Thursday June 23rd - What Was The Question Again?

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Debates in community centres, pubs and work places all over the country have highlighted that the vote on 23 rd June is something a lot of people are taking very seriously and are desperately trying to work out the ‘right’ answer. Exaggerated statements from both Remain and Leave have infuriated a public looking for solid facts amongst the spin. Economic models that are good enough for politicians to plan government budgets suddenly become only ‘matter of opinion’ to the same politicians. Amongst all this heated debate has the actual question being asked on 23rd June become confused?

The question on the ballot paper will be ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ That is it. There are no additional questions about why you vote to remain or leave. You are NOT being asked if you want sovereignty back (whatever that term means). You are NOT being asked if you want an additional £160 million a week spent on the NHS. You are NOT being asked if you want an Australian points system for immigrants. All these ideas have been floated by the Leave campaign but none are part of the question on the ballot paper.

Whatever the outcome of the vote on the Friday 24th June you will wake up and there will still be a Conservative government in power, one that is spilt virtually down the middle on whether to Remain or Leave. None of the above ideas were part of its manifesto in the general election – they can quite easily claim that there is no mandate for their government to implement one or any of these ideas. The referendum merely reflects the will of the British people in whether they want to remain or leave the EU, not what policies a government should implement if the British public do vote leave. Only at a general election could each party set out its manifesto on what it would do, only then would the British public see how many, if any, of the ideas become policy and for which parties. The next general election, barring the majority Conservative government losing a vote of no confidence, is set for 2020.

The outline of what a negotiated leaving of the EU would look like would be in place by 2019. The current Conservative government would lead the negotiations and decide how Britain left the EU, what model we would follow and the shape of the policies. This could mean that the British public has the chance to vote on remaining or leaving the EU but never has a chance to vote on what the shape and policies of the exit. In the meantime the Conservative government can follow its policy of extreme austerity, cutting any public services it thinks it can get away with and hollowing out beloved British institutions like the NHS through creeping privatisation.

For all Labour voters who think voting remain means supporting a neo-liberal project to exploit workers I have a question. How does leaving the EU help the cause of working people? The EU, imperfect as it is, at least tries to protect human and worker rights as well as the environment. Leaving the EU puts everyone in the hands of a British Conservative government with a clear aim of creating a neoliberal utopia where such protections become a distant memory.