The UK leaving the EU risks giving up the same influence and Freedom of Movement (FoM) that Americans take for granted.
Having been lucky enough to visit America on a few occasions, one of the things I find most striking about it is its scale and openness. The fact that you can drive for thousands of miles and not get to the end of it, the huge range of different climates and landscapes that exist within its borders, the fact that Americans can choose to live and work in any of these radically different places. As a resident of Dominic Raab’s small peculiar geographic entity (or island as I have always preferred to call it) the great expanse of the North American continent feels liberating. The European continent is of course a similar land mass; you can get this same sense of space and freedom when visiting continental Europe, for example where signposts in Vienna give distances to Budapest, Prague etc. giving me a slight feeling of being in a cold-war era spy film!
The EU, whilst avoiding the europhobe’s bête noir of a “United States of Europe”, gives us a flavour of the freedom to roam that US citizens enjoy; I can currently (although apparently not for much longer) consider living in the glorious scenery of the Alps, the sunny climes of Southern Spain, or any number of vibrant European cities. This freedom is in addition to the opportunity to live in many fantastic places in the UK, in case someone was to suggest that I am a hater of my own country!
So, I consider FoM to be one of the big advantages of being in the EU, which I don’t appreciate being taken away from me. It would seem, despite Mrs May’s protestations, that a majority of people agree. In a recent survey commissioned for Channel 4, 63% of people agreed that “we should allow UK and EU citizens to live and work freely in each other’s countries in order to secure a deal with Brussels”. Nigel Farage expressed disbelief at this result on the accompanying program that discussed the results of the survey; it is however not surprising that a balanced question that presents the benefits as well as obligations of policy would produce a different result to the more typical one-sided question about FoM. Who for instance would want to sign up to an arrangement presented only as a requirement to spend 8-10 hours a day away from your nearest and dearest and be restricted in your freedom to do what you want during this time? But throw in the additional fact that you will in return get paid then the equation looks much more appealing!
The other aspect of the USA that their citizens take for granted is the power that their country wields. American exceptionalism is backed up (to an extent that isn’t true of the English kind) by economic facts. Their economic power is currently only seriously challenged by China and the EU. The UK in the EU can influence its economic direction and priorities to the UK’s advantage, whereas once out of it we will be a medium-sized fish in a sea of very large sharks. Brexit enthusiasts are keen to state that on some measures we are the 5th largest economy in the world, but in the context of the power needed to stand up to corporations and the largest economies in the world this is a bit like a flea arguing that it is the 5th largest animal in the elephant house (perhaps that is enough animal comparisons for one paragraph)!
The irony is that Brexit enthusiasts tend to have an affinity with the USA and a desire for a closer relationship/trade deals with it. This is probably based on their fondness for a supposed low-regulation utopia. But by supporting Brexit they are relegating the UK to an inferior relationship with the USA. This contrasts with the one that we currently enjoy with them through the EU – which is a relationship of near equals. It seems perverse for people to rail against the undoubted compromises required to be part of the EU whilst advocating that we re-align to what will be a series of far more subservient relationships with more remote (and uncaring) partners.
Power and influence can be seen negatively of course, as a way of bullying smaller countries. But I see the power of being in the EU as potentially enabling us to resist moves from other countries and corporations to imperil our working conditions and environmental protections. Over time this economic clout could (and should) be used to extend the protection of the environment and basic human dignity in the workplace out into supply chains outside of the EU (to the advantage of people inside and outside of the EU). There was some discussion of the EUs ability to project power beyond its borders in Sir Ivan Rogers recent speech – there is very little chance of the UK being able project power in this way on its own.
Despite all the above I can imagine that Brexit supporters would say “so what” – what is the point of economic power and influence if it doesn’t benefit me? What use is the freedom to move to different European countries if people are struggling just to make ends meet? I would agree that the benefits of being in the EU have seemingly been allowed to accrue to too limited a demographic. This has (in the main) been a failure of UK policy, for example by not enforcing the controls available on FoM; and insufficient investment in infrastructure, housing and training. That is why, if the fall-out from the likely parliamentary rejection of Theresa May’s deal results in a closer alignment with the EU/a 2nd referendum, there needs to be a radical new offer to the left-behind parts of the country to show how things will be different in future. This, rather than a slightly pathetic begging letter full of utter nonsense, is what is needed to bring the country together.