Where do you start with such an emotive issue? Perhaps an apology to anyone this article might upset because that really isn’t my objective. The EU question is a highly complex mix of many variables and I am acutely aware that people, some of whom will be friends and family, will be making their decisions based on their own nuanced perspectives. I can see many sides of this argument, so I understand and respect the reasons for choosing to stay or go (some of them at least). However, this is such an important decision, having a profound effect not only on the short term future, but on many years to come, that I feel compelled to put forward my opinion.
What are the arguments for leaving or remaining? This is the million dollar question that I feel politicians and public figures have performed abysmally in trying to address. Never have I known such a campaign fuelled by disinformation, untruths and bickering. Against this backdrop, how are we supposed to make an informed decision? The answer to that is to make sure you become as informed as possible – look beyond the politicians and business leaders with much invested in the decision and listen to the neutrals.
I am a business professional so I encounter many different people from many walks of life, admittedly often quite wealthy, but certainly not exclusively. I also have international dealings and sometimes attend conferences in Europe and further afield. In the past 2 months I have raised the question of the EU Referendum with many of my contacts and I have been very interested to learn their perspectives.
It would be wrong for me to say that I experienced universal support for remaining within the EU, but the overwhelming majority held that view. So how have we come to the point where the polls appear to be so evenly balanced? Well I have a theory on that, which is exactly why I am writing this piece. This is a sweeping statement, but it seems to me that those within the leave camp are those with the loudest voices and those in the remain camp are the quieter, more considered types. If you are undecided then you are bound to be more likely to sway towards the leave group because that is the message you are hearing more clearly and more often. Hence, I am writing this article to shout the message for remaining.
The issues and why I believe in Remain:
- The Economy
Nobody knows for sure what impact leaving the EU would have on our economy, but the vast majority of economists, many of whom are neutral, are predicting an immediate shock, followed by a period of contraction. Bearing in mind that over half of our exports go to EU countries, it is hard to see anything other than an economic shock. Sure, we would be able to negotiate new trade deals with emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil, but it is going to take something like 2 years to extract ourselves from the EU, so we are not going to be free of the shackles any time soon. In the interim, we have made ourselves unpopular with our near neighbours, so demand for our products will drop well before any new trade deals can be struck.
Oh, but if our products are good enough today then people will still demand them after an exit I hear people say. Well, sorry, but I beg to differ. Human nature doesn’t work that way – if you put two fingers up at people and say you’re too good for their club, they turn their backs on you. We’re unpopular enough as it is (just look at Eurovision) without affirming the general opinion that we are arrogant and self-congratulating.
Alternatives that we could pursue to attempt to avoid the short term void would be to follow the Norwegian or the Swiss models. They have access to the single market, but in obtaining that privilege they have had to subscribe to many of the EU rules that we apparently find distasteful – free movement of people and contributing to the EU coffers for example.
As an enthusiastic amateur economist, there is part of me that would like to enter into the social experiment that leaving the EU would create, but I am not a masochist, so I don’t want to put myself through that and I certainly don’t want to inflict that on the younger generations who are less established in life. They would be the ones who would really suffer.
- Peace and Stability
To borrow a phrase from a gentleman whose opinion I highly respect, it is no coincidence that we have not had wars between European nations since the end of the Second World War. We have achieved that through staying close, talking to each other and resolving our differences as they arise.
Now I am not saying that an EU exit would be the catalyst for a third world war, but I am concerned at the rise of nationalism and isolationism and I see an exit from the EU as a move firmly in the wrong direction. We are far from the only country in Europe having this dialogue and I fear that if the UK leaves then others, such as Austria, Denmark, The Netherlands and The Czech Republic, will follow. The EU project then starts to teeter on the brink of destruction and then we have the beginnings of the environment within which far right movements can come to the fore. That prospect terrifies me.
Immigration happens generally for one of two reasons: to fulfil a need for labour in an area that the indigenous population can’t or won’t fill; or to flee a dangerous and unstable situation. The shift in the UK economy from manufacturing to large distribution centres has led to a significant need for unskilled labour. Add to this work in the care sector and fruit and vegetable picking and you have a large demand for labour that we seem unwilling to step in to fill. Hence, Eastern Europeans have filled that void.
To focus on the second factor, the world has become a very unstable place since the turn of the century, so people are fleeing many war torn areas. This inevitably leads to increased immigration and leaving the EU would have no impact on this.
So called economic migrants are actually relatively rare. Not many people would leave the home and country that they know without a firm job offer to go to.
Whilst I am not entirely comfortable with the free movement of people concept that we currently have within the EU, I am not at all sure that leaving the EU would have the control effect that the Brexiters would have us believe.
- Contribution to the EU Budget
We put a lot more in than we get out, the Leave campaigners say, but that is only focusing on the contribution to the EU budget when compared with grants and subsidies received from EU funds. It ignores the economic benefits that we derive from being part of the EU, which far outweigh the cost. I cannot say with absolute certainty that we wouldn’t be able to replace that economic benefit with lucrative trade deals elsewhere in the world, but we would have to fight that corner on our own and we become a relatively small and much less significant voice when we stand alone.
As one of the major countries within the EU we are a significant voice in world affairs. Outside of the EU it is difficult to conceive that we would be taken as seriously and we could soon find that we became America’s less attractive and less interesting cousin.
We can all site a ridiculous piece of EU bureaucracy that filters through to domestic law and has an unintended and unfortunate impact, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. It makes good headlines to slate the EU for such instances, but all of the good work holding governments to account for their own bad legislation goes unnoticed.
In general terms, the impact of the EU is to raise standards across the board.
- Sovereignty and the Cry for ‘Great’ Britain
Contrary to popular opinion there is no German master plan to take over Europe by stealth. Germany has attained its strong economy and strong position within the EU simply by being good at what it does. If we focused as much of our energies on getting the job done as the Germans do, whatever ‘the job’ might be, we would probably be even more successful than they are.
The UK is great as it is, but I believe it would be diminished if we exited the EU. Whatever we might want, we cannot go back to the days of Empire and post war euphoria, the days of steam trains roaring through the countryside and lashings of ginger beer. Those days do not and could not exist in the modern world. We can only move forwards from where we are and surely exiting the EU is going into reverse.
From my various discussions on the road, I have learnt that the Germans desperately want us to remain within the EU. They see us as a counter-balance to their strength and as having a stabilising impact if we are onside. The smaller countries also want us to remain for similar reasons. The EU is generally seen as a force for the good, although most people have their concerns that it isn’t working as well as it could. As part of the EU we have a voice at the table to work to fix the problems and continually improve the model.
Yes, membership of the EU inevitably does lead to some transfer of sovereignty to Brussels, but the trade-off is an increase in power from being part of a greater whole.
To sum up with a rallying cry plagiarised from the FT, this is no time to revert to Little England. We are Great Britain. We have a contribution to make to a more prosperous, safer world. The vote must be “Remain”.
Oh, and one last thing – Donald Trump supports Brexit. Need I say more!