As an Irish person in the UK, the Brexit debate is both baffling and embarrassing to me 5 years ago

As an Irish person in the UK, the Brexit debate is both baffling and embarrassing to me

Britain votes today on whether or not to remain a part of the European Union. Here, writer Kevin Beirne, who lives and works in the UK, addresses the British people, having observed the contentious referendum debate as an 'outsider'.

Try as I might, I'll never really understand you Brits. In theory, I really should. I grew up just over the Irish Sea from you in Dublin - the most British part of the Republic of Ireland. I grew up watching English TV shows and supporting an English football team. But I just don't get you.

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On Thursday you will vote whether or not you want to remain in the European Union. When I came to live in the UK, I arrived on a boat in order to both avoid baggage charges and to make my story of emigration/immigration more cliched - and quickly tried to integrate myself into this strangely familiar foreign land.

I started drinking ale and learned the difference between "isn't it?" and "innit". But just like those poor excuses for sausages you have over here, I just can't wrap my head around how politics works in this country.

Sure, Irish politics has its own myriad political problems, but at least we try to act like grown-ups while denying women bodily autonomy and forcing non-heterosexual people to argue the validity of their livelihoods during a same-sex marriage referendum.

I'm not trying to pick on one side or the other, but as an outsider still getting to grips with the political landscape in Britain, it all seems a bit funny.

A week before the referendum, chief Leave campaigner and UKIP leader Nigel Farage led a flotilla of boats down the Thames to show support for British fishers who have been "devastated" by the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, which might be the least bit convincing of he had turned up for more than just one of the 42 meetings of the European Parliament's fisheries committee during his three years as part of the committee.

It seems to be a strange habit of the Leave campaign for prominent figures like Farage and British justice secretary Michael Gove to promise that if Britain leaves the EU, they will start doing literally the opposite of what they have been doing for years.

"The EU is too bureaucratic!" cries Michael Gove, a man who contrived a situation whereby all schools in the country must somehow perform above average and paved the way for turning them all into academies. During his time as Secretary of State for Education, Gove literally did not understand how averages work.

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But all of this bald-faced lying to the British public is learned behaviour, of course. David Cameron is just seeing his own tactic used against him for once.

The Tories implemented austerity, and continue to do so even in the face of increasing evidence that it hits the most vulnerable the hardest and does very little to help the economy. In fact, there are reasons to believe it actually harms economic growth.

Of course, the likes of Gove and Johnson backed this austerity plan which now cripples working class areas, so they can't come out and blame themselves, can they? No, it's much easier to pretend that competition for school places is increasing because of a mass influx of foreigners and not because they have cut funding to schools while the NHS strains under the weight of immigrants rather than be propped up by foreign nurses and doctors.

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There's a worrying doublethink that has somehow taken hold during this referendum. Immigrants are both taking your jobs away and are too lazy to work. Neo-liberal politicians who have championed the privatisation of public services are suddenly the best people to protect services like the NHS. And, most confusingly, the EU is both totally useless and all-powerful.

This sort of thinking leads to situations whereby both sides can claim their way is the best way to support business but then dismiss any business owners with dissenting opinions on the grounds they stand to profit from voting a certain way. Or how a host of the world's top thinkers can say Brexit would have a negative impact on the economy and Michael Gove can once again move the goalposts by saying the British public have "had enough of experts" as if that's a legitimate contribution to public debate.

 

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Politicians lying to the people or spouting nonsense in order to serve their own best interests is hardly new, but the way in which it is being done in the UK is rather shocking. When we reach a point where a man stabs and shoots a sitting MP in broad daylight and then gives his name as "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain", we should probably ask what the hell is going on?

Nigel Farage and co can try to claim innocence when saying they have done nothing to stoke up the fears of murderous immigrants coming in and stealing British jobs but that doesn't mean you have to believe them.

On the day Jo Cox was brutally murdered, Farage proudly unveiled an pro-Leave advert which carried more than a passing similarity to Nazi propaganda in the 1930s. It's not Godwin's Law to compare it to Nazi propaganda when it literally mirrors Nazi propaganda.

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When it's that easy to compare what you're doing to the Nazis, then you should probably take a step back and look at the wider picture.

Because a lot of the issues I've heard bandied about in favour of leaving the EU could just as easily be levelled against the current British government and the current state of British politics.

You call the EU unrepresentative in a country that still employs a first past the post system for general elections, uses a monarch as the head of state and has an entire legislative body of unelected lords. Did you know that there are 150 more members of the House of Lords than the House of Commons?

You complain about the massive amounts of EU migration and say by leaving the EU you can cap that despite the fact that non-EU citizens make up more than half of immigration. And guess what, the UK already has special exemption to limit benefits of newly-arrived EU immigrants until they contribute for four years.

There are legitimate reasons to vote to stay and to defect from the EU. Just don't be taken in by the dangerous and false bickering on either side.