The European Referendum campaign, on both sides, has focused largely economic issues and immigration. Those are important and valid issues which deserve to be fully debated, but they are not the only factors people should weigh up when deciding how to cast their vote.
Even the most ardent Europhiles are usually forced to admit there is a democratic deficit in the European Union. They will usually accept too that public awareness of the European Union institutions is low, but of course we’re usually told that is the public’s fault for not educating themselves.
In a single interview on Radio Ulster on Tuesday Claire Hanna unwittingly highlighted the remote and unaccountable nature of the European Union. Whatever the arguments about politics in Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom as a whole there are few people who couldn’t name at least one Cabinet Minister or who could not give you a reasonable explanation of how laws are passed in our country.
The contrast with the European Union is striking. How many people could tell you what the European Commission is let alone identify a single member? Similarly, how many people in Northern Ireland know the difference between the European Commission, the Council of the European Union or the European Council. Do they know how European directives are formulated before they are imposed upon all of us?
The difference between all those people and Claire Hanna is that they would not blame a so-called “senior moment”. Our older people deserve better than to be referenced by a flailing politician searching for an answer.
The name of Jonathan Hill should be tripping from the lips of people in the United Kingdom, but there are reality tv contestants from five years ago who would be more recognisable to the general public. The agriculture commissioner is possibly the only person whose name might have some degree of recognition within the farming community but the scope of the European Union goes far beyond the Common Agricultural Policy.
When Claire was pressed by Stephen Nolan for the name of the British Commissioner it is Jonathan Hill’s name that should have been on the tip of her tongue. After all, he is the Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union.
It is a not insignificant role, with obvious and direct economic consequences for us all. I don’t actually criticise any MLA for the fact they mightn’t know his name however and I suspect many Members of Parliament would be similarly stumped.
The European Union influences virtually every area of our lives yet is remote and completely unaccountable. One of the real reasons Claire Hanna or anyone else will struggle to name any of the European Commissioner is because not a single member of the public ever casts a vote for them to take up that post.
Whereas Ministers, either locally or nationally, can be held to account by the media and ultimately by the public in an election there is no such pressure on those who take the decisions within the EU. If people would not support government formulated like this in Stormont or Westminster, then they shouldn’t accept it from Brussels.
The only solution for those of us who believe in democratic accountability is to Vote Leave on Thursday.
Ian Paisley is the MP for North Antrim