Since Cameron negotiated the new arrangements with the EU there has been a constant stream of arguments for and against staying in the EU and as on 23rd of June I have to play my small part in whether we stay or go I decided I should at least try and understand the arguments on both sides.
This is not a short term decision. When my parents voted in 1974 their decision set the direction for the next 40 years. We can probably divide the key areas into the economy, immigration and self determination which seem to be covered so much by the media, but we should add defence, security an aging population and the environment to the list – and I am sure there are others.
Many of the arguments are applicable only to the moment we are in and I think to make the right decision we need to look at the arguments with greater long term implications – those that will affect Britain over the next 50 years, not the next 5.
The evidence on the economy, immigration and self-determination seem to have no conclusive evidence one way or the other – indeed even the facts seems to be unclear. For example, some camps say that being in the EU costs Britain £8bn per annum in contributions whilst others say it is only £5.7bn when you net off money we get back in terms of regional development or direct grants. This is large number, but Britain spends $250bn on welfare alone so whether it is £5bn or £8bn is largely irrelevant. The majority of this, around 35% of UK government spending pays for our pensions. A small fraction goes to unemployment benefit.
No one is suggesting we can exist as an isolated Island, so the question is really will we have more effective, profitable relationships with EU and the rest of the world inside or outside the EU. Any argument about the economy will fundamentally depend on where were are in the cycle – there will be good times to be in the EU and good times not to be, however as India and China come to dominate the world economy, I’d rather be part of a larger negotiating block than going it alone against economies with 2bn people – we’d just be too small to matter.
With immigration any point of view based on “we have, you don’t therefore you can’t come in” over the long term will only build elitism, isolation and resentment and I can’t see how it could be sustained. I hear a Muslim on radio 4 say – “When God made man, he didn’t say you live there and you live there”. The arguments for protecting borders can be applied at any level and seem to feed into a human selfishness to keep what we have. As a southerner who emigrated to Yorkshire I am grateful there were no border controls – although I did experience southern xenephobia in my teenage years. Most people would think this point of view as ridiculous – so why then does it suddenly become acceptable when we consider the arbitrary national borders. Furthermore, it seems to me we are an Island that has always benefited from our willingness to adopt a multi-cultural approach, integrate it into our society and grow as a result – yes this is never without pain – no change is but resisting such a change is far more damaging.
The real long term arguments are then our aging population and the environment. As part of the EU at least part of our silver surfing generation can go and spend their years waiting for God on the Costa Del Sol – reducing the burden on the UK. Immigration, used effectively can help rebalance the population. Rather than focusing on how we keep people out we should be looking at how those that come add value to the economy.
In many key areas we are simply not independent – we import around 32% of our food and 60% of the fuel we need to generate electicity and I would attest strength in numbers and purchasing power are key here.
Finally, the environment is undoubtedly the biggest long term factor affecting humanity. This is a global problem not a Bristish one and will require global solutions.
We might be able to withdraw from he EU, but, despite being an island we cannot withdraw from the world. It seems to me that we are wasting valuable resources discussing points that are largely irrelevant in the longer term. We should be working on the solution, not isolating ourselves from short term problems.
So, having started this article not really sure which way to go I have ended it on the “in” side. Not because I believe it is economically better, but because there are issues that matter far more to our children’s future we should be spending our time on.