What do Video Nasties have to do with the EU referendum?

Last night’s dreadfully shouty EU referendum debate on ITV sadly didn’t end with Nicola Sturgeon headbutting Boris Johnson for being a lying liar who said ‘control‘ once too often, but instead ended up with the Remain side looking angry and flustered at the Leave side because the Leave side are dealing in a fact free argument. After all, it’s easy to say ‘we’ll get control back!!’ if most people aren’t aware of what that means. It sounds impressive as after all, doesn’t the EU override all our laws and we can’t ignore them?

No. There’s a wee example I can give, the Video Recording Act of 1984 (VRA) to ban so-called Video Nasties like the glorious Cannibal Holocaust.

The VRA was a horribly censorious, repressive piece of government censorship and for those of you out there wanting a good idea of why and the effects of it I’d recommend Martin Barker’s excellent book A Haunt of Fear as a good start, with the splendid documentary Video Nasties: A Definitive History as a follow on.

However for this, the relevant point can be lifted from the VRA’s Wikipedia page.

In August 2009 it was discovered that the Act was unenforceable as the European Commission was not notified about it, as required by Directive 83/189 (see now Directive 98/34). Directive 83/189 had to be implemented by 31 March 1984 (12 months after its notification to the Member States). Until this situation was rectified, it was legal to sell and supply unclassified videos and computer games, although many retailers had agreed to observe the regulations voluntarily. Then pending prosecutions under the Act were abandoned, but the government has claimed that past convictions cannot be challenged

Under EU law, each member state is free to make and pass their own laws. Once done they’re then ratified by the EU, something that never happened with the VRA, making it not actually law yet if the Brexit campaign is right we’d not have the right to come up with something as horrible as the VRA, or ignore the fact that even though it wasn’t officially law and people were prosecuted they ignored that and hurriedly rushed through a bill to make it official.

The point here is that from 1984 to August 2009 the VRA was a piece of legislation that wasn’t actually legal yet the government ignored that fact. The EU doesn’t decide on all our laws, because it only ratifies them and even then Westminster can go ‘ah, fuck it‘ and ignore the decades of people being prosecuted. There’s also the point that the UK passed a repressive bill like the VRA, but it’s a relatively small act. What Brexiters are doing is classing all bills passed and enforced by the EU with the same level of importance, so as this site says

It makes little sense to treat major Acts of Parliament such as the 457-page Health and Social Care Act 2012 which reformed the whole NHS the same as, say, three pages of technical regulations on VAT fraud.

The House of Commons Library has warned that “there is no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU.”

So no set of figures can give us a good measure of the influence of the EU on law in the UK.

It’s more meaningful to look at specific sectors and areas of law.

In agriculture, fisheries, external trade, and the environment, it’s fair to say that EU legislation and policy is indeed the main driver of UK law and policy, although the UK retains some freedom of action in these areas.

In other important areas—for example, welfare and social security,education, criminal law, family law and the NHS—the direct influence of the EU is far more limited.

So yes, the EU is important. It does have power and influence, but in the oft used fishing example, what is never discussed is the role the EU plays in helping police illegal or unreported fishing in areas where the fishing industry is struggling. Withdrawing from the EU would leave the UK having to fight on it’s own but then again seeing as Nigel Farage failed to turn up for votes when he was a member of the EU fisheries committee and only turned up for one of 42 meetings, it’s quite clear there’s those on the Brexit campaign that aren’t fighting for the benefit of ensuring laws are upheld.

Last night’s debate showed that introducing fact isn’t going to stop the Brexit campaign. They know they’ve taken a pounding on the economic argument when they tried speaking about facts so they’ve moved onto dealing with immigration and speaking in the abstract about ‘taking back control‘ yet it’s clear the UK retains a massive amount of control and in those areas where the EU dominate like fishing our elected representatives fail to do their most basic job because I assume, Farage wanted to stand where he is now saying the EU has ‘failed’ yet it’s people like him that have truly failed.

There’s 13 days til the vote. I ask you to look at what both sides are saying and ask yourself why it is the Brexit campaign has stopped dealing in fact and who exactly is going to take control on June the 24th because it’s not going to be you or me, but it will be Boris Johnson with Nigel Farage nipping at his heels.


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