EUChoose - Be An Individual In A New Europe

07/09/2016 14:04

If we're to believe reports coming out of Theresa May's office it looks likely that she'll be triggering Article 50 without a Parliamentary debate, something which, by many people's standards, further degrades the legitimacy of Brexit and leaves it open to one of several legal challenges currently being mounted.

If we look at the way the referendum was conducted as a whole, it's clear that it was no more democratic than our anachronistic first past the post electoral system. A process that put a government in power with only 24% of the votes of the registered electorate.

Similarly, in the case of the referendum an even smaller margin decided the fate of all of us. For example a 3% swing would have led to a remain vote with 2% giving us stalemate. Ultimately the vote of just one person could theoretically have made the difference between us keeping our place in the EU and losing it.

As an internationalist, I've often speculated that the increased intellectual and economic exchanges afforded by technology are already making the idea of nation states and rigid borders somewhat anachronistic. In that context should the concept of an international union need to be defined by geographical boundaries or physical place, or could we just as easily decide as individuals or organisations to remain in or leave the EU?

My friend and Oxford City Green Party councillor Craig Simmons contacted me recently with very much the same idea. He's fleshed out the concept in more detail and suggests it's not quite as outlandish as it first seems. He points out that there are many UK nationals employed overseas who are still bound by UK tax laws and, as we know to our cost, companies trading within the EU are still able to use legal means to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

As he says "the EU is an abstract set of mutually agreed rules and regulations that can apply, with certain exceptions, anywhere and to anyone, in the world" He has branded this idea 'EUChoose', and even though it may be little more than a thought experiment at the moment, it's not a completely unachievable aim.

For example, any new trade deal with the EU could include an opt-in for companies that would rather see an overall contribution paid to stay as members of a free market, rather than stump up individual tariffs every time they move goods across Europe. Something akin to a season ticket or an annual bulk levy perhaps.

Under these proposals, individuals who want to remain in the EU could simply retain their EU passports, affording the right to live, work or retire anywhere in the EU. They would also still be able to access to all the individual benefits that EU membership provides such as emergency healthcare and enhanced employment rights. Members could also elect UK representatives to the European Parliament giving them a continued influence in European affairs, albeit a reduced one.

Individual EU members would, of course, have to pay for that benefit, and this could be done via an individually-levied EU Tax. Craig estimates this would be about £500 per person per annum. There's a good case for Government covering all or most of this out of general taxation as they do now, based on the benefits that members would be receiving and the boost to our economy that would result.

Businesses or other organisations would similarly opt-in by registering as an 'EU entity' which would provide them with preferential trading rights with the rest of the EU. They would continue to bear the added responsibility of complying with an EEA-like set of rules and regulations, but this would essentially be a continuation of current practice.

Such organisations would retain access to the EU grants and other support programmes denied to those choosing to opt-out. They would of course not be subject to import/export levies that may become a fact of life if or when we leave the free trade zone.

Such a scheme is not without its challenges. For example, the UK Government would have to agree not to repeal or undermine existing UK laws linked to EU Directives which apply geographically, such as those dealing with air quality. Agreement would also have to be reached on how to deal with other EU nationals wanting to reside in the UK.

There would also of course be issues with anything related to physical borders which would include free movement or workers, although that might be addressable if workers coming to the UK were directly 'sponsored' by a company or even a union or trade body. The same would probably have to apply in reverse.

Taking into account increasing reports of 'bregret', we now have more than half the country feeling that they've had their views overridden by a campaign of disinformation, their votes ignored or stolen by political misdirection.

None of us really know what a post-Brexit Britain will look like. But as the realities become clear, EUChoose would allow repositioning of individual and national aspiration, rather than a narrow majority dragging half the country down a path it doesn't want to be on.

If the purpose of democracy is to reflect the wishes of everybody, shouldn't we all have an individual option to decide where we now stand on something so personally important to us? If you were given a real choice now, what would EUchoose?