Normally, I steer clear of anything that contains both Nigel Farage and Melanie Phillips, as I value both my sanity and the concept of saying things that make sense, but a friend sent me the link to “Brexit: The Movie” the other day, just around the time I was realising just how many people seem to be considering voting to leave the EU. I have, up to this point, heard no convincing argument for why we should leave the EU, so I thought for the sake of informed voting, I should at least watch the film.
Spoilers: I didn’t find a convincing argument for why we should leave the EU.
What I did find, however, is an hour-long film replete with conjecture and baseless fear-mongering, and you know how I feel about that. While I’d LOVE to respond to every single statement that’s sheer drama, you won’t read a blog post that long, so I’m leaving those snarky comments in my head and just addressing what seem to be the main points of argument.
Before we get to the apparent main arguments, though, there are these absolute pearls:
0:26 “With general elections it doesn’t matter who you vote for, because you know that in four years’ time, you can change your mind.”
….What? So with a general election, you can go back in time and unvote for whoever you voted for, and undo all the stuff they spent 4 years doing? What?
1:27: “Certainly it is not in our economic interests to remain within the European union.”
While I would generally rather peel my own skin off than agree with a single word David Cameron says, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of posting a video that he made, as I think he makes some fairly cogent points. You can watch that video here, and I’m sorry for making you look at his hammish face.
2:00: “We have huge scope for creating vast numbers of new jobs.”
There is absolutely no substantiation to this claim.
4:14: Just a few minutes into this film, the presenter gets into a cab and says “The EU please!” and then notes the driver’s confusion as a way of pointing out that the EU is beyond understanding. It’s like getting into a black cab in London and saying “Britain, please!” and then Snapchatting the results as proof that the UK shouldn’t exist.
Main argument number 1: We don’t understand how it works.
“People might not understand exactly how the functions of the British constitution work, but they get the gist of it. Once every five years, we go down the school hall or to a church, we put a cross on the ballot paper, they’re all counted up, and the chap with the most votes wins.”
Yes, and in fact that’s exactly how you elect an MEP as well.
Also – the chap? Seriously? No ladies allowed?
“You try working out how a European commissioner is appointed. It’s positively Kafka-esque! You can’t actually get your head around who does what, why, and who is answerable to who.”
Of course, the reason you can’t compare electing an MP with appointing a European commissioner is because they’re not the same thing. This is an example of the False Analogy fallacy, implying that two things are similar (or should be) when this is not the case.
If you’re interested in reading about how a European commissioner is appointed, it’s pretty clearly laid out on Wikipedia.
The entire gist of this first section seems to be that the EU is too confusing and we don’t know how it works. The movie demonstrates this by showing some people saying they don’t know how it works. Having some people admit to their ignorance of a topic is no proof that the topic is too difficult to understand. I don’t really understand how electricity works, but I’m not campaigning to have all the plug sockets removed from my house. The information is all there, and we all posses the intelligence to understand it if we can be bothered to try.
They then argue that this is on purpose and the fact that no one understands how it works is a device to keep people out of power. This is nothing more than conjecture.
6:06: This man is Kelvin MacKenzie, and while I’m aware that an ad hominem attack like this has no place in what purports to be a logically-based if entirely snarky article, it’s worth considering that this man was at the helm of the Sun when it ran the infamous editorial that claimed that drunken Liverpool fans were to blame for the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough disaster. The Sun didn’t apologise for this until 2004, so perhaps a man that clings to a vicious lie for 15 years for the benefit of himself and his newspaper isn’t the sort of person to be taking advice from.
Main argument number 2: We don’t understand who is in charge.
“Democracy only works if you know who your representatives are.”
Here is an entire list of the current Members of the European Parliament for the United Kingdom. I live in Scotland, so my representatives in the European Parliament are Ian Hudghton, Alyn Smith, David Martin, Catherine Stihler, Ian Duncan and, horrifically, David Coburn, who once referred to supporters of gay marriage as “Equality Nazis”, which is such a fascinatingly shortsighted combination of terms that we might as well just give up on words altogether. But I digress – the above information was not hard to find.
7:00: “David Cameron. Toff. Probably quite a nasty piece of work.”
Finally, Kelvin MacKenzie. Something we agree on.
Again, this whole segment relies on the ignorance of people regarding who the members of the European Parliament are. That’s no proof of anything. I couldn’t name the Secretary of State for International Development without looking it up but that doesn’t mean that the system is broken, it means that I didn’t ever find out (it’s Justine Greening, you’re welcome).
Main argument number 3: They’re not accountable to anyone
Here it’s getting difficult to understand who “they” really is. MEPs? Commissioners? The Council? It’s not really made clear.
“In the EU there’s a thing called a parliament. But it’s not a parliament as we know it.”
Yes, and in Wales there’s a thing called an assembly, but is it held in a school hall with everyone sitting crossed legged, listening to a nice policeman talk about road safety? No. CORRUPTION.
“In the EU, the parliament isn’t in charge.”
So here, we’re treated to Nigel Farage saying that the EU parliament is the only parliament where you can’t propose a law. It’s probably good at this point to identify what the parliament does vote on: pieces of legislation which fall broadly into the following categories:
Regulation: A binding legislative act. Must be implied across the EU. An example of this would be safeguards on imported goods.
Directive: A legislative act that sets out a goal that all EU countries must achieve. However, all countries can make up their own laws to reach that goal. Example: consumer rights directives.
Decision: Something specifically addressed to a country or company that is binding to that country or company. An example of this would be if the EU said hey Facebook start paying your taxes.
These pieces of legislation are proposed by the EU Commission, which is comprised of 28 members, one per member state. The Commission writes a proposal, then passes this on to the Council and the Parliament who have to approve it. I’m going to assume that this is to ensure that any piece of legislation proposed has some relevance to the majority of member states. Imagine if any MEP could propose legislation; you’d have all the UKIP MEPs wasting everyone’s time by trying to ban anyone speaking anything but English on the trains in the UK.
“The real power in the EU, including the power to legislate, lies not with the parliament, but with EU officials.”
I’m not going to go into the EU legislative procedure in detail as it’s outlined perfectly here. But here’s the most important passage, with the key phrase in bold:
Article 294 TFEU outlines ordinary legislative procedure in the following manner. The Commission submits a legislative proposal to the Parliament and Council. At the first reading Parliament adopts its position. If the Council approves the Parliament’s wording then the act is adopted. If not, it shall adopt its own position and pass it back to Parliament with explanations. The Commission also informs Parliament of its position on the matter. At the second reading, the act is adopted if Parliament approves the Council’s text or fails to take a decision. The Parliament may reject the Council’s text, leading to a failure of the law, or modify it and pass it back to the Council.
This is broadly similar to how the process works in the UK, except of course that all UK laws are subject to approval by an unelected head of state. Some might consider that undemocratic.
Farage again claims that once something is EU “law”, there is nothing that a voter can do to change it. This is sort of meaningless in that there’s also nothing a UK voter can do to repeal a UK law unless there is an elected MP that wants to repeal it that the voter can then vote for. I think it’s utter bullshit that higher education isn’t free in England as it is in Scotland, but I can’t vote to change this unless a party adopts it as its position, and even then once I’ve voted for that party, I can’t stop them from changing their minds and not implementing it. This is one of the faults of representative democracy, but there’s no real viable alternative to it (that’s a conversation in itself).
One could argue that more extreme pieces of legislation, the type which would be widely condemned by an electorate, would never pass in the EU parliament in the first place, as the parliament contains 751 members elected by 375 million eligible voters, representing the 28 Member States of the enlarged European Union, thereby ensuring (at least in theory) that any legislation to pass would have to be beneficial to or at least accepted by a majority of those countries. Compare this to the UK parliament where there are only 11 parties represented, and even then only 3 or 4 with anything like a signification representation, and you can see how its much easier to pass laws that a huge portion of the electorate might disagree with.
The movie goes on to claim that “anonymous” officials make laws that we have no say on. I would hope the above links go to prove that isn’t the case.
If I’m going to pay taxes I want to be told where they’re going and if they’re spent badly or stupidly, I want to be able to remove from power the people who are spending them.
HA! Me and you too, mate. But—George Osborne.
Kelvin MacKenzie goes on to say that all British politicians love the EU because once they leave UK politics no one will ever hire them apart from the EU. He is, of course, wrong. The most obvious job route after leaving parliament is to take a meaningless but hugely paid position in one of the industries that paid for you to lobby on their behalf while you were in parliament.
The movie then bangs on about the Brussels gravy train and how politicians get far too much. This I do sort of agree with, but then I think that UK MPs getting a 1.3% pay rise in 2016 just a year after having their salaries increased by 10% while the country is going through tough financial times is a fucking disgrace and these people don’t seem to be so bothered about that. Nigel Farage also doesn’t mention the half a million quid his MEPs got from the EU in six months, while actively campaigning to leave that same institution.
It’s a cushy job. Yes it is. They’re overpaid. Yes they are. However this is irrelevant to the discussion of whether the UK will be better or worse off in the EU.
Case Study: Fish
“The EU has just obliterated the English fishing industry altogether.”
The film makes a case that the EU fishing quotas have strangled the British fishing industry. This isn’t a lie.
However, fishing quotas have been put in place to ensure that the numbers of fish in the water are maintained at a stable level. Overfishing is a global problem, and has driven many fish species to the point of collapse (meaning that the population is now at 10% of its highest known numbers). If we continue fishing at this rate, they will soon be extinct. Making emotive points about how there used to be a thriving fishing industry in the north east and how it’s super sad that that’s no longer the case isn’t useful; we could remove the quotas entirely and fast forward forty years, when the same point will be made, but this time the reason will be that we’ve fished so many species into extinction that there’s nothing to catch at all. The journal Science predicted that, if fishing is allowed to continue at the current rate, all the world’s fisheries will have collapsed by 2048.
The fisherman states that other countries in the EU are allowed to catch more fish. EU fishing quotas are based upon total amount of fish available. I’m sure it seems unfair, but the alternative is to allow fisherman to fish our waters literally to death.
The film offers no solution to this issue, while admitting the the EU pays fisherman to stop fishing, and somehow framing this as a bad thing.
The Rest of It
“We don’t like being bossed around by a bunch of bureaucrats!”
By 20 minutes into this film, this is the level of argument.
“There is still in many parts of the continent a notion that the way that society should be organized is to have have a class of wise, experienced, public-spirited experts who will run things in the best interests of all. The British historically have been very sceptical of this approach.”
Yes, we historically go for the complete opposite.
The film then goes on to a very strange rant against regulation, evoking WWII-era patriotism with lots of ominous-sounding music underneath it and I slowly lose the will to live.
It then goes on a sort of anti-liberal arts / anti-intelligence thing saying that only intellectuals believe in the EU, including the sentence “These people up here, the intellectuals, are looking down at the plebs and saying you aren’t bright enough to decide the future of your country”, which is funny because that’s exactly what this film did at the very beginning when trying to convince the viewer that they’re too stupid to ever understand how the EU works.
There’s then a frankly bizarre section detailing the amount of regulations pertaining to things like pillows and radio alarm clocks. Presumably the Leave campaign would remove regulations from all products, encouraging the production of things like asbestos pillows and radio alarm clocks that stab you awake, but we’ll never know because they don’t actually say anything about how leaving the EU would free us from these damnable health and safety rules.
I gave up at about the 40 minute mark, when the film started going on about Asian men in glasses, so if you’re keen to hear what’s in the final half hour, you’re going to have to watch it yourself. It seems to have given up on its admittedly weak arguments anyway, and as I’ve got this far in without hearing a single point about how leaving the EU would solve a single issue highlighted, I don’t think I’m missing out on anything that’ll change my stance.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think that the EU is faultless. There are many things wrong with it. It’s clinging to an outdated austerity model that’s strangling the smaller economies. It’s bloated and full of red tape. I could go on.
However, this film doesn’t give any any real explanation as to why leaving the EU would be better for us than staying it in. Instead, it tries to stir up anti-EU sentiment without offering a better solution. I’m not trying to convince you to vote to remain, but please, for the love of sanity, if you’re an undecided voter, don’t let this ridiculous film sway you that way.
As ever, FullFact.org is a great resource. Use it – and the many others available.