Since I started this blog 9 years ago, this is only the second time I have taken an overtly political stance, the first time being over the Scottish referendum. This is unquestionably the most important vote in my lifetime (at least, so far). As you won’t be surprised to learn, I am voting to stay in the EU. Here’s why.
Leaving the EU will damage the economy
Leave’s economic arguments were completely destroyed weeks ago. Their claim that the EU costs Britain £350m a week was taken apart by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and their continued use of it earned them a rebuke from the Treasury Select Committee and strong criticism from the UK Statistics Authority. The £100k net contribution would be obliterated by the post-Brexit economic slowdown and the resulting loss of tax revenues. Even the most optimistic scenario would see the government having to increase borrowing or find £40 billion a year in taxes or spending cuts. There is an unprecedented level of agreement among economists about this. Almost all of them believe Brexit would be bad for Britain’s economy and for the rest of the world’s too. As Paul Johnson said, economists are quite literally losing sleep over this. They only disagree about whether it would be horrendous or merely unpleasant. As for the claim that £33 billion could be saved by getting rid of EU regulation, that is just downright dangerous.
The UK should be a leader in the world
If all your friends are warning you against doing something it is a good idea to stop and reflect. Brexit advocates insist that the UK’s status would not be diminished outside the EU but if all the people we need to influence are telling us that we will lose influence, then we will lose influence. It won’t be easy to walk tall on the world stage if leaders and opinion formers in every other country think we have taken leave of our senses. The UK, with its historic links to the Commonwealth and the USA, forms a bridge between these countries and the EU. That is one of the reasons why Britain counts for so much in the world. Why would we want to jeopardise that just because we are a bit cross about a few regulations? Last night, our friends lit up their buildings with our flag. They want us to stay because they can see what is at stake. We would all be poorer if Britain stormed off into not-so-splendid isolation.
Leaving the EU will probably break up the UK
Leaving the EU increases the likelihood of the UK breaking up. It will almost certainly lead to renewed calls for Scottish independence. Assuming we can keep Wales and Northern Ireland on side, the country will then take on its 16th century shape. It will give the beginning and end of Great Britain’s story a symmetry that will be pleasing to historians. It is curious that those who shout loudly about loving their country and who ostentatiously wrap themselves in the Union Jack may be about to take a decision that ends Britain’s 400 year history. They keep saying they want their country back but I wasn’t aware we had lost it in the first place. If we vote to leave, though, there is a good chance that we will.
The EU is, on the whole, a Good Thing
Sure, it might have some irritating regulations and it can appear to be slow and cumbersome but, on the whole, it is an incredible achievement. And not just because we can trade with and work in 27 other countries. The EU didn’t win the Cold War but it certainly won the peace afterwards. When I was born, much of Europe was under some form of dictatorship. Communism held sway in eastern Europe while Greece, Spain and Portugal were fascist autocracies. For a time after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it looked as though some countries might just swap one form of authoritarian rule for another. The EU prevented that. By insisting on governmental and human rights reforms as the price of membership it ensured that the newly liberated countries became democracies. The free and democratic Europe we have today is largely a creation of the EU. We should be proud of that.
Brexit is a once and for all decision…
It is what Jeff Bezos would call a Type 1 decision; one that is irreversible. Like a door with a handle on only one side, we can go through but we can’t get back again when it slams behind us. To persuade people to go through a one-way door you need a really compelling story. The Leave campaign haven’t given us one. They have come nowhere near. Leaving the EU would be taking a massive gamble for no discernible payoff. As Martin Lewis says, if you look at it as a risk management decision, “A vote for Brexit is unquestionably economically riskier than a vote to remain.”
…whereas staying in is not
If we decide to stay in, we can always come out at a later date. It is extremely unlikely that any of the Leave campaign’s paranoid fantasies will actually come true. There will probably never be a European army and, even if there is, Britain won’t be forced to participate. Further integration, at least for those outside the Euro, is looking unlikely too. I’m not even convinced that there will be any new members admitted in the near future. Turkey’s accession is a long way off. But let’s suppose some of these things were to happen and they changed the situation so much that Britain felt its position was no longer tenable. We could have another referendum (or not) and just leave. For all the huffing about sovereignty, the UK is still a sovereign state. The very fact that we are having a referendum is proof of that. Leave’s claims about sovereignty have been dismissed as dishonesty on an industrial scale by constitutional law professor Michael Dougan. Even if we vote to stay in today, we can still leave at some point in the future. Nothing is going to change that.
Immigration is a red herring
This has been Leave’s trump card but, in a TV debate earlier this week, Frances O’Grady said, “The Leave campaign are selling people a big con.” She’s right. They have been telling people that leaving the EU would reduce immigration while, at the same time, promising black and Asian voters that it would mean more of their relatives would be able to come to Britain. They can’t have it both ways. The truth is that Britain is an international economy containing one of the world’s global cities. Large multinationals base many of their staff here. This country has the second highest number of intra-company transfers in the world, accounting for 60,000 arrivals last year. For an economy like ours, immigration is a feature, not a bug. Restricting immigration from the EU would either just increase numbers from elsewhere or choke off the labour supply to the point where companies stared taking their jobs overseas. Every developed economy has high levels of immigration. Compared to the rest of the OECD, the UK’s numbers are not extraordinary. The only way this country could get immigration below 100,000 would be to become such an economic basket-case that no-one wanted to come here. That would be the case whether or not we were inside the EU.
So today, I’m off to vote Remain. In fact I’m doing more than that. I will be spending today helping to get the vote out. Leaving the EU would be a senseless and catastrophic act of self-harm. I’m going to do what I can to stop that happening.