WITH the various Brexit supporting factions being caricatured as an unintentional homage to Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the modern day empire of their classic question ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ is certainly the controversial European Union project.
Whether it’s the pint-sinking man of the people cum commodity broker Nigel Farage leading a dwindling onslaught against the union, the tax loathing moderates of Vote Leave, Kettering euro-sceptic front Grassroots Out, or veteran campaign Better Off Out, the freedom fighters who advocated English cricket tours of apartheid South Africa, there’s certainly no lack of players in an increasingly fragmented offensive.
With, however, the Romans already having left bronze-age Britain with irrigation, public baths and a collection of ruins worthy of Feder Fund protection, what exactly has the EU ever done for us?
Somewhat ironically, given the typical charges levied against the union, the greatest benefits have been offering some modicum of protection against the unelected invisible monolith that is international capitalism. Basic benefits such as cheaper wine (due to a 1980’s ECJ ruling), cheap flights (due to the 1992 liberalisation of the airline market), and a cap on mobile roaming charges (since 2007 regulation took effect), make an unseen daily difference to our modern lives.
More substantive benefits include the right to state healthcare and social security abroad, and consumer rights when making purchases from EU countries. Cross-border trade for small businesses has become an indispensible tool for local economies, while structural funding has helped areas hit by terminal decline following Thatcher’s de-industrialisation schemes.
Other regulations with measurable impact can be easily rattled off. Cleaner air, lead-free petrol, recycling, food labelling, hormone bans, price transparency, holiday entitlement, labour rights, equal pay, collaborative scientific research, diplomatic strength, counter terrorism, police and military intelligence cooperation, human rights legislation, and straight bananas.
Of course Norway is a prime example of a nation, not officially in the EU, but closely affiliated, and undeniably enjoying many of the above benefits. It would be ridiculous to suggest that, by leaving the EU, Britain would by definition sell off all its assets to big finance, enable 70 hour working weeks, pollute the rivers and decapitate political antagonists at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
The question revolves around political philosophies. Many who are happy to remain in the EU radiate a certain mistrust of the direction Britain would take without the harness of collective regulations. They might look at the legacy of Thatcherism, the tight knit relationship between hedge fund management, government bureaucracy, media barons, the military industrial complex, all the small things which many in Scotland sought to escape, and consider a superior arbitrator in the people’s best interests.
Others, of course, might see the EU as an encroaching Trojan horse which essentially embraces a neo-liberal agenda yet cloaks motives in the inspiring rhetoric of freedom and progress. While others simply believe Britain should be entirely sovereign and have full control over border policies and financial policies, giving far too much credence to the power of their government with or without the EU.
The question isn’t so much what has the EU done for us? The real question is what kind of Britain would emerge without it?