I've wanted to write something about the EU Referendum for a while now but, to be honest, I've found the campaign to be terrifying and exhausting.
The rhetoric of the Leave campaign is based on poisonous and fearful misinformation - a vote to leave is a vote to reject a version of the EU that doesn't exist in the hope it'll magically solve problems the EU didn't create.
You've probably seen some verison of the image above on Facebook in the past couple of weeks, but it helps to show just how wide the gap is between the public perception and reality.
4 in 10 of us believe that anywhere from 12-15% of child benefit is sent abroad, when the real figure is 0.3%. The same proportion don't know that British MEPs are elected by British votes. The average Brit also thinks EU immigration is 3 times higher than it is, and that the EU spends 3 times more on paperwork than it really does. Etc. Etc.
Vote Leave push this misleading view of the EU: it's what their enitre campaign is based on. They misrepresent its cost, it's regulationThe European Commission has maintained a list of 'Euromyths' since 1992., its political goals. They build a warped image of the EU, and lay Britain's very real problems at its feet.
Consider immigration. There is almost no significant pressure on the NHS attributable to EU migration; Any increase in costs is actually offset by the amount the UK fails to claim back under the EHIC scheme. the opposite is probably true, given how many EU citizens work for our health service. EU migrants are overwhelmingly less likely to claim in and out of work benefits, and have made significant contributions to the treasuryMore recent migrants are actually greater contributers to the UK than long-term residents..
Our problems are of our own making. We have always been a country with distinctly low pay compared to other European nations; even a full-time job doesn't preclude being in poverty. On top of this, David Cameron's governments have, until just recently, been bad at inpsecting for and enforcing the minimum wage.
Investment in housing has been abysmal for decades now, with the housing stock decimeated by right to buy and successive governemnts utterly failing to meet demand. Public services and councils are under pressure because of ideologically driven austerity, which has hit the poorest parts of the country hardest.
The Leave campaign has no real answer to these problems. Instead, it plays on peoples fears, and sells them a snake-oil solution by making unfunded promises and allowing migrants to take the blame.
What about the effect of the EU on British industry? Let's examine two examples Port Talbot, and fishing.
In the first case, people claim that free from the EU we could have imposed tarrifs against the cut-price steel flooding the market. But the UK actively argued against any further action against market dumping. As for fishing, the Common Fisheries Programme doesn't impose quotas just for the sake of it. They exist to prevent overfishing from driving species to the edge of extinction (collapsing the fishing industry and biodiversity as a result). Not only does the UK get the second biggest quota of all, but the EU doesn't make the quotas as small as marine biologists propose.
Or the idea that EU laws are undemocratic, and opposed on us against our will. The unelected European Commission cannot force laws.There is no way that 65% of UK law is imposed by the EU We have a veto, as does any other country. When it comes to voting in the European Parliament, the UK has voted against the majority in only a very small number of cases. National parliaments have the ability to block legislation. In some cases, I actually wish the UK had less influence; the UK is frequently involved in blocking stricter environmental legislation, for example.
The EU has its flaws, of course. To pick a recent example, the proposal to apply copyright law to links is truly bizarreNot evil; the intention behind this, to protect artists and writers, is well meaning even if the implementation is disaterous. I should also stress, this is still only at the consultation stage. Another glaring example is the treatment of Greece.
But there is so much good that the EU does: environmental legislation on everything from clean air to clean beaches, tackling unfair roaming charges to eliminate them EU wide, protecting and expanding workers and human rights, supporting scientific research, across the continent, banning the use of animal testing for cosmetics....
The EU is a big, ambitious and brilliant project. It's not without its flaws, but it has unfairly been allowed to take the blame for Britain's political failings. Failings that leaving would not fix, and that there is no-one on the Leave campaign I would trust to tackle.