(Title Image: BT)
It’s absolutely right that this wretched referendum campaign has gone on hiatus following the assassination of Jo Cox. It’s not my place to speculate on the motives of her killer as that’s for the police and courts to determine for certain. Regardless, we still have a serious decision to make next Thursday and in the short time left there’s little wriggle room to ignore it however much I would like to.
One of my main grumbles about the EU referendum campaign is that neither side has properly outlined what would happen if we voted either way. Neither seem to have any plan nor vision, so we’ve been mostly left to guesswork.
It should be pretty simple. If the UK votes remain nothing changes, right? Not exactly.
The Renegotiated Membership
In February 2016, the Prime Minister announced he had secured terms for a renegotiated UK membership of the EU if there were a remain vote (EU Referendum : The Deal). There were arguments and counter arguments as to whether the agreement was legally-binding or not, while some of the proposals would require treaty changes – there’s no timetable for the latter yet, though it’s been claimed the process could take at least a year.
So there would be changes as the result of a Remain vote.
A “Two-Speed Europe” – The agreement will give the UK an opt out on “ever closer union”so the UK will never be part of a federal Europe (though it’s not as if that would happen anyway) and will be able to resist further attempts at securing exclusive or partial policy controls for the EU. So it’s unlikely any further powers will go to Brussels.
The UK will never join the euro – Another part of the deal was to prevent the EU discriminating against non-eurozone countries when it comes to finance. This is primarily to protect London’s financial service sector from being overlooked in favour of Frankfurt by EU authorities, but it also means the pound will be protected with no forcing anyone into the eurozone against their wishes.
Some minor curbing of benefits for migrants – The deal drew concessions on certain benefits, particularly child benefit and out-of-work benefits. EU migrants who haven’t found work within 6 months of arrival in the UK could be required to leave, while EU migrants will have to wait 4 years before having full access to the UK welfare system (called an “emergency brake”). The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently ruled that the UK can refuse benefits to unemployed EU migrants.
A slight easing of the EU’s regulatory burdens on businesses – The EU has already made some progress on scrapping unnecessary regulations and directives, or at the very least simplifying them, with a target set in the agreement to “cut red tape”. There’ll also be strengthening of the single market for the service, energy and financial sectors.
More say for national legislatures in EU law – The EU Commission will be forced to reconsider any new EU laws or regulations if 55% of national parliaments in the 28 member states reject them (15 or 16 states).
More free trade agreements with major economies? – With any uncertainties about the UK remaining in the EU out of the way, moves to complete a free trade agreement with the United States (TTIP) could be sped up as it’s currently stalled. The threat of a Brexit might also convince EU officials to step up proposals for a free trade agreement with India that’s currently stalled, along with similar agreements with Japan and South America/Mercosur. The UK could possibly lead proposals for a free trade agreement between the EU and major Commonwealth economies as well.
Other possible effects of a Remain vote:
Angry divisions in UK euroscepticism – The bad blood between Vote Leave and Leave.eu has perhaps been overshadowed by the schism within the Tories, but it could linger on and prevent eurosceptics from presenting a united front in the event of a defeat (unlike the SNP post IndyRef). I’d expect both sides to accuse each other for being the cause of any prospective failure and the whole thing could splinter into ever smaller factions fighting for ideological purity.
A rise in English nationalism? – This could happen, particularly if the result is so close that a remain vote is carried by London and Scotland. The rhetoric around immigration and “taking back control” will definitely appeal to the largely under-represented English white working class. UKIP would be in the position to take advantage of that by calling either for English independence or English devolution. Unionism – which is dear to so many Leave campaigners – might have to be thrown on the bonfire to ensure an EU withdrawal.
A “neverendum”? – The Leave campaign don’t look and sound as though they would accept anything other than a Leave vote. The irony is that these people were some of the more strident supporters of the Unionist side in the Scottish referendum and vocal critics of a hypothetical IndyRef2, but I’d fully expect them to call for a second referendum as well, particularly if the result is close. A remain vote will determine whether both sides truly believe in democracy and the will of the people or democracy on their terms only.
Complacency in Brussels – Based on their track record to date in existing in a completely different plane of existence to the rest of us, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if the eurocrats see a remain vote as an endorsement of “the European project”. That would be a similar mistake to “The Vow” by Unionists in 2014. They would have to acknowledge their failings and some of the worse aspects of the EU’s excesses and consider reforms to benefit all EU member states.
Little impact on immigration? – Free movement laws would stay in place. While there’ve been moves to curb access to benefits for migrants, as the vast majority of immigrants are coming here to work anyway, they’re unlikely to be affected. It might put off people seeking low-skilled, low-pay work as their ability to access benefits to top up their incomes would be uncertain, but the effect on numbers arriving or leaving is likely to be marginal.