I’ll make no bones about it, I believe that the UK should stay part of the European Union. Yes, there is much wrong with it and it is often unaccountable, but it has brought many advantages to the citizens of Europe: delivering stability, bringing down walls (remember the ‘Iron Curtain’?), allowed the right of residency in any member state, allowed reciprocal health care arrangements, allowed free movement of goods, services and people (that in turn has reduced costs and complexity to the peoples of Europe – airfares, phone tariffs etc), and given us consumer and personal protections and rights.
There is much talk that leaving will allow us our own destiny or sovereignty, this is not something I buy in to, especially when it would be a sovereignty managed by the likes of Nigel Farrage and Boris Johnson.
What ‘Euro leavers’ need to consider is how sovereignty has worked for them so far: how did it help you when it came to stopping the Iraq war, stopping fracking across protected parts of the countryside, stopping the accademisation of schools, protecting the NHS etc etc. Answer: not much.
Sovereignty as a concept is no use to an individual who can’t pull the strings.
Rights and protections:
As I already conceded, there is much wrong with European government, but in the main I do think that they are more concerned with rights of citizens than any national government can be – which tend to be blown about by short term necessities.
There is much discussion that when free of EU meddling we will be able to trade with the rest of the world. We can do now now if we wished; Germany, France and Finland (Finland!) each export more to China than the UK – so it doesn’t seem to be stopping them.
What we will be free of is the troublesome Human Rights Act (*) (which leavers also want to scrap), this is the act that has lead to high profile headlines about our national inability to remove acknowledged terrorists, and whilst this is annoying imagine the scenario a few years after leaving Europe, when PM Boris Johnson explains that in order to compete in a global environment we now need to scrap maximum working hours, maternity leave, redundancy protection and other rights.
Leavers say that we will be able to establish trading agreements as now. This can only be described as an aspiration – there is nothing on the table right now.
Whatever may be agreed with any country or union it is unlikely to be as good as it is now. At the very least we would have to comply with all European rules in trading with Europe (why should they be expected to lower any standard to accommodate the UK) and I don’t think we would be terribly strong against the likes of China when arranging a deal (consider if you will their current dumping of steel). When asked about trade agreements a US spokesman said ‘we just fax the details over and ask them to sign’… That would be about the level of ‘agreement’ a free standing UK could hope for.
All economic forecasting is fundamentally flawed, because there are too many variables, however: the day after any Euro exit the UK economy would falter and sterling would fall – possibly quite far. This is not scaremongering but simple supposition based on one fact: uncertainty, markets don’t like it.
Will it bounce back? Yes, of course, but how far and how long that might take is anyone’s guess.
The UK is a very interconnected nation, not just with trade but also foreign investment, the future of foreign investment when we are not part of the world’s largest trading area is suspect. If you are a Japanese car manufacturer with 500 million to invest in a factory, would you put it where the free market is, or somewhere that might incur tariffs and other complexities in moving your goods.
Without investment there is no growth, no jobs, no social care, no money…
Immigration & Benefits:
Despite the fact that we are ‘swamped’ with immigrants, according to the Brexiters, the UK has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the EU – so immigrants are ‘not taking your job’, they are making new ones – that’s how successful economies work – they grow.
It is worth considering that any potential trading deal with the EU after a departure would include the free movement of people – therefore no change to the status quo.
External EU immigration is controllable now by national governments – so if the UK wants more Indian doctors it is at liberty to recruit them.
Immigration to the UK is not being driven by benefit payments either, whilst annoying that some benefit payments seem to be given without prior contribution and dubious entitlement, these are the cherry on the icing on the cake. Immigrants come to the UK because there are jobs and they are well paid, look at this:
Whilst increasing interconnected the world is also an increasing fractured place. National priorities will always override international relationships (consider the possible outcome of a Trump presidency).
The EU is flawed in many respects, but its a work in progress, and the UK can influence its development from the inside – this would not be possible after a departure.
In the world that is developing I would rather be part of a big team, able to stand its ground and establish rights for its citizens, than a small one tossed about by trading whims and volatile partnerships. The EU is not ‘them’, its ‘us’ – we need to keep it that way, for all our sakes.
(*) Excellent analysis, the only thing that I would add is that the European Convention on Human Rights and its court has nothing to do with the EU and isn’t part of the referendum. Churchill signed us in after it was initiated by Atlee and other leaders after WW2. Interestingly much of it was drafted by British lawyers based on British freedoms. Cameron and may want us to leave it as a separate issue. We do this at our peril. Of all the cases brought against UK 98% have been dismissed. The total of cases brought against UK amount to only 1.5% of the overall number since its inception. Churchill was a very strong supporter of the convention but the government don’t mention that.
- Thanks to Richard Potts for the clarification.
European Working Conditions – Working Time Directive