Amid the media frenzy of the last few days, I’ve been pleased and intrigued to read some heartfelt contributions to the campaign from some of my constituents.
With the permission of the various authors, I thought I would share some of these contributions on my blog.
An author who wishes to remain anonymous has sent me several poems on the subject of the EU referendum. A selection is below.
It pays to stay
Divorce in haste, repent at leisure
Britain risks losing its treasure
Voting out would leave us needier
Unless you believe pro-Brexit media
Cutting the ties might sound OK
Till you add up the stakes at play
Security threatened, business lost
This is just the obvious cost
Breaking ties lasting many years
Cannot be done without some tears
Risking all through a rash dice throw
Could deal our friends a dagger blow
Left adrift, of partners bereft
To our own devices we’d be left;
If losing Scotland came in train
England would have itself to blame
Brexit myths in papers abound
In OUT circles they do the round
The notion of “Brussels misrule”
Is just another Murdoch tool.
Why should the BRICs be such a draw?
On basic rights their record’s poor –
Trade with them is of detriment
To the global environment.
Let’s turn instead to what is true
Drop ideas that misconstrue
Let’s free ourselves from all these lies
And reaffirm our natural ties
We now receive more than we give:
A cleaner land in which to live,
And science, research, technology
Have EU funding as their key
Madrid, Salzburg, Paris, Berlin
Lisbon, Leuven, Seville, Tallinn
Prague, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Rome,
Or Copenhagen can all be home
Moving abroad can be so easy
Whether to Nice or Brindisi;
Studying too is so much cheaper
When you choose Thessalonica.
In prospect if we choose Remain
Is the leading role we can gain;
In the Union and at its heart –
It’s time to play a fuller part!
Renewing our vows
Helping keep the world more stable,
The Union sits at every table –
On climate, peace and trade for a start,
We’re stronger with it than apart.
The EU chaired the talks with Iran
To secure the nuclear weapons ban;
On China, too, it’s keeping tabs –
Our industry is not for grabs.
Putin and others would rejoice,
If we were to lose our voice –
Creating division and dissent
On our destruction they are bent.
We’re in a club that gives us rights,
We’ve got to keep this in our sights;
Bigger within, smaller without,
That is what it’s all about.
Why return to filthy beaches,
Shunning eco-standards’ reaches;
Cleaner air to be consigned
To a future still undefined.
Strength in numbers, yet values shared,
A global standing, our views aired –
A trading bloc of 28 nations,
Strong in our negotiations.
It can be a passion, though not a fling –
Our union is a serious thing;
But Brexit is a dangerous flirt,
Mostly spurred by lies and dirt.
If now we falter at the altar,
We could even lose Gibraltar;
Why break bonds, with all this fuss?
The losers, surely, would be us.
Before we allow the door to close,
Indulge in cutting off our nose;
Let’s listen to our partners’ call
And not just smugly start a brawl.
As our marriage of convenience
Brooks no further lenience;
Let’s make up, settle the rows,
Take this chance to renew our vows!
This heartfelt letter was sent to me by a constituent in West Yorkshire.
Being born in 1946, a large part of the reason that my entire life has been free from European military conflict of the type which has blighted the continent for hundreds of years is the institutions which were set up in the period after the Second World War – UN (1945), NATO (1949), and EEC (1951). The people who did this knew what they were doing and they also knew that history repeats itself, not least when over- bearing nationalism is rife.
The European Union, as we know it today, is a remarkable concept being made up of 28 democratic countries coming together to promote social, political and economic harmony – a united Europe of independent states. Not only has it largely achieved, and continues to achieve this, but it is also a force to challenge the economic power of China and the USA, not to mention being a powerful bulwark against the imperial ambitions of Russia, a country whose leaders would love to return to the sinister days of the Soviet Union empire, and who would be delighted if Britain were to exit.
The view that we should be out of the EU because it is undemocratic is maybe a bit thin when you consider that the House of Lords has no less than 802 unelected Lords and is the only upper house of any parliament in the world to be larger than its respective lower house. Against that The Council of Ministers in Europe, where the most important decisions are made, is made up of national ministers from the democratically elected governments of the 28 member states. Ours is David Lidington, MP for Aylesbury.
The democratically elected European Parliament, the most open of the EU’s institutions, is becoming increasingly important in the scheme of things – the European Commission no longer being the driving force it was 20 years ago. Members of the European Parliament (73 of them elected by us every five years to represent the UK) form the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world.
Financially, we remain the second biggest contributor to the EU after Germany, due to our population numbers. However, on a per-head basis, Britain is only the eighth biggest contributor, the biggest being the Dutch who send almost four times as much per. head to Brussels as we do. Taking off our rebates, subsidies, grants, monies paid by the EU which we would pay anyway, the cost to the country is reckoned to be less than £18 million pounds a day, not the £55 million pounds which the Outers are trying to peddle. It’s still a lot of money, of course, but let’s not fondly think it will be spent on the NHS. In reality, the shock to the British economy following a Brexit vote will quite likely cost more than we would be saving anyway as recently highlighted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The notion that our NHS will suddenly be transformed into a sort of no-waiting paradise is risible. Even if the savings did actually transpire, would any funds available be spent purely on the NHS? I find this hard to believe, what about schools, the roads, the railways, the police, tax breaks for the fortunate – wouldn’t any jam actually be spread rather thinly? Presumably those immigrants who are doctors, nurses (or maintain other vital public services) for us would feel welcome to stay here whilst all others are shown the door? 26% of NHS doctors are non-British.
History tells us that the real financial disasters affecting countries are actually wars – exactly the thing which the EEC was established to prevent. The Second World War exhausted Britain, we didn’t even manage to repay the reconstruction money lent to us by the USA and Canada until December 2006!
As it happens, my wife and I will be voting by post in the forthcoming referendum as we will be in France to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, in which my Great Uncle John (26), my wife’s Great Uncle Harry (24) and her Grandfather Eric (25) were all killed. There will be an incredibly moving inter- denominational church service at Thiepval where Lutyen’s Memorial commemorates the 72,000 men who were killed in the Battle, and whose bodies were never found, surrounded by a cemetery with equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves.
To get there we shall travel through the Channel Tunnel, an Anglo-French project which took 13,000 workers from England and France five years to complete. On returning home we will cross the UK border in Calais – a remarkable arrangement whereby the French actually let us decide who can cross into Britain before they get there – how long will this continue if we vote Brexit? For those travelling further afield, they may fly by an Airbus A380, the largest plane in the world, the design and construction of which is shared by France, Germany, Spain and the UK – the costs of this being so huge that no one country could have gone it alone. When returning home they will go through the EU citizens’ passport control channel with the minimum of fuss rather than have to wait in line with citizens in the “Other Countries” section.
Of course, we shouldn’t be having this referendum at all, we elect Governments to take these decisions for us, ordinary people cannot possibly know enough to come to a flawless decision. What strikes me, though, is the fact that every Prime Minister of this country from Edward Heath onwards have been in favour of closer integration with Europe, not to mention the overwhelming majority of the present cabinet. There is also a pro-Remain majority in the House of Commons of 454 MPs to 147 and virtually every foreign Head of Government thinks we should remain – what price our Special Relationship with the USA when we have no clout in Europe? We have to say to ourselves “surely these people know a lot more than we do?”
Were we to vote to leave we are inevitably bound to get a bad divorce settlement from the other 27 members – why wouldn’t we? We’re saying we don’t like them and they would be looking to discourage future leavers anyway. In any case how can we go it alone, the days of the Empire have long gone, the UK is too weak these days to take on the might of such as China and the USA and can be pushed around by both. Also, we currently have 53 international trade agreements through the EU in addition to those we have with our other 27 partners. How long will all these take to sort out – five years, seven, ten, who knows?
We should also consider the Northern aspect – between 2014 and 2020 Yorkshire will receive over £600m. of EU funding, which equates to £114 a person, whereas the South East will receive just £25 a person. The reason is that EU assistance goes to those areas in economic need. Indeed, since 2007 EU regional development funds are believed to have created over 20,000 new jobs and 3,000 new businesses in Yorkshire alone, which is more dependent on EU goods trade than any of London, Scotland, Wales and the Midlands.
If the vote is to leave what will happen to Scotland? Another referendum based on a major constitutional change will surely bring about a parting of the ways. If so, we would no longer be the United Kingdom, we wouldn’t even be Great Britain as that term is a geographical one for the island on which we live. Any ideas for a catchy title that involves just England, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Also, it is necessary to consider the vast amount of good that the EU has done for us – 57% of our trade; structural funding to declining areas; Blue Flag beaches; clean rivers; cleaner air; lead-free petrol; safety restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile phone charges; cheaper air travel; improved consumer protection and food labelling; bans on harmful food additives; better product safety; break up of monopolies; freedom to travel, live and work across Europe; access to European health services; worker protection; enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; equal pay legislation; holiday entitlement; the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime; strongest wildlife protection in the world; improved animal welfare in food production; efforts to uphold nuclear non- proliferation; the European arrest warrant; cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling; and counter- terrorism intelligence.
If we leave, I can foresee the rights of working people being diluted, with cheap labour becoming the standard in the UK as market forces take precedence – in other words the American model.
All else having been shown to be paper thin, immigration has become the last argument of the Leave group, bordering on racism – the last plank of the desperate is always “foreigners”. Somehow they are magically going to stop arriving here filling the job vacancies we have. Well, if we are to remain in the single market, as opposed to the EU, which we surely have to do, it is instructive to note that both Norway and Switzerland have higher EU migration rates than we do. Both pay into the EU budget, and both have to accept EU rules and regulations as the price for this. Migration, remember, is a two-sided coin. Will British citizens continue to have the right to go and live in Spain or France and have access to their excellent health services? It all seems so unlikely. Having visited Romania and Bulgaria myself, I can confirm that migration is an issue with them also – but emigration. The able and adventurous young of these countries are leaving in droves for other countries – consequently they see their future looking increasingly bleak for a lack of workers. So, if it’s bad news for them, is it all that bad news for us as well?
In summary, why would we change something we have comfortably lived with for 43 years for something which nobody has the first idea how it will turn out?
Finally, a local Labour party member sent me this intriguing cartoon entitled “Brexit”.