I hate shouting, I really do. Whenever I have shouted someone down from a platform I always feel really bad about it afterwards because audiences think ‘they’re all the same’…and they’re right.
But yesterday I was on BBC Southeast Referendum QuestionTime with Nigel Farage, Michael Howard, and an audience in Dover. The mood in the room ranged from passion to outrage and anger and it was very difficult to make the kind of respectful arguments I came into this for. It was often hard to get a word in edgeways and I began to fear they were getting away with spending the most outrageous lies about why Britain faces so many challenges…so I shouted to be heard.
My basic point is that ‘Brexiters’ have begun blaming the failures of our British government on the EU. It makes me angry enough to hear two Tories and a UKIP person blaming the EU for domestic policy mistakes but to do so in order to confuse the electorate a week before such an important decision totally disgusts me. I mean that, it gets my heart racing with anger - you are being let down. Let me tackle just a couple of the arguments put to us in yesterday’s debate:
‘The EU has higher youth unemployment than the rest of the world because of EU policies forced on us’. Firstly, get your facts right. The EU average for youth unemployment is 20% and both the US and Australia have had similar levels at times since the 2008 crash, is the EU to blame for that? Secondly, whilst Spain, Italy and Greece have double the EU average, Germany and the Czech Republic have rates lower than 5% and Britain is at about 10 % and falling. If the EU is responsible for causing high rates in Spain, surely it has to be responsible for the huge success of delivering lower rates in Germany than any other industrialised country in the world? But the real lesson is just blinking obvious, youth unemployment is a consequence of domestic policy making and the priorities chosen by individual governments. With the exception of Greece there is simply no evidence that the EU has any impact on a country’s ability to eradicate youth unemployment. There is nothing stopping a British prime minister standing up and saying ‘I will end youth unemployment’ and delivering it in five years…it could be done and I wish it would.
Secondly, ‘free movement of people is damaging our NHS’. My blood pressure is already so high I may have to use the NHS before I finish this sentence! No, no, no…the reason our NHS is on it’s knees is because the Tories tore down the structures that delivered record health outcomes under Labour and replaced it with a confused hotch-podge of different commissioners and providers and regulators who struggle to keep up with who’s responsible for what. We have a shortage of doctors and nurses, not because the EU banned us from producing them but because our government didn’t train enough, and still isn’t. They are also treating the ones we have so badly that more than ever before are quitting to work abroad. When Labour left office in 2010 80% of the public thought the NHS was ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and double the number of people believed in collectivised health than when the NHS was created. This was after a period of growth in immigration from within the EU. Despite very localised issues, there is no overall evidence at all that the EU has damaged our NHS, none at all.
Thirdly, ’We can no longer keep our coastline safe from illegal migrants’. This is true, but not because the EU is stopping us, it’s because Teresa May slashed funding for our boarder force and said at the time it would have no impact on frontline services. As a result we now have 3 cutter patrol boats for 7,700 miles of coastline while countries like France have…wait for it…40 for less than a third of the coastline. That is the single reason why our coastline is vulnerable these days. The only thing stopping us getting more cutters for the English Channel to prevent terrorists and criminals from landing on our shores, and to protect the lives on innocent and vulnerable refugees, is the Conservative government, not the EU.
And then the one that really gets me hopping…’30 years ago the EU accounted for more than 30% of global GDP, now it’s only 18%’. What?! The implication is that the EU has shrunk. Imagine this, if a 12 year old stands next to you and is a foot smaller and then returns a decade later and is taller than you, does it mean you have shrunk? NO! The reason the EU has a smaller share of global capital is because China and India, both of which has more people living in each country than every EU country combined, has finally kick-started their economies. When you think about the implications of this trend for the future of global power, Brexiters making this argument are pointing to one of the single best reasons why we need to stay within the EU - China and India are huge. Massive. We alone cannot negotiate with the power we need to in order to ensure our liberal and democratic values prevail, we must do so in concert with our allies. The stupidity of using these stats to oppose to the EU totally staggers me.
If people vote to leave the EU thinking it will solve these challenges they will be disappointed because it will not. And worse, we would have lost one of the best tools we have to tackle each of them. But worst of all, it will be lost to us forever.
I realise that I’ve been shouting in my writing too…sorry, I’ve been doing this day-in and day-out for weeks now and sometimes I just have to vent! In the coming days I will post all of the positive reasons why I am as committed to the EU too, but for now I just needed to use you all as a punching bag…sorry! All the best, Peter