Why is the UK leaving the EU?

“Does anyone know why the UK is leaving the EU?” someone asked.

This was my answer:

From where I’m sitting, the UK is leaving the EU because, in no particular order:
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An avalanche of steel snowflakes

This is the speech Susan Rae, the Scottish Green Party’s candidate for the Leith Walk ward in the May 2017 council elections, gave at the WMV Sister Women’s March in Edinburgh on Saturday 20th January. Reprinted here by permission.

Susan Rae at the Womens MarchHello and welcome to Edinburgh.

This is my first speaking event this year and I could not be prouder to be with you. I send solidarity from my fellow Scottish Green candidate Claire Miller who cannot be here today.

We’ve gathered here today in circumstances that in all honesty not a single woman out here, whether they are young, fresh and fiery, like Leah, or those like me who are not only pre-Google, but pre-proper feminism would have considered possible a year ago.

But we are here together – all of us – because the only way to stand up to a man who considers using his awesome sheer male money fuelled power of his voice to silence us; whose only consistent traits are inconsistency and pure misogyny is not compliance. You want to silence our voice?

Well. No.

We will not be silenced.

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Women’s March in Edinburgh

General Leia Organa - A woman's place is in the ResistanceFor Donald Trump to be elected President by the electoral college – losing the popular vote by a margin wider than any in over a century – is grotesque in many ways, not least that enough American voters in enough states wanted a grossly-unqualified man to be their President instead of a highly-qualified woman.

Donald Trump’s most profitable venture as a “businessman” was a fraud for which he was due to appear in court on 29th November; when he was declared winner, he hastily paid a $25M settlement. Donald Trump’s businesses have gone bankrupt six times, he’s failed to pay his subcontractors, may well be massively in debt, and was in breach of the Constitution that he swore to uphold yesterday even before he put his hand on his mother’s Bible.
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Chris Grayling, on cyclists

Chris Grayling was appointed Secretary of State for Transport on 14th July 2016, replacing Patrick McLoughlin, who had held that post since September 2012.

In early December, Chris Grayling was interviewed by the Political Editor of the London Evening Standard, Joe Murphy, on various aspects of his new job.

Joe Murphy noted

“Mr Grayling has not cycled since he was at the University of Cambridge, where he read history before joining the BBC as a trainee journalist, and grimaces at the idea of venturing out on a Boris bike.”

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Corbyn wins: what next?

stopwar.org.uk - Jeremy Corbyn MP speaks at anti-drones rally, 27 April 2013 To no one’s surprise, today Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election, with 61.8% of the vote. On votes cast:

  • Jeremy Corbyn: 313,209 (61.8%)
  • Owen Smith: 193,229 (38.2%)

From the Guardian’s report:

Overall, there were 654,006 people eligible to take part in the election as either full members, registered supporters who had paid £25, or affiliates largely through the trade unions. Of this total, 506,438 cast a vote.

Despite an electoral system that seemed to have been skewed to favour Corbyn’s challenger, by denying a vote to anyone who joined either as a member or an affiliate since January, by raising the fee for being a registered supporter to £25, and by purging or suspending from membership thousands of members who had said something “wrong” on social media (here’s a post from Roz Kaveney on how this was managed: see also), Corbyn got clear majority for his leadership across the board: 59% of the Labour Party membership as of December 2015 voted for him, 70% of those who had paid £25 to become registered supporters, and 60% of those who had a vote as affiliated supporters mostly via trade unions.

So, the Labour Party MPs who persist in saying that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the leader they want, now have a few options.
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A week makes

EU Referendum Results Map

EU Referendum Results Map

A week ago, the exit polls made it look like the UK electorate had instigated the worst political crisis in the UK outside wartime.

By Friday, the counted votes had removed all doubt.

By a majority of less than 4% across the UK, the electorate had voted to leave the EU.

There are a lot of unpleasant realities to digest with that vote.

The worst and most immediate reality: the racists who voted to Leave, because they thought they had got a promise that by voting Leave the government would make the foreigners go, now believe they’ve won. They believe, according to reports speeding in from all over the UK, that they’re now empowered to tell anyone who looks foreign, whether or not they are, to “go home”. The British word for racism is immigrant.

I saw Lauren report this on her Facebook timeline on Friday morning:

In Edinburgh, Lauren Stonebanks, 36, was on a bus on Monday when she says a woman shouted: “‘Get your passport, you’re fucking going home.’” She believes she was targeted because she is mixed race. “As I got off the bus, the woman started making threatening gestures, like punching gestures. It made me feel absolutely terrified.”

Many of the racists who voted to Leave have real problems, often, and real causes for anger. They’ve been told they can blame their problems on the EU and the freedom all EU citizens have to travel across the EU. The problems are real: lack of work, sanctions on benefits, housing shortages, strain on NHS and other public services. None of them are caused by immigration: immigrants are a net benefit to the UK even considered only in financial terms. The official government Vote Remain campaign could hardly say bluntly “Your problems are not caused by EU regulation or immigrants, they’re caused by our austerity policies, our lawless sanctioning of your benefits, our refusal to build new homes, our cuts and creeping privatisation of the NHS. Vote for the EU: their funding is keeping you alive.”
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EU Referendum on the day

InnyMcInfaceI think the UK will vote to Remain in the European Union today.

I have no confidence that it will do so by a large margin.

The last poll from Ipsos Mori, based on telephone polling done over the last couple of days, shows 52% for Remain, 48% for Leave: the poll of polls shows a Remain majority. More telling still, 74% of those polled expected Remain to win.

What will happen if Remain gets the majority?

David Cameron remains Prime Minister until he chooses to step down – which, as we already knew, he planned to do before May 2020. He held the referendum to keep his Brexit MPs with the Tory party, and by their own boys-club rules, he’s won. He undoubtedly expected to be part of a Tory-LibDem coalition and to use the referendum as a trading point with his coalition partners, and keep his unruly anti-EU MPs and Ministers quiet in that way, but having won his point, I doubt if he will see many Brexiters go to UKIP: the Tory party has a talent for power and unity.

One genuine upside: Iain Duncan Smith has lost his place at the Department of Works and Pensions, and I very much doubt he will ever get it back. It’s difficult to think of any politician who has been more dishonest or more incompetent, and reputedly David Cameron had tried to edge him out at the last couple of reshuffles, but IDS sat tight. He was tempted out with – I’d guess – the hope that if Leave got the majority, the Tory party would once again recognise his gift for leadership as they did in 2001, and make him their leader and Prime Minister.

(I really do think Iain Duncan Smith is arrogant and stupid enough to think that. Of course, if he stands down in 2020, it will certainly be to a seat in the House of Lords, where he can continue to reminisce over those wonderful days where he deprived people of their benefits and forced them to work for no pay, until he dodders off stage still wondering why his party and his country never properly appreciated him.)

There will be no other referendum on leaving the EU for at least ten to fifteen years: the conditions required were odd in the first place, and I don’t think any of the parties except UKIP would have stomach for another.

Which brings us to UKIP, the party which will benefit most from a Remain majority.

They retain their main income source, the MEPs who don’t like Europe, and they are in the lovely situation where they convinced nearly half of the British electorate to vote based on lies, without having to be in a position to take responsibility for them.

Because the UK will not leave the EU, the Leave campaign can continue to push the idea that all of the austerity-fuelled cuts to public services are the fault of too many immigrants straining the system: they can continue to push the idea that immigrants are to blame for the housing shortage: they have no reason to stop this, now they’ve established so many white voters are gullible enough and racist enough to believe it. And while David Cameron didn’t want to leave the EU, he certainly sees the benefit of having a built-in group of vulnerable minorities who can take the blame for his own policies.

What will happen if Leave gets the majority?

I think this is unlikely, but it’s worth remembering: this EU referendum has no legal trigger. Neither the government nor Parliament was required to do anything as a result of a majority of UK voters deciding they wanted out of the EU: it’s effectively a giant opinion poll, no more binding than a petition to Parliament.

What many Leave voters were expecting to happen was that they’d wake up on Friday 24th June and discover the UK was no longer in the EU and their lives would get better because there’d be more money to spend and fewer foreigners around.

In fact, even if the EU referendum did have a legal trigger, all that could happen would be that the UK Government would invoke Article 50, and then 27 other EU countries and the EU Commission would spend two years negotiating with the UK on the conditions to be set for the UK to leave the EU: those conditions to be ratified by a vote of the European Parliament.

The negotiators for the UK would have to choose between the UK no longer having access to the European market of free trade – which, combined with the loss of the money that flows into the UK from the EU, would likely trigger a recession – or to accept that if the UK were to continue to have access to its biggest market, the UK would have to accept being part of the Schengen free movement area, as Norway and Switzerland have, and to accept that the UK would be bound by all EU laws and regulations – while losing any UK input into those laws and regulations.

Given that most Vote Leavers appeared to be inspired by a toxic mix of xenophobia and imperialism, I do not imagine that – if Leave gets the majority – the price of access to the EU common market would be acceptable to them. But it would most likely be what they’d get. And having left the EU, now poorer and seeing their services failing still further without any EU financial support, but with EU immigrants continuing to enter the UK freely and EU regulations still paramount, wouldn’t that make UKIP stil more successful?

But I think that today, the majority will vote to Remain.

I hope.

24th June: I despair.

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