In a few days the nation will be gripped by the EU referendum vote. The arguments for and against are compelling, Brexit want to reclaim Britain's sovereignty and control who comes into the UK by policing the country's borders to halt untenable levels of immigration, gain autonomy over key decision making areas and forgo the billions spent each year for the EU membership fee. To leave would mean they no longer enjoy the benefits of free trade devoid of tariffs, but instead be able to establish their own laws related to agriculture, justice, home affairs and immigration.
If Brexit wins the UK will engage in the laborious process of establishing its own trade agreements - a potentially protracted affair. Brexit argue they could enjoy the benefits of free trade without being bound by EU regulations. In order to dissuade other countries from emulating the Brexit route, the UK could face a backlash from fellow EU members making it hard to trade freely as before.
The main fear for the Remain camp is how Brexit would impact on trade with businesses moving from the UK to neighbouring EU countries for the free trade benefits, for example. However Brexit believe their departure from the EU would precipitate a domino effect leading to the collapse of the EU project; subsequently businesses would remain in the UK - seeing it is a safe place to continue to expand their businesses and attract investment.
And what of the implication on jobs? The Remain camp predict 3 million job losses, the Brexit camp argue the halting of immigration would mean more job opportunities for people in the UK. Yet cutting immigration could result in labour shortages in key sectors. Wages might rise if Britain leaves, which doesn't bode well for employers. Loss of freedom of movement within the EU would diminish the ease with which people can work in other countries reducing the pool of talent for employers to choose from dampening UK's competitive edge.
If the UK left they would retain control over their fishing rights, but fisherman would still have to trade with EU member states with limited access to the single market. Leaving would make it difficult to trade and they would have no say or influence on the rules and laws that directly impact them.
In terms of the UK's position on the world stage, leaving would mark a shift in global hegemony. The Brexit camp argues the UK would be independent again, but it could mean reverting to the pre war world of tenuous and strained networks. Departing would diminish the UK's voice and influence on the world stage and compromise US relations.
As for security, the inability to monitor or implement proper checks on the people entering the UK makes it easier for insalubrious characters to enter and for criminal activity to take place with relative fluidity across Europe. Being excluded from the EU could make the UK more vulnerable since they will not have ease of access to key information and intelligence related to combating terrorism. The Brexit camp argue that leaving would help to facilitate new controls on who comes into the UK increasing security at home, but it seems a myopic view in light of the global threat that Islamic extremism poses.
The overriding issue driving the debate is immigration; currently under EU law Britain can't prohibit anyone from another member state from coming to live/work in the UK. This has enabled people all over Europe to resettle and work in any European member state. The UK is an ageing population - immigration has encouraged growth and contributed to the richness of UK society. But the Brexit camp claims that levels are untenable putting a huge strain on health, housing and education provision.
And what of the ordinary man on the street - what do they make of the EU referendum vote?
In London I spoke to a black cab driver vociferous in his views about leaving the EU - it was immigration that bothered him.
'They let anyone one in, murderers, rapists, I want OUT, I am sick of it.'
I let him rant and then said, 'my parents came over here in search of a better life. We assimilated and abided by the rules - there are many immigrants who are making a contribution to British society.' It went quiet in the cab - then he resumed his Brexit rant. It was then that I felt a sudden disconnection. Moving between London, Europe and Asia, I am a drifting nomad not part of any society/ community. Would I exercise my right to vote or abstain feeling excluded from the whole debate? I still pay UK taxes, own a London flat, but for a long time have barely utilised any of the services available to me as a British or EU citizen, including health care. Were there others like me, rootless and a bit lost in the midst of the heat of a debate that will rage until the very last vote is cast.
Whatever happens if the Remain camp wins EU grumblers won't stop; if Brexit wins it will change the landscape of British politics redrawing the balance of power in the European region.
I sensed from that British male white cab driver, born and brought up in London, that he was hankering for another time that is long gone. However, our society has changed irrevocably, it is not the same Britain, if Brexit win they might assert border control again, but it won't change the fact that we still live in a UK society that is heterogeneous and incredibly diverse.
Drawing of east London view (pen on paper, 2001)
Personally, I think the EU should be reformed, that member states who have issues need to be listened to and if modifications were made then staying would be more desirable than leaving. As someone who has always felt like an outsider, to see Britain stand alone and isolated doesn't seem right, it is better to be a player and leader on the world stage, and argue for reform from within than without.