I taught European law for over 40 years before the 2016 Referendum and I was not surprised by the result as I had become only too well aware, on Facebook, of how ignorant people were about the European Union (EU). I believe that the ignorance was pretty high amongst both those who voted to remain and to leave but it was clear that many of those who voted to leave really did think that Brussels ruled us.
This was particularly true of English people many of whom did not realise that the vast majority of our laws are made by the Westminster Parliament and, to a certain extent, I also believe that the Leave vote was a form of English nationalism.
I was also amazed at how successful the Vote Leave campaigns misinformed voters by using spurious arguments and telling outright lies so pointing out that we were never in the free movement Schengen zone did not impress those who had never heard of it (probably 90% of people).
I do not blame people for being ignorant about the European Union as the vast majority of them were never taught the subject at school and the BBC spectacularly failed to carry out the inform and educate roles that a truly British corporation should have fulfilled.
Probably the most educated students in Wales, regarding Europe, were those who studied law in Further Education colleges as all of them would have studied the sources of law, Legislation, Judicial Precedent and European Law. I used to teach A-Level law students using the most popular examining board, the Welsh Joint Education Committee syllabus and many of them would also be aware of the fact that you had to be a member state of the European Convention on Human Rights in order to join the EU, which was the main reason why Turkey was never going to be allowed to join the EU.
When I taught European Law I did express my opinion that this was a good thing because I also taught Human Rights and one thing that I find worrying about the present Tory government is their determination to be free of any European influence on Britain, which theoretically leaves them free to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.
But now that the government is negotiating with the EU about trade the chickens have come home to roost for the leave voters. Those who believed that voting to leave would be “taking back control” because the reality is that the result is going to be the opposite.
The argument hinged on the idea that we would no longer just be rule-takers but rule-makers, which is just wishful thinking for the simple reason that trade with a European economy many times larger is crucial to our future as the EU 27 accounts for 48% of the UK’s exports of goods, so we are in no position to boss Europe. The EU has 446m people as against the UK’s 66m and its economy is almost six times as big as the UK’s. The EU is also much less dependent on trade with the UK than is true the other way round so in trade negotiations they have the upper hand.
How realistic the English Tory government is about this is doubtful because when it says they will want to raise barriers to trade, to show how independent they have become, they are challenging the principle that trade with the continent would be on a level playing field but the EU attitude’s to that will be “Take it or leave it”. The EU’s position is clear, as they have stated that “given the . . . UK’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the envisaged partnership must ensure open and fair competition . . . To that end, the envisaged agreement should uphold the common high standards in the areas of state aid, competition, state-owned enterprises, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change, and relevant tax matters.” If the UK tries to gain an unfair advantage in trade by undercutting those standards then the EU would not stand for it.
But that is only the start as Michael Gove has admitted that up to 50,000 people will have to be recruited to carry out customs paperwork under the government’s preferred Canada-style trade deal with the EU — the equivalent of the population of a medium-sized town. The Cabinet Office minister was warned by businesses that send goods across borders that the government will have to provide more cash to help them recruit and train the army of form-fillers needed to process the red tape spawned when Britain exits the transition period on January 1, 2021.
The economic damage that Boris Johnson would cause would be enormous if he places English Nationalism above the economic reality that constructing borders is bad for trade. So the ball is firmly in his hands and I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will wake up quickly when it comes towards the second half of this year. If not, the reality will hit us hard.