Sadiq

Here is Sadiq Khan, newly elected Mayor of London, on the EU today:

I believe being part of Europe will mean more jobs and opportunities for all Londoners and more trade, business and exports for our city.

We also know it will help protect our workers’ rights, improve London’s air quality and ensure women’s rights in the workplace are respected – helping us crack the glass ceiling.

But the clincher for me is that international collaboration is in our city’s DNA. In London we have always looked outwards, formed new partnerships and learned from others.

These are the values that have shaped our city’s history. London did not become the great, vibrant city it is today by taking an isolationist approach or by putting up new barriers.

I’m going to leave aside the recent fuss over economic arguments and presume that the Institute of Fiscal Studies knows what it’s talking about. I’m going to grant him the first point. Let’s assume for the moment that there will be more jobs and opportunities and more trade business and exports. I’m not convinced about this, but he can have it.

However, the second point he makes is at the heart of what is, for me, the clincher argument in this referendum. Democracy, autonomy and sovereignty. Khan is Mayor of London. One might have thought that the quality of the air in London would be something that he would want to ensure himself. One might have thought that he would intervene to defend women’s rights if they were being infringed, and workers’ rights likewise. Indeed, given Khan’s left of centre politics, it is reasonable to believe that he might do all of these. Perhaps then, he is worried that some future, Conservative, or perhaps even less liberal, politician might be in charge. What a relief, he seems to imply, that even in these circumstances, where the people of London have voted for such a person, the EU is there to intervene, to stop them from doing what they may have promised the electorate, and to ensure that there are some values that will never be infringed. In other words, so long as we’re in the EU, politicians whose values are substantially different from those of the EU will never be able to legislate in opposition to them.

Personally, I think workers’ rights, women’s rights, and air quality are all fine things to respect, and I am glad that Sadiq does too. But why should it be deemed necessary or desirable, never mind whether or not it is even democratic, to have another body sitting above the UK legislature which will ensure that our laws do not exceed given margins? It may not matter much when those margins are well outside what we would choose to do ourselves anyway, but what about when they are not? Mr Khan will be aware of his predecessor’s fight to have regulations for lorry design changed to reduce the huge number of deaths to cyclists caused by them. Failure to get agreement across the EU for the change means that lorries will continue to cause harm across the continent, and not only need not be changed by member countries but may not be changed. Somehow, Mr Khan fails to mention this.

It may of course be objected (and will be, doubtless) that any kind of trade deal with the EU will require us to legislate to conform to regulations and directives anyway. This is one of the biggest objections to the sovereignty argument. You may think you have sovereignty, but if, in practice you have to pass all the same laws you would in any case have been subject to from Brussels, what’s your freedom worth. My answer is rather a lot. There is the world of difference between on the one hand, Parliament legislating to conform to what it has decided is in our best interests on an adaptable case by case basis, and on the other hand continuing in the status quo, a single decision in 1972 to submit to all future EU legislation, whatever it may bring. For me, whatever the crash in the stockmarket, whether we get the £8 billion or less, however the housing market may flounder, all would be a price worth paying for the recovery of the power of our elected houses to legislate in the interests of the UK.

Legal and constitutional pedants will observe, quite rightly, that the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy remains, and that we can legislate to leave at any time, without having a referendum – or, strictly speaking, observing the mechanism for departure to which we have agreed by treaty; however, it would be an executive brave to the point of terrifying folly – a whole cabinet of Trumps – to actually pull that off. We confirmed our 1973 entry to Europe by the 1975 referendum, and if we leave it is likely to be by referendum, and they will not come along with any frequency. Now is your chance.

As for Mr Khan’s other points, they unforgivably substitute membership of the EU for international cooperation. The two, as can scarcely need pointing out, are far from identical. Other countries cooperate, other countries trade, with us as with each other. 44% of UK exports may indeed be with the EU countries. That means that 56% of them are not. London couldn’t survive if the EU were all there was. Let’s not pretend that the larger part of its work is not also the product of international cooperation and partnership, nor that its success was forged only once we joined the EEC, as it then was. The EU will be there whichever side of its fence we are on, and it would be a pretty silly pundit who predicted that it would refuse to cooperate with us at all.

(Or will it be there? There are, of course, those who claim that without us the EU would collapse, that we are essential to its continuing success. These are, however, sometimes the same people who will tell us that we simply can’t go it alone, and there’s no point trying to think we can be like Norway, Switzerland or Canada (or, Heaven forbid, go it alone in our own way). These arguments aren’t necessarily in conflict – it may be that we need them and they need us – but they don’t sit well together. But if, as seems to be the case, the long term European project is for ‘ever closer union’, whether or not we have an opt-out, if our ultimate plan is not to be part of that superstate – and surely it is – then there isn’t really much to be gained, and much to be lost, either by remaining a member with subsidiary status – a kind of Puerto Rico –  or by encouraging the development and growth of that superstate like a cuckoo in our nest. The collapse of the EU, despite what some have implied, doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the state of Europe as it was after the Second World War.)

But for real Remain silliness, you have to have listened to Mr Khan talking to Martha Kearney on the BBC Radio 4’s World at One:

‘When you walk across any high street in London, one of the joys is popping into a Spanish tapas bar, or an Italian restaurant, or seeing fashion from Milan and also from Paris, and Barcelona and also London, that’s the joys of being a global city, and what we need to do is recognise the huge benefits of being a member of the European Union’.

I don’t know whether Mr Khan lived in London in 1972 – well, I didn’t when I started that sentence, but I see that he did, but he was only 2. Still, even in his dopier moments – and perhaps this was one of them – he must realise two very obvious things. First, we did actually have Spanish, Italian and French restaurants before we were in the European Union. People came to England from those countries, and we went there, precisely as freely as we do now[1]. It has never been necessary to have a visa to go to France, and because we’re not in the Schengen area, we still need a passport. Second – and rather unfortunately for one of Mr Khan’s heritage – he makes no mention of those other cuisines contributing to the ‘vibrancy’ of London – the Lebanese, Szechuan, Turkish, Pakistani and Indian restaurants, none of which nations, in case he had not noticed, are in the EU.

There are only really two explanations for this nonsense. Either Mr Khan genuinely didn’t know this – which is a somewhat deplorable lacuna in awareness for the Mayor of London – or he does know it, and still feels he can pass it off as an argument for remaining. If the latter, what does it tell us about either the standard of debate on the referendum or Mr Khan’s trustworthiness in, well, anything very much?

 

[1] Maybe not Spain, which was a dictatorship, but that’s a whole other argument.

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