Being a Europhile all my life, having lived in the Netherlands and France and worked throughout Europe, my first reaction when the question of the UK leaving the EU arose was “No way”. When David Cameron returned from his negotiating efforts a month or so ago, I felt pleased that our sovereign independence had been endorsed, that political union for us was clearly not going to happen, and that we maintained a steadfast exclusion from the Schengen area and the Euro.
And then the doubts crept in. I have always thought the initial idea of a free trade association had been hijacked by bureaucrats intent on their political ambitions of a United States of Europe, a project which I think is doomed to monumental failure. Indeed, I am sceptical about the longevity of the Euro and delighted we will share no part in its eventual downfall. But do I really want the UK to share in the collapse of the European Union if the politicians refuse to curb the dictatorial directives coming out of Brussels.
Boris Johnson’s support for the Leave campaign has not helped me decide one way or another. If Cameron’s gamble on remaining in the EU fails, he could well be our next Prime Minister, and without even venturing to compare such an outcome with what I perceive as a disaster for the US if Donald Trump is elected President, Boris as our PM is not someone I would want to preside over a post Brexit period of instability. His gung-ho approach to an independent UK doesn’t really address the true consequences of a potential exit of the UK from the European Union.
Perhaps the most emotive reason for the general population to want to leave the EU is the perception that immigration levels will fall and that we will not have to accept Eastern European migrants nor Turks, should they be accepted into the EU in the near future as envisaged. The risk of increased terrorism has been raised by Leave campaigners, although Remain campaigners say that continued co-operation with anti-terrorism squads in our neighbouring EU countries will be jeopardised if we leave the EU. Who to believe? Do we really think that our ex-EU partners will withhold information on terrorists and allow attacks to be made within the UK?
That’s one of the problems, scaremongering from each side confuses everyone. But let’s continue to look at the immigration issue. Countries such as Norway and Switzerland have negotiated separate trade agreements with the EU and one of the conditions of such agreements is that the freedom of movement of labour is upheld. This means that all EU citizens may live in Norway and Switzerland if they choose to, and the sovereignty of these countries to close their borders to such migrants is therefore compromised. It is very unlikely that the UK would be able to reach a different trade agreement to the ones that exist with Norway and Switzerland, and indeed the Leave group have pointed to these agreements as evidence that we will indeed be able to negotiate an agreement with the EU to demonstrate that trade barriers will not exist if we leave the EU. So it is more than likely that we will have to accept the same level of migration from EU citizens as currently.
As for non-EU citizens, maintaining our non-Schengen status means we do indeed have control over our borders, even if internally we are sometimes lax in their execution. So leaving the EU to reduce the level of migration seems to me something of a myth.
One of the events in the last few years which upset me the most was the way Cyprus was treated by the EU during its banking crisis of 2012. Heavy handed and patently unfair, many Cypriot bank accounts were frozen with a maximum permitted withdrawal of €100,000 in total. Those with more than €100,000 in bank accounts with Laiki Bank and Bank of Cyprus had to forfeit the excess in what most citizens would have identified as daylight robbery. By remaining outside of the Euro, we do not risk the same level of control by the EU, but nevertheless their actions must serve as a warning to all countries that the dictatorship of bureaucrats working within the EU must be addressed. This is something that the UK needs to consider should we remain in the UK, where our influence should be a material factor in persuading all politicians that similar actions should be made illegal in the future. This may also help to ensure that member countries remain as sovereign states able to take their own decisions, even if they fall short of Euro requirements of fiscal management. This seemingly incompatible conflict is the reason why ultimately I believe the Euro is a failed concept in the absence of a political Super State, and why there will need to be at least two levels of currency with the Eurozone to cope with conflicting economic realities. But as for Brexit, the UK is not within the Eurozone and maintaining the Great British Pound was probably the best political decision ever made!
Then we come to the economic benefits or otherwise of staying within the EU. The downside is very real, the budgetary payments we make are very costly to our economy, and there are certain subsidies within the EU from which our businesses are unable to benefit, which may seem patently unfair. So there is no doubt there is a cost of being a member of ‘the club’ of the EU; but that is the same with any club and one has to weigh the economic benefits against such costs. From what I have read, most economists are squarely divided down the middle as to whether the costs outweigh the benefits or otherwise. That, of course, is normal for economists, but politicians for Leave or Remain have been unable to convince me that there is a clear economic benefit, one way or another. I am sure that the majority of the country is unable to make a clear considered conclusion as to the economic benefits or otherwise, and therefore it seems to me that emotional arguments will prevail.
And this is where we are with scaremongering. The Remain group say that we risk years of uncertainty, that the stock market will plummet affecting people’s pensions, that the pound will fall fuelling inflation and making our European holidays more expensive (if we are allowed in without visas!). The Leave group say that the UK is one of the strongest economies in the world and will easily withstand maybe a couple of years of uncertainly (which the Remain group considers could last for a decade). I don’t believe in either camp’s views; the UK will certainly survive an EU exit without a dramatic effect on our economy, yet there will be certain elements of the economy that will suffer.
One of these could be the role of the City of London as the world’s financial centre. Another could be the ability of our service professionals to ‘passport’ their business into the EU. At best, there will be an inconvenience, at worst, a financial loss of revenue. But economic issues should not lie at the heart of our decision making, certainly not when they are uncertain and neither camp can demonstrate responsibly that they have a clear understanding of the consequences of a Brexit. Nor should emotion govern the voting decision on June 23rd, especially when the understanding of what a sovereign state can control in terms of immigration is unclear.
What may eventually sway the vote should be the moral question of the role of the UK within the EU and the wider world. One fact that is indisputable is that the EU has experienced decades of peace which have never before been experienced. Should the UK leave the EU, it is my belief that this will be followed by other countries leaving the EU and the eventual disintegration of what was originally conceived as a free trade area with co-operation between countries in many areas of public life; police, travel, welfare, and the free movement of capital and labour throughout the EU. By leaving the EU, maybe we are throwing away the baby with the bathwater!
Instead, we need to take a lead within the EU, perhaps along with Germany in particular, to ensure bureaucracy is curbed and perhaps to limit the accession of new countries by imposing new conditions of migration and welfare benefits. If we cannot do this through co-operation, we should show our bulldog spirit by doggedly using our veto to create changes in the way the EU works.
So maybe I have made up my own mind as to how I am going to vote on June 23rd. But I would love to hear from you with your views, and your comments on what I have written above. In the end, will it be our heart or head that votes?
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With kind regards