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By | Damon Hart-Davis 22nd June 2016 12:53

Why you should Vote Remain: Bananas, bathwater and babies

Better the devil EU know?

Comment I like this tweet:

Never mind any arguments about the UK being sucked into a superstate and whether that's a good thing or the work of the Devil / communists / BoJo, let's not unravel an organisation that seems to have moved a big chunk of our continental European backyard on from war-war to jaw-jaw.

Before the Cold War ended I was regularly scared about the four-minute warning, and my parents' generation were tangled up in WWII, foreigners were frightening, different was bad.

I don't want my kids to have those kinds of worries or prejudices.

I enjoy working and studying with people from different backgrounds; it's fun and enlightening and is not all about stealing our women/jobs/BoJo.

I've had a whale of a time my entire adult life from uni onwards benefiting from freedom of (my and others') movement, European and beyond. I have worked for big institutions in tech in the City of London and, now, I’m in tech startup land.

And a good point from the bloke about to fix my guttering, that we have no bloody clue what will happen if we leave, whereas the Devil EU know is much more predictable for good or ill, and every business from his to City types hate unnecessary uncertainty…

The big problem with the straight in/out question is that I suspect Cameron never thought he'd actually have to follow through on it, given a likely Tory minority at the last election. Now he's ignited a nakedly populist and horribly oversimplified debate, like the surreal Donny Darko 'fear/love' classroom scene.

As it happens, since you haven’t asked but might be wondering, my a la carte EU feast might look like this:

  • Free movement of people and money, with some effort to minimise benefit/health tourism by the truly feckless
  • EU-wide standards for products such as those of my previous financial startup and my current energy saver; I only want to have to develop and certify/comply once, not 28 times, to reach a half-billion-person market
  • Eventually something like the Euro, when everyone has stopped cooking the books, ignoring rules that they invented but now don't like, putting in their own placemen in positions of authority, sabotaging it for short-term domestic politics, and so on; a widely circulated dependable common currency seems to serve the US well...
  • Maybe not much more political union for us unless/until the views of UK punters converge with those of the EU 'core' countries; no hurry on this one since there's scope for more integration in fridge-freezer efficiency labels (and Daily Mail compulsory outrage) than in many other of the 'social' aspects that might make some squirm.


If we could vote on “common market” and “ever-closer political union” separately then I suspect the entire discussion would be very different and much less fraught.

I feel strongly that being in the EU is hugely advantageous to my business.*

It is amazing, for example, that my consumer technology products can reach a near order of magnitude larger audience than my home UK by adhering to common standards such as safety, radio and data/privacy, that the UK helps write, and that demagogues and petty bureaucrats in potential export markets cannot block on a whim, and that I can communicate and travel easily and cheaply within the EU; potentially throwing that baby away with the ideological bathwater is stupid.

I also feel that being in the EU benefits me personally, for instance, as a defence against local knee-jerk narrow-mindedness at Westminster, as well by promoting positive aspects of culture, friendship and common cause.

My consumer technology products can reach a near order of magnitude larger audience than my home UK by adhering to common standards such as safety and radio and data/privacy that the UK helps write and that demagogues and petty bureaucrats in potential export markets cannot block

But this whole debate is so badly framed and poisoned with corrosive (and many untrue) assertions and trashy tribalism that I have had to keep any serious discussion of it away from my business' social media and other communications.

I changed my votes in the recent London mayoral elections based on the candidates' Brexit positions because my livelihood depends in part on their actions, but I wonder if I wasn't being a tiny bit tribal too?

It remains awfully convenient for domestic politicians to blame “Europe” for stopping them doing things that they'd rather not do anyway with any sense, or for holding us to things that we'd recoil from for short-term political gain, such as maintaining clean beaches and clean air ("expensive", "too hard").

Who from either side of the argument really wants to dispense with that handy bogeyman often personified by an apparently sniffy continental politician that just invites ad hominem covering fire?

So if we leave, far from gaining any extra control over our interactions with our largest market, we may just trash the entire game. A Forbes blogger summarised billionaire George Soros as so: "In Europe, Soros believes that a push in the United Kingdom to exit the European Union could destabilize the Eurozone, especially as a migration crisis engenders rising nationalism."

It is said that the rise of nationalism and more extreme populist positions is fuelled by the poorly-performing global economy since 2008, on the entirely understandable basis that if you're not feeling well off you're less likely to feel generous to “others” not exactly like you.

On top of everything else, I'm disturbed by the correlation between those supporting "out" and those that have a habit of ignoring inconvenient science and facts, for example around climate change. There are some honourable exceptions, but unhappily few.

Fix it up, don't burn it down

None of which is to say that the current state of the EU is perfect. Sometimes it is worth tearing something down and starting again or not doing it again at all. That applies to political constructs as much as IT projects.

But I don't think that this is one of those cases or one of those times. If people are hurting because of a struggling world economy, then, unless you think that the UK being in the EU is a significant direct cause, it makes no sense to shake the tree vigorously right now since the likely result is prolonged and deeper pain especially for the UK itself.

Any time anyone says "The EU didn't do X entirely right," especially when X is long-term or unpopular or non-obvious, I think: "But would I trust a UK government on its election cycle less or more?" A little distance from the political hurly-burly on balance improves those decisions, in a similar way that the House of Lords can within the UK.

The EU is a fixer-upper. Refactor. Why not push more of the enterprise and creativity (and probity and humour, even!) of the UK into EU institutions and make it work better for everyone? It's the same approach that I take to the NHS and schools in my own life; I work to make them work well for me and everyone else rather than attempting to buy my way out of them.

I know whether burning bridges or working together is the better general policy. This is a very important decision.

Devil's dictionary

If you're cynical at least view the EU in Ambrose Bierce's terms:

Alliance: in international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third.

Let's not be that third. ®


Full disclosure: my startup OpenTRV has received funding from EU and UK government sources.

Balance – we've heard of it

For the other side: Read Andrew Orlowski's plea to Leave here

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