The EU referendum is a complex issue and I know people who are reluctantly voting to remain and Brexiters who are worried about anti-immigrant sentiment. So, this week, I attended the Wakefield debate on the EU referendum. The panel included Local MP Mary Creagh, arguing to stay in the EU, against Tony Homewood and John Harrison who put the case for Brexit.
It struck me that there are really two campaigns for Brexit. One is driven by a ‘pull-up-the drawbridge’ mentality and the other is an out-ward-looking ‘let’s break free from the dead-weight of the EU’ approach.
However, on the Remain EU-side, there seems to be a universal and profound pessimism through-out. No-one argues in favour of the EU. Remainers always start by saying that “the EU is not perfect” and then give a list of things that could go wrong if we leave.
Mary Creagh gave a passionate defence of immigration, but her passion died when asked about her vision for a Europe led by the EU. Instead she told us that the EU grants us rights which would be lost if we leave – maternity rights, working-time limits, equal pay. Weren’t these rights won, largely by the labour movement that she is supposedly part of? Were they really handed down by civil servants in Brussels whilst we passively watched and simply showed gratitude for their kindness?
It struck me that the Labour Party is arguing for Remain EU because they have lost any real belief in themselves. They would prefer to rely on a benign bureaucracy handing out laws, than go out and win the arguments with real people to build a mandate.
If Bexit gave us one thing, it might re-invigorate political debate. Real decisions would have to be made and politicians would have to appeal to the public for support. They would have to think through and fine-tune their arguments to convince us. If politics is a contest to decide our future, maybe this is what we need.
The briefing notes with trite answers from ‘the experts’ simply wouldn’t cut it.
If for that reason alone, Brexit is starting to look quite good.