Later this month, on June 23rd, the UK will have a referendum on whether to remain in, or leave, the European Union (i.e. EU). It is a hugely important once-in-a-generation decision, which will shape this country for decades to come.
As a politics nerd I’ve been digging into the UK’s relationship with the EU for some years now. Over this time, I have come to the conclusion that the case for a “Remain” vote is immeasurably stronger.
What’s at stake? The positive case for the EU.
There are many benefits to our EU membership. In the interest of keeping this this article to a reasonable length, I’ll list but a few key ones:
- Unhindered access to a market of 500 million people (the European Single Market). It’s our biggest trading partner, with 45% (i.e. nearly half!) of UK trade being with the EU, and is directly linked to 3 million jobs in the UK. For comparison, the next two biggest trading partners for the UK are the USA (at 18%) and China (at 2.9%).
- Our EU membership protects many of our social rights, such as a minimum of 28 days of paid leave a year, rights for temporary and part-time employees, maternity and parental leave, sick pay, andanti-discrimination rights.
- EU membership makes the UK a premier destination for businesses (from small start-ups to huge multinationals) looking to raise funds from, and do business in, Europe. Of our 1 trillion(!) pounds of inwards investment, half comes from fellow member states, and close to 30% is tied to EU membership. This means more jobs, and better wages.
- Our holidays in Europe are more affordable. EU flights policies provides cheaper flights, and EU legislation is reducing and abolishing roaming charges and provides for free emergency healthcare when abroad.
- The EU negotiates trade agreements with outside countries as a bloc, and hence the UK benefits from superior global trade agreements, negotiated from a position of strength by a bloc of 500 million consumers. There are currently 53 existing agreements, and additional ones (with the USA, Australia and Japan, to name a few) are in the works.
- EU-wide bodies such as Europol and Eurojust allow national policing and security agencies to better cooperate in fighting crime, intelligence sharing and terrorism. Measures such as the European Arrest Warrant help with cross-border operations against organised crime, and bringing many thousands of criminals to justice.
- The EU champions and provides ongoing investment to many worthwhile causes, such as regional projects across the UK, arts andculture, scientific research, medical research and academic research,start-ups and technological research, consumer protection,environmental and animal welfare initiatives.
- By being a part of, and a leader in, one of the most important blocs in the world, the UK can punch above its weight, and get things done internationally. Topics such as climate change, the environment, human trafficking, multinationals tax evasion, international security, energy, and transportation, are cross-border in nature, and best tackled when member states work together.
- The EU gives UK citizens the right to travel, study, work and retire across Europe. This is a great boon, already used by 1.3 million UK citizens living in other EU countries right now.
Built as a response to the devastation of the Second World War, the EU is an instrumental framework for the nations of Europe to work together, for the benefit of their citizens. It brought about an unprecedented period of peace, prosperity and cooperation across the continent.
By leaving, the UK stands to lose it all.
What would leaving mean for our economy?
Losing our unhindered access to the European Single Market, and the years of uncertainty that follow, will have a severe economical effect. Studies by the UK Treasury surmise that within a few years of a vote to leave:
- Between 500,000 and 800,000 jobs will be lost.
- Inflation (i.e. prices) will go up by 2.3% to 2.7%.
- Unemployment will go up by 1.6% to 2.4%.
- Real term wages will decrease by 2.8% to 4.0%.
- The pound will decrease in value by 12% to 15%.
- The average pension will fall by £1,900 to £5,200 a year.
The UK Treasury is by no means alone on these predictions. There are numerous independent studies carrying serious warnings. For example:
- The CBI (Confederation of British Industry, representing 190,000 businesses employing 7 million people) warned that household incomes could be between £2,100 and £3,700 lower, unemployment would be between 2% and 3% higher, and 950,000 jobs could be lost.
- The CEP (a politically independent Research Centre at the London School of Economics) warned that foreign investment will fall by at least 22%, causing an estimated decline of 3.4% in income levels, or roughly £2,200 per household.
- The TUC (Trade Union Federation, representing the majority of trade unions in the UK and 6.2 million members) warned that workers will lose £38 a week, and see their social rights under threat.
Multiple studies also foresee families being hit by rising prices at the shops, as a result of a weakened pound (making imports more expensive), and the potential introduction of trade tariffs. For example, the NFU (National Farmers’ Union, representing the farmers of England and Wales), warns that leaving the EU could result in an average price rise of 8% on food products.
The bottom line is that a vote to leave likely means a significant economic hit, negatively impacting each and every one of us. Young and old, poor and well off, singles and families. We’ll all be affected.
Who is saying we should vote to remain?
Some prominent examples for people and bodies that say that the UK is better off remaining in the EU are:
- A huge majority of economists (9 out of 10), as well as virtually all key national and international economic institutions such as the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, and the Institute of Fiscal Studies, to name but a few.
- Prominent world leaders. President Barack Obama (USA), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Canada), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Japan), Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (Australia), President Francois Hollande (France), Chancellor Angela Merkel (Germany), President Xi Jinping (China), Prime Minister Narendra Modi (India), Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (Spain), Prime Minister John Key (New Zealand), and the list goes on and on. An international consensus that the UK enjoys more influence, better trade agreements, and a stronger economy in the EU.
- There is an overwhelming consensus within the UK scientific and academic communities that remaining in the EU is of major benefit to science and research in the UK. 93% of research scientists and engineers agree that the EU is a major benefit. All 133 university vice-chancellors are advocating to remain, and so are the current and previous two presidents of the Royal Society (Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Martin Rees).
- The UK’s largest trade unions, Unite, the GMB and Unison, and many, many others, representing millions of UK workers, have all come out in favour of remaining in the EU, saying that leaving the EU would risk jobs and put worker rights at risk.
- Virtually all past and current party leaders for the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, are saying “Remain” is the right choice. David Cameron, William Hague, Jeremy Corbyn, Ed Miliband, Tony Blair, John Major, Nick Clegg, Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett, Leanne Wood, the list goes on and on, covering the entire UK political spectrum (UKIP and some hawkish elements of the Conservative Party aside).
- Hundreds of leading figures in the UK’s creative industry (which employs over 1.8 million people), ranging from the likes of Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch to Jarvis Cocker and John le Carré, have been speaking out in support of “Remain”, and the benefits it brings for said industry.
- There is an overwhelming consensus within environmental institutions, organizations and charities on the great and continued benefits of EU membership to the betterment and protection of the environment.
- Chief executives, doctors and nurses, ranging from chief executive Simon Stevens, to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the British Medical Association (BMA) — representing hundreds of thousands of medical professionals in the UK — have warned that Brexit would harm the NHS, patient care and public health.
I can go on and on, but the point should be clear by now — No matter which field you look at, the vast majority of experts and leaders thereof agree — remaining in the EU is the best course for the UK.
So why contemplate leaving?
We’ve established there will be a price (quite possibly — a very high price) for leaving the EU. Are there strong enough reasons to still leave?
Well, the plain answer is that there aren’t. I’ve looked, very carefully, into the supposed justifications the “Leave” side has given for asking the British public to inflict this harm upon itself, and found them to be very lacking, to put it mildly.
If I had to put it a bit more forcefully, I would say that virtually all of said justifications are either straight-out lies, or misleading distortions. To quote former prime minister John Major, it feels like “a fraud on the British people”.
Please find some key “Leave” arguments (and their refutations) below. You can read additional ones here.
“We give the EU £350 million per week. Let’s give it to the NHS instead.”
The UK’s net contribution to the EU isn’t anywhere near this amount. We get a rebate (i.e. a refund) of about £100m per week, which goes straight back into the UK’s coffers. Another £120m per week come back to the UK in the form of regional funds, farming subsidies, research grants, and the likes.
So £350 million is a rather blatant lie. So much so that the UK Statistics Authority has actually instructed the Leave campaign to stop using said figure.
It’s also worth noting that it is the estimate of the UK Treasury that the UK gets £10 of value for every £1 we put into the EU. So leaving won’t mean more money in the budget, but actually less. This, in turn, means cuts to the NHS (and other vital services), rather then increases. NHS executives and former royal college presidents state plainly that “Brexit should carry a health warning”.
“Turkey is about to join the EU.”
No. It isn’t. For a country to join the EU, it has to prove it is a modern Western democracy. That means meeting certain criteria on 35 subjects, ranging from human rights to the economy. Turkey applied to join nearly 30 years ago (in 1987), and have since managed to achieve just 1 (out of 35). At this rate, it will be ready to join the EU in 986 years (i.e. the year 3002).
In addition, even when Turkey meets said 35 criteria (should that ever happen), accession to the EU has to be approved by all existing member states. This means any member state (the UK included) has a veto over the process. As things stand, there are a number of countries where a veto is very likely (Austria, France, The Netherlands, and Cyprus, for instance).
In other words, it just isn’t going to happen for decades to come, if at all.
And, of course, if Turkey ever does join, it will be after it has met the criteria above, meaning that it has progressed (economically and otherwise) to such a place whereas there would be little incentive for its citizens to migrate.
“There’s too much immigration, and that’s because of the EU.”
First, it’s worth remembering that EU immigrants are actually paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits, thereby helping to relieve the fiscal burden on UK-born workers, and making a positive contribution to the financing of the UK’s public services.
But, even regardless of the above, let’s consider the following:
- Most immigration into the UK comes from outside the EU, and can be limited by the UK government if it so wishes, regardless of our EU status.
- Even if we leave the EU, it is likely that some EU immigration will continue. For example, students will still come (on student visas), spouses of UK citizens will still come (on family visas), and skilled workers will still come (on work visas).
- If we leave the EU, some of the emigration from the UK to the EU will be stopped, thereby increasing net immigration (which is immigration minus emigration), compared to the current state.
The above means that leaving the EU is by no means a silver bullet for reducing immigration. It is likely to have only a minor impact on net immigration figures.
“We can negotiate better trade deals with outside countries if we’ll leave the EU.”
Negotiating as a bloc of 500 million consumers allows us to get better trading conditions, and make us more interesting, for other countries. As US President Barack Obama put it, outside of the EU the UK will move to “the back of the queue” for trade deals.
There’s nothing automatic about trade deals. If we leave the EU, we’ll need to renegotiate over 100 trade deals, resulting in many years of uncertainty and second-rate trading conditions with our worldwide partners, and further damage to our economy.
“We can negotiate access to the Single Market without being in the EU.”
Countries that have access to the EU market without being in the EU (e.g. Norway) got it by agreeing to:
- Adhere to all of of its rules (without having any say on them).
- Contribute to the EU budget (Norway, for example, contributes more to the EU budget per head than the UK does).
- Accept freedom of movement (i.e. EU migration).
So, their arrangement is far inferior to what the UK has as a member state. They have almost all of the commitments, but without say or influence.
There is no reason to think that the EU will offer us something better. If anything, we’re likely to be offered something worse, because:
- The remaining EU members need to agree on the new arrangement with the UK. Several member states banding together, or the European parliament, can veto an agreement (thereby forcing a “no agreement” status, depriving the UK of access to the Single Market, and making sure other countries are discouraged of leaving).
- The UK needs the agreement more than the EU does. 45% of the UK’s trade is with the EU, whereas only 16% of the EU’s trade is with the UK.
- Most of what the EU exports to the UK are manufactured goods, which they’ll be able to continue to do, even without an agreement, under World Trade Organization rules (albeit with tariffs applied). Most of what the UK exports to the EU are services, which aren’t covered by World Trade Organization rules.
So we’ll negotiate from a position of weakness and likely end up with a settlement that’s inferior to EU membership. Or end up without an agreement, with our economy taking a massive hit, as described earlier. It’s a lose-lose situation.
“The EU isn’t perfect. It has flaws.”
Indeed. This is real life, and in real life — things have flaws. The EU is not unique in this regard. Do you think the UK’s political system is flawless?How about the organization you work for, or study at? The relationships in your life?
Pointing out a flaw, by itself, is meaningless. Of course the EU isn’t perfect. The question is whether that’s a reason to leave it, as opposed to staying in and working to make it better. On balance, the answer is a resounding “remain”.
“We can survive without the EU.”
Of course we can, no one is saying otherwise. What the “Remain” side is saying is that we can do much better if we stay a member state. To extrapolate — I can survive cutting off my legs, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do so!
“We should quit the EU because of the European Court of Human Rights.”
Regardless of whether or not you think the UK should quit the European Court of Human Rights, this is a misdirection, since the European Court of Human Rights is a completely separate institution from the EU.
In other words — the UK can leave the European Court of Human Rights regardless of its EU status, and leaving the EU doesn’t mean leaving the European Court of Human Rights.
“We don’t want the UK to use the Euro, join a European army, join the Schengen (i.e. “No Borders”) Zone, participate in a Eurozone bailout, etc.”
Well, good news for you — the UK has an opt-out, or veto, from many existing, and future, European Union initiatives, including all of the above.
We are not going to be a part of them, even if we are in the EU.
“We are concerned about UK sovereignty. Don’t we have too many laws dictated from Brussels?”
Well, it’s worth noting only a small portion of UK laws originate from the EU (the House of Commons library puts the figure at 13.2%). But that’s not the critical point.
The important bit is that these are not dictates. EU legislation is enacted by the European Council (where the UK government has a vote, and even a veto in many cases), and the European Parliament (which is directly elected by us).
It is extremely rare that this legislative process generates a law against the wishes of the UK government (we win circa 98% of votes), and it’s unheard of for this (losing a vote) to happen in critical areas.
We haven’t ceded sovereignty to the EU. The EU is a framework for willingly working together with other countries, to get things that require cross-border harmonization and cooperation done.
Leaving the EU would actually mean less sovereignty, not more:
- We’ll no longer have input into EU legislation, even though it’ll keep affecting us via our trade with EU nations.
- Being part of the biggest economy in the world (the EU) helps us exert sovereignty when dealing with major powers (such as the USA or China) and big multinational companies (such as Google or Apple).
“We must leave the EU to avoid taking in refugees, asylum seekers, and people from Muslim countries.”
I admit, I hesitated whether to reference this argument, given the potential hateful implications thereof. But as it does seem to be a concern some people have, whether I like it or not, I decided to address it.
In short — it is completely false. The UK is not part of the Schengen Zone (i.e. the EU “no borders” zone), and keeps border controls with other EU countries. It is entirely up to the UK whether to take in any refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants from non EU countries.
Whether or not we are in the EU has nothing to do with it. In fact, leaving the EU might make things more complicated — the French have already indicated that should Britain leave the EU, they will be less inclined to keep asylum seekers from crossing to Britain.
“I read a concerning piece about a particular EU initiative on the newspaper.”
I know someone who considered voting “Leave” because she thought the EU is coming after our vacuum cleaners (no, it isn’t). Our tabloids routinely publish grossly misleading, or outright wrong, scare stories about the EU. They:
- Report proposals, or even pure musings, by someone in the EU (a civil servant, an MEP, etc) as enacted law, ignoring the fact that they are just opinions, which won’t become law.
- Present non-binding (i.e. discretionary) EU resolutions (a report, a declaration, etc) as if they were binding upon the UK.
- Fail to mention that our EU membership means the UK has a say and can veto whatever they get worked up about on that particular day.
- Fail to report actual facts and arguments, and simply ramble on “dangerous plot”, “Brussels conspiracy”, or some other silly phrase.
What can I do?
If you survived this far (well done!), I hope you are thoroughly convinced that “Remain” is the right, bold, patriotic, choice for the UK.
What can you do about it?
- The referendum is on June 23rd. MAKE SURE YOU VOTE! It is the most important national vote we’re likely to have in our lifetime. Far more important than a general election. Take part in deciding your future, and the future of your children and grandchildren. Vote.
- Not registered to vote yet (if you didn’t get a voting card through the post yet, you most probably aren’t)? make sure you register by midnight on June 9th. It only takes a few minutes to register, and you can do so online: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
- Registered to vote but not sure you’ll be around on June 23rd? Register for a postal vote, or to vote by proxy, right now.
- Have a Facebook account? Like the “Stronger In” page (for the official “Remain” organization) here, and share their posts. They can also use volunteers and donations, if you have a bit of time or money to spare.
- Talk with your friends and family. If they are unsure how to vote, help set the record straight.
- And, of course — If you found this article useful, please share it.
And don’t forget — Vote “Remain” on June 23rd.
This essay originally appeared on Medium, and has been reprinted with permission.
Photo: Abi Begum/Creative Commons.