Brits in EU

Why BREXIT would be madness

An Out vote on 23 June could have a disastrous effect on Britain and the wider world

On 23rd June this year, British voters will get to vote on whether the UK remains part of the European Union, or leaves it. This could become a defining event in future history, its ripples felt around the world, or it could be a whole lot of fuss over nothing.

That we've even got this far seems a little incredible. Its Eurosceptic wing has long been a thorn in the side of Conservative Party leaders, even the hard-line Margaret Thatcher struggled to placate them, and their influence has grown steadily ever since. Yet even as little as five years ago this was a side-issue of intra-party politics. In October 2011 a group of Tory backbenchers managed to orchestrate a vote in the House of Commons on a national referendum about Britain's continued membership of the EU. The vote was defeated, but out of a total of 594 MPs, 111, including 79 Conservatives, voted in favour of the motion. This was the biggest rebellion against the Con-Dem coalition government up to that point, and seems to have had a lasting effect.

With Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party claiming they would be the only party at the 2015 election to offer the choice of such a referendum, Cameron felt obliged to act. As a couple of his MPs defected to UKIP, and with the probability of prolonged coalition government to counter his pre-election promises, Cameron had been backed into such a corner that he was virtually obliged to offer this referendum in his party's 2015 election manifesto.

UKIP did very poorly at those elections, picking up just one seat despite their 3 million votes. But their legacy endured in Cameron's unexpected Conservative majority government.

Indeed, as the referendum has become ever more concrete and immediate, the issue seems to have become mainstream with politicians from both left and right declaring their support for the Out campaign. And a more likely group of political jokers would be hard to find, including as they do the much-reviled Michael Gove, London's some-to-be-ex clown of a Mayor, Boris Johnson, and the far-left much outspoken former Labour and Respect MP, George Galloway.

All are making political gambles, yet the Out brigade seem to have calculated that they could afford to lose this one. Sticking with the In campaign is the safe thing to do, but Cameron's cabinet is split in such a way that, were it a Labour government, it would be ripped apart in the press for poor and indecisive leadership. That this is not happening says as much about the state of Britain's news reporting as does the misinformation people regard today as truth.

The British are an inherently conservative bunch, and they tend to steer away from upsetting the apple cart whenever possible. However this referendum seems to have inspired some of the more conservative elements in the country with a revolutionary zeal for change. And it's based on some major misconceptions about the EU.

For a start, the European Union is remarkably cheap. The UK's net contribution to the EU's budget for 2014 was just under 5 billion, which may sound a lot until you realise it is roughly a tenth of the amount spent on annual state interest payments and just 4% of the cost of state pension payments.

Then there's the idea that Eastern Europeans (in particular) are coming over to the UK to sit around on benefits all day while taking other people's jobs, the aptly-named Schrodinger's immigrant. The former is a widely-held belief that is born out in none of the official data, which consistently rates European migrants as net contributors to the Exchequer's coffers. Why anyone would want to leave their homes, and everything they know, to sit around in the rain on 50 a week is a question that too few people ask. Largely because it's not the reality. Open borders allow people to come and work legally, paying taxes, and to return home with the money they make through their honest labours to buy houses or start businesses. That they chose to come to the UK to do this should be a matter of pride - it will certainly be influential in future years for Britain to deal with European politicians who have spent time in Leicester rather than Leipzig or Lyon.

And if the idea of an independent UK brings thoughts of tighter border controls, you may have to rethink again. Naturally, most people attempting to enter the UK to seek asylum do so from other European countries. If Britain simply refuses to cooperate, we shouldn't be surprised if there are reprisals. These people have to go somewhere, most are genuine refugees and it would greatly favour the French simply to be able to allow anyone camped around Calais to enter the UK. Cross-border cooperation in the EU means cooperative law enforcement as much as anything, something from which Britain could find itself badly isolated through an Out vote.

Still I haven't mentioned the effect this would have on the British economy. The EU is our largest single trade partner, in 2014 accounting for 44.6% of UK exports of goods and services, and 53.2% of UK imports. As many Norwegians have pointed out, by leaving the EU Britain would still be beholden to the laws and standards set in Brussels and Strasbourg, but would have no say in them and could even find import tariffs imposed on British exports. One wonders what that would do for the freshly-flourishing Asian-owned car factories who exploit the single market by basing themselves in Swindon or Sunderland.

That this whole situation has been allowed to get so far in a country so comfortably in bed with the financial industry seems rather odd. I am writing this a week after the referendum was announced, during which time Pound Sterling has lost more than 3 percent of its value against the US Dollar. One can only imagine that this slide would be rapidly overturned with an In vote on 23 June, so maybe currency traders are simply lining up another big pay day. An Out vote, on the other hand, could well see Sterling plummet further against global currencies.

Whatever happens on 23 June will have far-reaching implications across the Union. An Out vote could easily lead to a domino effect of those other fringe countries who tend towards Euroscepticism; Denmark and the Eastern Europeans who would love to leave but have become too dependent on handouts from Brussels. An In vote would make a statement that Britain was committed to cooperation with the other nations of Europe and could well help to steady the ship. And in a time of increasingly choppy international waters, a steady ship could well be invaluable.

Adam Mathews, 29 February 2016

A section of this article was taken from an earlier piece entitled
'What is David Cameron playing at?'

Further Reading

A letter from an English European
A last minute plea to my countryfolk

Who is the Unregulated Monster?
Britain is not a beacon of democracy, nor a rock of economic pragmatism, and a break from Europe will sure up neither

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