Brexit: Did We Really Know It All?

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Brexit Bus

The bus. That big red bus with the words “we send £350 million to the EU every week, let’s fund our NHS instead” emblazoned on the side is the first thing I think of when Brexit is mentioned. It was the thing that made the biggest impact. It provoked rage in the Leave voters. It persuaded people on the fence that we need to leave the EU for the sake of our NHS. It ultimately became the biggest lie of Brexit.

That £350 million per week was an estimation of the UK’s full 2015 membership fee to the EU. This projected fee however, did not take into consideration the rebate Margaret Thatcher negotiated with the other EU member states in 1984. This rebate came into effect as the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy did not benefit the UK as much as other members of the EU. In addition to the rebate, the UK was the recipient of the fourth largest share of EU grants which were used for research, development and innovation purposes and we were the second largest recipients of funding awarded on a competitive basis during 2007 - 2013. On top of that, the UK public sector, including the NHS, received £2.8 billion from the EU between 2015 and 2016. Thanks to the rebate, grant and money pushed back into the UK government by the EU, our weekly bill is nowhere near as high as that bus made us all believe.

It’s easier to leave all of this information off of the side of a bus though. No one wins votes by making a bold statement with an asterisk but the Remain campaign didn’t do much to grab our attention or even counteract the Leave campaign’s points. The Remain side used scare tactics to encourage us to quiver in fear at the mere mention of Brexit; we were told our economy would collapse, Scotland would instantly have a second referendum and break away from the UK and British households would be £4300 a year worse off.

The value of the pound predictably dropped after it was announced the UK were officially leaving the EU but our economy is still growing (albeit at half the speed of the remaining EU nations), SNP actually lost seats to both Labour and Conservative during the snap election and no second referendum has happened and, while the rate of inflation has increased, it’s estimated that British households disposable income shrank by 1.1% per person which roughly works out to £800 for the average British home.

It’s difficult to not be frustrated with the Remain campaigns poor attempt at convincing people that staying with the EU was the best option for the UK. They had the luxury of facts on their side but decided scaremongering was the better way to fight their case. It’s possible that the politicians in charge of encouraging us to vote Remain used these tactics as they realised that the British public, particularly in areas hurt by deindustrialisation, were angry at the EU and were concerned that Britain was losing its identity. They may have believed it was better to tell us that our NHS would be thrown into disarray if we voted to leave as opposed to telling us that, in 2014, the EU accounted for 44.6% of our exports.

Unfortunately, the Leave campaign had the edge over the Remain campaign when it came to playing to British values. Putting on the side of a big red bus, a symbol synonymous with Britain, that our struggling NHS will receive a huge financial boost if we leave the EU is a much better argument than former Conservative health secretary Stephen Dorrell telling us that a failing economy caused by leaving the EU will cripple our NHS. A positive campaign that targets the general public’s concerns is and will more than likely always be, more effective than a negative campaign designed to scare us into submission.

The issue with both sides of the argument is the fact the majority of the debate was based on lies or exaggerations. Neither side could accurately predict what would happen if we chose to turn our backs on the EU and very few of the promises, both positive and negative, have actually happened. Politicians and mainstream news outlets took sides and manipulated the arguments to fit whichever stance they took. It made things difficult for voters, particularly people who consume content from only one outlet, to actually make an informed decision.

At no point during the lead-up to the vote did I feel like I was appropriately informed despite trying to read as much information as possible. There was a distinct lack of unbiased material for voters which is becoming a common trend especially in the age of the internet. Anyone can make up anything they want and disguise it as fact but should this privilege be extended to mainstream media outlets who give the majority of us our daily dose of current events and politics? Should politicians be allowed to go on the record with information that can easily be debunked to manipulate voters into sharing their views?

This blatant disregard for a fair democratic process in which voters can walk into a polling station knowing that they have the appropriate facts to make their decision is dangerous. The British general public are voting blindly and our inability and lack of desire to hold media outlets and politicians accountable for the exaggerated and false points they spread has sparked the “should we have another vote” debate. It’s not surprising that the Remain campaign has jumped on this and wants us to believe that a significant number of Leave voters are now complaining that they didn’t know what they were voting for and, while these people exist, it seems the majority of Leave voters still stand by their decision.

Much like during the campaign, very little information has really come out regarding Brexit as we are currently in the awkward stage of having one foot in the EU’s door and one foot firmly out but one thing that we should, as a nation, be concerned about is the affect Brexit is having on our NHS. Due to net migration by EU nationals falling to the lowest it’s been in 5 years, our NHS has taken a significant hit. There has been 96% drop in EU nurses and midwives registering to work in the UK and four in ten EU registered doctors are considering leaving the UK. We voted with the NHS in mind but what we failed to take into consideration were the EU nationals working tirelessly to save the lives of the British public for very little thanks.

With our NHS taking a huge hit due to EU nationals leaving the UK, immigration will be at the forefront of most Brexit negotiations and this will continue as we negotiate deals with non-EU member states. With the scaremongering tactics used by the Leave campaign - including a billboard featuring an image of refugees from the likes of Syria - to make us anti-immigration, it’s no wonder a lot of us have been left scratching our heads over immigration proposals. While some Remain voters want us to stay in the EU single market which means maintaning very little control over our borders, others want us to completely come out of everything EU related and put a stop to non-British citizens living and working in the UK.

There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to immigration and when the UK finally leaves the EU for good, we could be staring at a significant number of trade deals with non-EU countries that involve immigration of their citizens to our shores. India, for example, has already requested free movement of professionals such as doctors and engineers to the UK as part of a post-Brexit trade deal. This idea is a severe conflict with the anti-immigration stance members of the Leave campaign took and is one that will more than likely provoke the most outrage.

With an uncertain future ahead of us, the UK is in a grey area. We have the power to have a positive impact on the world so long as we negotiate carefully, compromise when necessary and bring a united front but we also possess the ability to fall flat on our faces and embarrass ourselves on a global platform. Maybe it will become apparent that the UK doesn’t need the EU and we’ll do perfectly fine on our own, maybe this post-Brexit glitch is a sign of worse things to come. All we can do as a nation is hope that we won’t have to knock on the door to the EU with our tail between our legs begging to be let back in because this Remain voter has a feeling they’re not going to welcome us back with open arms.

If you are concerned about the impact Brexit could have on you, please visit Talk Tax where you will find helpful information, help with visa applications and useful contact numbers.

Disclaimer: This post was written in collaboration with Talk Tax.

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