It's time to talk Brexit. That's the nickname being thrown around during the current political campaign roiling Europe: Britain's possible exit from the European Union. Sounds a bit bureaucratic... Perhaps you've been saying to yourself, "Honestly, as long as those crooked-tooth scone goblins keep shooting out royal babies and episodes of Doctor Who, I don't give a tally-ho f*** what happens there."
Well, on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, discussing all things Brexit, breaks down why maybe you should care: "A Brexit — or British Exit — could have wide-ranging implications, both for the U.K. and the world's economy," Oliver explains. Also, "it just sounds like a shitty granola bar you buy at the airport."
The European Union, of course, is the political and economic union of 28 member states from across Europe. As Oliver reminds us, the bloc has its start in the recovery following World War II. The idea was that countries that were economically linked would become interdependent and less likely to go to war, keeping the continent from "tearing itself apart yet again." Now the block's more than 500 million inhabitants enjoy many benefits including the freedom of movement, goods, and services that tries to tie the countries' economies together into one of the world's largest common market.
But the United Kingdom has long tried to keep the EU at an arm's length. For example they've never adopted the bloc's common currency, the Euro, or joined the Schengen Zone, the passport-free travel area. Now the country will vote on leaving altogether. This Thursday voters head to the polls, to decide the country's direction once and for all. Oliver gets the camp's feelings — to a point. "There is an innate British desire to tell Europe to go f*** itself," he says. "I feel it too." But there is more to consider:
The EU is not perfect: it's large, confounding, and relentless bureaucratic. Think of it like Gerard Depardieu: it's an unwieldy European body that's a source of great bewilderment. But Britain leaving it would be a huge destabilizing decision, so you would expect the Brexit camp to have some pretty solid arguments. Unfortunately, many of them are bullshit.
First, there's the leave camp's argument about the financial obligations that Britain has to the EU. Recently, the former London mayor, Boris Johnson, has been driving a bus driving around the country with "£350 million" written on it. Johnson claims that's how much the U.K. sends to Brussels, the EU capital, every week.
Oliver points out that's not true. It's really just about £190 million a week and the U.K. would have to pay it after leaving the EU if they want access to the common market, the EU's tariff-free trade zone. And thus, the bus should really read:
We actually send the EU £190 million a week, which as a proportion of our GDP makes sound fiscal sense. In fact, considering the benefits we reap in return... oh shit, we're running out of bus! Okay, bye-bye!
Other arguments by the leave camp include the EU's many different "onerous" regulations. For example, they claimed that pillows in the EU were subject to 109 different regulations. But Oliver looked into those too, finding that the majority have nothing to do with actual pillows. Rather most reference other products altogether, like pillow-shaped breakfast cereal.
Oliver goes on to point out the long and varied list of politicians and institutions warning against leaving: President Obama, China, Japan, India, and — a shocker here — the EU itself. Then he highlights that the British Treasury, the Bank of England, the IMF, the OECD, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Oxford Economics, and the Centre for Economic Performance have all warned that a Brexit could negatively affect the U.K.'s GDP.
What does the pro-Brexit campaign argue in response? People are sick of experts.
That's right. They don't take issue with the facts, just the trained academics who are educated enough to report them. So that begs the question, "If leaving is so universally seen as a bad idea, then who the f*** is in favor of it?" as Oliver so eloquently phrases it.
That would be UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party; Oliver continues by introducing this lovely party to his American audience. Its leader, Nigel Farage, is well known for making anti-immigrant claims similar to Trump's, whom he of course supports. "UKIP argue that a Brexit would enable the U.K. to significantly reduce immigration, preventing both EU citizens from taking British jobs, and non-EU citizens from sneaking in to commit terror attacks," Oliver says.
Oliver points out that even if the U.K. were to vote for independence, if it were to stay in the EU's single market, it would have to abide by most EU rules, including free movement of labor, to do so. (Those pillow regulations would also probably stay.) And yet polls show that the vote could go either way. That really confounds Oliver:
To recap: immigration policy may not change, hysteria over regulation is a red herring, the costs of membership are reasonable, and the economic benefits of staying appear to outweigh the costs. And yet, polls suggest my homeland is on the edge of doing something absolutely insane.
Up against such nutty poll numbers, this is why he recommends a vote to remain:
Here is how I feel about the EU: it's a complicated, bureaucratic, ambitious, overbearing, inspirational, and consistently irritating institution, and Britain would be absolutely crazy to leave it especially because, if it stays, it can reap all the benefits while still being a total dick about everything. And that is the British way.
Perhaps that's a message British voters can take to heart as they head to the polls on Thursday. If only they had HBO. Oh, wait, they do!
Images (2): HBO