not more – hold authoritarian populist views”.  In France, Marine Le Pen’s Front National – an AP party – already enjoys considerable support.  The survey’s finding, that 63% of French voters have AP attitudes, would suggest a potential for her to win the French presidency.  She is anti-EU and there is growing anti-EU sentiment in several other member countries, resulting from people’s concerns about the economy and high levels of immigration, so there is a significant threat to the EU’s existence.

Britain’s next General Election is currently expected to be in 2020 (if there were an earlier election, focused on the issue of Brexit, it is predicted that the Conservatives would win – but that would merely postpone political change).  At present the 48% of British voters who have AP attitudes are mostly in the Conservative Party and UKIP, but there are some in all the political parties.  UKIP is a political party which has entirely AP policies; its new leader, Paul Nuttall, has said that he wants to “replace the Labour Party and make UKIP the patriotic voice of working people”.   This could be a serious threat to Labour, which is already looking vulnerable.  UKIP came second in 125 constituencies in the last General Election; in the next election it might easily win many of those seats.  In any case, AP voters are likely to vote for UKIP or the Conservative Party.

People with progressive attitudes tend to oppose authoritarian populism.  They are represented by several political parties in England at present: Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green.  With a first-past-the-post political system in Britain, a divided opposition would win very few seats, but the Liberal Democrat win in the Richmond Park by-election gives an indicator of how this problem can be overcome (even though it was a very unusual situation).  The relevant lesson for other constituencies is that there was a pact: the Green Party stood aside so that the Liberal Democrats were able to overturn a substantial Conservative majority, campaigning on an anti-AP and pro-Europe platform (the Labour Party had very little support in this wealthy part of London).

A pact between the progressive parties in England, whereby only one of them fields a candidate in each constituency, might give them a chance in a General Election.  It is very difficult to launch a new political party in a first-past-the-post system (as UKIP discovered, having won only one seat despite having received 12.6% of the votes cast in the last election) so a pact has a better chance.   There would be problems in agreeing which party would be best placed to win a particular constituency, but if they all committed themselves to trying to introduce proportional representation they would be helping to ensure the future survival of them all (and UKIP might also support a move to proportional representation).

A Trump Presidency begins

There has been much concern, both inside and outside America, at the result of the American election – but it is now a fact that has to be lived with.  It is time to look forward.  Many people were taken by surprise, but there were warning signs in the depth of feeling expressed by angry American voters and in Hillary Clinton’s failure to connect with them.  Donald Trump’s success came despite a campaign focus on personalities.  Both candidates were unpopular.

Donald Trump’s victory came from his handling of three key themes: anxiety over the loss of jobs to globalisation, resentment against a neoliberal political class that has placed the interests of rich people above those of everyone else, and latent racism in the so-called ‘alt-right’.  The election of a non-politician is a slap in the face for the political establishment.  Donald Trump presented his candidacy as self-financed and he was clearly distanced from the Republican Party (although he was its nominee).

He now needs a chance to deliver on some of the economic promises he made during the campaign.  His commitment to spend $500 billion on infrastructure would create jobs, but he might find that his ideas on protectionism would result in retaliation, inflation and ultimately a loss of jobs.

He needs to avoid some of the obvious dangers inherent in the racist passions that he awakened.  It is to be hoped that the very real risk of fascism can be averted.

Donald Trump cannot reform the political establishment, which needs to reform itself to regain legitimacy and support.  Congress is tainted by its dependence on wealthy donors, who have used their influence to become even richer – as described in Richard Hasen’s book, Plutocrats United.  If politicians want to recover their credibility, they need to reduce their dependence on political donations; they should completely change the rules on campaign financing.  And both political parties need to regenerate themselves and define policies which will be acceptable to the electorate.

Naomi Klein has articulated her vision for reforming the Democratic Party.   Her antipathy to neoliberalism – the unqualified supremacy of commercial interests – would gain the approval of those who have been damaged by it.  Mariana Mazzucato’s essay, on “why it’s time for progressives to rethink capitalism”, also has ideas on what can be done.  The party needs to recover the support of working people.

Republicans also need to find a way of recreating their badly-fragmented party, whilst improving the position of the poor.  For example, Milton Friedman’s libertarian vision of a flat tax combined with a ‘negative income tax’ would guarantee benefits for the poor whilst preserving an incentive to work; it would close many tax loopholes for the rich, would be transparently fair, and could be compatible with Trump’s promise to reduce corporation tax.  With a Republican Congress, Trump has a golden opportunity to transform America’s broken tax system.

The two parties cannot afford to ignore their loss of support.  They would naturally come up with different policies, but they should nevertheless be able to reach agreement on some necessary measures; American Presidents of both parties have historically increased the minimum wage, for example.  American voter anger must be addressed, to avoid a descent into chaos.

Hillary isn’t reaching people

Politicians ought to be better informed than the average person on the issues of the day, but that does not give them the right to despise the people they are elected to serve.  Many politicians are comparatively rich, well-educated and clever – but that puts them at risk of failing to understand how a lot of people think and how they live their lives.  No one can take good decisions on behalf of the population without having some degree of empathy towards it, and ordinary people understand that; they vote for politicians who seem to sympathise with them.  Hillary Clinton is in deep trouble by not seeming to relate to people and their problems, particularly after her unfortunate outburst that described many Americans as ‘a basket of deplorables’.

Nigel Farage understands this.  In an interview on the Fox Business Network, he drew the parallels between the American presidential election and Britain’s recent EU referendum.  Farage had been successful in persuading the British people to vote to leave the EU – a ‘Brexit’ – despite an enormous amount of authoritative advice to the contrary.  That advice had been given in a tone that seemed remote and unsympathetic, whereas he regularly appeared with a pint of beer in his hand and said things which resonated with many people.  The criticism he received from the mainstream media, for his attitude to immigration, seemed to prove that he understood the issues and that most politicians didn’t.

The similarities between Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are obvious, and the two men support each other.  Both are populists and are successful practitioners of what has been termed “post-truth politics”: reaching people’s emotions and reinforcing deep-seated prejudices.  Farage claimed that Hillary is “in for a big shock in this American campaign” – and he’s very probably right.  Hillary’s criticism of Donald Trump and his supporters was a big mistake; it just reinforced the impression that she was a member of the political elite who doesn’t understand how most people feel.

Hillary Clinton has a serious image problem.  As Farage said, “people are tired of being sneered at by out-of-touch political elites”.  Her only way of connecting with people at an emotional level is to appear statesmanlike and experienced; it is a big mistake to descend to the level of the Trump campaign and try to trade insults with him.  She should draw on Bernie Sanders’s success, acknowledging his influence so that she attracts his supporters, and propose measures that clearly address the concerns of angry American voters – as previously described on this website.

Angry American Voters

The 2016 American primary elections have revealed considerable popular discontent and resentment towards the political class.  Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump got lots of support from angry anti-establishment voters.  Despite significant economic growth in the last few decades, many people suffer hardship whilst others prosper grotesquely.  There is a growing realisation that politicians, in seeking political donations, have aligned themselves to the interests of the wealthy – so many people blame the political establishment for their problems.  Others blame their problems on immigrants and globalisation.

Trump hasn’t been part of the political establishment.  He seems to be offering solutions to people’s problems: he has pledged to build a wall against Mexican immigrants and he has advocated protectionism as a way to defend jobs from foreign competition.  In reality, anti-immigrant rhetoric could result in hostility towards the millions of Hispanics and Muslims who are already well settled in America; this would lead to a rise in hate crimes – which rose 57% in Britain following the similar rhetoric used in the recent campaign to leave the EU.  And protectionism destroys jobs, as it did with America’s tariffs on Chinese steel.  Trump’s ‘solutions’ are unworkable and would not benefit people.

In a representative democracy people elect politicians to understand complex issues, to speak for them and to govern.   Populist politicians with siren voices, though, can lure people to follow paths to disaster – ignoring complex realities to seek apparently easy solutions.  Donald Trump is now in a strong position to win the American presidency, being seen as a strong and successful individual who financed his own election campaign and who offers to magically solve people’s problems.  The condemnation of senior politicians merely adds to his credibility as a champion of ordinary people.  Since Hillary Clinton is seen as part of the political establishment, supporters of Bernie Sanders might vote for Trump rather than for her.

The presidential election is now largely a contest between Trump and Clinton.  Neither candidate is hugely popular.  Trump has antagonised many voters with some of his more outlandish statements, but his anti-establishment stance and populist pledges might yet succeed in winning him the presidency.  Fortunately, though, the American political system was designed with checks and balances, so Congress could prevent some of the damage he might otherwise do – but he might not address any of the real problems either.

Since criticising Donald Trump just strengthens him in the current political climate, Hillary Clinton would do better to ignore him and focus instead on concrete measures to address people’s concerns.  Carefully-constructed arguments alone are not going to persuade people to support responsible politicians; positive messages need to be delivered with passion and emotional appeal. She might then win the Presidency, which would be the best outcome for America.

Even if she wins, though, her hands would be tied if Congress opposed every initiative.  What is also needed is for the politicians in Congress – whether Republican, Democrat or Independent – to be elected on more moderate and responsible platforms.  The recent political posturing, trying to score points off the other party, needs to be put aside.  The country needs politicians of all stripes to work together to fix some of the problems which have caused the popular discontent.  Otherwise there is a risk of American politics sinking into yet further disrepute.  Politicians need to tackle several issues:

At a minimum, they need to pledge to overhaul campaign financing to reduce the influence of money in politics – so that they are accountable to the population as a whole, rather than favouring wealthy donors.

They need to overhaul the tax code, so that the rich pay at least the same percentage tax as the middle classes.  The Active Financing Exception, which allows wealth to be hidden overseas to avoid paying tax, needs to be quashed.

Improved productivity is better than protectionism as a route to full employment, so wealthy people need to be incentivised to invest in real industries rather than hiding their money or speculating.

People need to be reminded of the benefits of free trade.  Protectionism increases consumer prices and costs jobs in the rest of the economy.

America is a nation of immigrants.  Immigration needs to be better managed, to streamline the legal way of entering the country; there would then be less incentive for people to try to enter illegally in future.  Border security needs to be tightened, but an amnesty is needed for some of those who came in illegally but who have contributed to American society for several years.

Poverty can be reduced with an increased minimum wage and some income support.

None of the measures suggested above is inherently exclusive to either Republican or Democrat values, although the two parties would place different emphases on them.  The American Constitution envisaged negotiation between the members of Congress to develop solutions for the benefit of the population as a whole.  Whoever becomes President, Congress should aim to constructively serve the American people and give them less cause for resentment.

Why Britain should remain in the EU

We live in a connected world.  Britain will always be affected by what happens in Europe.  More than 40% of our trade goes to the EU.  We are geographically close, so we are affected by the same environmental issues, and Europe’s political and economic stability matter to us.

It makes sense for us to collaborate constructively with our neighbours: remaining in the EU, helping its rules to evolve, and strengthening it by being members.  Our EU membership was the result of a democratically-approved UK decision to co-operate with the EU on matters of common interest; it gives us influence on trading rules and other matters that would affect us even if there were a ‘Brexit’.  The British people have a democratic voice equal to that of the other members and our elected politicians share in EU decision-making.

Britain has tariff-free trading with EU members and it benefits from the EU’s bilateral trade deals with some other countries; otherwise it trades globally under (less advantageous) WTO tariff rules.  Other economies in the world are growing more rapidly, but the EU remains an important market.  Strong customer relationships have developed over 43 years of membership.  Most economists believe that leaving the EU would damage the UK economy.  New negotiations would be needed with the EU and all its trading partners.  The economy of the EU, our biggest customer, would suffer from a smaller market and the loss of British influence if we were no longer a member.

European citizens are granted rights of free movement between member countries, as part of the single market; over half of Britain’s immigrants now come from Europe.  Existing EU law prevents such migrants from burdening their host’s social security system, and Britain’s EU reform deal clarifies how that would work in practice, but immigration is problematic.  It has increased the UK population, giving some people cause for concern, but it has brought overall economic benefits.

Politicians should focus on fixing any pressures on housing and public services instead of leaving the EU and closing our borders.  Immigration should not be subject to arbitrary national targets.  It should be managed regionally, according to the availability of work and accommodation.  For example, the BBC reported that Sports Direct was allowed to expand in the Derbyshire town of Shirebrook without upgrading housing and public services; then there were problems when a flood of immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe. The company should have been denied planning permission, or the town’s infrastructure should have been upgraded. The problem in this case was not EU immigration but local political failure – as reported by Chad.

There are many in the EU who want it to develop into a superstate, but the UK can remain separate from that.  We have the best of both worlds.  We co-operate with the other members on free trade, collaborative policing and joint regulation of the environment, but we avoid the loss of political and financial independence that comes with membership of the Eurozone’s single currency.

EU members are committed to standards of human rights that stretch beyond the EU and are enforced by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).  This legal framework protects all Europeans from government malpractice; it helped the Hillsborough families to expose a police cover-up and obtain justice, for example, and it has upheld press freedom, prevented torture etc.  The UK and other governments established these rights to prevent the fascist oppression of minorities, such as that which led up to the Second World War. A recent resurgence of far-right politics in Europe indicates that vigilance must continue.

As a collective voice, the EU can wield considerable soft power; it has more diplomatic legitimacy than its separate countries with their colonial pasts.  In international affairs, Britain’s most useful role is to support the EU’s collective influence to promote stability.  Britain would not contribute to a European army, though, to avoid undermining NATO; as EU members, we would veto it, as the government has stated.

A vote to leave the EU would increase the power of a small group within Britain’s political establishment: the leaders of the Brexit campaign, who are misleading the public.  A vote to leave is to choose to bury our heads in the sand, in the vain hope that we can isolate ourselves from Europe; it would lead to political, cultural and economic shrinkage.  A vote to remain is to choose to co-operate with our neighbours to build a better future for the whole continent.