MY friend showed me a photo and said: “Here’s a picture of me when I was younger”. I said: “Every picture of you is when you were younger”.
I can only apologise for beginning this article by shamelessly borrowing a joke from the late American comedian Mitch Hedberg.
The facts have changed since the referendum, cry Remainers. In three and a half years, things are different now.
That once-in-a-generation decision that all parties agreed we were being offered can no longer be valid (according to them) now that a fraction of a generation has passed.
If we take a decision at an election, it doesn’t get revisited until either five years have passed or until another election is called. We didn’t get to say in 1992 after Black Wednesday was caused by a catastrophic economic decision “John Major’s doing an appalling job, let’s get rid of him”. No, we had to wait another four and a half years.
Referendum results are re-examined after a generation.
When we had the wrong referendum on electoral reform in 2011 (to change to AV instead of a fair system), we didn’t get a rerun. No, we’ll have to wait at least a decade and maybe longer to look at that again. Scottish people voted to stay British in 2014. There’s something wrong with a Scottish government trying to repeat that vote within just six years.
For that reason, Brexiteers like myself have tried to avoid refighting the EU referendum campaign. We look to the future outside the EU. There’s no point arguing about the merits of whether or not we should leave, when we’ve already taken that decision.
The democratic decision has been made and must be respected.
Now we face yet another mini-referendum in the form of a general election. No matter that Brexiteers needed to ‘win’ every time in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019 to get us to this point. Whether Brexiteers or Remainers succeed in December will determine our future. So, reluctantly, let’s go there. Let’s talk about the facts that have changed since 2016. Last week, while politicians
were busy calling a general election, the Pink Book dropped onto the Office for National Statistics website. The Pink Book is like a statement of the UK’s current account. It shows everything that the government has collected in taxes, and has spent on both good and pointless things. It tells us how money flows in and out.
For a statistician, it’s a dream. For a historian like myself, it’s a nightmare. This year, even political journalists – the people who are paid to keep an eye on things like this – barely noticed it. They were too busy covering the ‘will they, won’t they?’ Westminster soap opera about that election politicians kept demanding and then refusing to vote for.
One fact’s been completely missed. Remember the Boris bus, the much-derided £350m-per-week EU membership fee paid by the UK (terms and conditions apply)? It’s now £395m per week. The ‘terms and conditions’ are that we get some cashback in the form of a rebate, and the EU gives us some of our own money back in regional aid, farming subsidies and so on. All told, we get about half of our own money back – just like we did. So long as you point out the terms and conditions, it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that the EU membership fee is now a gross £395m per week. The gross figure is an overestimate; the net figure is an unfair underestimate because it assumes that every penny of EU funding has been spent properly and got value for money. It hasn’t.
Things haven’t stood still. We’re paying more and more to be members of the EU club. However bad EU legislation was in 2016, it’s worse in 2019.
We voted in 2016, before (for example) the pernicious Copyright Directive was passed, which will – once it fully takes effect – change the way the internet works. We voted in 2016, being promised that the EU army was a fiction. We now know better.