Let me start by saying I’m no fan of the EU as an organisation. Its president, Jean Claude Juncker, has no popular mandate from the European people yet he presumes to speak as if he has total authority. Its legislature passes law that, if enough of our neighbours vote for it, can be imposed on us without the approval of a single British MEP — though in some cases we can veto it. Those laws are not always in the best interest of the UK. And the EU commission has seldom expressed an interest in addressing this issue.
That being said, part of David Cameron’s renegotiation deal changes the founding treaty of the EU so that it’s aim of “ever close union” between members now explicitly exempts the UK. What that means in practice remains a matter of debate, but in any case the transfer of any further powers to Brussels cannot happen without another UK referendum, as established under the European Union Act of 2011. This, given the economic cost of leaving — reaffirmed repeatedly by experts and entrepreneurs alike — made me incline toward remaining. What sealed the deal is the poisonous bile and often outright lies told by the Leave campaign in recent months.
The government pledged to get net migration down to the tens of thousands. Its failure to do so has often been blamed on the EU and undoubtedly this is a factor. But the majority of migration to our country comes from outside the union and restricting this influx is well within the remit of our parliament. It has not done so. Could it be that there’s some sort of need for migrants?
The clearest illustration of this is the NHS. The Leave crowd moan about ‘health tourism’ putting it under stress as foreigners come here for free treatment. The reality is that it wouldn’t be able to function with migrants. EU nationals alone make up 10% of NHS doctors and, in all, more than 100,000 NHS staff are non-British. Big businesses, usually the primary concern of the Tories dominating Leave, have made it clear that migration allows them to fill jobs they wouldn’t necessarily be able to otherwise.
No doubt to ward off accusations of bigotry, the Leave campaign reasons that leaving the EU will make for a fairer immigration system, where those arriving from outside the union do not come second to those from within. We’ll be able to admit more skilled workers from Asia, Africa and the Americas they say. Does anybody really believe that a campaign which has crowed repeatedly about slashing migrant numbers actually just wants more from elsewhere? And aren’t these the same distant lands, according to argument, whose émigrés fail to integrate when they come here?
If not, why did Nigel Farage — perhaps the noisiest voice in the Leave campaign — use an image of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria to illustrate his claim that Britain is reaching, as he called it, breaking point? These are non-EU migrants Nige, give them a fair chance! Of course, these troubled souls weren’t in Calais anyway, they were on the borders between Croatia and Slovenia.
The Leave crowd also can’t seem to decide whether migrants are stealing their jobs, or sitting around unemployed and mooching off the state. To clarify, freedom of movement within does not equal freedom of welfare. New arrivals cannot show up on day one and live off benefits — in fact, abuse of the system in this regard is grounds for sending people home. Yes, the papers may have found people abusing the system — and long may they continue to highlight shame them — but that doesn’t mean these instances are anything like representative.
And besides, if Farage and co. are so keen on non-EU migration, why are they so bloody petrified of Turkey?
This one is simple, Turkey cannot join the EU without getting the agreement of all current member states. Half of Cyprus is still occupied by Turkey, do you suppose they’ll be on board? And what about Greece, whose people were forcefully — nay, murderously — expelled from Anatolia by the Turks during and after WWI? The same Greeks spent 400 years being occupied by the Ottoman Empire, which also occupied Bulgaria and Hungary and so on. Perhaps these nations might have something to say about it? That’s before we get on to the legitimate concerns of nations who have no bad blood with Turkey. Furthermore, there’s a raft of requirements new joiners must satisfy before they join the EU, of which Turkey has satisfied one. Turkey joining is such a dim and distant prospect that we can dismiss this whole argument as a red herring.
If we leave the EU, we’ll be able to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world, the Leave campaign tell us. Yet we’re already negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world as part of the EU. Who do you think is going to get a better deal, an isolated UK facing economic turmoil in a post-Brexit world, or a 27-nation bloc whose members include Germany — the fourth-biggest economy in the world? The answer is perhaps made clearest by the fact that these other countries — non-EU countries — are lining up to tell us Brexit is a bad idea. Yes, most would cut deals eventually. But we’d be bloody lucky to get terms as good as we might otherwise have got.
Economists and entrepreneurs are also lining up to tell us leaving that the EU puts our economy in peril. We’ve just had more than 1,280 business leaders — whose companies employ more than 1.75million people — signing a letter to say that Brexit will put British jobs at risk. What does the Leave campaign say to this? That they don’t care about the experts; that the experts have got it wrong before. I wonder if Michael Gove is so distrusting of expert advice when seeking medical treatment; or if he’d let an amateur represent him in court. This is nothing more than anti-intellectualism.
But, they tell us, we’ll get back £350million a week we currently send to the EU. This can be spent on public services like our NHS. This figure is nonsense and happily ignores the fact that we get a rebate that slashes this contribution to £276million a week. It’s cut down further by EU spending within the UK, such as support for farmers and university grants, bringing the total down to £161million a week. We know how much we spend being a part of the EU — can Leave tell us how much the economic uncertainty that comes with leaving will cost us? No they can’t.
Nor do I believe that money saved on EU membership would be spent on public services. Again, the past record of the Tories at the heart of the Leave campaign gives the game away. This current Conservative government has made real-term cuts to every public service it can, demanding savings even when there are no more savings to be made.
It’s also worth noting that a number of big businesses locate themselves in the UK, particularly in the global financial hub of London, because it provides easy access to the EU single market in favourable conditions. Ireland knows it’ll be a blow to its economy too if we leave, but it’s government does anticipate that a number of these companies will relocate to Dublin should that happen.
Make Britain great again
This whole EU debate has been dragged into the realm of panacea politics. There is no one solution to the troubles facing our country, and only the ignorant or the dishonest can say otherwise. There’s a sense of nostalgia about the idea of leaving; the notion that we can win back some better Britain long lost. To paraphrase Donald Trump, that we can “make Britain great again”.
Will we be greater for it when we’ve snubbed our friends and allies in Europe? When we’re paying the economic price for doing so? What about when we turn around and find the vile SNP agitating for a second independence referendum because of our decision, thereby threatening to leave our Great Britain short a head?
We are different from Europe, on our rain-lashed little rock out in the sea, but there is more that unites us than divides us from our neighbours. These words I borrow from Jo Cox, the MP who was last week gunned down for believing as much. I don’t love the EU as a political body, but I do love Europe, and — more importantly — I love the UK. That’s why I’m voting remain.