The European Union debate for people who haven’t been paying attention
20:00 29 February 2016
We’re just days into what will be months of campaigning and I can’t be alone in feeling that the European Union referendum has already breached my boredom threshold. So I realised what might actually be useful would be a guide to the issue for people like me who don’t know much about Europe other than that Disneyland Paris is there and people who live there like red rucksacks. Bear with me, then, as we travel through Europe and discover the sights.
The European Union debate for people who haven’t been paying attention:
1. In a nutshell, our beloved leader David Cameron has announced there will be a referendum on whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union which will be held on June 23, which is a Thursday and comes in the middle of Drowning Prevention Week (this is incidental, I think).
2. Unlike a Student Union, which is the place where you go to get drunk when you are at university*, the European Union is an economic and political partnership which involves 28 participating countries including the UK. It began after the Second World War in an attempt to stop Europe from turning on each other again and causing all manner of continued unpleasantness. Since it began, the concept of a ‘single market’ has now extended to allow not only goods but also people to move around the member states freely. *To be fair, Europe is also a place where students can go to get drunk when they are at university, especially if they are rich and can persuade mummy and daddy to pay for them to “go travelling” during their gap year.
3. The EU has its own currency – the euro – which Britain has shunned like a pestilence. When the euro was first proposed as a single currency system for the EU, the prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, declared that there were ‘five economic tests’ that must be met for the UK to accept the euro and ditch the pound. It was then Gordon Brown’s job to make sure that the euro failed all the tests, therefore safeguarding the future of the penny sweet.
4. Voters will be asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” and the options will be ‘remain a member of the EU’ or ‘leave the EU’. This is the kind of multiple choice question that you’d have killed for in a history exam because THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER. And no one will ask to see you workings out or expect you to write a bibliography crediting your sources.
5. There is a word which now stands as shorthand for ‘the UK leaving the EU’ which merges the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, a blatant copy of when the Greeks wanted to exit the EU and we called it ‘Grexit’. Brexit is a portmanteau word, two words blended into one to make a new word, but it’s not as good as affluenza (affluence/influenza), anticipointment (anticipation/disappointment), frenemy (friend/enemy), interrobang (interrogative/bang), screenager (screen/teenager), sharknado (shark/tornado) and chork (chopsticks/fork). It also sounds like a brand of incontinence pad.
6. British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over the age of 18 who live in the UK, UK nations who have lived overseas for less than 15 years, members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar – all can vote with their x in a box. You cannot vote with your ex in a box because the voting process is secret and the boxes are often quite small and it would be hard to fit both of you in at the same time.
7. David Cameron has agreed some new terms to the UK’s membership of the EU: I’d go into them in detail, but it would take quite a lot of time and then I’d have to explain how they differed to what he wanted and frankly we’d be here until June 23 and I’ve got things to do. Suffice it to say, a lot of it is about migrant welfare payments, migrant workers, limits on free movement and us keeping the pound because we think the euro is rubbish.
8. According to the latest polls, the British public are fairly split over the issue of staying in or leaving the EU. Like The Clash’s song, Should I Stay or Should I Go, the country is unsure as to whether we should cool it or blow, whether if we go there will be trouble or if we stay it will be doubled. But to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I’m not sure I want to be a member of a society that Nigel Farage belongs to, and he wants to leave the EU. The EU probably feels the same way about Nigel Farage. In a recent poll, 58pc of British people said they did not consider themselves to be European – the other 42pc remembered their geography lessons and realised that whether or not we consider ourselves to be European is by the by: we are.
9. People who want to leave the EU claim that it imposes too many rules and regulations on UK businesses and charges vast amounts of cash in membership fees for very little in return, a bit like joining a gym if you know that you’re never going to be bothered to actually go. Brexit supporters also want the UK to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming here from EU countries taking our jobs and our women and single-handedly propping up the NHS and doing all the jobs that British nationals think are too good for them.
10. Crucially, if we leave the EU, we would not be barred from the Eurovision Song Contest because the UK remains a member of the European Broadcasting Union which is why Israel gets away with having an entrant.