Everyone loves Sir Michael Caine. He's done many great films. My favourites are probably Zulu, the Italian Job and Educating Rita. Of course he's a brilliant actor but there's also something quintessentially English about him. And because we love him we should, of course, listen to his opinion on whether Britain should stay in a reformed European Union or walk away. Why not? His opinion matters just as much as yours or mine.
Although he admitted that he found either outcome to be "scary" and that like many people he was still in two minds he told Radio 4's Today programme last week that he was "sort of pretty certain we should come out". This less than ringing endorsement has been described as a coup for the Leave campaign, struggling as they are to come up with substantive endorsements from well known people. Sir Michael blames decision-making by "faceless bureaucrats" for his "sort of certain" view and says that if leaving costs us money we'll just have to work harder. The only problem is he's sort of certainly wrong and if it does cost us money it sort of certainly won't be him that has to work harder! And what if some willing workers lose their jobs as a result?
Sir Michael is wrong because faceless bureaucrats don't make the policy of the EU, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament do that and both are our democratically elected representatives. But he's also wrong because he seems not to have fully considered the effect leaving the EU would on our trade and on European security.
Yes, I know, the European Union isn't perfect. It's over-reached itself with the Euro and the consequent moves to make the single currency work better. It could definitely be more democratic and accountable and I'd argue its remit and its budget should both be reduced. I support the Prime Minister's efforts to get a better deal for Britain but whatever he comes back with won't change the certainly with which I'll be voting when the time comes. That's because although I'm a strong advocate for reforming the EU my decision whether to stay engaged or quit forever won't depend on access to "in work benefits", the migrant crisis, the Euro, the budget, red tape or even its current level of democratic accountability, since I believe the people do and always will have the final say.
In truth my vote hinges on two incredibly powerful arguments, a commitment to free trade and to cooperation with our neighbours.
The European Union is a single trading bloc of 500 million people, the largest economic unit in the world. It's 45% of our export business worth £229billion per year. Of course that trade won't stop entirely if we leave. But since all goods going between the UK and Europe would be subject to customs clearance (like Switzerland, like Norway) trade would be slower, less convenient and more expensive if barriers to trade were re-imposed. I can't believe Sir Michael is seriously contemplating such a backward step for the UK. This is not the time to play fast and loose with British jobs.
I've never won an Oscar but I have built two European freight businesses so I know a thing or two about the glories and the challenges of cooperation across the continent. Just like in a marriage or in a business partnership it's sometimes been tempting to think life would be easier if we could've just made all the decisions ourselves! But that's not the reality of our world in 2016 and nor should Sir Michael wish it to be.
The fact is working together with our neighbours makes us safer and more prosperous. Don't believe me? Imagine if the EU ceased to exist. After all we can't take its existence for granted if we ourselves are prepared to leave. Look at Eastern Europe where the EU has ensured major countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic transition to become successful democracies and market economies, incidentally creating new opportunities for UK companies. Or Finland, to whom EU membership provides confidence in the integrity of its Eastern border. Or even Ireland where EU membership has eased the peace process in the North. With the middle east in turmoil, terrorism on the rise and Russia continuing to menace, this is not the time to duck our responsibilities to protect our backyard.
So yes cooperation is challenging, joint decision making sometimes seems a pain. But the Britain Sir Michael and I both love has always had the confidence and courage to be outward looking, collaborative, forward thinking and a strong advocate of free trade. We will soon have the chance to prove that these great attributes remain.Suggest a correction