‘Remain’ remains the sensible choice

The 'remain' campaign may win the battle on purely factual grounds

On the morning after pill, cartoon by Mark Scicluna
On the morning after pill, cartoon by Mark Scicluna

In many ways, the ongoing ‘Brexit’ referendum campaign in the UK has come to symbolise far more than the question of whether Britain should or should not remain an EU member state.

Naturally, that is the question that will be printed on the ballot sheet. Nonetheless, it is in the nature of referendums to often transcend the actual reason for holding one: invariably, local politics will get dragged into the equation, often eclipsing the issue that is to be decided. 

Brexit is no exception to this rule: it is no secret that many are viewing it as a ‘verdict’ on the Cameron administration, or to give vent to social or class-based grievances, or other equally unrelated matters. Boris Johnson, leader of the ‘Leave’ campaign, has likewise been accused of using the issue as a pole with which to vault himself into Number 10 Downing Street. 

There may or may not be truth to these interpretations; but it is already clear that ‘Brexit’, in itself, will not be the only issue decided by the referendum.

In this case, the campaign has also exposed clear fault-lines, both within the British political establishment, and also within Europe as a whole. Inevitably, the question itself – should Britain remain in the EU? – forces the rest of Europe to reassess its own self-perception. By its very nature, it implies that something may be wrong with the EU… to the extent that a country may conclude that life is better on the outside.

These are weighty considerations at the best of times: at times when Europe itself is under increasing fire over a number of issues – its handling of immigration, the economic health of the Eurozone, the proposed TTIP trade agreement with the United States, among others – it perforce signals a rethink of what the European Union is really all about.

Matters can only be greatly aggravated, when independent polls consistently point towards a trend in favour of ‘Leave’.

This in turn underscores another worrying reality underpinning the Brexit question. At face value, the surge in support for ‘Leave’ is far from inexplicable. Apart from individual sectors that have been undeniably hard-hit by EU membership – fisheries, for instance – it remains a fact that the Leave campaign has successfully tapped into a sense of national pride and idealism that seem to be absent from the other side’s arguments.

While ‘Brexiters’ can always appeal to the historic courage, vision and sense of adventure that once made Britain an empire, the campaign in favour of continued EU membership seems bereft of any corresponding optimism. Their arguments are in the main technical and uninspiring; not unlike the EU itself. They may win the battle on purely factual grounds; but it is a known fact the world over that emotive arguments score higher points with the electorate.

Herein lies the rub. An argument is no less correct for being ‘boring’ or ‘uninspiring’. And on balance, the less seemingly attractive option may turn out to be the more sensible one. Indeed, it often does.

Naturally, it is not the business of a Maltese newspaper to take sides in what is, ultimately, an internal decision to be taken by the British people alone. Nonetheless, it is a decision that has significant ramifications for Malta – not to mention for the several thousand British expats who currently reside here, and who to date face extreme uncertainty over their immediate future.

The best advice that can be given at this stage is, sadly, the opposite of what most people want to hear. When facing questions that have significant consequences for the future livelihood of an entire country, it may be better to listen to one’s intellect, than to follow one’s heart.

Emergency about contraception

On a separate note, this week an NGO called the Women’s Rights Foundation filed a judicial protest calling on the medical authorities to grant a licence for the morning after pill: an emergency contraception method that remains unavailable in local pharmacies.

As rightly pointed out by the WRF: “the right of women and couples to decide on number, spacing and timing of their children has been long enshrined in a number of international documents, many of which have been signed and ratified by Maltese governments.”

As such it remains unclear why this contraception method has not been licensed, when others known to have identical effects (such as the IUD) are freely available locally.

The argument that the morning after pill is ‘abortifacient’ – repeated among others, by former health minister Godfrey Farrugia in parliament – does not appear to stand up to scrutiny, either. With specific regard to the morning after pill, the World Health Organisation even points out that: “emergency contraceptive pills are not effective once the process of implantation has begun, and they will not cause abortion.”

It remains unclear why the medical authorities have been so reluctant to authorise a medical treatment that is clearly not abortifacient… especially when there is a self-evident social need for emergency contraception, as repeatedly evidenced by statistics.

It is a shame that Maltese women are forced to resort to legal action, to obtain what is ultimately a fundamental right already enshrined in international law.

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