Written by Jen Offord

In The News

Facts not friction

Ask not why we want to stay in or leave Europe, but rather why would Europe want us, says Jen Offord, as she unpicks the unseemly referendum hokey cokey.

EU and Union flags
It’s with some irony that I watched events unfold in Marseille and Lille over the last week, as (a small subsection of) England fans did what they do best in the opening stages of Euro 2016.

Sure, this was not a one-way street, and most certainly on Saturday at the Stade Vélodrome England fans appeared uncharacteristically virtuous as they were set upon by their Russian counterparts. There can be no denying though, that wherever there are England fans, often trouble is not far behind.

Gearing up for the British derby on Thursday in Lens, Roy Hodgson and Wayne Rooney made impassioned pleas to fans to behave, and the threat of disqualification if further troubles ensue looms over England.

Even the French authorities seem to be doing their level best to keep us in the competition by taking steps to minimise potential for another ruckus: banning consumption of alcohol outside of bars and supermarkets from selling it in the preceding hours, as if grown adults might actually need to have their hands held through the excitement to achieve civilised behaviour.

It was impossible not to feel deeply embarrassed by the scenes broadcast across international media channels, but you also couldn’t help reflecting on the impending referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU and wonder whether or not Europe ought to be the ones holding the UK to account rather than the other way round.

Exactly what are we trying to hold Europe accountable for? Coming over here, getting a job and making a contribution to society?

“For many, voting will come down to instincts rather than informed decisions unless the relevant camps are able to express some soundbites that don’t sound more befitting of a shit episode of Brass Eye in the next week.”

The messages around Europe are confusing: even as a relatively politically savvy person, it’s not easy to unpick all the arguments and faux-arguments for and against. Undoubtedly, there has been some nonsense on both sides, as evidenced by this week’s deeply curious boat-off between Nigel ‘I’m an inciter of hatred’ Farage and Bob ‘no one knows why I’m here on this massive boat’ Geldof.

The debate has, in spite of their watery wars, become almost single-issue: whether or not you are troubled by the level of immigration from the EU.

Successive governments have unilaterally ignored voter concerns about immigration, which the left have closed down with lazy accusations of racism. Though I do not share those people’s concerns, surely as voters they deserve to have them addressed. Rather than a blanket dismissal of their views, would it not make more sense to explain why they need not be troubled?

For example, by explaining what is being done to strengthen the economy; the number of immigrants from the EU versus the level of emigration from the UK; or the compelling case for economic benefits of trade with Europe and free movement within it.

Of course equally cheap (and genuinely racist) is the tactic employed by some of the right, arguing that being a member of the EU makes Orlando-style shootings more probable or that being part of an EU alongside Turkey would lead to the UK being overrun by radicalised Muslims.

Or the suggestion that refugees displaced by our foreign policy want to come here – because being subject to chemical warfare by Assad, terrorised by so-called ISIS and bombed by the UK is really just an excuse to rock up in Blighty and dine out on our ever-dwindling welfare state.

“It’s not Europe that is hurting the British public. It’s not Europe that has closed down our libraries, crashed our economy, or asked us to saddle ourselves with unimaginable debt to educate ourselves into better circumstances.”

For many, voting will come down to instincts rather than informed decisions unless the relevant camps are able to express some soundbites that don’t sound more befitting of an episode of Brass Eye in the next week.

It’s a fallacy that to leave the EU we would be unburdened by its ‘shackles’, whatever they are supposed to be. We would still be affected by its trade decisions and its laws, but we would have ceased to engage in the process of exerting any authority over them.

However, for my own part, in a sea of misinformation and mass hysteria whipped up by the political elite (and not-so elite), the explanation for why I’ll be voting to remain is inspired somewhat by a Muhammad Ali speech I recently heard for the first time, about his refusal to fight for his country, for which he was accused of a lack of patriotism.

I have no quarrel with Europe – because it’s not Europe that is hurting the British public. It’s not Europe that has closed down our libraries, crashed our economy, or asked us to saddle ourselves with unimaginable debt to educate ourselves into better circumstances.

It’s not Europe that has built an economic model that makes it unfeasible for many to own property or even rent it in parts of the country. The European Union has not made it increasingly difficult to get a doctor’s appointment or sought to short-change the NHS’s junior doctors.

It’s not the European Union shooting MPs at their constituency surgeries, it’s not Europe that wants to repeal the Human Rights Act or legal protection for workers and it’s not Europe coming over here throwing bottles of piss at fellow tourists. My quarrel is not with Europe – my quarrel is much closer to home.

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen

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