What did the 44% vote for?
In the EU referendum in June 2016 the majority of the people of Northern Ireland voted to Remain but a significant minority (44%) voted to leave the EU. Why?
Prominent among the Leave voters were farmers despite the fact that almost 80% of their income came from Europe and that many needed to employ immigrant workers. The CAP also protected Northern Ireland farmers from competition from much cheaper but often poorer quality food from countries outside Europe.
Many Leavers highlighted independence and explain their vote by the need to “take back control”. While not specific this campaign slogan suggests that we had lost control of our borders and our laws and that by voting leave this control would be restored.
So for the past two years we have been bogged down on issues which now seem important such as backstops, transition periods, Norway option, and blue passports but are really not significant in the long term as they obscure the main objective of the leading Brexiteers and conceal the reason they are unwilling to compromise. They are determined to cut all ties with the EU and any agreement obtained by Theresa May would not achieve this. They see Brexit as an opportunity to transform the UK from a largely social democratic state to full blooded capitalism. Is that what the 44% voted for?
The UK like the other major states of Europe has since second world developed on social democratic principles a pragmatic compromise between socialism and capitalism and to extend freedom and equality by opposing the extremes of red-blooded capitalism.
EU sprang from a social democratic base encouraging capitalism but at the same time offset it with the Social Chapter and funds like the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund designed to help the poorer and disadvantaged members of the community.(Northern Ireland has benefitted significantly from these funds)
The objective of many of the leading Brexiteers is to move the UK away from social democracy towards a free market economy by significantly reducing role of state. Many Brexiteers including Boris, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove have suggested the UK could become the Singapore of Europe with Owen Patterson praising its “low tax”, “low spend” and “low regulation” economy while ignoring the fact it is one of the most unequal countries in the world with minimal public services .Is that what the 44% want?
The campaign against the EU is not new .For decades a small band of Tory right wingers have opposed EU derived regulations on workers’ rights including those that cover working time, breaks and holiday pay, part time and agency workers ,TUPE ,equality and discrimination. They have also opposed environmental regulations on pollution, waste disposal. climate change, clean air, pesticides, chemicals in food and many other health and safety protections. A clean Brexit will give them the freedom to get rid of these burdensome regulations and allow multinationals freedom to maximise their profits at the expense of workers the environment and public health.
The EU is by no means perfect but it has brought together 28 states(many former enemies and Dictatorships) and created a single market to improve the living standards in all the member states as well as maintaining peace in Europe. To achieve these benefits the EU has initiated many directives and regulations which control the single market having first been adopted by national parliaments .It would appear that getting rid of these rules and regulations are the main objective of the 44%.
The leading Brexiteers have focussed their campaign on these regulations but their opposition is in many cases more fundamental as the are opposed to the whole social democratic base on which the EU was established. They want freedom to get rid of worker and environmental protection, consumer rights, health and safety laws which they claim restrict free enterprise.
They have been supported by a number of right-wing American think tanks including the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation and the IEF which drew up radical blueprint for a free trade deal between the UK and the US that would see the NHS opened to foreign competition, and lead to a bonfire of consumer and environmental regulations .The aim of these think tanks is to reduce the role of the state and to deregulate and they have close links with leading Brexiteers including Fox,Davis,Gove and Hannan in drawing up the blueprint.
This blueprint formed the basis of the proposed draft trade agreement which was presented by the US ambassador last week. To accept it we must end tariffs, reduce food standards and allow hormone developed beef, chlorine-washed chickens, restrictions on pesticides, drop animal welfare standards and consumer protection laws. In addition any trade agreement with a third nation must be approved by the US. This is a strange example of UK taking back control.
The US proposed trade deal with UK highlights why the EU (not only Ireland) demands strong border controls. If UK agreed to freely admit US agricultural produce we could see lower standard chicken and beef using NI as an entry into the Republic’s market and then on to the rest of the EU .It would thereby undercut EU standards and prices and destroy European agriculture. The imposition of a hard border in Ireland is essential to protect the single market and prevent Northern Ireland from being used as a loophole to undermine it. It is not as some unionists suggest an irrational decision or an unfriendly act of spit by the Irish government.
Freedom as expressed by the Brexiteers is the freedom to get rid of these protections. I do not believe that is what the 44% voted for.
There has much debate as to how Brexit would change the support for a United Ireland. In the short term I think it will have very little as we have a long transitional period and further years of implementation. However in the longer term say twenty years I believe there will be a significant change in public opinion. Brexit is an act of self-harm and our economy will suffer while Ireland will enjoy the benefits of membership of the largest trading bloc in the world. We will almost certainly see a reduction in our public services as the economy stagnates and particularly if the US trade deal goes ahead as proposed and the NHS is taken over by US drug/insurance companies.
I feel this could lead to a united Ireland which I suspect is not what the DUP or the 44% wanted when they supported Brexit. Certainly Brexit has weakened the Union.
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