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It is time to talk about the EU referendum. I know, you are probably just as sick of this referendum as I am. You don’t need to read yet another moderately-informed think piece by some random person on the Internet. But this is an important choice for the country.
We are about a week away from the vote and, if recent polls from The Independent and YouGov are to go by, the Leave camp is looking like it’s gaining quite a bit of momentum. I can understand the appeal for voters; when the rhetoric that is spilling out from their leaflets includes phrases like “take back control,” as well as promising “UK laws will have ultimate authority” and continually implying that it’s the safer choice for you and your family. I get how, on the surface, that sounds enticing. I also understand how voting for a ‘Brexit’ would be sticking two fingers up to the status quo, which would give some people much pleasure.
However, I am voting remain. I am doing so for quite a few reasons – chiefly that I think our economy is stronger when we’re in the EU, I think we are much safer as a country within the EU, and there are many EU laws and grants which have helped to make our society a great one; from working rights to grants that go towards local community projects, and even emergency funds like the £21m the EU gave towards the redevelopment of Manchester city centre after the 1996 bombing vs £450k from the UK government.
But this blog post isn’t really about any of that, partly because it’s been covered elsewhere in more detail, but also because that’s not my main incentive for voting to remain in the EU. So I’d like to provide a little bit of context.
I feel that the Leave campaign has issued a numerous amount of misleading statements (here are four examples), and their electioneering has used an approach that one could only really describe as scaremongering, which really doesn’t sit well with me. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to pick just one example.
On Question Time last week (9th June), Nigel Farage said 508 million people have the opportunity to migrate to the UK from the EU if they wanted to. Full Fact points out that the actual number, due to rules on free movement only applying to citizens of the European Economic Area and Switzerland, is more like 440 million people. He’s out by 68 million. That’s not just wrong. That’s wrong on a scale the size of France with Lithuania thrown in for good measure.
He also said that we have no control as to who enters the country. This is true, except for the bit in European law that states that we can turn away EU nationals if their actions are a “genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society.” We can even turn people away later on if they are no longer able to support themselves financially.
But apart from all of that, obviously no control.
That leads us nicely to the issue of what happens to EU nationals if the UK were to leave the EU. The deathly silence on this topic has been frightening. At the moment, EU nationals can come to the UK without needing a visa (with limited exceptions), providing that they can prove their identity.
The only hint of what might happen has been through a comment that Dominic Raab, a Justice under-secretary and Minister for Human Rights, said on Sunday Politics on the BBC in April:
“I think we’d have to look at that as part of the negotiations in detail. But look, at the moment president Barack Obama’s administration … is looking at new visa requirements and screening from Germany, Belgium, Greece, France, because of the recent terrorist attacks.
“I think we should at least have the power and the control to do that and make sure we keep Britain safe,” the minister told BBC1’s Sunday Politics show.
Pressed if this would mean British citizens would need visas to go to France or Germany, Raab said: “Or some other kind of check.”
It’s a very vague proposition, and the fact that it hasn’t seemingly been expanded upon is horrifying. EU nationals currently living here do not know what’s going to happen to them. The failure of any leading politician to clearly state the consequences that EU nationals face if the UK left the EU is bordering on contempt. I suspect that, because EU nationals can’t even vote in this referendum, campaigners simply don’t care about these people: the people whose lives will be affected the most are not the top priority for Johnson, Gove, Grayling, Duncan Smith, Farage, etc.
There are a lot of EU residents who already live in the UK and make a living in this country, who, let me remind you again, can’t even vote. They are people who work as hard as the rest of us and pay taxes like the rest of us, and yet they are utterly voiceless in this major decision that will potentially alter their future in a big way. They are the dictionary definition of “taxation without representation”. Think about that for a second – how the hell did we get to a point where we’re having a vote about the subject of remaining in or leaving the EU, yet the people who will be directly affected have no say whatsoever?
Around three million people will be watching the results unfold on the evening of the 23rd June, knowing that they have no say in what happens.
One of those people will be my wife.
My wife moved here from Finland in September 2006 to work as an au pair. After that time, she has continued to work in various different jobs (even when studying for a BSc Honours degree in Psychology) and has lived here long enough to contribute to society in an incredibly meaningful and substantial way through taxes.
If we vote to leave, what happens to her? Will she have to get some sort of visa? Will she be forced to become a UK national, which she has said repeatedly that she doesn’t want to do? Will she be forced to leave? These questions have been hanging in the air since the referendum was announced in February and we still don’t have any concrete answers. If we vote to leave, a big question mark will loom over her right to reside in the UK. What’s even worse is that we may have at least two years of uncertainty as a deal is negotiated between the UK and the EU.
Imagine that: two years of not knowing what kind of long-term future you might be entitled to in a country that you’ve called home for nearly ten years. What would you feel? Afraid? Anxious? Angry? Maybe all three? Considering how much the Leave campaign keeps banging the drum about the safety of families across the country, all that they have done is made both of us afraid of what future family life might be like if we were out of the EU.
It’s not just my wife who is in this boat. I have had the pleasure of getting to know lots of friends and friends of friends over the past few years who moved to the UK from elsewhere in the EU to work in various sectors – healthcare, local councils, bar staff, accountants, childcare workers…the list goes on and on. These people came to the UK because they wanted to make a good life for themselves here. They’ve been told, effectively, that they are a threat to the UK’s future. This is deeply unfair and hurtful.
I read the other day that there are a third of voters who will undecided on how to vote until a week before the big day, so I’d like to take this opportunity to say two things to those votes.
1) At the very least turn up and vote.
2) Have a really good think about the people whose lives are going to be affected by your vote, because if you vote to leave then the consequences affect quite a lot more of your family, friends, and colleagues than you originally thought.
Thank you for reading.
Footnote 1: If you enjoyed reading this, although I’m sure that ‘enjoyed’ may not be the appropriate word, please share with your family, friends and work colleagues.
Footnote 2: Whatever way you vote on Thursday 23rd June, I would encourage you to read up on some of the fantastic articles that Full Fact have been posting about the EU – unbiased and completely based in fact. It was also a tremendous help when researching for this post.
Footnote 3: Thank you to Liam and my wife for reading this and proofing this before I posted this.
Footnote 4: Obviously, these are my views alone and do not represent the views of my employers past and present.
I would like to encourage people, if they haven’t already, to register to vote in the EU referendum on the 23rd June.
The link is here: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
Me and my wife (who, because she is a Finnish national, cannot vote despite the fact that she’s lived in the UK for nine years and is a taxpayer) both have strong opinions on the EU referendum, which I will talk about eventually. I just need to figure out a way of doing it that won’t get me into trouble. Either way, thoughts need to be put down on something at some point.
However, our main concern at this point is that people are actually able to vote. Whether we like of this vote or not, this is a referendum that could have huge ramifications on the UK’s place in the world, and it is to that extent that as many people as possible should be able to have a say. I can’t think of a single good reason as to why you shouldn’t vote.
The deadline is the 7th June. Please register. Now. Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
In the meantime, could I please ask all politicians involved in this sorry state of affairs to stop bitching about other politicians and actually discuss the issues around this referendum? It’s so DULL. This is a referendum that affects so many people – more than you may originally think – and to see this reduced to a game of politicians slagging off other politicians is a real low point in modern politics. Or at least it is to me anyway,
A reminder of the link: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
The above writing is nothing to do with any organisations that I work for or have worked for in the past. Just so you are aware.
I felt a bit despondent this afternoon, for various reasons, so decided to see if now was the good time to try out an album by M. Ward, who I’ve only come across before as the Him of She & Him. Turns out it really did the trick in lifting my mood, at least a little bit. It’s very hard to listen to a song like Rollercoaster and not feel charmed by it. The record itself has a lot of heart and emotional weight, but also just enough playfulness to keep it light. Really, really impressed.
It goes without saying that you can file this under “These thoughts are my own thoughts and do not reflect the views of any organisations I work for.”
But that isn’t what has made me so angry this weekend.
My wife is originally from Finland has lived here for nine-and-a-half years. This country has treated her, and our relationship, incredibly well. On Saturday, about half-an-hour after the date for the referendum was announced, we found out something via BBC News that was quite incredible:
“British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, along with UK nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years. Members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be eligible, unlike in a general election. Citizens from EU countries – apart from Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – will not get a vote.”
If you have spent more than 15 years living abroad as a UK national, or, like my wife, happen to be an EU citizen who is a UK resident (pays taxes, votes in local elections, etc.), you have no say at all in any of this.
It’s not just my wife though – a few of my friends are in the same boat and are currently trying to figure out what leaving the EU would mean for their access to healthcare, working rights and so on. There are stories I’ve heard and read online of people looking to get UK citizenship as soon as they can in order to safeguard their rights, just in case the UK leaves the EU, even though it will cost at least £1,000 to do so. It’s as heartbreaking as it is staggering.
There is a great deal of uncertainty, especially when the whole premise behind voting to exit the EU seems to be based on: “well, let’s see what happens, shall we?” There’s literally no plan in place. Life in the UK could get needlessly complicated for a large group of people. And all because of what? Because some minister honestly believe it somehow makes us more of a target for terrorist attacks?
Which brings me onto the scaremongering and the painfully inaccurate narrative that’s about to play out. There will be scare stories, as there are in any political campaign, that have no basis in fact or will be based on facts that are bent carefully to fit their cause. We have as much of a duty to call people out on this as much as the media does. However, the media should also be taken to task when it reports on stuff that is trivial and meaningless in the context of the referendum. I don’t care about the bickering between politicians who happen to belong to the same political party. I don’t give a toss about the personal rivalries between politicians. I care about the people who are going to be directly affected by this referendum and what it means to them. The question should be “What are the facts behind this?” and not “What does Politician X make of Politician Y’s remark?” No one cares.
There are a lot of people who don’t realise how much of an impact this could have. This will affect people who have set up successful businesses, work in the emergency services, teach at schools and colleges and universities, prospective university students, families…it’s a long list. For this referendum to be taken seriously, aside from actually allowing people who would be affected the most the right to vote, we need to put aside the bickering and scaremongering and trolling. We need to actually focus on what all of this means for our society. For all of us.
It’s wishful thinking, at least.
Further reading: This fantastic Guardian article from August 2015 shines a light on some of the concerns that UK expats have about the upcoming referendum. If you really want to get a grasp of the potential ramifications of this vote, it’s essential reading.