Firstly this is one of the most important votes in my lifetime.
Secondly, I actually made a decision to kind of step outside of politics and voting a little while back, but this topic has drawn me back into exercising my vote as a citizen. No sob story about those having died to give me the chance to vote, just me incredibly passionate about this opportunity
Thirdly this is not me trying to convince people either way. That’s not my role, just want to express my reasons why I am voting to remain in Europe
What the European Union Is
I have always understood the European Union to be a membership-based union of countries in Europe. Twenty-eight at the last count. An organisation that the UK has been part of since 1976. An organisation that has strong legal powers in all of it’s member states, of which we in the UK have a 10% vote on. So not only are the laws passed and enforced by Court of Justice of the EU but the application is universal to all countries, give or a take a few amendments here and there, and they are not applied unless the agreement is unanimous between member countries.
The EU is not to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights.
The union was originally started as the Common Market, something the UK signed up to in 1973 under Ed Heath’s governance and further ratified by The United Kingdom EC referendum of 1975 under the Wilson government. Voted in favour by 67% of the population who voted it in. The premise being that across its’ member states European economies would be able to move goods freely, without tariffs and also being able to negotiate trade agreements as a collective.
Although the economic remit and wellbeing was the primary reason bought into it, focusing on things like Common Agricultural Policies, European Maritime and Fisheries, Food and Feeding, Youth Employment Initiatives, it has extended to include laws around social justice, consumer protection, security and citizenship.
It is not a perfect system. Indeed, there are obvious flaws given the amount of stakeholders involved. It requires much negotiation and thinking especially when each member state will be looking for ways to protect their interests while looking at the global one. That said the EU as a vehicle has become the largest trading body in the world accounting for 16.5% of the world’s imports and exports. As a body it engages in trade agreements which estimates suggest account for €2bn a day.
So why is it problematic?
Many of the arguments I have heard levied focus on a number of issues including law, economics, migration and not wanting to part of an elite dictatorship. One of the ironies of the latter is the politicians on both sides arguing about elitism. All of the arguments that have been put forward have been sensible. The Remain camp have been most convincing for me as they have given the strongest arguments, notwithstanding that there are existent problems with the current system.
Sovereignty lies at the heart of the Leave arguments. I get it, but then I look at the state of our current governance of our country and wonder how valid the arguments are for those who state they will be a lot better off as a result of leaving.
Without having to go into too much detail, there are some great resources on the web which have helped to inform my opinion. I wish to rise above and beyond the political bluster share the personal reasons why I will vote to choose to remain in Europe.
A Question of Law
As a former student of law, and still in touch with many who practice both criminal and civil law, the claims made about European influence on our laws are greatly exaggerated. Yes, there are some weird and wonderful tings about measuring in metric or the straightness of a banana but this also negates some of the good stuff. Laws around workplace equality, climate change, employment rights and health and safety would have seemed to have been handed down on high from a faceless set of bureaucrats but we have to remember we contribute 10% to that actual process. Our MEPs vote on those issues. We are involved in the process so pretending legality is something done in isolation is not true.
On the flip side I totally get the idea of England and Wales wanting their own legislative powers, and it’s perceived effect on sovereignty, but let’s be honest how much different will they really be? If we are still trading goods and services with Europe then we would still have to subscribe to the regulations around say trade and commerce, law and order, transport and this time without a voice. We would have at best, the option to be able to accommodate new regulations to suit our sovereignty but at worst would have to spend a good proportion of our time and effort writing new ones. For people who want less government control and bureaucracy, this would be counter productive.
Remaining in would give us a voice at the table. It is all well and good comparing us to Norway and Switzerland but they have their own complex issues around taxation, law, minimum wages and per capita they have higher immigration rates into their countries than the UK, which leads me to my second point.
BREXIT and Migration
According to Eurostat if the UK had the same rate of EU immigration as Switzerland in 2012, the gross inflow of EU migration would have been 719,248 rather than the actual figure of 157,554. That’s just over four and a half times more. Norway, in the European Economic Area, also had a rate of gross EU immigration far higher than the UK, with 7.38 EU migrants per 1000 of its population. (source Telegraph)
One of the challenges for both sides of this debate is how to frame migration within the European Union. Whilst there have been scaremongering about people waiting to flood into the UK from Calais, or a tidal flow from Turkey, there is no doubt in Europe that we are facing a daily flood of migrants into Europe. Part of the wider narrative is owning up to the fact that European nations have contributed to the instability of countries like Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq while championing our own countries as the greatest example of democracy and good living. Who wouldn’t want to come here if it meant escaping the troubles at home?
That aside the focus should not be on creating anti-immigration rhetoric but sensibly seeing how we could help those countries affected and also leveraging our influence on those neighbouring countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey and the UAE.
The fact is that just under 50% of labour migrants to the UK are from outside of Europe. Mostly from Asia and Oceania. Sectors such as health, education and many non-skilled service sector jobs.
More people come into the UK than leave. This is standard but it’s more about the immigration policies and procedures in place than suggesting migration is some kind of curse of being in the EU.
The solution to this surely is not a simple question of leaving Europe or not but better legislation and control around migration as a whole. Pinning the issue around EU workers is both narrow-minded and lacking in substantial evidence.
“Around 3 million people living in the UK in 2014 were citizens of another EU country. That’s about 5% of the UK population. Over 2 million nationals of other EU countries are in work, about 7% of the working population. EU nationals of working age are more likely to be in work than UK nationals and non-EU citizens. About 78% of working age EU citizens in the UK are in work, compared to around 74% of UK nationals and 62% of people from outside the EU.” (source https://fullfact.org/immigration/eu-migration-and-uk/)
So if the majority of EU migrants living here are in work, contributing to the economy, surely the problem here is more about numbers and support in the system than employability. If as the numbers suggest they represent a higher working proportion than both UK nationals and non Eu migrants then this is a bigger conversation than just BREXIT.
We must also remember that in addition to sorting out our own policies around migration into the UK, we also have to recognise that millions of UK people travel and work across Europe without challenge. We walk seamlessly through airports, can own and rent properties, can live in euros and yet have companies based in sterling in the UK. Leaving the EU and not being able to negotiate on equal terms about would surely be a shot in the foot on us as UK nationals travelling and living and working on the continent.
Which leads me to my final point.
We pay an about £8bn year to be part of the largest trading body in the world. Some of those who protest this say there is no way that we can maintain paying £350m a week, or £261m a week if we take into consideration the rebates we get back from the EU. Those who protest suggest that we could use this money to help improve trade and make a huge difference to our economy.
There is even a suggestion that if we stop paying this membership fee, the savings can be used to build a hospital each week!!!
Whilst I think this noble, many of those who are pushing for us to leave the EU, also have nor problem in privatising the NHS and thus hospitals. In addition to this the IFS have stated that even if we did stop paying that £8bn just a simple negative effect of 0.6% of the national income would damage the public finances by more than that amount each year. The IFS is not alone in that non partisan economists also agree that the economic effect (based on forecasts) would be a lot greater if we left than if we stayed.
I totally get the push for individuals who want no trick with EU damaging sovereignty about law, but to jeopardise the economy, one we are still trying to build back on by withdrawing from the union seems foolhardy. Yes there is a possibility that being able to go it alone might be a reasonable long term goal but we aren’t even remotely in the financial strength to be out there creating deals that we have previously benefited from being part of the common market. As I write today the pound has taken a hammering in the global markets as there is the suspicion that as a nation we could be exiting Europe. The best analogy I can give is the top four earning teams leaving the Premier League to set up their own thinking that they could provide better negotiating deals with Sky or the Champions League than those teams that they leave behind. Doesn’t make sense does it?
Of course, there are many specific challenges that will remain around the economy in remaining within the EU but why would we step away thinking that we can handle this on our own. Scotland is no longer in the UK. Wales and Cornwall (who want their own independent state) will suffer adversely from the lack of farming rebates, and England is currently run by a party who are stilling pushing austerity while allowing international companies to get away with avoiding ethical obligations around paying a fair tax.
On looking at the facts
It is quite difficult in a short piece like this to go into even more detail about some of the assumptions and policies that have convinced me that remaining in Europe is the favoured option at least until a stronger economy, dare I say stronger government, is in place.
To think that we in the UK have a stronger bargaining power outside of the Union when it comes to Trade Agreements with other states is a bit bombastic. It is not best addressed with inflammatory language rather like many economic arguments and theories focused on a set of assumptions both on the present and forecasts for the future. No one knows for certain what others would do but to base an economic decision on the personalities of politicians or xenophobic fear of a European dictatorship shows a lack of understanding or reading of the bigger picture.
Whilst the track records and negative rhetoric of politicians like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farrage and George Galloway do rankle, I am not a fan of David Cameron, George Osborne’s or Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership or rhetoric either. For me, my vote far surpasses the identity politics of those shouting the loudest.
Mine is based on the probabilities of outcomes of the information that I have been exposed to and which, from a personal basis will also affect my work and the possible work and learning pathways of my offspring.
So in a nutshell (coconut shell?) these three pillars and the arguments I have provided are the main reasons why I chose to remain in the EU. I think we are better in than out. It doesn’t take away from the reasons others want to leave, just my position.
So on to June 23rd 2016 and what will be one of the most pivotal votes that my family and I will be taking part in for the prosperity and well-being of our country.