Saturday 9 February 2019

There’s democracy and then there’s democracy



On the 23 June 2019 a referendum was held in the UK about whether the UK should remain in the EU. Just under 52% said we should leave and just over 48% said we should stay.  A very close result indeed. One lone MP said “We need to look after the 48% as well.”  A close result like that would not allow a trade union to act, especially as only 37% of the people eligible to vote in fact voted to leave. Its screams anyway that we all need to take a closer look at the problem. We need to find a third way.  
The search engines heated up the next day. They were all looking for definitions of what the EU is. What? You’ve voted to leave or stay in something you don’t understand? Later conversations have proved that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the EU actually is. 

As I drove to work each day in the last few weeks before the referendum  I nearly always had to stop at a set of traffic lights that had pinned to it “£350,000,000 a week isn’t trivial”. That made me feel uneasy and I thought it couldn’t be right. I looked into it. It’s actually nearer £250,000,000 and we  get most of it or perhaps more than it back: money for our regions, particularly Wales, farmers’ subsidies and major funded projects. “So will the government give us that now?” they cry.  On your bike, sunshine.  I pay enough tax already.  Looking at it another way, for approximately £134 a year per person we get a set of laws that are fair, a court we can go to when our own judicial process fails us, access to many international projects and grants, a significant say in what goes on in the great landmass just offshore and the access to the same emergency medical treatment as nationals in 27 other countries. The latter will cost more than that if you have to have a year round policy because you travel a lot.  Ironically the port of Ramsgate is crying out for EU money and won’t be able to offer a port to the shipping company that has no ships that was to help deal with the post-Brexit chaos.    

“It was the Boomers,” they said. “They want to take out citizenship away.” Not this Boomer, actually and in fact I only know a handful who voted Leave, but I guess that’s just the circles I move in. It is highly likely that many Leavers have now died.  Many Remainers have become 18. Many Leavers have changed their mind. 

Then we find out that Leave broke electoral law. 

And possibly our Russian friends were involved. 

The two main political parties are divided but MPs have to follow the instructions of their whips.  We have to trust our MPs to represent our interests, and I actually believe mine does.  I also totally accept that from time to time he will vote in a way that I don’t want him to but for the most part he’ll represent my views.   He is also duty-bound to be clued up and act in our interests, often on matters that we don’t know enough about to form a valid opinion.  Doesn’t there also come a point when he must go by his conscience?   It is puzzling that so many MPs are clear that Brexit will bring about many uncomfortable changes yet they still go ahead with the “will of the people” which wasn’t ever that strong in the first place and looks decidedly weak now. 

And let’s look at “the people”.  What about all of those working age people who pay taxes here, propping up our aging and young population, who didn’t have their say? And the disenfranchised British nationals who have lived out of the country for more than fifteen years who also can’t vote in the state where they live.   Oh, the Boston tea party failed completely. We still have taxation without representation on this planet.  

So who should vote on national matters? The people who live and pay taxes in the country for sure and the nationals of that country wherever they live?  I can see arguments for and against both. Yet couldn’t common sense establish something? Something like the allowance to vote after you’ve been paying taxes for three years?  Having 0.5 of a vote if you’ve been out of the country for more than fifteen years?   

Is the EU crumbling? There is anti-EU feeling in Italy, unease in Spain and Germany and civil unrest in France.  A shame. The EU could have fulfilled Churchill’s idyll of peace in Europe, of people being citizens of their own country and of Europe, and the 28 together could be a really strong unit.
Yet maybe we have greater cause for concern at home.  At least Brexit has highlighted our PM’s disregard for democracy and at least we have been able to stop her.  Some sort of democracy is still working but we need to be vigilant. Three times she has tried to rush through decisions without proper parliamentary process.  More worryingly, perhaps, both she and her predecessor have tried to fiddle with the Declaration of Human Rights.   
Let’s hope there is enough democracy left to keep the world safe.              

Tuesday 22 January 2019

On being European

"Men will be proud to say I am a European. We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as belonging to their native land. We hope that wherever they go on the European continent they will truly feel here I am at home."

Winston Churchill, 7 May 1948 

I’ve quoted this before and I’m not ashamed to quote it again.

That is how I continue to feel.  Some extra bits of red tape and having to pay tax on some imports will not stop that. 

There is a lot of positive feeling coming towards us from ordinary people in the other EU states. That is gradually translating itself into concrete proposals:  Portugal wants us as a tourist so they will still allow us to use the rapid passport control channels whichever sort of Brexit we have.   The Republic of Ireland will not require us to have an international driving license.  

Of course, this glosses over a little the problem of Gibraltar and our fishing rights, perhaps the M20 becoming a lorry park and the government rather than medics deciding who can have which drug if there is no deal.  

But even with problems such as these  going on I would continue to think of myself as much European as British. Here is a key as well to what some Brexiteers are failing to understand.  It’s not a matter of being British or European. Being in the EU means begin British and European. 

A protesting Brexiteer recently said that she was fed up of governed by a foreign power.  The EU is not a foreign power. It’s a group of countries working together. We have our say and in fact have had quite a storing voice within Europe. 

In the end, you cannot take that part of me away that has become because I’ve lived and worked in France, Germany and the Netherlands and  have been so often to Spain that it feels like home.

Monday 7 January 2019


Well, there you go. 

I’m off to Rome on the 29 March. Yes, so I leave the UK as an EU citizen, and am accepted freely as such into Italy - until midnight? After that will I need a visa?  I come back on 31 March – that is if the planes can still fly.  Chances are though it should be quite easy once we’re back at Manchester airport.  Surely there’ll be a channel for just UK citizens? Unless it’s clogged with all those nationals of other EU states who have taken on UK citizenship? 

I’m going with my choir and the whole trip has been orchestrated by one of our members who is an Italian living in Greater Manchester.  I was keen to go even though this seems a dodgy date to travel because we are good friends and music is one of the great ways in which exchanges take place.  Talking of orchestras: ironically, even when travelling within the EU, there are concerns about musical instruments and sheet music.  

Still, as our secretary pointed out, people will still travel to the mainland. We travel with relative ease to and from such places as North Cyprus, the USA and Canada and other places not in the EU.  However, this has all been thought out and practised for many years.  North Cyprus, and Turkey generally, is quite easy; they accept their own currency, US dollars, euros and pound sterling. You can even pay in one currency and get change in another if you wish.  Your visa is a quick stamp on your passport with less waiting time at passport control than at a UK airport. 

Yes, I’m sure whatever happens it will eventually be fine. But perhaps not on 30 March. We won’t have worked it all out yet and with now literally just a few days to go and no clear plan yet established it is all a bit worrying. 

The M20 becoming a motorway, shortages of drugs, shortage of food, the weakness of the pound; it all sounds like Remainer scaremongering. Except that the government itself is now warning us about these possibilities.   The weakness of the pound is already a reality. How can a government deliberately lead the country it is supposed to take care of into such a situation?

Well Mr Call-Me-Dave Cameron a bit of advice: next time you feel like getting up to mischief, just join a choir. It’s good for your physical body, your mental health and it puts you in touch with real people.      

Anyway, whatever happens on 29 March, it won’t stop me being culturally a European.  My act of reinforces this.