The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Wednesday 22 June 2016

Image: Niklas Halle'n / Getty Images

The Monocle view: Remain

European nations used to fight wars; now they have arguments in airless rooms about the size of bananas. It may not be exciting but it is undoubtedly progress. This didn’t happen by accident. At the end of the Second World War, after tens of millions of Europeans had been killed for the second time in a generation, the democratically elected leaders of Europe came together to try to ensure it didn’t happen again. And, 70 years on, it hasn’t. It’s the longest period of peace and prosperity Europe has ever known.

Tomorrow, UK voters will decide whether they want to remain part of what has now become a 28-member, 500-million-strong union. An imperfect union, yes. A union whose leaders have been unable to deal with two major crises in the past decade – the flow of refugees and a still-unresolved financial disaster – yes, absolutely. But a union that has kept the peace, boosted trade and brought central and eastern Europe into the West.

At stake isn’t just the UK’s membership of the EU; it’s also a vote on what sort of nation it wants to be. Is it a nation open to the rest of the world, or closed? The campaign, both in tone and content, has suggested the latter. Never before has Great Britain looked more like Little England. All political campaigns are rough, all bend the truth at times, but few have descended into a post-fact world of lies, half-truths and deliberately misleading statements as much as that run by the Leave camp. It has been nasty and vitriolic, blaming foreigners for the UK’s woes and smearing anyone who dares oppose them.

Those who want the UK to remain have been castigated as “paid-up Euro propagandists”; Barack Obama was dismissed by Boris Johnson as “part-Kenyan”. Everyone in favour of remaining is a plant or a vested interest. The words “plot”, “collusion” and “conspiracy” are never far away from a Leaver’s lips. It’s a campaign best summed up by one, now infamous image: Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-immigration UK Independence Party, standing in front of a poster of Syrian and Afghan refugees with the words “BREAKING POINT” in bold red letters. Other Leave campaigners may have tried to disown it but this is what their campaign has amounted to: foreigners are coming.

Immigrants and foreigners have become the convenient scapegoat for every ill that ever befell the UK yet there is little truth to back it up. Britain doesn’t have enough council houses because most of them were sold off and not replaced. There are not enough school places because the education budget has been cut and local authorities are banned from opening new schools. It is difficult to get an appointment at the GP surgery and the wait is too long at hospitals because not enough doctors and nurses have been trained. (Incidentally, those migrants blamed by the Leave camp staff the National Health Service to the tune of tens of thousands).

Making a positive case for immigration isn’t a popular pursuit in the UK but here goes: our economy is stronger, our culture is better and our cities are more vibrant thanks to those who have chosen to make this country their home. They create businesses, work in public services and are leading figures in the worlds of art, science and education. Some do the jobs the rest of the UK would rather not: picking fruit, cleaning offices, caring for the elderly. They are our friends, our partners, our family. At Monocle they are our colleagues too: on our editorial floor more than a dozen languages are spoken and there are more than two dozen different passports. Without them our magazine, radio station and films would be a poorer, more insular product.

One aspect of this neverending referendum campaign that has been all but ignored in the UK is the effect of the vote on the rest of the continent; our friends in Europe have looked on in bafflement. From left and right, north and south, mainstream European politicians want the UK to stay. So too do voters. Polls in Sweden and Germany have overwhelmingly backed Britain remaining in the union. Monuments from Paris’s Eiffel Tower to Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science have been lit up in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack.

They know, perhaps better than most Britons, why a strong European Union is necessary. And they know too that the union is stronger if the UK remains a member. This much is clear: if we decide to leave it will have a profoundly negative impact on the rest of the continent. The only Europeans who will be celebrating are Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Vladimir Putin.

We do not expect a Monocle editorial to sway many of those who have their heart set on leaving. But we believe the case has to be made for a Britain that is open to the rest of the world, a Britain that thrives on its diversity, a Britain that is liberal and proud of it. With our heart and our head, we’re voting to remain.

Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Images

Poll position

Tomorrow’s referendum may not be the only time Brits head to the polls this year. If the nation decides to leave the EU most political analysts expect prime minister David Cameron to swiftly step down. The Conservative party will choose a new leader – almost certainly a Brexiteer – who will automatically become prime minister, without the need for a fresh general election. Yet given how the Leave campaign has spent the past few months loudly decrying the supposed lack of democracy in the EU, a new prime minister may decide that he (and it almost certainly will be a “he”) needs a fresh mandate. Britain may not want another divisive election so swiftly after last year’s – and, of course, the referendum – but that could be what it’s voting for.

Image: David Fiske

Winging it?

There are many things up in the air when it comes to the possibility of Brexit – including air travel itself. In the 1990s the EU created a single aviation market, which allows any airline owned and controlled within a EU member state to operate anywhere within the EU without restrictions on capacity, frequency or pricing. That means that a UK air carrier, for example, can operate domestic flights in Germany or a French airline can fly freely from Lisbon to London. Yet if the UK were to leave the EU it would no longer have access to this liberalised market, which could affect anything from flight prices to the number of destinations available. Other pan-European carriers who operate in the UK would also be affected. Some have pointed out that the UK could retain its regional flying rights by joining the European Common Aviation Area as a non-EU member like Iceland and Norway have done – but, like negotiating access to the EU’s single trading market, that would take time and could face turbulence.

Image: Ana Cuba

Business talk

Much of the UK referendum debate in recent months has centred on the economic prospects of the UK outside of the EU. Though the Leave campaign has predicted the UK will be able to forge its own trade agreements with other countries and cement strong relationships independent of the EU, big business isn’t convinced. In recent weeks top executives at Rolls-Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, General Electric, Marks and Spencer and Random House UK, to name but a few, have publicly backed staying in the EU. Yet it’s not just large corporations that favour Remain; small businesses in the UK are also leaning toward staying. The most recent poll done by the Federation of Small Business showed that 47 per cent of its members planned to vote to stay in the EU versus the 41 per cent considering voting to leave.

Image: Susan Walsh/PA Images

Canada’s call

Last month Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau urged British voters to opt to stay within the EU, adding his voice to that of other world leaders – including Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe, Malcolm Turnbull and Xi Jinping – who have spoken out against Brexit. Like theirs, Trudeau’s plea isn’t solely an emotional one. As Canada's third largest trading partner, the UK is a significant player in the country's export economy. Recent figures released by the OECD suggest Canada’s already troubled economy could be vulnerable in the wake of a Brexit: it could lose up to CA$4bn (€2.8bn) a year. That is a smaller sum that many European countries – including the UK – fear they would lose in the event of a Leave vote. But for Canada, struggling to calm an economic storm at home, the loss of exports to the UK would be particularly keenly felt.

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