...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 5531: Brexit is for the Faeries


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Once Upon A Time…

"I assume also that no great power would shrink from its responsibilities ... if that country from a perverse interpretation of its insular geographical position, turns an indifferent ear to the feelings and fortunes of continental Europe, such a course would, I believe, only end in it becoming an object of general plunder.

"So long as the power and advice of England are felt in the Councils of Europe, peace I believe will be maintained, and maintained for a long period."

Margaret Thatcher, quoting Disraeli, last time we had a referendum on Britain in Europe.

Britain + Europe

The Brexit Brigade LURVE their FAERY Stories.

They are already pushing three MYTHS about what this referendum is about.

MYTH #1: "Who runs Britain"

(And I am already sick to the top of my trunk of Conservatory MPs who voted AGAINST fairer votes and voted AGAINST reforming the unelected House of Lords sitting pretty in their SAFE SEATS and having the GALL to tell us that the problem with Europe is "we cannot kick them out"!)

MYTH #2: "We would have freedom to trade"

(The leave campaign say that they want Britain to be free to make trade treaties with whoever we like… and they want to begin by pulling out of the largest free-trade area on the planet. Does this make ANY sense WHATSOEVER?)

MYTH #3: "Remain are SCAREMONGERING (nudge nudge, fear the immigrants)"

(Mr Farrago cannot open his mouth without scaremongering about Turkey, or about "500 million people with the right to come to live in Britain" – clue: 70 million of them are ALREADY HERE: they're called "the British"; Michael Gove – Mr Balloon's Smeagol – raises the spectre of razor wire across Europe as though that's a product of working together and not a symptom of the very nationalism with which he's flirting; and how many times do we hear the pitiful excuse from a country that is 92% undeveloped country "we're too crowded, we can't take any more"? Scare, scare and more scare.)

Pied Parper

So since they are all so KEEN on FABLES and PARABLES, let me tell you a story too. Spoilers: it has a HAPPY ENDING.

Long ago, but not that long, there was a WAR and EVERYONE LOST. And in the ruins that remained, friends and enemies alike came together and decided to try something, a very – I might say – British idea of making it easier to trade together.

Because, quite a lot of the time, people who trade with each other don't fight with each other. Trade brings prosperity to both sides and with prosperity comes peace. Business is good for peace and peace is good for business.

I say that's a very British idea because Free Trade was sort of at the heart of the dispute between the Liberals and the Conservatories i.e. between Mr Gladstone and Disraeli over the Corn Laws; and was sort of at the heart of the conflict between the British Empire and Napoleon (grossly to oversimplify four-hundred years of history).

And because protectionism and nationalism and the MYTH of "destiny" had done so EXTREMELY very badly in the years of the Great Depression that led to the War.

So the idea was actually a very simple one. It started with COAL and STEEL and the idea was that customers for coal and for steel should be able to pay the same price for the same stuff wherever they were.

That meant getting rid of trade barriers between countries.

But also, making sure that people on both sides played by the same rules, rules like how long it was safe for people to work so you couldn't undercut your competitors by paying slave wages or working dangerously long hours; or rules saying what the measurements should be measured in, so you couldn't short change the customer by having a slightly shorter "inch" or a slightly lighter "pound".

There have been "weights and measures" rules since the time of Bad King John. In fact, one of the reasons he got CALLED "Bad" King John by the barons is that the barons didn't like him going about the place stopping the business of putting a thumb on the weighing scales and shaving the gold off the coins.

So Europe's rules are about FAIRNESS to CUSTOMERS.

Now, it's a bureaucracy and bureaucracies grow rules like topsey, and not all of them always make sense, even more so when you take them out of context.

And sometimes – quite a LOT of times in fact – a "rule" from Europe is more of a GUIDELINE in Brussels but becomes gold-plated, copper-bottomed, red-taped LEGISLATION as it passes through the British Civil Service and the Houses of Parliament, but they still blame all the finicketty details because "Europe".

And sometimes people just MAKE THINGS UP (like the infamous MYTH of the STRAIGHT BANANA – but there ARE rules to protect banana buyers from ROTTEN bananas, but that sounds too much like GOOD news).

We PERPLEX our friends in Europe with our attitude to the rules. We make them EXTRA HARD, and then COMPLAIN about them. But STICK to them like glue. We need to RELAX, UNCLENCH a bit. Be a bit more, well, EUROPEAN.

Missing Out

Let us take an example: the Tampon Tax. It is said that we cannot remove the VAT from ladies' tampons because "Europe".

Well, the short answer is of course we can. No other country would be so RIGID.

Things get redesignated all the time. If Marks & Spencer can get a teacake redesignated as a cake, it is not beyond the wit of a Minister of the Crown to redesignate a tampon as an essential. And obviously we should do so.

But more broadly, it comes back to that business of FAIRNESS for the CUSTOMER. You want your customers to be able to compare prices wherever they go in Europe. So you want (roughly) the price of things that are basically the same to BE basically the same. So if there's a sales tax that is part of the price, you want that to be basically the same too.

Now good old Blighty didn't HAVE a general sales tax when we joined the (then) EEC (although there was a purchase tax on certain "luxury" goods). So a part of our negotiated conditions for entry was that we would introduce the broad-based Value Added Tax or VAT.

BUT, we negotiated a GOOD deal – VAT rates across Europe tend towards the 20%-25% rate, and Britain was allowed not only a LOWER rate (10% when we started, but of course it's gotten up to 20% now) but also some substantial exemptions, in particular for FOOD. Other countries have LOWER rates of sales tax on food, but no other European country has ZERO tax on food.

The Quid Pro Quo for this deal was that we would only ever move our VAT rates TOWARDS the European average. So the VAT rate only goes UP and not down (except in emergencies like when the economy went through the floor at the end of the last Labour government's time).

So we could not GENERALLY lower the VAT rate, or create broad new exemptions, but ONLY because we AGREED (and signed a TREATY to say so) that it was FAIRER to CUSTOMERS if the sales tax rates across all of Europe generally converged to the same level, so that everyone knew they were getting the same deal.

Gove takes the VAT rule out of context to make out it's some matter of HIGH PRINCIPLE that we have lost POWER over our taxes. When in truth we made a CHOICE that more fairness to customers was worth a bit less power over taxes. In other words we USED that tax power, rather than HOARDED and WASTED it, the way Smeagol horded and wasted the precious ring.

Let's take another example: Google's Tax Bill. Everyone seems to think that Google's tax bill is not terribly fair. But the REASON that they are able to shuffle their taxes around – do the so-called "Double Irish" – is because the Republic of Ireland chooses (and is able) to set it's Corporation Tax rate at 3%, so large companies are tempted to relocate their European offices and (theoretically) the profits they make to Dublin.

That unfairness is a consequence of NOT setting an agreement among the members of Europe that we will keep Corporation Taxes (broadly) in line. That is the sort of UNFAIRNESS that Brexit will ENCOURAGE. It is the "race to the fluffy bottom". And the only winners are the BIG COMPANIES, not individuals, not small or even middle-sized companies, but only the giants that can easily move countries. And of course the sorts of people who end up on the BOARDS of those companies. (Not looking at ex-ministers. No wait, that's EXACTLY who we should be looking at.)

Now we COULD pull out of Europe and try to compete with Ireland on Corporation Tax… so long as you don't mind cutting a further THIRTY-THREE BILLION out of the budget, pretty much the ENTIRE spend on EDUCATION, say, or two-thirds of the DEFENCE BUDGET. The sort of cuts that would make even Master Gideon wince. A little.

Or we could stay IN Europe and work together to make corporates like Google pay their taxes more fairly, and get Ireland to play nice too.

Is Europe UNDEMOCRATIC? Yes, but less so than BRITAIN – the Commission are appointed by elected governments (unlike the British secret Civil Service); the Council of Ministers are the representatives of those elected governments (unlike the British Cabinet, who are mostly old Etonian chums of the Prime Monster); the Parliament of Europe is elected by a proportional system (unlike the British Parliament at Westminster where the Conservatories have an illegitimate majority of 12 with 37% of the vote and Mr Farrago has no representation at all – given that his one MP cannot hardly bear to even talk to him, let alone be in the same leave campaign.)

Could Europe be MORE democratic? Yes, we could have more powers for the Parliament to approve commissioners and initiate legislation but only if the Kippers and Conservatories stop BLOCKING it. But equally, our MEDIA could stop being so PAROCHIAL and give the European Parliament the SAME coverage as the Westminster one – that's the KEY way to make people feel more informed and involved. Mr Farrago only gets away with NOT DOING HIS DAY JOB because no one sees that he's NEVER THERE!

We need to be IN to fight for MORE democracy. OUT just leaves us at the mercy of an UNDEMOCRATIC Westminster controlled by the Conservatories and the SPECIAL INTERESTS that back them.

Who are the unelected "elite"? The council and parliament of all of Europe or the Conservatory party with a tiny majority trying to shore up a system that gives them, a minority, absolute power, while they are using (abusing) that power to cut off the Opposition and the charities and the Lords who try to stand up to them?

So who rules Britain? The people who vote? Or the rigged system that gives all power to a Westminster controlled by a Conservatory elite and their secret big-money backers?

GREAT FLUFFY GRIEF there are four months of this to go!

Here's the HAPPY ENDING: on June 23rd we CAN vote to stay part of something Greater than just Little England; we CAN break the hold of the Conservatory elite. This DOESN'T just have to be about Boris's career plan; it can be about hope and a better future.

Fairytale Ending

Good luck!

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