It’s confusing, right? Here we get insight from journalists Paris Lees and Owen Jones, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, artist Diana Chire and a Romanian cleaner called Linda
Europe, we love you but some people think you are letting us down. Each day, we come into contact with the European Union. We may have benefited from an Erasmus scheme, fallen in love with someone who can easily move across borders, or rely on someone, such as a doctor or a cleaner, who can only be here due to Britain’s membership.
But, on the other hand, the institutions of the European Union are far from perfect. Originally, Europe was meant to be a mechanism for peace, but under her name we turn away those seeking safety; we allow some people to move freely but not others. And, like Westminster, it isn’t perfectly democratic or accountable. So, why do we need it so much?
Brexit isn’t just about Politics with a capital P – an ‘out’ vote could impact on our identities and the way that we understand ourselves. With the power to affect even our food choices and friends, the referendum on Britain’s membership in European Union is more than just a political move. Nobody knows exactly what will happen, and the dialogue sounds hypothetical and vague from those who are meant to understand the political rhetoric. We decided to speak to people to understand what they think leaving may entail, and what being in Europe actually means on a day-to-day basis.
PARIS LEES, JOURNALIST AND ACTIVIST
Who do you trust? Obama, Merkel, Wolfgang Tillmans and Lily Cole, or Trump, Putin, Katie Hopkins, Murdoch, the Daily Mail and Boris Johnson?
Paris Lees: Oh gosh, when you put it like that! I’m gonna go with Obama and Merkel. The fact that Trump and Hopkins are pro-Brexit says it all really.
How do you imagine a Britain outside of the EU?
Paris Lees: I have no idea what Britain outside the EU might look like. It’s all very well saying we’re an important country and economy – and we are – but do these people who want to take us solo realise that the British Empire ended about 60 years ago? We were strong back in the day because we owned an Empire. Those days are gone and we’ve carved a niche for ourselves in modern Europe where we have a strong voice and influence. It just seems like utter madness to lose that in favour of sentimental nationalism and the vested interests of certain right-wing forces.
I don’t really see how we’re going to be any better off unless we start wielding some real economic power again – you look at growing economies like China and cultural developments in places like Dubai and that is where the energy is at now. I just feel like people want Britain to be ‘great’ again without any plan of what that will look like. Brexit now would be like leaving a nightclub without having a better plan of where to go and finding yourself out on the street, slowly sobering up in the cold, hoping for a taxi to pass by.
The way that you and (Belle de Jour writer) Dr Brooke Magnanti were spoken to in Parliament in a recent enquiry into sex work was quite shocking. Do you think staying in the EU will benefit those in the industry or should we be following examples from elsewhere?
Paris Lees: I don’t know whether Brexit will make a huge difference to sex worker rights, but my gut instinct is that it will be bad because Europe is founded on human rights and it is one of the values that binds us together. So anything that sets us apart from other people and undermines human rights is not going to be good for sex workers. Also, free movement across the EU is good for sex workers so they can get away from areas where they face abuse from the state. I can’t think of many other reasons, as the EU doesn’t particularly recognise sex workers’ rights.
OWEN JONES, JOURNALIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR
Why should young people be engaged with the EU debate?
Owen Jones: The polling shows that the most pro-EU part of the population is younger people. So, the younger you are the more likely you are to support the European Union. That reflects partly in terms of young people and also because of some of the benefits of membership. For example, workers’ rights. Often, young people will hold the most precarious jobs imaginable and, due to EU membership, we have standardised workers’ rights which prevent countries from undercutting one another which helps part-time workers.
It also helps with having paid leave. If we leave the European Union, what do people think a government led by Boris Johnson will do? Scrap them! It will leave younger workers affected. I think younger people are also more supportive of other people coming to live here; they seem to value the diversity of people coming from different backgrounds and countries more. I think being able to have freedom of movement younger people use. They can travel around and work abroad. They like being able to mix with people! I think if we leave and Boris Johnson comes to power, younger people will be the worst hit by cuts.
Under a more right-wing government than we already have, where this anti-migrant agenda seems to be vindicated, it will be younger people who suffer the most! So, if you hate the fact that you are indebted, your youth services are closed and you can’t get a secure job, that will only get worse if we end up with those protections from the EU being shredded and an even more right-wing Tory government coming to power.
Unfortunately, young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are the least likely to vote. What would you say to people to get them out in this referendum?
Owen Jones: If young people do not turn out in this referendum, Britain will leave the European Union. There is no question about that at all. The people most passionate about living the European Union are those who will go out and shout about it. A lot of younger people they take for granted that Britain is a member of the European Union and they don’t think that will change! But they will notice it when it is gone. I think young people will decide this referendum. It is not a time to be complacent, you have to make your voice heard.
One thing we have learned over the years that if politicians don’t think young people will make their voice heard, they will implement policies that attack them. If you think in terms of studying in different countries or friends that you have here, what do you think will happen to them if we don’t go out and vote to stay?
CAROLINE LUCAS, GREEN PARTY MP
Let’s talk about the environment. Has the EU done anything for it?
Caroline Lucas: I think the EU actually plays an incredibly important role when it comes to the environment. If you think about the Habitat Directive or the Birds Directive, those are key bits of European Law which give us the strongest protection we have for our precious green spaces and bird species. They also mean that there is a common bottom line across the EU, we can’t have corporations citing themselves somewhere where there are more lax environmental standards.
Does anyone think that our current government would keep these environmental protections? If so, I would respectfully say that they have not been paying attention! We have a prime minister who talks about getting rid of the ‘green crap’ and we have a chancellor who thinks these protection laws, the ones I have just been talking about, are ‘ridiculous burdens on British business’.
Then we have Boris Johnson. If he became prime minister, he doesn’t even think climate change is a problem. This makes the EU vital if we are serious about protecting these spaces. Finally, the very obvious point that environmental problems are cross-border. They don’t sit at borders with their passports waiting to be checked through. Air pollution, climate change, all these things – they cannot be tackled by one country alone.
What do you think are the best things that the EU has brought us, and the negatives as well?
Caroline Lucas: I’d be the first to say that it needs to be much more democratic and accountable, but I would say the same about the House of Commons at Westminster! Nobody is suggesting that we leave that! We need to stay in it to reform it. In terms of the best things, I would say workers’ rights. They are absolutely guaranteed, not just in British law, but also EU law means that corporations cannot play people off against each other. Personally, I get very moved by the fact that a continent that had been ridden by conflict came together to decide to try to address its problems through debate and discussion rather than bullets and bombs. I am not saying that the EU is the only force for peace, but it has been that, which I don’t think we should forget.
DIANA CHIRE, ARTIST
So, you are planning to move to Berlin – which you wouldn’t be able to do if it wasn’t for free movement (within the EU). Do you think that leaving would harm arts and culture? Or leave artists stranded because there are a lot of Londoners currently living in different European cities due to cost?
Diana Chire: Yes, it would harm the arts. The UK is losing an artist. Lots of artists are doing the same as me. The harm is being caused by soaring rental prices and cost of living. But also we’re seeing a decline in the esteem art is seen in. People aren’t taught how to appreciate art and how important it can be culturally, politically and in day-to-day life. So the harm has already been done.
I’m leaving because of the harms of an agenda that has systematically placed science and maths above creativity and art. Because they make money, graduates are told to make money and do science. That is neoliberalism, education as a means to an end. It degrades art, art becomes a hobby. But it can’t just be a hobby, it’s vital to a community or society to help them appreciate beauty and ugliness because it reflects what is around them. The cuts to arts this government has made and is continuing to make is what’s harming and stranding artists and art in the UK.
Do you see yourself as British or a European? What does the EU mean to you in terms of identity?
Diana Chire: I have a British passport but I wasn’t born in the UK. I was born in Egypt. I feel pressured to ID as British when I live here and I’m treated as a non-British. It’s surprising that someone doesn’t want to or naturally ID as British? What comes with that? The unique British values that Cameron talks about? It’s just to make people comfortable with the fucked colonial history we have. If former colonised people ID as British then everything is OK? Well, it’s definitely not.
How do you feel about your future in Britain if we were to leave the EU?
Linda: Well, very uncertain. Coming here from Romania, I am not sure if I would be sent back and forced to leave! I feel like we do a job that not everyone wants to do, and we do it well here. You don’t know where people are from in the UK, voting to leave might mean a lot of familiar faces you rely on disappear.
What about your relationships?
Well, I mean, the idea sounds racist to me. I would lose my boyfriend if I had to move back. It’s just saying we only want British nationals or rich people to be able to reside in our country. It would be such a regressive step. People need to look around and realise how the whole of their society would change… and not in a good way.
Do you feel protected by the EU?
Linda: Yes. On a basic level, I know that I cannot be ripped off because of the ways that it protects workers’ rights. Without that, the British government wouldn’t have to pay standard wages… and I think your government is the same one who wanted to scrap the human rights act!