A thematic guide to the UK
20th June 2016
The three biggest myths about Brexit, and why they are quite untrue (and now, sadly, a fourth myth) :
By leaving the EU, we will be able to stop immigration.We
won't – it's as simple as that. Britain needs immigration.
Michael Gove, who is an English graduate not an economist, says
he could cut net immigration to almost zero: maybe he could, but at
what cost to the economy, and therefore to everyone's wealth ?
Unless we are to deprive our economy of a vital resource, all we
will be able to do is replace the immigration of people from Europe
where the Celtic, British and Anglo-saxon people of Britain originally
came from) with immigration from other continents such as Africa
or Asia. If we seriously curtailed immigration, many of our businesses
would go out of business, and international businesses would move many
operations to Ireland or other parts of the EU where they can get the
employees they need.
Besides, immigration from Europe and beyond has greatly enriched British life... even among the "Leave" campaign .
Did you know?Where would the "leave" campaign be without the grandson of Ali Kemal Bey, who is none other than the man we know today as Boris Johnson
? Bey married an Anglo-Swiss girl called Margaret Johnson; his
children took their mother's name Johnson, so Boris, born in the
USA, is Boris Johnson, not Boris Bey.
And he is just one of many Conservative politicians of immigrant origin : among others are Michael Portillo (born to a Spanish father, Luis Portillo), Nigel Howard (born Michael Hecht, the son of an immigrant from Romania)... not to mention Priti Patel. And even Nigel Farage (Farage is a French name) has French and German ancestors... and a German wife.
We can get rid of European law, and regain our sovereigntyWe
can't: only a minority of British laws are actually imposed on us by
Brussels; and the vast majority of these are quite uncontroversial,
like laws for clean beaches, consumer protection laws and employee
rights legislation. Besides, if we want to trade freely as a privileged
partner with the EU, we will need to keep lots of EU legislation on the
statute books, just like Norway and Switzerland
We can stop paying over 300 million a week into the EUWe
don't pay this amount in the first place. The figure of £350
million is a gross deceipt. It's what we pay, but it does not take into
account what we get back. When the plus figures are taken into account,
we pay less than half the amount.... and less per head than people in
other countries. What we pay is greatly outweighed by the economic
benefits of membership in terms of jobs, easy export markets and trade.
And if we want to continue trading as a privileged partner with the EU,
we'll need to continue paying into the EU like Norway and Switzerland,
but we will now longer have any say in how the budget is spent.
The shooting of Jo Cox had nothing to do with BrexitA
leading anti-Brexit campaigner, a tireless campaigner for human rights and
humanitarian causes, is murdered at the height of the Brexit campaign
by a man with links to right wing causes, a man who, according to
witnesses, shouted "Britain first" as he attacked the MP; and this has
nothing to do with the anti-immigration rhetoric stirred up by Nigel
Farage and the leave campaign?
No, seriously ! Anyone who believes this will probably believe the other three arguments too.
before magistrates in London, Thomas Mair gave his name as "Death for
traitors, freedom for Britain" - which is a fairly clear expression of
Some may say "But he was just a
nutter." Yes, he is in need of psychiatric help – but that does
not diminish in any way the link between the enmity stirred up by the
Brexit campaign, and his fatal act. Behind each "nutter" who actually
resorts to major violence there are a thousand more "nutters" who dream
of doing so, but are held back by their instinct of self-preservation.
And behind each of these latent assassins there are a thousand more who
share their motives and support their actions.... a million
people maybe, driven by hatred or just misguided, who believe that those who want Britain
to remain in the EU, and give help to refugees, are "traitors".
And this is not
an exaggeration. Here is just one example. In a council election pamphlet
in May 2014, UKIP candidate Gordon Ferguson actually wrote "The Lib-Lab-Cons have conspired with a foreign power, the EU, and are
all thereby guilty of treason. They have sold Britain, which is the
fifth largest economy, illegally into increasing slavery inside the EU
dictatorship. Those responsible should be hung by the neck until dead.” (As reported in the Daily Telegraph ( Article) and other media.
And this was written in the name of the party that has been demanding Brexit for years.
Then in an article in the Times on 18th June, Matthew Parris writes:
"Remainers mustn’t be tempted to blame the Leave campaign. Nobody
can account for the actions of disturbed minds."
No: Parris is very wrong. Disturbed minds don't coincidentally give
their name as "Death for Traitors, Freedom for Britain" during a Brexit
campaign. The actions of impressionable disturbed minds are a
reflection of the outside environment and influences to which they are
subjected, just like those of undisturbed minds – if not more so.
While it is highly unlikely that anyone in the Leave campaign
deliberately or knowingly influenced Thomas Mair, it is naive in
the extreme to suggest that the rhetoric and the perceived aims of the
Leave campaign in no way account for his terrible act.
there are many things about the EU that are far from perfect, many of
the claims made by the "leave" campaign are based on isolationist
ideology, rather than on reasoned argument. So why do intelligent
people like Michael Gove or
Boris Johnson make such claims, and why do so many people believe
The second question in part answers the first. In the worlds
of politics, advertising, and religions, people make unsubstantiated,
sometimes false and often unsubstantiable claims because they know that
some, and maybe a lot of people will not question them.
While there are plenty of very justifiable criticisms that can be
levelled at the European Union and the way it runs, it is hard to
economic arguments to suggest that the UK could do better outside the
EU than in it. So rosy wishful-thinking and make-believe
predictions are used
as a substitute for well-researched economic analysis, since however
unrealistic the arguments may be, if they are said with enough
people will believe them.
Saying what people want to hear
It is a characteristic of the "leave" campaign
that people like Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, all very
intelligent and clever people use arguments that may not be
substantiable, but say
what many people want to hear. Most of us will
applaud people who convince us not because their arguments are the most
rational or logical or realistic, but because
us by giving us the answers we want to
consumers, people and
voters, we are frequently irrational,
making our choices on the basis
of the story of events that we want to believe in.... not the story of
that stands up to the most rigourous objective scrutiny. We buy things
because an advertiser convinces us that they are best; we may vote for
that tells us what we want to hear. We prioritise things in the way
that suits us, not usually in any quantifiable order of priority.
Advertisers and populist politicians know this all too well, and this
is how they build the popularity of their brands or their cause or
even themselves, attracting support either because they have a cause in
believe (which may or may not be rational), or simply because they have
a big personal ego and are hungry for power.
The power of ideology
But why is this happening in something as crucial as the
Brexit debate? Why do intelligent people in the "leave" campaign make
some very dubious claims that are not supported by
concrete evidence or precedent ? In short, it is down to ideology, and in
particular the far-right ideology that has spearheaded the anti-EU
campaign in the UK for the last thirty years or more.
While ample research data shows that a large
majority of better educated voters
want Britain to remain in
the EU, there are a certain number of very
intelligent and clever politicians on the right-wing of the political
spectrum, and to a certain extent in other parts of the political
spectrum, who are leading
the movement to take Britain out of the European Union. Not for
economic reasons, not for patriotic reasons, but for ideological reasons.
Take Michael Gove, British Lord Chancellor and the
Secretary of State for Justice, or Boris Johnson, mayor of London, or
Nigel Farage. They are all undoubtedly intelligent people.... very
clever people; but their reasons for supporting the "leave" campaign
ideological. All three are by-and-large on the far right,
though not on everything for sure. Gove is a social-conservative on
social issues, and Johnson is not right-wing at all on evironmental or
social issues. But all are "neo-conservatives" when it comes to the
role of the state.
The principal plank of neo-conservatism (a
term originally applied to the right-wing of the American Republican
party) is a belief that the state needs to intervene as little as
possible in the life of the nation and the economy; the logical
next-stop from this is to believe that intervention by a supranational
organisation like the European Union is by definition even less
desirable. So Brexit, for the right-wing, is a matter of political ideology,
not an argument based on logic, let alone on the facts.
If you are a "neo-con", you believe in principles of non-intervention
which go contrary to the whole idea of the European union, and even to
such consensual examples of state intervention as the National Health Service.
Gove was co-author of a right-wing report that called for the National
Health Service to be dismantled or replaced; and UKIP ex-Tory MP
Douglas Carswell has called for the National Health Service to be
privatised. As for Dan Hannan, Tory MEP and leading campaigner for the
"leave" campaign, he openly called on American television for the
dismantling of the NHS... for which he was severely rebuked by David
The "leave" campaign do not want to talk about the
NHS, because they know that the vast majority of UK voters do not have any ideological
to state intervention. We are pleased when the goverment says that it
will intervene to save the Port Talbot steelworks, a vital part of the
British steel industry; we support EU legislation that has brought down
the cost of our mobile telephone charges; and we are strongly
supportive of the NHS and the type of state intervention that is
required to run it. Boris Johnson has tried to
forget that a few years ago he suggested charging for services on the
NHS, saying "If NHS services continue to be free in this way, they will
continue to be abused like any free service". More recently,
he claimed that £350 million a week was being sent to
Brussels instead of being spent on the NHS; but later he had to admit
that the figure was quite wrong.
So it is far easier for the "leave" campaign to
concentrate on make-believe claims about the wonderful future we will
enjoy if we leave the EU, to portray the EU as some kind of failed
state or bogeyman,
rather than to persuade people with real facts and figures.
Ideology trumps authority
When it comes to arguing for a cause, authority
and experience on the topic are not required. Thus
Michael Gove - who has a second-class university degree in English - insists
that Britain will not suffer
economically by leaving the EU, quite the reverse, even though experts
at the IMF, the Bank of England, the government's independent economic
advisors, and countless economic research institutes, banks and
financial institutions have said that it is likely to have a serious
the British economy for years to come. And when the former boss of MI6
Sir John Sawers, an expert in international security, warns that
leaving the EU would make the UK "less safe", Gove's reply is just to
say he is "flat wrong".
Some will believe the predictions of
Gove, politician, ideologue, former journalist and English
rather than those of the world's top economists or security experts, because what Gove says
is what they want to
hear, not because they have made any rational analysis of
what both sides in this argument have said.
Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU are
reluctant or often unable even to start to substantiate their arguments
with hard solid fact. Asked on BBC TV by Andrew Neil to "name any
study that will show us better off or just the same if we leave",
Labour brexiter Kate Hoey embarrasedly had to reply... after a certain
amount of prodding, "Well, I can't actually produce a study that says
And when Barack Obama, speaking as President of the
States of America, Britain's special ally, says that the UK will be
stronger and a more effective ally to the United States if we remain in
Europe, all that Boris Johnson can argue in reply is to say that Obama
is a hypocrite... and that he was talking "nonsense".
shooting the messenger, in this case Obama, is no substitute for an
argument; just an admission that Obama is right. Which is fairly
obvious. One can safely believe that the President of the USA knows a
little more about America's strategic world view than does the mayor of
Ideology is no substitute for reasoned argument; and when
ideology turns to dogma, it sees only what it wants to see, hears only
what it wants to hear, even in the face of the most compelling
evidence. And the ideology behind the "leave" campaign does not just
want the UK to leave the European Union; it wants "contagion", and a
collapse or break-up of the whole European Union.... while imagining
that a disintegrated European Union could somehow be good for the
British economy. This is ideology turning to folly.
Economists for Brexit
While by far the majority of economists believe that Britain
should remain in the EU, there are just a few, who argue
that Britain would do better to leave the EU; but that is not very
surprising. Indeed it would be very surprising if all economists agreed
on anything. Economic prediction is not an exact science, and economic
analysts may well let their political persuasions influence their
economic forecasts; after all, when "economics" was a new field in the
18th century, it was initially known as "political economy" – a
tool to help politicians best enact their political policies.
But on the subject of Brexit, virtually all
leading economists in Britain and worldwide - that's several thousand
economists in universities, government and banks worldwide - believe
that Britain leaving the EU would have very negative economic
consequences for all.
Just eight leading economists have formed a group called
"Economists for Brexit"; but unsurprisingly they are economists of the
far right, including UKIP economist Tim Congdon, neo-conservative
economist Patrick Minford who strongly supported Margaret Thatcher's
disastrous "poll tax" plans which led to riots in British cities,
Gerard Lyons, economic advisor to Boris Johnson, and neoliberal
free-marketeer Ryan Bourne.
common feature of the very few economists who do want Britain to leave the EU
is that they do not believe, or refuse to imagine, that the
European Union can succeed... which is very much the point of view of
ultra-liberals or neo-conservatives in general. Economists who believe
that "market forces" left to their own will produce the best economic
results are unlikely to have much sympathy with the European Union.
As Philip Stephens wrote in the Financial Times on April
21st, "The Brexiteers’ ammunition is English
— a populist appeal to emotions rather than reason
— and a hope that public anger with political and business
elites, with stagnant living standards and austerity, with migrant
workers and with just about anything you can think of can be channelled
into a revolt against Europe." It is not really much of a
argument, and even less an argument for jeopardizing Britain's future
for generations to come; yet it is an argument that Brexiteers know
a lot of people
love to hear.
Revolt may sometimes help to make things
better in the long run; but History shows us that wishful thinking
has often been a potent recipe for disaster.