Boris Johnson makes me hopping mad. A couple of weeks ago, as you certainly know unless you’ve been hiding in a cave somewhere, he announced that he favoured a British exit from the European Union. Now, his reasons for this – his various cunning little schemes, his double-bluffing, his jostling for Conservative leadership – I don’t want to get into, or we’d be here all day. The point is: the current Mayor of London came out in favour of Brexit, with still a couple of months’ active mayor-time left to serve. And so did the Conservative candidate to potentially succeed him, Zac Goldsmith. That, to me, is pretty shocking, and allow me to tell you why.

After the 1993 Maastricht Treaty permitted free movement of labour within the EU (one of the “four economic freedoms”), lots of people started moving around. People from various countries moved to various other countries to live, work, study, start businesses, and so on. That was the idea. Naturally, a lot of them ended up in Britain, and naturally a lot of those people ended up in London. Over the next 23 years – that’s twenty-three years, almost two and a half decades – this movement continued all over the EU. Businesses thrived. Cultures were exchanged. Families were created. The cultures of the various European countries were not diluted and weakened into one boring, monotonous mass, as was feared by some. Quite the opposite: local cultures were respected, and largely strengthened. Like any group of societies, it hasn’t been without its problems, but generally the fusion of cultures has created a more colourful, cosmopolitan collection of places, and few cities have benefitted from this process as much as London.

So, Boris Johnson comes along in 2008 and finds himself mayor of a city of eight million people, of which, recent estimates suggest, 600,000 are EU nationals. These particular individuals have chosen not to seek British Citizenship, partly because it’s a lengthy, arduous process which costs close to £1500 (yes, even if you’re married to a British citizen), but mainly because not doing so was the whole point of the free movement of labour, which has been in place for the aforementioned 23 years. Now the EU Referendum looms, and nowhere (and I’d be delighted if someone could correct me on this) – but nowhere have I read or heard anyone, in any political capacity, stating what they expect to happen to these 600,000 people – let alone those in the rest of Britain – if we Brexit. I’m going to list a few possibilities, and I would suggest that the reader refrains from immediately scoffing, “oh, I’m sure that won’t happen” – because, again, I have no reason to believe anyone has the faintest idea.

  1. They could be given a period of time in which to gather their things and return to their country of origin.
  2. They could be asked to apply for Indefinite Leave To Remain and/or a work permit.
  3. Possibility 2 could either fail, or take an inordinately long time (we can reasonably assume HM Revenue & Customs will be rather busy in the event of a Brexit vote), and therefore these people could be in line for Possibility 1.
  4. Some arbitrary “long-term resident” rule could be invented, stating that people already living and working here prior to, say, 2010, could be automatically given Indefinite Leave To Remain and/or a work permit.
  5. Everyone already living and working here at the time of a Brexit vote, or at the actual point of us Brexitting, could be welcomed to stay.
  6. Free movement of labour from the EU could simply be permitted to continue; but given that this is one of the major bees in Brexit supporters’ bonnets, that seems unlikely.

One of the big problems is: Britain currently has little idea how warmly and/or cooperatively it will be treated by the remaining EU nations if we leave the EU. It’s conceivable, for example, that Britons will have to apply for visas to travel to the EU. I said conceivable. In his book The In/Out Question, Reuters journalist Hugo Dixon advises that “the best guess is that tit-for-tat would prevail… if we started requiring Romanians and Bulgarians to get visas before visiting the UK, the EU would probably respond by requiring us to get visas if we wanted to visit anywhere in the EU.” You may think this is highly unlikely, and maybe it is, but let me remind you: no one knows.

The inevitable result of all this “not-knowing” would be, in the event of a Brexit vote, an atmosphere of acute uncertainty. Individuals and families across the country will have long-term plans – houses, jobs, schools – put into disarray (just as British nationals living and working in other EU countries will also). EU nationals with careers in the UK may find their employers hesitant to promote them. New job applications may be tough, as perspective employers have doubts about the applicants’ long-term prospects. In short, it will bugger a lot of things up. Not sure about this? Show me something that suggests the contrary. Show me one high-profile Brexit supporter who has been able to say, as the expression goes, “this is what OUT looks like.” They… don’t… have… a… clue.

Now we return to London. Boris Johnson, the mayor of the city, is effectively saying he doesn’t give a hoot that some 600,000 of his residents would be plunged into turmoil. Zac Goldsmith is applying for the job of Mayor of London, while simultaneously backing a move that will deeply unsettle almost ten percent of the city’s population. Neither of these men has mentioned this. Both are instead concentrating on figures and economics, the former uttering jingoistic tripe about how marvellously strong and rich Britain can be on its own, the latter peddling quotes like “We [London] dominate in financial services, tech, media, culture and much more besides”. Does Goldsmith really have any idea what knock-on effect leaving the EU will have on this so-called “domination”? Finally, there’s the psychological question. How do you think the EU citizens living here personally feel, knowing that the mayor of their city essentially couldn’t give a damn about them? “Oh, come on,” you might think, “backing Brexit doesn’t mean he doesn’t give a damn about them.” Well, show me Johnson’s or Goldsmith’s long-term plan for these vital residents of our city. Show me the picture of a post-Brexit London either of these men have in mind. Because I don’t think either of those things exist.

The EU Referendum is not some random, figure-counting question where a decision is made by comparing numbers on a screen. It’s not even an important but largely political question, such as an in/out NATO referendum might be. The EU Referendum is about people. Without those 600,000 EU nationals, London would be an infinitely poorer place, in ways too numerous to mention, and if you think this is wrong, I would respectfully suggest that – very simply – you haven’t given it anywhere near enough thought.


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A new article in the Guardian by Jon Henley nails basically every concern I’ve been missing from the two books I’ve just read (see previous blogs).

Let us count the ways in which it so nails.

1. ‘ “The worst is the uncertainty,” said Stephanie Zihms, a German national from near Bremen, who lives in Edinburgh. “Everyone talks about Brexit in big-picture economic or political terms; no one considers what it might mean personally, to so many people,” said Zihms, a post-doctoral academic. “My life is here now. Would I need a visa to visit my family? A minimum number of points to be able to work? No one can say.”

2. ‘Chief among EU migrants’ worries in the event of “Brexit” are the end of fast-track EU-only lines at passport control; the return of work permits for employees; the abandonment of reciprocal public healthcare arrangements; tighter restrictions on studying and doing business; possible higher taxes on foreign property ownership and cash transfers between member states; and the treatment of foreign pensions.’

3. ‘In fact, the practical consequences of a Brexit for the approximately 2.4 million EU citizens in Britain and nearly 2 million Britons estimated to be living on the continent are not yet clear. An eventual exit process, which would involve unpicking decades of legislation and regulation, would probably take years to negotiate.

Exactly. No one has a clue, least of all – I would wager – the Tory government. If people are given the option to vote OUT, will anyone have any idea what sort of OUT we are going to? I haven’t seen a damn thing written on these subjects, with any degree of certainty or forethought. Anywhere.

4. ‘ “Europe’s about peace, understanding between peoples. Long term, I’m not sure how I’d feel about living in a country that turned its back on that. I do feel resentful, a bit. Like maybe I backed the wrong horse.”

5. ‘Richard Reed, 35, a British educationalist living here with his German partner – also in education – said the “horribly inward-looking nature, the lack of openness, of real engagement” of the British debate around the EU depressed him.

6. ‘ “If the UK leaves the EU, I worry it’ll finally push our country over the precipice of xenophobia and isolation on which we have been teetering for the past few years.”

Damn right. Even if EU citizens get themselves British citizenship, how will they feel? I’ve spoken to many of them who feel a real sense of “I don’t want to be part of a club that doesn’t want my country of origin as a member”, kind of thing.

7. ‘ “My work is funded by a generous EU grant, which I’ll have to renew when it runs out in three years. What happens to that if there’s a Brexit?”

Indeed. There are massive swathes of this sort of thing… which – forgive the generalisation – Johnny-UKIP-Waverer would probably have no idea about.

8. ‘ “Citizenship would make me feel more integrated. Strengthen the sense of belonging. But … I don’t know. If Britain really does leave – that might well change my outlook. I might, actually, just go somewhere else.”

Jon Henley, congratulations on doing in one newspaper article what Hugo Dixon and David Charter failed to do in the course of two books: hint at the human story.

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Two things have changed since I read the Hugo Dixon book. One is that the whole Greek shituation has hit the fan, to the point where even left-leaning EU sympathisers have started to say stuff like “if this is the way the EU treats its members, then I don’t want anything to do with it.” The other big alteration, at least in my mind, is that the Tory government have started to bring in so many irritating, let’s-turn-back-the-clock-and-party-like-it’s-1983 Thatcheresque policies, that frankly “whether the UK is in the EU or not” has started to seem like a lesser concern; the major one being more “is the Tory party starting to turn the UK into the USA?” – and I don’t mean the fast food, Coca-Cola, big cars, highways, roadhouse bar’n’grill Americana parts. I mean all the bad bits. Paying for healthcare, practically non-exisitent welfare state, companies and banks being 100 times more powerful than the government; and the publicly funded broadcaster being painfully quaint and weak, primarily educational and ultra left-wing.

I’m tempted to spend this whole post fulminating on this very topic – and in fact I might devote a future one to it (you can hardly wait) – but I did actually manage to struggle through David Charter’s Europe: In Or Out? so I’d better briefly give it its due.

This book differs from The In/Out Question in many ways, and the two tomes have many minor similarities: both are written in English, both have titles possessing the words “In” and “Out”, both have blue covers with some kind of graphic representation of the EU flag mingling with a totem of United Kingdomness, both are – on reflection – mind-meltingly boring. But the two major things they have in common are more telling. They both suffer from a woeful, although inevitable, focus on economics and statistics. If this was 1974, or even 1985, when the body up for discussion was the European Economic Community, you’d expect nothing more. But the whole point of this wretched debate is that it’s the EU. A union, in lots of different ways; primarily, I would venture, of people. So where are the people? In both books? Where is the boss of a firm in Hemel Hempstead who is really jolly glad he’s employing so many super-reliable Polish people? Where is the unemployed man in Sunderland who is cross that he’s been pipped to the post in his latest job application by a mother of two from Hungary? Where is the Liverpudlian who’s having a lovely time working in Stuttgart, or the retired estate agent living quite a nice life in Malaga? Where is the Italian citizen who’s been living in the UK since 2005, working professionally, who wonders what the fuck’s going to happen if Britain severs its ties? Oh, there are a couple of token examples – a cheesemaker from Somerset who benefits from the EU’s trade deal with (unexpectedly) South Korea – but there is a distinct lack of anything resembling a “human story”, if you’ll pardon the hideous expression.

So, to put it bluntly, what worries me is that most people in this country don’t really give a shit about the human story. A perfectly nice family in Leicestershire or Cheshire who actually aren’t friends with any EU citizens living in Britain probably don’t really care about anything but the economics of the thing. I guess these books are for them. Hugo Dixon of course is undoubtedly pro – to a somewhat bewildering degree, even for an EU supporter like me – but the largely skeptical David Charter has written a book over which hangs something of a fog of depression. He never really comes out and says “we should leave” outright, but what he does fill us with is gloom at the workings of the current EU setup. Some bits admittedly do seem absurd – the money-wasting, environment-punishing shuttling of the European Parliament to and from Strasbourg and Brussels, for example – but Charter relentlessly points out the system’s shortcomings without, as Hugo Dixon does, suggesting improvements. It’s an altogether meatier book, with firmer, more satisfying writing, but I guess we’re not really in it for the writing. The final paragraph is a bit chilling and sums up a large portion of my fears about the situation, so here it is:

Without the prospect of a better EU, there is no answer to the attractions of Brexit. Returning to sovereign control over domestic affairs, Britain will survive outside the EU despite the upheaval of leaving. The question is whether it will thrive. Paradoxically, one of the conditions of a successful divorce is the goodwill of the other partner. This book has highlighted the wide range of shared interests between European nations and shown that some measure of compromise is inevitable. No perfect formula exists for the complete jigsaw of continental cooperation and Britain has much to lose from an acrimonious breakdown in relations with the European Union, in or out.

I rather wish that this notion would be mentioned more in the British press, whether from a pro- or an against-EU media source.

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One of the first things I thought I should do is read some books. Problem is, the most recent ones are published last year, and for good reason, I suppose, as the closer to the general election they were published, the sooner the books would be rendered obsolete. I guess the two books I picked are already kind of redundant, but I’m reading them anyway just to get thinking. I finished the first one last night.

Hugo Dixon is clearly quite a learned chap – a prominent financial journalist who was at the FT for a decade – and he probably knocked off this small reader over a wet weekend. Despite being called The In/Out Question it is essentially one long “in” argument, although Dixon does list extensive improvements he would make to the current system, none of which I expect would be as easily achievable as he suggests. He likes the single market, he likes the idea of the EU ratcheting up its competitive edge, he likes free movement between countries, he thinks it’s crucial for the EU (with the UK firmly included) to be a single, strong front in the face of huge growing markets like China; he acknowledges that Brussels can meddle too much and that red tape could be “cut” (a slightly awkward clash of idioms) and he hates the Common Agricultural Policy. His points are well-organised with plenty of statistics to back them up, but the writing is slightly flat and unpersuasive; I wonder whether this book would manage to turn any eurosceptic’s opinion around.

The other problem with the book is that it’s almost wholly economically focused. There are hardly any cultural points for good or ill, and the few which squeeze in are a bit perfunctory: when discussing how we as a country are culturally getting closer to the EU, the best proof he can muster is that “we are enjoying more and more continental food – tapas, wine, pasta, Greek yoghurt, you name it.” It could be a line out of a 1970s school textbook.

He also fails to convince us that free movement of people isn’t causing a serious problem in some parts of the UK, with the rather whimsical notion that “the more people experience cross-fertilisation [of cultures], the more people like it”, then going on to discuss how popular foreigners are in London. No shit, Hugo… but what about in Kings Lynn or Lowestoft?

The difficult thing for me is that I agree with most of what he says, and of course I want it all to be true and for everyone else to believe it too. But very little is spoken about “what if we don’t” vote to stay in the EU. One sole paragraph is dedicated to what would happen to UK citizens residing and working in the EU, and EU citizens residing and working in the UK, if we left; although Dixon does give oxygen to a dark concept that the country’s pro-Europe press would do well to bandy around a little more: namely, that we have no way of knowing how the rest of the EU will react to the UK leaving. They would be perfectly within their rights to tighten border controls, turf out Brits, make trading agreements tricky, the works. We have no reason to presume that our erstwhile union partners will simply say, “okay, fair enough, you’ve left, now let’s try and make it as easy as possible for you.” Quite the contrary – it may get decidedly spiky, especially if the UK start to play tough with euro migrants. That eurosceptic Tory MP with his holiday home in the Dordogne may well have to get a visa to visit it, in a worst case scenario – or even pay a hefty tax on it.

In short, The In/Out Question is a quick, worthwhile read if all you want to do is confirm your already pro-EU feelings. But as for convincing eurosceptics, or even swaying those on the fence, the pro-EU brigade are going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this.

Next: Europe: In or Out? by David Charter

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16 and 17 year-olds should be allowed to vote in the UK’s EU referendum. are running a petition, I expect it’s not the only one of its kind. If you agree: go for it, click the button:

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Most 16 and 17 year-olds I know are more clued-up and au courant with the world’s social comings and goings than people in their 30s and 40s. It’s probably because they’re at school, they’re learning right now, and their minds aren’t yet battered by insurance policies, having kids, mortgages, and booze, which they’re not supposed to drink yet. But really: the outcome of a general election lasts four or five years, so it’s not a complete disaster if teenagers miss the boat in having their say. But this referendum’s influence will last decades. The thought of some socially engaged, firingly intelligent 16 or 17-year-old not being able to have his or her say, but some overweight 50-something Sun reader plodding down to the polling station and voting for Brexit “because of all those damned foreigners” makes me so cross I want to start hitting things.

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Primarily, this is an attempt to do something positive about a situation I feel needs action, rather than just me sitting around speculating, complaining and worrying (accompanied by the occasional short, unsatisfactory paragraph on Twitter and/or Facebook). Namely: the prospect of the people of the UK – my country of birth and residence – being given the chance to decide, by referendum, whether they wish to remain in the EU or not.

A big decision, and a complex one. My natural view on the subject is that I wish the UK to stay part of the EU, and I expect this view won’t change. However, by writing and conversing about it, I hope to find out precisely why this is. I have my own, strong, personal reasons for wishing the UK to stay in the EU, but I want to assemble an arsenal of wider, more general, perhaps more sophisticated reasons, if I can. Whatever the outcome: conversation is good, and conversation will certainly be needed over the next year or so, to keep us informed and sane. But the internet can frequently be an aggressive and volatile place, so it’s important that this conversation be reasonable and civilised.

Traditionally, I know next to bugger all about politics and – more so – economics, so I hope to improve this a little. Also, as any glance at the British newspapers will immediately tell you, much is going to change during the run up to the referendum: deals will be attempted, negotiations will be lost and won, politicians will alter stances, opinion polls will fluctuate, news barons will jump sides. Like I mentioned above, I suspect that throughout this process my own position won’t shift: but you never know.

Worryingly little has been written about precisely what will happen to the couple of million EU citizens already living in the UK, if the UK votes to leave. Will they instantly have to apply for visas and work permits? Or will there be some sort of automatic waiver for those who’ve been working, living, bringing up families and so forth, in the UK – for really quite a long time? I want to know.

And the blog title? “Europe Stay with Us”? Shouldn’t it be “UK, Stay with Europe” – or similar? Well, there are a few reasons for this, all of them somewhat wishy-washy, but never mind. It’s party inspired by a Daily Mash piece in which it’s revealed that the “27 member states of the European Union have demanded a referendum on whether Britain is allowed to stay in – voters across the continent will be asked to choose whether Britain should have to follow the same rules everyone else does, or can just fuck off.” Aside from it being bloody funny, I was struck by the unhappy notion that, in fact, the rest of Europe are in all likelihood fairly cheesed off with the UK’s comings and goings: wanting to keep the pound, not joining in with Schengen, and the almost daily bashing the EU receives in the British press. Whatever the outcome of the UK referendum – and I expect whatever it is, it’ll be a close run thing – I passionately want the people of the mainland continent that I love to stay with us, i.e. stay with us in spirit, not to ignore us, turn their backs, pissed off that some of the Brits have rejected them. Also, it’s a prosaic invitation to the same group of people to stay with us, i.e. physically. I wholeheartedly believe that the presence in the UK of Italians, French, Spanish, Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Dutch, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Swedes, Danes – you get the picture – makes the country a damn sight better, and the thought of any of them finding it hard to remain here fills me with disappointment, sadness and frustration. Lastly, if the unthinkable happens and the UK really does vote to leave, I do not want the vibe and atmosphere of the UK to return to a more small-minded and xenophobic (as opposed to racist, and there is a difference) era. I was born in 1973, so I have never known my country to be not part of at least the EEC (or “common market”, as I can still hear my mother calling it) – but I do remember what it was like prior to the formation of the EU in 1993, and during the eighties it was a considerably duller, less cosmopolitan and more antiquated place. Nostalgia aside, I personally don’t want to go back there. So, irrespective of the referendum result, Europe Stay With Us is an instruction to the spirit and varied vibe of Europe to remain permeated throughout our land, as I really believe – as a nation – it’s good for us.

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