On 23rd June 2016 in the EU Referendum, the general populace of the UK will be asked to decide whether the UK should remain a member of the EU or leave the EU. This was the result of an election manifesto commitment from the winning Conservative party (more on that below), and since the date was set there have been countless debates, discussions, arguments and more up and down the country on the merits of staying or leaving, and people on all sides struggle to make sense of an increasingly hostile, bitter and savage fight.
Common Reasons Given For Leaving
Let’s take a look at some of the arguments presented for leaving, and examine how they stand up.
We pay £350 million per week to the EU!
A very common statement made by many supporting leaving the EU. The main leave campaign even have that figure plastered across the side of their bus.
The only problem is, it’s not true – thanks to the UK’s rebate negotiated years ago by our then-PM Margaret Thatcher, the amount we hand over is £100 million per week less than the figure quoted. Even Boris Johnson has admitted this is the case, but still they stick with the wrong figure. Then, of course, there are the various subsidies and grants which we receive from the EU – taking those into account (and these are monies which we would either still need to invest in those areas in the UK, or else we’d have to cut funding received by agriculture and the poorer areas of the country), we only pay the equivalent net contribution of £136 million per week – around 30p per person per day. And as you can see from the chart on the right, EU membership fees count for around 0.37% of total government expenditure – we spend significantly more than that on VAT exemptions! Our EU expenditure is a miniscule fraction of government expenditure.
We Could Put The Money To Better Use!
The Leave campaign has highlighted how they would spend what they say are £10 bn of saved funds annually (why £10bn? No idea, as that doesn’t fit any of the figures claimed to be sent to the EU, but let’s go with it).
|New Spending Committed To||Cost (£m)||% of net savings|
|More places in existing Primary Schools|
|Expanding Regional Airports|
|Lower Business Taxes|
|Reverse Welfare Savings|
|Reducing Council Tax|
|State Aid to Steel Industry|
|A “British DARPA”|
As you can see, they have committed £111bn out of their projected £10bn of savings (that’s overcommitting by over 1,000%!) – something doesn’t quite add up here. It is particularly unlikely that they would spend $18bn of the £10bn savings on the NHS, given that the main proponents of Leave have all been actively seeking to privatise the NHS for some time now.
We Will Be Forced Into Ever Closer Union / Join The Euro / Join An EU Army!
It’s claimed that if we remain in the EU, then we will be forced into an ever-closer union. Despite the fact that this has not happened so far in the 40+ years of our membership.
And despite the fact that we have a significant number of opt-outs –
- from ‘ever closer union’;
- from the Euro;
- from the border-free Schengen Agreement;
- from any EU Army;
- and from policies on asylum, migration, justice and internal security.
We Don’t Need The EU, We Can Trade With Other Countries
We can (and indeed do) trade with other countries, that is true.
Currently, around 50% of UK trade is with the EU, 18% with the USA and 7.3% with Brazil, Russia, India, China & South Africa. So that’s a huge portion of our trade is with the EU; in terms of trade, we need them more than they need us. To put that into context, around 10% of EU exports come to the UK, which accounts for around 2% of the EU’s GDP; conversely, around 50% of our exports go to the EU, accounting for 13% of our GDP. We need the EU far more than the EU needs us. We could, as some have suggested, adopt the Norwegian model (if the EU will go with that – we need to negotiate), of course, and continue to gain access to the Free Market. Of course, even if we were able to negotiate the same level of access as Norway has, it is not as favourable as our current position. Norway must (a) accept free migration of EU citizens, (b) contribute to the EU budget, and (c) comply with all EU rules but with no say in making those rules, as explained by Norway’s former foreign minister Espen Barth Eide. Is that really what we want? To give up our say in the running of the EU but still have to stick to the rules and contribute to the budget? We could always opt for the Swiss model, which is pretty much exactly the same as the Norwegian one…
Sure, we could go it alone and negotiate trade deals with all of the non-EU countries in the world. However, given the EU gives access to around 500 million people, and the UK to only 10% of that, with which trade block are other countries going to be most interested in doing good trade deals?
The EU Is An Unelected Bureaucracy,
This is a common call. It i also massively inaccurate.
Yes, it is true that the EU Officials are appointed rather than elected by us (appointed, it should be noted, by the very MEPs which we democratically elect, and by the Heads of State of the various EU members, who are also democratically elected). But then again, can anyone tell me the last time we in this country elected the Home Office officials?
It is indeed true that the EU has around 55,000 unelected Civil Servants. Meanwhile, the UK has 393,000 unelected Civil Servants.
All decisions are actually taken by the democratically elected MEPs and the EU Council of Ministers which is made up from democratically elected ministers from each EU member.
Most Of Our Laws Come From The EU, We Need To Take Back Soverignty
It’s sometimes claimed that 50%, 75%, even 80%+ of our laws are forced upon us by the EU, and that we must leave in order to take back sovereignty. This, again, is simply not true. As discussed in great detail in a paper from the House of Commons Library, it is actually only around 15% of our laws which are derived from, or influenced by, the EU.
On the subject of sovereignty, it is worth reflecting that in today’s age of globalisation and the internet, all governments have less sovereignty than in the past. Competition is now global, national boundaries much more flexible, and there is far less freedom in terms of taxation and regulation for any individual country. Not only that, but the UK shares sovereignty with the UN, NATO, the World Trade Organisation, etc. with whom the UK has signed 14,000 treaties.
The EU’s Auditors Refuse To Sign Off The EU’s Accounts.
This is a long-running, oft-repeated claim, highlighting that the EU;’s accounts are so poor, and its finances so badly managed, that the EU’s own auditors refuse to sign off the accounts and have done for many years. If a company were in that position, then they would be in severe legal trouble.
The only problem is, this is an outright lie.
As you can see from the auditor’s 2014 report itself here, the account have been signed off, as they have every year since they were appointed in 2007.
“The EU accounts for 2014 were correctly prepared in accordance with international public sector accounting standards, and present a true and fair view of the EU’s financial results for the year and its assets and liabilities at the end of the year. We were therefore able to give a clean opinion on the reliability of the accounts (‘signed off’), as we have done since 2007.”
Migration Is Out Of Control!
The default fall-back position for any Leave argument always seems to be that if we remain then we will be flooded with migrants “coming over here, taking our jobs, living off our benefits”. The implication being that whilst in the EU we are drowning in EU migrants, whereas leaving the EU will mean no EU migrants will come here.
The figures tell a rather different tale. According to the Office for National Statistics, 2015 Net migration of EU citizens was estimated to be 184,000, while in the same year Non-EU net migration was 188,000. That’s not exactly swamping us. Indeed, there are more non-EU migrants than EU-migrants.
But Immigrants Cost Us Money!
Again, this popular myth is in fact not true. UCL has conducted a study which shows that between 2001 and 2011, immigration actually benefited our economy to the tune of £20 billion.
There will be millions flooding in from Turkey!
Again, this is pure xenophobic scaremongering of the highest order. It’s the same arguments which a few were presenting during earlier phases of EU expansion, with dire warnings of us being invaded my floods of Romanians etc – none of which (of course) ever happened.
Not only that, but Turkey is not a current EU member, it is not going to be in a position to join any time soon (if at all), and the fact is that before any country can join, all other members must unanimously vote to agree to them joining – we could simply veto Turkey’s application if it was genuinely a concern and they would not join. It really is that simple.
But the EU Has Banned Curved Bananas / Banned Plasma TVs / Threatened the British Sausage!
There’s actually a rather entertaining list of “myths” (or, more accurately, deliberate lies) which our beloved media have reported about what the EU is doing over the years. Well worth checking out, see how many you remember!
Something To Consider Before Leaving
Leaving aside the various economic speculations and predictions of doom (made, to be fair, by both sides if their outcome is not the one), there are a few significant issues which need to be considered for leaving. Several have been mentioned above, but there’s a big one which few people seem to want to mention.
There are currently around 2.2 million British people living permanently in other EU countries (strangely, rather than refer to these immigrants as immigrants, they are referred to as “ex-pats”. Double-standards, or just ignorance? You decide. Either way they are immigrants, 2.2 million of them). All able to live and work there freely thanks to the EU. So what happens if we vote to leave, and pull out of all the free movement etc requirements (as demanded by many advocating Leave)? What are we going to do with (at the worst case) a sudden influx of 2.2 million British people who will have nowhere else to go until such time as they are able to successfully apply for visas to live and work in this countries (if. indeed, they are granted such visas)?
That puts the 186,000 EU net immigration per year figure into sharp context!
And presents a major issue for any Brit wishing to live or work in the EU.
Sure, it is unlikely that all 2.2 million British immigrants would be kicked out, but life could become a lot harder for them, to the point where returning home becomes their better option. leaving the EU would absolutely make it far harder for anyone else in the UK to follow their lead and go to work or live in the EU.
What Have The EU Done For Us?
Not much, apart from: labour protection; enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; equal pay legislation; holiday entitlement; the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime; consumer protection; product safety; enhanced policing; food labelling; bans on growth hormones; trade ties; environmental legislation; price transparency; work placements; providing 57% of our trade; structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline; clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; lead free petrol; restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile charges; cheaper air travel; improved consumer protection and food labelling; a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives; better product safety; single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance; break up of monopolies; Europe-wide patent and copyright protection; no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market; price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone; freedom to travel, live and work across Europe; funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad; access to European health services; strongest wildlife protection in the world; improved animal welfare in food production; EU-funded research and industrial collaboration; EU representation in international forums; bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO; EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; European arrest warrant; cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling; counter terrorism intelligence; European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa; support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond; investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital; assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 14 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980.
Oh, and brought about the longest stable period of peacetime that has been seen in Europe since, well, pretty much ever. Which is hardly surprising as one of the major influences behind the creation of what has evolved into the EU was a tremendous desire throughout Europe to put an end to the colossal wars which had riven it throughout its history. The 1948 Hague Congress is generally seen as the first important step on this journey. Prior to this, France and Germany had been at war with each other 3 times in the preceding 70 years, for example; since its formation, no EU member has ever been at war with another. That’s quite a development.
Sure, it is not perfect, but things are a lot less bloody that they otherwise would have been.
Should We Stay Or Should We Go?
Ah, that is indeed the billion dollar question!
Let’s face it, the EU is hardly perfect; far from it. There are still many issues facing it, and there will continue to be many areas where it doesn’t get things right for everyone first time.
There is still a major issue to be resolved in terms of the growing refugee crisis, and it needs to be handled carefully – of course, breaking up the EU is not the way to successfully deal with the situation and will fail to support the many genuine refugees suffering extreme situations (after all, how dangerous and bad must life be for you to decide it is actually safer to flee your country and overcrowd under-prepared boats on the Mediterranean?!)
So, yes, there’s still a lot to be done to improve the EU.
But therein lies the rub – do you fix something by taking a look at what’s not working, and by seeking to find ways to come together and make it work? Or do you take one look, decide it’s broken, and run away?
To me, the latter has never worked, and never will work.
For all its faults, the EU has done some tremendous things for all of us, and I believe that it is in our collective best interests to remain firmly in the EU and to work to make it even better – I also think that leaving would be a major disaster for us as a nation, both socially and economically. The UK is not a special little snowflake. Behaving like a cantankerous curmudgeon taking their ball home is not going to do us any favours, and the misplaced belief that we are an empire nation has done nothing but leave an idiotic pall of stupidity over our foreign relations for the last half a century. Yes, we once had a massive Empire. But the world has changed since then. We now have a choice between continuing to take part in a growing EU (which is currently around 7% of the world’s population), striving to make it a better place for us all, or going it alone as a small nation (of around 0.8% of the world’s population), isolated and adrift amongst a sea of increasingly global entities.
That is why, this time round, I will be voting to Remain in the EU.
In its manifesto for the 2015 UK General Election, the Conservative Party made a commitment to holding an in/out referendum on the UK’s continued EU membership, before the end of 2017. However, it is my view that the Conservative party did not expect to have to make good on that promise. In which case, why did they include it?
For the answer to that, we need briefly to go back to the 2010 General Election. The result of that election was that no party had a majority. In the end, after a few days of discussions, negotiations, secret meetings (and, frankly, the country continuing to run perfectly well without a government!), the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed the first non-war coalition government that the UK has had. Of course, this required compromises on Manifesto commitments from both sides (well, that’s debatable, but that’s an issue for another time).
Fast-forward to the 2015 General Election, and the polls were predicting that the most likely outcome was once again that no party would have an overall majority, and thus that another coalition government would be the most likely result. Which would mean that whoever formed the next coalition was going to have to make more compromises.
It is my belief that the Conservatives, expecting to have to negotiate with the Liberal Democrats again, added some policies to their Manifesto with the sole intention of offering to remove those policies as part of the coalition negotiations, enabling them to keep ahold of more of the policies they actually wanted. In the end, on election night, the Conservative party won 50.8% of the seats and became the next majority government (whilst the Liberal Democrats were all but wiped out, losing 85% of their seats), so no coalition negotiations were needed, and the sacrificial EU referendum commitment survived and had to be fulfilled!
Why Right Now?
Why hold it now, if they could wait until 2017? Most likely reason I believe is that the Prime Minister wants us to remain in the EU (after all, they only offered the referendum as a pledge which could be dropped in coalition negotiations). He recently came back from negotiations in Brussels where, he claims, he secured some “good deals” for the UK, and so this is probably the most favourable time. Plus, in a way, it gets the EU question over and done with – otherwise much government time and resources would be clogged u continually addressing what has traditionally been the absolute most divisive issue for the Conservative party for decades, and drawing it out would merely result in a damaging civil war within the party, vastly weakening their chances of re-election in 2020 if the referendum was not until 2017. This way, there are still 4 years in which to rebuild and consolidate the party whatever the referendum result. It is probably also extremely helpful to the government to have everyone’s focus on the EU referendum right now whilst they attempt to sneak through their latest power-grab in terms of further reducing our rights and liberties with their amendments to their legally-challenged DRIPA, but that’s a whole different issue for another article some time.