By Abeer Sharma
You would be forgiven for hoping that the upcoming referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union- the first since 1975- would present a ripe prospect to have a sensible, mature and enlightening debate about how we intend to steer the future direction of our country. Unfortunately (and somewhat depressingly predictably), since David Cameron announced the date of the 23rd June referendum last month, the entire debate is being overshadowed by an onslaught of false statistics, unsubstantiated scaremongering and overzealous optimism.
As soon as the date was revealed, focus immediately turned to the blustering whirlwind of buffoonery Boris Johnson and where his ambitions loyalties would lie. Since then we have had grotesque GO! ties, daily Tory infighting, Labour uselessness, wild exaggerations on both sides of the debate, mudslinging galore and just the other day, spurious claims that the Queen is a long-standing ardent Brexiter. That Westminster journalists are lapping all this up as they search for the stories that will sell their papers is to be expected. Yet to the chagrin of us in the real world, especially those whose minds remain open as to which box to tick in June, discussion is frustratingly being brought down to the lowest common denominator.
The public is aware that there are vested interests amongst the media, politicians and business driving their public pronouncements, but the sort of sweeping views propagated on a daily basis does nothing but hamper debate. The idea posited by swaggering Brexiters that the UK will sashay onto the world stage without consequence having left the EU behind and sign lucrative trading deals with and trustworthy friends such as China and India is preposterous. Similarly, pro-EU campaigners suggesting that without EU membership Britain will lose millions of jobs, struggle to trade with anyone and become a poor, irrelevant little island are worthy of derision. Of course there is a binary choice in this referendum- In or Out, but the truth lies in the nuance; a point criminally being ignored.
There are strong arguments for both sides. Brexiters can point to various EU faults, such as an inherent lack of accountability and democracy, substantial bureaucratic waste and a litany of recent political and economic failures. Should the EU be in a position to override our parliament’s sovereignty and enforce decisions and laws that ought to be ours to make? How can we control immigration if we remain in the EU where free movement is a fundamental freedom? What reason is there to suggest with our service sector, arts & culture, standard of education, widely-spoken English language and general stability that Britain cannot thrive outside of the European Union, even if the short-medium term consequences could be difficult?
On the corollary, Pro-EU supporters can point to the freedom the EU has provided Brits in terms of travel and work, along with the EU investment the UK benefits from, the low tariffs for trade and co-operation on transnational matters such as crime and climate change. Why not stay together rather than destabilise the fastest growing developed EU economy in the last few years? Why should the UK isolate itself from those closest to it? Is the UK not stronger in the long-term dealing as part of the largest trading bloc in the world than on its own? In a world more inter-connected and effectively borderless than ever before, does national sovereignty really matter?
These are all valid points of view and exigent questions forming the mere tip of the iceberg of all that is to be considered, philosophised and scrutinised in the coming months.
The EU referendum is above and beyond invidious politicking. We should be hearing less conjecture whether the Tories are going to eat themselves alive and instead more of serious, balanced opinions about the meaning of either outcome for the United Kingdom’s future prosperity. For too long, the media and politicians have ruthlessly stripped public debate of intelligence and reason to our severe detriment. The upcoming referendum is too big and important to allow the same mistake to reoccur; the pantomime must shut its curtains as a matter of urgency before a great opportunity is regretfully missed.