The EU referendum, identity and economics

First and foremost I’m from Yorkshire then I’m British. Not English – unless someone is trying to ascertain I’m definitely not Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish – and certainly not European.

Last year when there was talk during the election campaign of an EU referendum, my position could be summarised as don’t rock the boat. It didn’t seem to be hurting anyone, the public on the whole don’t have the knowledge (or the interest) to make an informed decision, and it would probably cost a lot of money to disentangle all that bureaucracy. If the referendum was tomorrow though I’d be voting to leave. So what’s changed?

I still don’t feel like I’d be making a properly informed decision. So far it’s all been sleight of hand or scaremongering on both sides, as far as I can tell. All the arguments for staying in that I’ve heard don’t seem to need us to be in the EU – yes they probably would be the case if we stayed in but it would also be perfectly possible if we came out. Except the university funding.

I don’t usually mention the day job around here, but I work in a support role at a university. We do get EU funding, we also have a whole bunch of students from the EU who only have to pay ‘home’ rated fees and would in future presumably have to pay international rates, not to mention the staff with an uncertain future because the freedom of movement would (presumably) end. Our Vice Chancellor was one of the signatories to the Sunday Times letter saying the UK should remain in the EU, and the official position of Universities UK (the industry body, as it were) is to remain. All that weighs heavily on me. And yet…

State Aid, that’s the big one for me. It seems to be a fundamental tenet of the EU that governments should not be able to assist their country’s businesses. I was vaguely aware of this rule in terms of renationalising the railways (which I’d love to see, the sooner the better) and the inaction on our teetering steel industry. However, this week in the day job I saw some funding council advice on what might constitute state aid, and how we need to be careful about consultancy work and spin-off companies (because we get government funding but would be assisting private companies), and it brought home how all-pervasive this is. I don’t see what’s so good about free markets anyway.

Not being massively clued-up on all of this I do keep wondering if I’m misinterpreting the (sparse) things I’ve read. After all, shouldn’t Jeremy Corbyn want to leave the EU if it’s as bad for socialism as it seems. Yet all the things I’ve read from the official Labour camp so far seem to talk about not the EU that exists (perceived in the UK at least to be overly bureaucratic and corrupt, whatever the reality) but some fantasy version that we could have if only we stayed in and spoke nicely to them. And after Cameron’s Tory point-scoring opted us out of all the main facets of the EU, it’s hard to see what’s left for him to want to cling onto.

I’m willing to be persuaded to change my mind, in fact I’m actively seeking reasons to stay in (the cost of disentanglement and the reduction in EU students still worries me). Until then, much to Big Brother’s disgust and my dad’s bemusement, I’m on the side of Michael Gove. Not a phrase I ever thought I’d write.


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