It’s one week to the EU Referendum, and the good news is that both In and Out camps have been incredibly evil in their campaigning. Today we continue our exploration of the amazing lies and deceits that both sides have been telling, looking at Sovereignty and the Environment.
As part of our relationship with the EU, some of our laws originate from the European Parliament, not the UK Parliament. This makes some people unhappy because of the apparent lack of control. There is no conflict in the minds of these people between the desire for our politicians to make all of the laws, and a) the fact that we do elect the MEPs – they are our elected representatives in same way that MPs are, and b) many of the people complaining don’t respect or trust our MPs very much either. So how many lies have each side told?
Some of our laws do originate in Europe. Not all of the laws – only certain types, and not things like income tax and spending. The laws are debated and voted on by our MEPs, and we get a chance to veto many laws if we can’t negotiate a mutually acceptable position. We also get to opt out of laws, as we did with the Euro, the Schengen zone and so on. And if the government really doesn’t like a law – for example if somehow a law got passed that said that all English people must speak French – then the government can just repeal the 1972 law that joined us to the EU, and we can ignore them.
Which raised the point of why, if the government can just leave the EU at any time, are we having this referendum. The reason is that in the run up to the 2015 election, David Cameron was worried about losing, and made up some populist policies that he had no intention of keeping. The expectation was that there would be another coalition, and policies like this would be negotiated away in return for killing policies of their coalition partner. That all back fired on him when they won outright, and now he is faced with a referendum that he really didn’t want.
The Leave campaign are claiming that 75% of our laws are made in Europe. Nigel Farage likes to portray this as if 75% of the things that the British Public need to do in their lives are controlled by the EU. The figure 75% is completely plucked out of the air though. There is a figure of 65% which has some basis, but the basis is in dividing the number of EU laws passed between 1993 and 2014 and comparing it to the number of UK laws. But that’s another evil misdirection. Each EU law could cover something trivial while each UK law covers something far more complex (or vice versa), so a direct comparison of numbers of laws is meaningless. The laws may have no impact on the UK, e.g. the numerous laws on growing olive trees. The laws may also be applicable only at a European level – e.g. the many laws on agreeing common codes to use on customs forms. So simply pulling a large imaginary number out of the air is meaningless.
The Leave campaign would like us to follow the Norway model – trade with Europe but not be part of the EU. However, Norway are pretty clear that it sucks. As their PM said today, they have to contribute to the EU, are bound by the laws, have to let EU citizens in, but don’t get any say in what happens.
Finally, the Leave campaign also complain about the European Court of Human Rights, saying that our courts should be the highest courts, and human rights are being used to allow terrorists to do what they want simply because they own a kitten. The evil thing about this complaint is that a) the ECHR is not part of the EU, and leaving the EU will not change our relationship with it, b) the UK courts are not bound by ECHR rulings – they are free to ignore them, and c) nonsense like terrorists with kittens is made up by the newspapers (and in this case the Home Secretary) to sell newspapers or to make a political point. The one thing that Leave politicians won’t spell out though is which human right they think we shouldn’t have. Mwhahaha.
The Remain campaign have used similar tricks to come up with a low number of laws. Nick Clegg said that 7% of our laws originate in Europe. Rather than looking across a 12 year window, they looked at each individual year and picked the lowest one. If you add up all of the UK laws that refer to Europe between 1993 and 2014, the number is more like 13%. But again, the numbers aren’t important. Just one very impactful EU law could hurt the UK far more than a thousand trivial UK laws, so the real argument should be about which laws we like and don’t like. Which no-one is prepared to do.
One area that Europe is most active in is the environment. The reasons are most obvious if you live on mainland Europe – a river that starts in one country can flow through many more, so they want to ensure that no-one dumps a load of polonium in it on its way through their borders.
The EU has led the world on environmental law, setting standards for clean air, the blue flag beach scheme, and many more. It has also angered some people by setting standards for the energy efficiency of consumer goods like light bulbs and vacuum cleaners – in particular banning filament bulbs and forcing us to use CFL bulbs instead.
Boris Johnson is one of the worst violators of EU environmental law. In 2015 Oxford Street exceeded its annual EU emissions limit in just 4 days (in 2016 the official sensor had stopped working). He might not be mayor of London any more, but he is no fan of the EU environment law as a result. That doesn’t look good though, so he’s just not saying anything on the topic. If fact, it’s pretty hard to find anything from the Leave campaign on the environment. Farming minister George Eustice did say that we could save £2bn if we didn’t have to worry about wildlife – although it seems unlikely that animal loving Britain would completely stop caring about our furry friends. Owen Paterson also said that leaving the EU will allow us to use more bee-harming pesticides. Given that bees contribute £651m to the economy, this is a really evil goal. Mwhahaha
Remain are more vocal on the environment, saying that if we left our energy bills would go up by £500m. That seems like a lot, but it’s less than £10 per person. My energy bill seems to go up by that each month, so it’s hard to see that as a real impact on households. The Remain campaign also champions the work that the EU has done to lower CO2 emissions, which is pretty two faced given that David Cameron has been doing his damnedest to renege on those commitments.