Brexit, the EU and … um … Youtube?

I said I wouldn’t do another post on Brexit but I am doing one and here’s why:

  1. I never make good on my twimii promises. I want to – just not enough to actually keep them.
  2. I’ve written two Brexit posts already and just didn’t post them. Which was a bit of a waste of time. The first I deemed too daft, simplistic and positive to publish. The second one is about the possibility of a border being required once again between the Republic and Northern Ireland and my feelings about that.
  3. I need to stop commenting on Youtube videos. It gives me the sense of having expressed my feeling on something but the comments are not thought out and I often sound like an overly earnest pain-in-the … um … neck? It must stop.

The reason I want to write a post on Brexit and the EU – and the quicksand for my attention that is Youtube – is because last night I watched the video below and started posting a comment which by the fourth paragraph I realised was a ramble and not at all something to post below a youtube video. By the fourth!?! paragraph. Seriously…  I have got to stop commenting on youtube videos.

This is the video:

Why did I want to comment on it?

If you want to see what I was starting to comment you can find it here – but there’s no need because I’m going to rehash it all here anyways.

  1. I go mad when I hear people make arguments in favour of meritocracy that completely ignore the impossibility of establishing such a system if it is not first built on the foundations of an equal world where everyone has equal opportunity to advance and contribute to the world. We each have something different to contribute. We are not the same but we are all equal. In fairness though it’s not clear that Richard Dawkins is making an argument for the establishment of some elite ruling class. He seems more to be lamenting Brexit and Donald Trump than anything else really. And yes I clicked on the video with full intentions of giving out about the notion of a meritocracy.
  2. If I hear one more English person complain about referendums and say that having people directly vote on issues is not good for democracy I’m going to invent a time machine, travel back, grab a bunch of the Levellers, bring them back with me, fill them in on what’s been going on and … just sit back and watch what happens… If you have a constitution referendums are a great way of democratically endorsing and updating those documents. And the treaties of the EU amount to constitutions for the EU.
  3. I am very pro the EU. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the European project. But that doesn’t blind me to the fact that there are valid reasons for voting to leave. Nor does it mean I cannot understand why citizens of the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy might use their vote as a protest against the status quo. It seems like a growing number of EU citizens feel disconnected from the politics of the EU. I wanted to offer some reasons for why this is happening and why making out that people who voted for Brexit are just thick and ill-informed isn’t fair.

So that’s a bit much to pack into a youtube comment – which no one is going to read. I actually love reading comments. I sometimes skip straight to the comments on articles. But I very rarely read long comments. And I certainly wouldn’t read a comment like the one I started writing.

Admittedly few people are going to read this. But I decided to post it anyway because I have somethings I want to say about Brexit and the EU. So I’m going to.

The European Union

Why Would Anyone Vote to Leave?

question mark on a blackboard
‘Tis unknowable. That’s why we didn’t launch any public consultations to find out.

Put simply EU citizens (including politicians, bureaucrats and everyone) are not sure where exactly this project is headed. What began as an economic community has now developed into an increasingly political union that has far reaching powers including defence and foreign policy powers. (It can be easily argued that the political ambitions of the community were evident from the very first treaty, the Treaty of Rome, when it spoke of a determination to lay the foundations of an ever closer union of European peoples. But the business of the EEC, European Economic Community, was mostly economic and this aspiration was perhaps more about overcoming the legacy of two world wars and creating a more harmonious Europe.) It started as an intergovernmental community but appears over the last two decades to be making serious moves towards becoming a federal union. Is this move helping to create an ever closer union of our peoples?

The democratic underpinnings of the intergovernmental community lay with the democratically elected national governments who represented the interests of their respective citizens. However as the union grew economically, geographically and politically, the politicians and bureaucrats appeared to focus on facilitating the next step to further integration rather than having any overarching view of what the end point of the integration might be.

EC-EU-enlargement animation

In order to facilitate further integration it was necessary to water down the power of individual contracting states to prevent moves toward the next step of integration. So over time the national governments lost their veto powers in many areas as more and more policies were decided by Qualified Majority Voting. (You can read a little more about that here but it’s important to realise that although countries may have lost the right to veto proposals the EU works on a system of compromise and does try to find solutions that are agreeable to all states.) Without QMV it is difficult to imagine that the single market we have today would exist.

Also in the 1964 the European Court of Justice ruled in Costa v ENEL that EEC law had primacy over the national laws of contracting states. If they hadn’t ruled this way the participating countries could have used national laws to protect domestic markets and industry, and the enticing common market the EEC managed to develop would never have got off the ground.

So as you may know already I’m from the Republic of Ireland and we have a constitution. If changes or additions have to be made to that document then we the people usually have our say on whether we agree or not with the proposed changes by voting in a referendum. Our sovereignty is explicitly enshrined in article 5 of our constitution which states that Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state. When, back in the late 80s, our government were set to pass the Single European Act through the Dáil, our parliament, it was successfully challenged through the courts who held that passing the Act necessitated a referendum. So, alone among the countries of the EU, Ireland has had to have a referendum for every treaty of the EU that increases their powers.

macmillan-and-degaulle
Harold Macmillan and Charles de Gaulle.

Our country became a contracting state of the then EEC in 1973. Our economy was very tied to the UK’s and we had to wait for the UK to be accepted. The UK applied for membership three times before they were accepted. The UK’s politicians and our own knew that EEC law was superior to national law when we signed up, but at that time the EEC was really an economic community more so than anything else. And the economic benefits of being part of EEC were already very evident.

There ended up being many social benefits to EU law being supreme to our national laws too. The laws were all about reducing barriers, of any sort, to free trade and free movement of workers and this ended up having consequences for labour and equality legislation in Ireland (and in other contracting European states), very positive consequences. It became impossible to discriminate on the grounds of gender, for example. It’s hard to believe but there was a time in this country when a woman had to give up her job when she married.

Over the years the areas in which European law plays a role have increased – greatly. What started out as a purely intergovernmental union has mutated into something that isn’t really a federal union nor is it simply an intergovernmental one either. And there has been very little debate and discussion between politicians and electorates about where exactly the European project is headed. I personally think this is one of the major causes of disaffection many citizens in EU countries feel towards the EU – in spite of the fact that the benefits of being part of the union are many and obvious to most people.

It’s true that over the years sincere attempts have been made to the address the democratic deficit in the EU. The problem is that the deficit is partly the result of the structure of the EU which is neither one thing or the other (neither an intergovernmental union nor a federal one), it’s partly due to the near constant expansion of the EU powers, and it is also due to the undefined nature of the union’s integration goals. When do we say “OK we now know what the union’s areas of the competence are and the areas of competence that are solely under the power of the member states – and we’re leaving it at that for the foreseeable future.”? Do we have some sort of end point in mind, because I really think that is needed.

the flag of the united states of europe
Is this where we’re headed? What would be the benefits of such a union?

I personally think that the push towards federalism, and the consequent feelings of loss of power at the national level, is stoking a dangerous sort of nationalism in countries throughout the EU. I would like to see a roll-back on agreements regarding common foreign and defence policies and for these matters to be handled in a purely intergovernmental structure that is external to the EU.

I also believe that pushing for a fiscal union is a really bad idea. I would like to see a roll-back on policies in that area also. Back in 2012 I posted two short pieces calling for a no vote on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (I took them down when I changed the site’s look in 2014 because they were a little too flippant and facetious in tone – sorry – but if you want to read them here’s the first and second posts about that). But the point I’m trying to make in them is the same one that I want to make now; if we’re going to achieve an ever closer union of European peoples then there needs to be much greater engagement of citizens in deciding the nature, goals and endpoint of the integration of European states.

I don’t think that Brexit is going to cause the break-up of the EU but the push towards a federal union might. In fact I think we can see evidence of that happening already.

more of an intergovernmental union
United in diversity. I really like that motto – what kind of union would best embody it? (I couldn’t decide whether it was worse to include the UK or leave it out so it’s supposed to be like it could be coming or going?)

So I mentioned already that Ireland is the only country in the EU where the people vote directly on whether or not to ratify new EU treaties. Because of this every few years we have debates about Ireland’s place in the EU. And Ireland has one of the highest levels of satisfaction with the EU among its citizens. We are one of the most EU-enthusiastic nations. Is this perhaps because we debate EU issues more often than other countries and we do get to have our say on whether to ratify treaties or not? I think so.

Now it’s important to note that any time we voted No on any treaty what has happened is that we then get another run at it. I don’t approve of that at all. And I do regret suggesting that the UK have a second referendum on Brexit (although the issue with three out of five territories poled voting to remain does seem a valid reason to at least consider a second referendum).

But regardless of all that, what the Brexit vote has taught me is that if we did vote No a second time in a referendum it most likely wouldn’t stop the ratification process of the treaty in question (which is what I would want) instead it seems pretty evident that it would have meant that Ireland would be out of the EU and we’d be presumably part of the EEA instead. That is terrible – and not good enough.

mrs-doyle-wants-you-to-vote-yes
The Irish way…

The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE aka the European Constitution) was put together in 2004. It was written in very simple language. It contained some major changes to structure of the EU.

It did away with the 3 pillar structure created by the Maastricht treaty (which dates back to 1993). The first pillar, the EC pillar, concerned economic, social and environmental policies. The policy power for matters under this pillar were concentrated at the community level (things were decided by QMV and the community institutions like the European Parliament had more input). The other two pillars were concerned with Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Police and Judicial Cooperation, and power lay more with the governments of the individual member states in these two pillars.

So the European Constitution did away with the 3 pillar structure and expanded QMV. It also contained lots of positive stuff on human rights and fundamental freedoms. I didn’t read the whole thing but I read enough to know I was going to vote Yes when the time came.

But that time never came because France and the Netherlands (two of the six founding member states of the EEC) rejected it. And what happened next is, I believe, hugely responsible for the increased level of scepticism many EU citizens feel towards the EU today.

What should have happened was there should have been widespread public consultation in member states to find out what citizens expect from and for the EU and the results of those consultations should then have been reflected in the drafting of a new constitution. But what actually happened was our respective governments and EU officials agreed that the changes in the constitution were still required to ease the functioning of the EU so they created the Reform Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Lisbon.

respectez-notre-non
Respect our No. Another Europe is possible.

The Lisbon treaty, which contained almost all the same changes as the European Constitution, was then ratified by the national parliaments of each of the member states. Except for … that’s right – Ireland.

We had to vote on it because it increased EU powers and so affected our sovereignty so we had to ratify it by referendum. I voted No. So did the majority of Irish citizens.

One of the major concerns was the possibility of the creation of a EU army (Ireland is a neutral country). The media was of the view that people were concerned about losing a commissioner. Commissioners are kind of like the EU equivalent of government ministers and they are supposed to act for the good of the union and not show any bias towards their home state – so I’m not convinced that it affected people’s vote.

Most No voters I talked to were concerned about losing our neutrality, the EU turning into a super-state, and loss of control. I voted No because I thought it showed a terrible disregard for the will of the people to stop the ratification process of the European Constitution because it had been rejected by the citizens of two member states and then simply reformulate the Constitution under a new name the Reform Treaty (which was signed in Lisbon and so is called the Treaty of Lisbon), into a text that (in its first form) was much more difficult to read, and have it ratified through national parliaments rather than by direct mandate.

To be clear though this is what the democratically elected national representatives of the Member States decided to do and did do.

After voting No we received assurances from the EU that our neutrality was not affected by the treaty. We would only be a party to what we agreed on. I found an article from the time that was written after the No vote and before the Yes vote. I link to the article there just so that it is understood that when we have voted No the EU then do attempt to offer concessions of one kind or another – because the EU works on a system of compromise.

Ireland voted Yes the second time around and so the treaty was ratified. I continued to vote No. But the truth is when I saw the way some member states reacted to the Brexit vote I was glad the Yeses won the day because definitely the EU would simply have said “OK lads we can’t go back to the drawing board with this treaty it was difficult enough to reach consensus the first time – so you can be part of the EEA. The EU is ratifying the Lisbon Treaty”.

I voted No because I wanted to stop the ratification process – which should have been the effect of a No vote but it wasn’t and I guess never would be.

yes-no-lisbon
Yes and No posters for the Lisbon campaign

The problem is that, since the late 80s, reaching increased levels of integration has been given priority over respecting the will of the people. I hate to say that because it sounds as if I’m saying the EU is a scary undemocratic beast – but really that is not what I’m saying at all.

The EU is a wonderful union. The benefits of being an EU citizen are many and the benefits to our national economy being part of the single market are huge.

And I agree with the stand EU officials take on most issues. But honestly focusing on increasing the level of integration among member states, focusing on increasing the number of policy areas that are determined at community level, without debating these matters with citizens, without respecting the direct mandates of French and Dutch citizens to stop the ratification of the European Constitution (the Lisbon Treaty is simply a reformulation of the Constitution) is understandably making citizens feel as if they have less control over what is happening.

yes-no-nice
Yes and No posters for the Nice referendums.

There’s a sting in the tail regarding Irish neutrality and the Lisbon treaty; the Lisbon treaty paved the way for the introduction of PESCO, the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence policy, and the Dáil (our parliament) voted to be part of it on December 7th last year.

So is this a sign of evil underhanded ways of the EU quietly setting up its superstate army that will rob us of any freedom??? No. This would be an example of our government, and the majority of our democratically elected TDs (political representatives in the Dáil), deciding that it was in our interests to be a part of PESCO.

A referendum wasn’t required because we had agreed in principle with this by voting Yes to Lisbon.

Do I agree with them? No. Not even kind of. I wasn’t worried about the Lisbon Treaty affecting our neutrality because I knew that our elected representatives in the Dáil would ultimately decide if we would be a part of any proposals in this area and I assumed that no Irish government would recklessly vote for something that seriously threatens our status as a neutral country. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted for it.

Would I have liked a referendum for our joining PESCO? Yes I would. I don’t think it would have passed. Neutrality concerns were among the reasons for the No votes on the first Nice and Lisbon referendums.

And to impress on you the fact that our signing up to this is not the EU’s fault two other member states Denmark and Malta didn’t sign up to it. No one would have minded if we didn’t join.

brexiteer protest
I would never vote leave. But shouldn’t there be a more discussion and understanding of what caused more than half of the UK’s electorate to vote out?

So when Brexiteers shout about taking back control it is understandable that a sense of losing control over their country would make people vote out.

But it is important to realise the power that national governments have when it comes to participating in the different policies and initiatives the EU undertakes. We need to demand that our elected representatives respect the promises they make to us the voters.

Both FG and FF promised that our neutrality would not be affected by voting Yes to Lisbon. And I’m sure they meant those promises – just not enough to actually keep them.

Is it our fault as voters that we simply accept these promises? Should we be petitioning our TDs before each and every bill is passed through the Dáil to ensure they respect their mandate? Should voters really have to keep that close an eye on their governments? Isn’t the point of political representatives to have them deal with the issues of the day according to the mandate you have given them? Are we really supposed to be supervising them constantly? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of representative democracy?

We need to reform the EU so its more responsive to the concerns of its citizens. But it seems clear that reform is needed not just at the community level, in Brussels as they say, but also, and much more so, we need to make national politics more responsive and reflective of the will of citizens too.

For all the reasons above I feel it’s not being fair to people who voted leave to brand them all as thick ignoramuses. I suspect many people who voted for Brexit did so partly in protest, they feel so misrepresented by politicians that they wanted to throw a spanner in the works and force their voices to be heard.

And I find it very difficult to believe that in a country as open, liberal and ethnically diverse as the UK, that when people talk about taking back control they are all just talking about keeping out foreigners.

Yes, I accept that immigration was part of the reason for a sizeable minority of the leave vote but I cannot accept that the majority of Brexit voters did so because of concerns about immigration. Maybe I’m wrong but where exactly is the evidence?

Let me be totally clear here. Given the choice I wouldn’t vote to Leave.

we-need-eu
We need to reform the EU not leave it – that’s my opinion. Protest by Remainers in the UK.

I wouldn’t want to leave the EU. There is access to the single market, access to funding, and beyond the economic benefits it’s been a force for good; promoting equality, harmony and peace in Europe. It’s one of Europe’s finest achievements and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Some of the benefits of being part of EU

  • Freedom of movement for EU workers means that I can go anywhere in the EU and automatically have the right to reside and work there. I also have the right to set up a business anywhere in the EU.
  • Workers rights and equality legislation are strongly protected in EU law.
  • EU regulations ensure high quality standards for goods and services throughout the EU. Being part of the single market means once your products meet the quality standards in one country they are free to be sold throughout the EU.
  • Consumer rights, which were already strong, have been further strengthened by EU legislation. If I buy goods or services worth €5,000 or less from a different member state and there’s something wrong with it, like if it turns out that the goods or services are not as advertised, I can use the European Small Claims Procedure in a local court here in Ireland to get my money back. I don’t need a lawyer and it will only cost me €25. You can find out more about other EU consumer protections here.
  • From its earliest days the EU has prioritised protecting the environment and improving environmental standards throughout member states.
  • The EU stands up to big business to ensure privacy rights, consumer rights, and competition law are respected.

These are just some of the benefits – the ones that came quickest to me as I write this. Ask me another day and I could give you a different list.

How to Square the Vicious Circle that is Brexit

british-bulldog
Vote Leave they said. It’ll be great they said.

Brexit’s a bit of a vicious circle.

It starts with wanting your own country to have full power over its policies and laws. To be a fully sovereign nation once again.

But as it involves leaving a union that guarantees its citizens certain rights and benefits, the 48% who voted to stay are naturally feeling aggrieved and protesting to ensure that they continue to enjoy as many of those rights and benefits as possible.

And as it involves leaving the single market, the world’s largest trading bloc and the world’s second largest economy, businesses are naturally worried about how it’s going to affect them.

So you have many people still protesting the result of the referendum, and some large businesses and representatives of important sectors of the economy are lobbying politicians to ensure their particular business or industry is protected from a hard Brexit.

For anyone outside the EU reading this – hard Brexit means leaving the single market completely. Soft Brexit seems to mean anything from staying in the EEA (European Economic Area) to just staying in the customs union to trying to just keep certain sectors in the single market.

If you opt for a soft Brexit then the UK will presumably remain within the regulatory framework of the EU which is under the jurisdiction of the European courts. I say presumably because “soft Brexit” appears to cover wildly differing scenarios.

If you opt for a hard Brexit and completely leave the single market then the UK is free to strike whatever trade deals you wish with any other country. And presumably if disputes arise the resolution process will be handled by some international court of arbitration. And if the country that you’re making deals with have completely different (note I did not say better or worse) rules regarding product quality and safety then, if they have a similar bargaining power to the UK, you will have to reach some sort of compromise regarding those regulations. If they have much greater bargaining power than the UK then you might have to agree to accept their quality assurance procedures in order to reach a deal.

Regardless of which option you choose some compromise will be involved. Whether you are part of the EU, EEA, the customs union, or none of these, your politicians are still going to be able to say to you the people, “I’m sorry but for the sake of the economy we must do this. It is beyond our control.”

But you want full control over the direction your country is taking, right? That’s why people voted for Brexit, isn’t it? Is it?

This is how it all seems to me … and it looks like a very vicious circle.

So how do you square that circle? How do you put the vicious thing in a box and escape it?

Well, my thoughts on it are:

  1. Realise that while membership of the single market means compromised sovereignty, the lack of control voters have over the actions of their elected representatives is a fault in the way our democracies are currently structured. Regaining sovereignty will not in itself give voters any more control over politicians. And our world is interdependent so, unless you’re going to act like a powerful bully, compromise is part and parcel of international relations.
  2. The problem the UK face in Brexit talks with the EU is that you are offering them less and seeking more than you’ve currently got. There is nothing to entice them to accept this offer. Also there doesn’t appear to be any clear vision of where Brexit is headed and this is causing a sense of disunity among citizens, businesses and among the territories of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). There is talk of extending the transition period … everything seems up in the air and uncertain. This is troubling both for the UK and the EU. Extricating a member state from the EU, when you’ve been a member for 45 years, is clearly a very complicated business. It’s going to take time to do it right. From the outside looking in it seems obvious that the best way for the UK to do this right would be to leave the EU but opt to stay in the EEA for the next 10 years while you build up the Commonwealth. Then have another vote to see if you want to return to the EU (from a position of even more strength), remain in the EEA, or leave the single market completely (if you have built up the Commonwealth sufficiently you could have the bargaining strength to negotiate a great trade deal as a third country).

I know you’re probably thinking “oh you silly ignoramus we can’t build up the Commonwealth if we stay inside the customs union…“.

If you stay inside the customs union (and if you do you should definitely opt to just stay in the EEA) the UK won’t be able to set the customs on imports and exports between the UK and Commonwealth countries, that’s true, but in exchange for staying in the EEA you could seek a better trade deal for certain designated Commonwealth countries and the EU.

Start with a couple of countries in the Commonwealth that would be suitable for the creation of a common market for a couple of products (something like the ECSC – but maybe for some green energy related products/resources) and if you were to assign a designation to that common market and negotiate with the Commission for a favourable trade deal between your new trade bloc and the EU it could work out very well.

Why would the EU agree to this though? Well I’m guessing that if the UK were to leave the EU but stay in the EEA this would add a level of certainty that markets, businesses, politicians and bureaucrats (and even some of us plain old citizens) would find reassuring. Also, it would also be cheaper for the EU to have the UK as part of the single market rather than the EU because EU member states are beneficiaries of much more EU funding than EEA states.

The UK is an important world economy, you can negotiate for a good deal but you cannot offer less and get more unless you have more bargaining power than the other side in the negotiations – that’s just obvious.

These are just some ideas I had. And I’m definitely not an expert. I don’t know how well that would work out.

All the above is just made up of my thoughts, ideas and views. And what’s my opinion worth anyways?

Which brings me nicely back to Youtube.

The White Paper

OK so it’s been over 3 weeks since I started writing this. I’ve been distracted by Youtube – and occasionally life – during that time, so this has taken far too long. Since I started this Theresa May, the UK’s Prime Minister, has published a white paper on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

I want to say something positive about Theresa May because she has an impossible job – it’s not possible to formulate a proposal which won’t displease all sides. It’s just not. The job of Brexit PM is one for someone who doesn’t mind being hated or at least being viewed with contempt – by a large number of people. It’s a thankless job.

It’s clear that those clamouring for hard Brexit don’t actually want to be steering the ship right now. They would rather watch it crash and then lead the salvage crew – a much more positive position to be in (for the individual – not the country).

That said, I really hope that the news coming out about the white paper being rejected, in part, by the Michel Barnier (the EU’s designated negotiator on Brexit) is correct.

The reason why I hope it is rejected is because it’s ending free movement of workers and persons for the majority UK citizens. If this proposal is accepted then ordinary people will lose out on a wonderful freedom. It will be the preserve of only a selected few and that is a truly terrible.

Free Movement of Workers and Persons is one of the Best Features of the Single Market

Globalisation is often blamed for the ever widening gap between the rich and poor in our world. It’s making things more unequal. I don’t disagree. But I don’t think the problem is international free trade or the porous nature of our borders. It think the problem is that our world is unequally globalised in favour of large corporations and wealthy people.

Globalisation has increased inequality because the opening up of our economies developed largely as a response to the needs and desires of businesses and the wealthy. It has not been about sharing all the benefits of modern technology and knowledge with all the world. This has happened – but not to the extent that it needs to.

What is really fantastic about being part of the European single market is that ordinary people, people who maybe do not have a lot of money or skills or education have the right to go look for work in any of the countries that are part of the EEA. And any of us can go set up businesses there too.

This kind of freedom is usually enjoyed by those who are wealthy or those who have some privileged status which might be obtained by having achieved some high standard of education or skill – or by marrying into wealth.

But any citizens of the countries in the EEA have the right to come to Ireland and work or set up a business if they so wish (this is actually the freedom of establishment).

Do you know how much money/capital you need in order to come to Ireland and set up a business if you are a non-EEA national? At least €75,000 and that’s providing you have an innovative business idea that’s likely to turn into a High Potential Start-Up. Otherwise you need at least €2,000,000.

If you are a non-EEA national looking to come to Ireland to work you normally need to find a job that pays at least €30,000 pa, your employer needs to show that the hire passes a labour market test, and if after moving you discover that you hate the job or your workplace you can’t simply get another job – it is possible to switch employers but it’s not straightforward.

That’s just some of the conditions for coming to Ireland as a non-EEA national. And each country in the EEA have different immigration rules regarding citizens of third countries (countries outside the EU are referred to as third countries).

I would urge any Brexiteers to not give up their freedom of movement or their freedom of establishment. Particularly because our world is changing. It seems undeniable that climate change is happening. What changes it will actually bring is hard to predict but it seems like we should be preparing for more droughts and floods. And no one should be voluntarily restricting the number of countries they can legally move to, reside and work in.

But look even if you do think that this year’s weather is an anomaly and fears about climate change are overstated, the progress being made in robotics and AI is such that if you’re hoping to protect jobs by reducing the flow of immigrants – well, you’re seeing things very differently to me. I actually started another post on that topic… Must start actually posting these damn things.

If the free movement of people from the EEA around the EEA is part of the reason you voted for Brexit, then please, instead of focusing on what other EEA nationals are gaining by being able to live and work in the UK, realise what you and your’s stand to lose by giving up these freedoms.

And if concern about these freedoms played no part in your voting for Brexit then will you please let your politicians know that in the loudest way possible?

And … um … Youtube?

TV with image symbolic of Brexit, and Youtube logo.
The world as brought to you by…

I can’t remember what my point was at this stage…

I had some point to make about how while many businesses are concerned about Brexit there are some businesses, particularly those in tech and social media, who may be eager for the UK to leave the EU.

Why? Because the EU is trying to guarantee relatively strong privacy rights for citizens and that can make things difficult for companies who make money with user-targeted ads and content, or for companies who are working on AI projects which involve recording and using data captured from the user and/or its environment.

So am I saying Youtube has been secretly part of the Leave campaign??? No. If I had any problem with Youtube or Google I wouldn’t have so many links to those sites on this blog. Google, Youtube’s owner, has a stated mission to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” And while I have concerns over privacy and intellectual property rights, I think that’s a noble endeavour. They’re also doing great work with AI.

But there is no denying that taking the UK out of the EU and their tough rules regarding competition and privacy may mean that the company, and others of a similar size, are feeling quite positive about Brexit.

But I watch videos by people in favour of leaving the EU as well as people who would rather remain and I haven’t been able to discern any particular bias from the selection of Brexit videos the algorithm has recommended.

I think 1) it’s important to realise the size and power of these businesses and 2) it’s also important to always be aware of potential biases.

Do I have a bias? Of course I do. All my opinions are biased – one way or another. I think everybody is like that. But the opinions I express are my real opinions.

I wish I could remember what exactly my point was … it wasn’t actually about Youtube having a bias, it was more about the videos … something about how most news isn’t fake but all news is biased (to a greater or lesser degree) and that rather than trying to stamp out “fake news”, which could stifle debate, we should focus more on understanding the content creator’s biases and motivations.

Listen to what people have to say. Try and understand where they’re coming from. And let your instincts, experience and reason tell you what’s true for you.

Back to video then.

I rewatched the video to try and remember what I was going to say … I can’t. But I am going to respond to what is in the video – sure why not, it’ll add a bit of length to this post at least.

Richard Dawkins is entertaining. I generally disagree with his viewpoint. But he’s sincere, articulate and an expert in his field. And the way he is so dismissive of (or disturbed by) opinions or philosophies that differ from his own can be quite funny at times.

OK so his point seems to be that some opinions are worth more than others and so should carry more weight. Yeah. It’s not so much that I disagree as I don’t know how it would be possible to know for certain who has the “correct” opinion when the decision involves future actions.

He gives out about Gove telling people not to trust experts, and all the lies and misinformation that were spread – this is where he veers into criticising the Trump administration (understandably). I’m with him on these points.

That said though… Do I want elite politicians or economists to advise me regarding my vote on ratifying EU treaties? Well … not sure I’d know an “elite politician” if I met one … but yes I’ll listen to what they have to say. And then I’ll make up my own mind. I don’t want it made up for me.

And that’s one of the things that made me mad enough to start writing this. Now I’m sure this isn’t what he meant to say but it sounds like instead of suggesting that people should listen to the advice of experts he seems to be suggesting that us plebs should follow it blindly because in complicated matters it’s clear we shouldn’t be allowed decide for ourselves.

In fairness he appears to count himself among the plebs on this issue, as he says “I pronounced myself ill-equipped to vote on the referendum.” Granted the EU is a complicated structure but the idea that Dawkins would not be capable of deciding whether the EU was worth being a part of or not, after an hour or two’s reading on the subject, is blatantly and patently ridiculous.

“We want elite musicians to play in our orchestras, etc.” Some of my favourite singers do not have technically brilliant voices but they sing their heart and soul out through their music and this is what I respond to. Something about it just rings true. By the same token, individuals positive or negative experiences of certain governmental policies tends to be what really informs my opinion of that policy. What the “experts” say in such cases doesn’t count for all that much if the “experts” have no real world experience of how the policy affects a person.

The reason why people have lost faith in “experts” is that sometimes that designation has been applied to people who are far too removed from topic they are “explaining” to the masses to really know what they are talking about. And the masses are very well aware of this.

TL;DR

toy sheep falling asleep reading
I know. I know. Who’s even going to read this?

Fine. Here’s what I have to say in a nutshell –

Anything created by humans can be understood by any other humans that care to take an interest in it.

When the matter concerns future outcomes how are we to know whose opinion is correct? And so isn’t there value in all opinions?

It is not dangerous to hold a referendum on a country’s membership of the EU. It is dangerous to do so without having a clear roadmap (or at least definition) for what voting out means exactly.

While the EU is not very responsive to its citizens, I believe that the lack of control voters have over their elected representatives is a fault in the way our national democracies are currently structured.

I think the push towards a more federal EU is stoking up a defensive and brittle sort of nationalism in member states.

I believe that the EU needs to engage more with its citizens regarding the nature, goals and endpoint of EU integration.

The EU is not perfect and voting to leave is not inconceivable nor is it proof that people who voted that way hadn’t researched the issues or were thick or racist.

While the EU is not perfect it is a great thing to be part of. And it bestows wonderful freedoms and protections on its citizens. Don’t give up the good stuff.

It is possible to leave the EU but still be part of the EEA. This will mean continued frictionless access to the single market, which means free movement of goods, services and capital, freedom of establishment and free movement of workers and persons.

Nearly half of the UK voted to remain in the EU. Three out of the five territories polled voted to stay in also. Perhaps the UK can learn from the EU’s failure to properly engage with citizens and seek more input from voters regarding the nature and goals of the UK’s exit from the EU?

Just to stick my oar in (that bit further), I’d suggest the UK quickly negotiate for a very favourable membership of the EEA. Work on building up the Commonwealth and have another vote in 10 – 15 years time.

I spend way too much time watching/listening to stuff on Youtube.

I don’t think that’s going to change…

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