Should the United Kingdom Remain a Member of the European Union?

Should the United Kingdom Remain a Member of the European Union?

"Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" That is the question that British voters will be asked in one week's time. I overwhelmingly believe that yes, Britain most definitely should remain a member of the European Union. The easiest way to explain why I think that is to refute some of the claims made by those campaigning for leave. So, here goes:

"We're full up, we can't cope with any more immigrants"

The net migration figures for 2015 were just released and they showed that just over 300,000 more people came to Britain last year. A huge proportion of this number came from the EU and that's because anyone with a European passport has the right to live and work in any of the 28 member states. Looking at those numbers might make you wonder if that is sustainable and if, say, our schools and hospitals can cope with a population increase of that size each year.

Evidence shows that the majority of EU migrants come here to work and contribute over £2 billion a year to the British economy. Some of that £2 billion could easily pay for increased investment in our schools and hospitals, and let's be honest they could do with the extra cash.

"EU migrants are stopping me from getting work."

There is a reason that so many choose to come to Britain and a huge part of that has to be the availability of work. Unlike much of Europe, the UK is doing okay: there are plenty of jobs and contrary to popular belief, an Eastern European migrant getting a job doesn't really effect anyone else's employment opportunity - in fact whilst there are now more migrants in the British workforce, there are also now more Brits in work than ever before.

Plenty have lost out due to the forces of globalisation and whilst that is of little comfort to those who are out of work, pulling up the draw-bridge and shutting the borders will do little to help that. British history is full of migrant populations undercutting the local populace. The Irish that displaced the British are now being displaced by the Polish.

If there is any truth in the claim that European migrants will undercut local workers by working for less than the minimum wage, then the real enemies here are the unscrupulous employers, not the migrants, and we should focus our energy on enforcing the minimum wage, not kicking the migrant.

The reality is that declining wages are a result of the global economic crisis, not immigration, and an increase in immigration is a sign of Britain's recovery, not our decline.

"We should be able to control our own borders"

Yes, we should, and we do. Okay, so any European can come and live and work in Britain but unlike the majority of EU member states, we are not part of the Schengen borderless zone. This means that when you land at Heathrow you need to get your passport out. Another advantage of our EU membership is that we have actually moved our border across the channel. As anyone who has taken the Eurostar will know, when you board a train in Paris, British border guards check your passport in France, not Britain, and similarly when you board a ferry in Calais, UK Border Force staff patrol the UK border. If we left the EU, France would quite rightly ask Britain to move its border back to Britain.

Just a quick note here about the current refugee crisis from Syria and North Africa. Refugees risking their lives to come to Europe do so out of complete desperation. We should be embracing them with open arms. But the fact that so many arrive in Europe is nothing to do with our membership of the EU. We and other EU member states accept refugees as signatories of the United Nations Refugee Convention. And for what it's worth, the general policy of the EU for dealing with refugees is to try and share the burden. If we leave the EU, I can see more refugees being waved through the EU straight to the British border. If immigration concerns you, leaving the EU will actually only see the numbers go up.

"Europe forces all these directives on business"

Part of being in a single market is having a single set of rules for buying and selling. That means that you can be sure that you're getting like-for-like no matter where in the market you buy it. And so it is with the European Single Market. Directives and regulations are necessary to ensure that you, the consumer, get a fair deal. If we left the EU, the Directives wouldn't go away, in fact we would be forced to comply with them if we ever wanted to trade with other EU countries, but unlike now, we would have no say over these Directives as we would have no seat at the table.

"Europe would want to trade with us anyway"

The Leave campaign started out by making an economic argument like this one but quickly changed tack when they realised that they couldn't win and for good reason: the economics of leave just don't stack up.

Currently, around 50 per cent of Britain's exports go to the EU whereas only around eight per cent of EU exports come back to the UK. That's hardly a level playing field.

Even if the other EU-27 members did agree to continue free trade with the UK, they are unlikely to do so unless Britain continues to allow freedom of movement of people, just as Norway and Switzerland have to. This would be inconceivable for the 'outers' as immigration is the other major pillar to their campaign.

But let's just think about this for a second: why would the other 27 EU nations agree to give Britain the same terms of the free market when Britain wouldn't have to follow the other rules of the club or pay into the budget? The simple answer is: they wouldn't.

"We should be able to negotiate our own trade deals"

There was a company on the TV this week complaining that they couldn't sell their hovercrafts to Brazil because the duties were too high as Europe had no free trade deal with Brazil. If we left the EU, the argument goes, we would be able to negotiate our own trade deals with countries like Brazil and Australia and help small businesses grow.

There are two major flaws with this argument: firstly, Britain currently sends 50 per cent of its exports to the EU and also benefits from preferential agreements made between the EU and over 50 other countries which helps with the other 50 per cent. Second, being a member of the EU does not stop us making our own trade deals - just as we did with China last year. But usually we can get a better deal when we're part of an EU wide one.

Put simply, the EU is a market of 500 million people which means it can drive a much better deal for Britain than Britain ever could alone. If the EU can't get a deal with Brazil, why would Britain?

"We shouldn't have to bail out Greece"

Firstly, why not? It is in our interests to ensure another country doesn't go bankrupt. What may be a Greek problem will quickly become a European and then a British one too. Second, our contribution to any Greek bailout was because of our IMF membership, not the EU and third, a bit of perspective please: it was only in the 1970s that Britain had its hand out for an international bail out. What goes around...

"They were wrong about the Euro; why should we trust them on this?"

Who exactly is 'they'? If 'they' are the British establishment, no British government has ever advocated joining the Euro. Whilst Tony Blair's New Labour came close, the official line was that the Euro had to pass Gordon Brown's five economic tests, and it never did.

If 'they' are the IMF and other economists or think-tanks, yes, many of them did advocate joining the Euro. But the IMF tends to be right more often than it is wrong, and despite the doomsayers' predictions, the Euro still survives.

What you can be sure of though, should there be another shock that destabilises the Euro -- such as a member state leaving the EU -- Britain certainly wouldn't be immune to that. In or out, we still rely heavily on European markets and the Euro and we would feel the pain just as much as the Eurozone would.

"Britain should take back control and not be governed by faceless bureaucrats"

This is one of the most popular complaints I hear and focuses primarily on the democratic deficit of the EU institutions. There is plenty to be said of the make up of the Commission and how laws are made in Europe, and certainly something that could be improved. But faceless bureaucrats they are not, and Britain is hardly controlled by them.

Let's take this apart in two steps: firstly, that Britain should take back control. A friend of mine who knows a thing or two about the workings of the EU once said to me that Brits always underestimate their influence in Europe whereas the Italians always overestimate theirs. The free-trade area that is now the European Union is very much a UK model. It was the UK that advocated enlargement of the Union from 15 to 25, to 27 and then to 28 and last time I checked it was Britain that was pushing for the Commission to re-open accession talks with Turkey. Don't forget that Britain has specific, treaty-bound opt-outs from some of the most contentious parts of the EU treaties: significantly the Euro and Schengen (and of course Cameron's new opt-out from 'ever closer union'). This doesn't paint a picture of a country that has lost control, but rather one that exerts great influence and will usually get its way when push comes to shove.

Second, those faceless bureaucrats. Here is where a little institutional knowledge comes in handy. No, you didn't vote for the members of the Commission, but you did vote for the governments that appointed them and the Members of the European Parliament that approved their appointment. The Commission comes up with draft laws, but these are voted on and approved or rejected by a mixture of co-decision between the directly elected European Parliament and the Council of Ministers from each member state government. Then there is the newly created European President, currently Donald Tusk, who was elected by the heads of government from across the EU, the European Council. Underpinning all of this are the treaties, most notably the Treaty of Lisbon, which states what the EU can and can not do. These treaties have been signed and ratified by each member state's parliament, including the UK Parliament. Every step of the way, EU law is ratified in some form by either directly elected MEPs or through national governments and parliaments.

So there we have it. Take any of the main arguments from the leave campaign and you can tear them apart quite easily. But there are also many positive reasons why we should vote to remain, be they economic or political -- I'll save those for another day.

For me, it all comes down to what kind of country Britain is and what kind of country I want Britain to be.

We have always been an outward looking, free-trading, visionary nation. We have contributed to much of the modern international order, from free trade to human rights and international law. We have never turned our backs on the world. Now is not the time to turn inwards and say 'enough'. Sure, the EU has its problems, but Britain should be leading the campaign to reform it, not destroy it.

That is why I am voting to remain, and I hope you do to.

This article originally appeared in my blog


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