Why I have voted to remain in the EU

On June 23, 2016, the people of Britain will vote in a referendum. The question we will be asked is: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

I have already cast my vote by post, and I voted to remain, although I can see both sides of the argument. Here’s my take on what’s at stake.

Since most of my readers are American, I’d better just run over a few facts about the EU. It isn’t necessarily what outsiders think it is.

  • The EU is a free trade zone that guarantees the free movement of goods and services within its member countries. It also guarantees the free movement of people, so EU citizens are free to live and work in any EU country.
  • The EU has 28 member countries, of which half have joined since 2004. But Switzerland and Norway are not members.
  • The EU creates laws and regulations at a European level.
  • The EU has an annual budget of 145 billion Euros ($165 billion), of which the UK contributes around 12% net. France and Germany both contribute more. It spends this money on research, agricultural and fishing subsidies, direct grants to poorer regions of the EU, and administration.

Let’s examine what I see as the major areas under discussion in the referendum debate.

Trade. The EU is Britain’s biggest trading partner, and being a member of such a large free trade zone has clear benefits to Britain. However, trade to the EU is less than half of the UK’s total trade, and the EU has been remarkably ineffective at negotiating free trade deals with important trading partners such as the US, China, and India. In addition, the EU has implemented some catastrophic subsidies of certain industries – particularly the agricultural sector, so the EU single market isn’t an unqualified success. The single currency – the Euro – which has been adopted by 19 countries has also been highly controversial, and highlights the EU’s worrying tendency towards centralised regulation.

It’s possible that we could leave the EU and negotiate free trade deals with countries like the US, China and India, whilst also retaining a free trade agreement with the EU. I’m quite persuaded by this argument in fact. But it’s clear that in order to retain free trade with the EU, Britain would need to comply with all the regulations that other EU countries do – including free movement of people (more on this below.)

I do believe that Britain could thrive economically outside the EU, but only if our political leaders could deliver on the promise of negotiating free trade agreements with the US, China and India, while remaining in the EU single market. I’m not confident that our politicians could achieve this (or would even want to), and for that reason, I prefer the safer option of remaining.

Law. The EU makes European laws. It makes a lot of laws, and always seems to be manufacturing new regulations – whether on the permitted curvature of a banana, or on the number of hours that workers are allowed to work in a week. Some regulation is a good thing, paving the way to free trade, human rights and international co-operation. Other regulation risks strangling business and destroying innovation.

Many people in Britain would like to see law-making returned to the UK, instead of at a European level. It’s more democratic, they say, waving their fists at the grey-suited “Eurocrats” who continually dream up new ways of making everyone’s life more miserable.

But this argument holds no sway with me. If you want to find politicians making stupid laws, you don’t need to look at the European Parliament. British politicians are equally good at creating stupid laws. In fact, Britain is currently engaged in a massive programme of political decentralization, installing new regional parliaments, assemblies and mayors up and down the country. British political stupidity looks set to expand ten-fold in the coming years.

So leaving the EU won’t protect us from stupid laws.

Defence. The EU is reportedly determined to create its own army. With the prospects of a President Trump emerging, perhaps this is Europe’s only hope for security. And there are threats all around the world – Russia and Islamic State to name just two. Would a European army make sense in a hostile world?

In my opinion, no. I would rather we remained part of NATO. NATO defence spending is massively larger than any potential European army. In fact, since the UK is Europe’s biggest spender on defence, a British exit from the EU would effectively torpedo Europe’s aspirations to create any meaningful army.

So this is an argument for Britain to leave the EU, but it’s a relatively minor one. An EU army isn’t inevitable either way.

Immigration. Forget everything I’ve told you so far. The EU referendum isn’t really about any of those things. It’s a proxy referendum on immigration.

Every politician who supports the “Leave” campaign stresses that unless Britain leaves the EU, it will have no control over immigration from other EU countries. And that’s true. Free movement of people is a cornerstone of the single market. Free movement of goods, services and people – that’s the fundamental principle.

In my opinion, that’s a very good principle. Free movement of people isn’t a problem, but a wonderful opportunity. But I know that I’m in a minority here –three-quarters of British people want less immigration.

However, I believe that if we vote to leave but want to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU, we will have to accept free movement of people as part of that agreement, just as countries like Norway and Switzerland have done. So whether you like immigration or not, it isn’t going to go away, unless we choose to cut ourselves off from the EU entirely.

This makes the choice stark – remain in the EU and accept its benefits and its faults – or leave and become an inward-looking island nation that refuses to engage with the world as we find it. I voted for the first option.

17 responses to “Why I have voted to remain in the EU

  1. Chris Bonnett

    An excellent overview, Steve. My compliments (and concurrence)! Moving forward is almost always better than going backward.

    There are many reasons our respective countries (the UK and the US) are attractive to immigrants from nearly every corner of the planet, freedom and relative prosperity being the most obvious. I agree welcoming them (and the labor they provide and the taxes they pay) is the best way to nurture a progressive, vibrant and diverse society.

    Here’s hoping the majority of your countrymen agree with you!

    And here’s hoping my countrymen will step back from the brink of electing a singularly unfit person (D. Trump) to the highest office in the land. It would be a profound example of going backward.

    • Thank you, Chris. I agree with you on immigration and ts benefits – in fact I am very excited about free movement. The polls suggest that the country is roughly equally split on the issue of Remain vs Leave. Young people are more in favour of remaining, but are less likely to vote than older voters, so anything could happen.

    • Yes I do hope your people won’t vote for mr Trump. What is the world coming to?

  2. Thanks Steve. Interesting issues you guys are having to grapple with. From the perspective of an outsider, I think you made the right choice. I hope your view carries the day.

    I’m embarrassed that you guys have to weigh the possibility of a President Trump in your deliberations. Hopefully my country can back away from hoisting that deranged blowhard on the world.

    • It has been interesting. No need to feel embarrassed about Trump – I just threw him in to the mix for fun. He’s not an issue in the EU debate! Obama meanwhile, did stick his oar into the discussion – in a very unhelpful way, IMO.

  3. Good post. I agree with you that the vote is really about immigration. I also thinkthat leaving the EU would lead to the break up of the UK if Scotland votes to remain and is forced out against the wishes of its people.
    The science geek

    • Although the “Remain” campaign has been quite weak at getting its point across, I have found the referendum process very interesting. We are often told that important issues need a “public debate” but holding a referendum makes this real. I for one would welcome more in the future, like the one Switzerland is holding today on a minimum income. What do you think, Mr Geek?

  4. I am not sure referendums (or is it is referenda 🙂 ) are a good idea. Yes it is good to have major issues publically debated. But does the electorate have enough information(or even the ability) to be able to make an informed decision? I am not sure.

    There are many issues where the “political establishment” are out of line with how the public would have voted in a referendum, e.g. capital punishment.

    The Science Geek

    • Referendums or referenda – I’m not sure. They are so rare, it hardly matters!

      Does the electorate have the information to make an informed decision? I am arguing that it should, and that we would have a stronger democratic process as a result. Voters already make implicit choices when they elect politicians. I think that if we don’t have confidence in our fellow citizens to make good choices, then logically we ought to abandon democracy altogether.

    • I fear you are right. The electorate can be easily misled and that is where the fault lies with democracy as our dear wins tonight Churchill used to say.

  5. Thanks for the informative post! I read it out loud to my husband and he agreed that it was very well written.

    I’m not sure what would be better, but from what you’re saying here, it sounds like the trade issue leads directly to free movement. Is it true that EU trade is only possible by allowing open borders? Or would it be restricted to some degree, say, on a case-by-case basis?

    • Free movement of people is a precondition for the free movement of goods and services within the EU, and this is the relationship that Norway and Switzerland have negotiated with the EU.

      • I just had a conversation about this with a friend of mine who is British but now lives in Szitzerland. It seems that we were misled during the campaign and the true situation is this (in my friend’s words):

        “Free movement (i.e. Travel) is for all (Switzerland is in Schengen). But not the right to reside or work. That is controlled by permits.”

        • OK, reading about this on Wikipedia, perhaps the situation is even more complicated. In February 2014, Swiss voters narrowly accepted a referendum limiting the freedom of movement of foreign citizens to Switzerland. This hasn’t yet been implemented, but it sounds like my friend is describing the situation right now, and that in the future, free movement is going to be removed, and that this might cause other agreements between Switzerland and the EU to be revoked.

  6. All I can say is that voting IN tomorrow. I see a lot of people young and old with I am IN budges where I live and never seen anyone with out. ( though it could just be the area I live) for me staying in Europe is the future of a world with no wars, ( has everyone forgotten how our grand parents went to war within Europe?) a cleaner environment and fairer laws and workers rights. Sure the system is not perfect, but try and research what it used to be pre EU.

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