Latest posts by Alex Mitchell (see all)
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You’re probably sick to death of people like me talking about the EU Referendum, but we only bang on because it is such an important vote. Make no mistake, this is not something that can be undone in five years’ time like the choosing of a government. This is it. Thursday 23 June is a one-off.
I’m here to tell you why I believe Britain is better off in the EU. For me, the answer is in the economic argument, although there’s a strong social argument too.
Now let me start off by saying, economics is not an exact science. It’s not a case of 1+1=2. Economics is more about creating an environment where you can get two 1s and increase the chances of them meeting to add together to get 2. People argue economists can’t prove what will happen; no one has ever left the EU and so we don’t know what will happen and Britain may be fine.
Well, let me stress the “don’t know” in that argument. They are right to say that. No one has left the EU. Greece came close but still they remain. My issue is that a vote for Brexit is a vote for the unknown. Markets don’t like uncertainty. We have already seen a reported £64bn withdrawn from the UK economy by private companies due to the uncertainty. The pound has devalued against the euro. Should we vote for Brexit, the markets won’t celebrate, they won’t even breathe a sigh of relief.
The Vote Leave group is unable to give us a time-frame for Britain’s exit from the EU. At best they predict two years. That’s two years where Britain will be locked in negotiations with our European neighbours, and those that have trade agreements with the EU to negotiate new deals to replace the single one we have. That’s two more years of uncertainty. If £64bn can leave the UK in two months amid uncertainty over our vote, well, on the balance of probability, Britain could lose much more.
The Vote Leave campaign has lied about the cost of being a member. It’s not £350m a week – not in real terms. Annually, Britain pays £18bn (£350m x 52). Britain is then given a rebate of £5bn, meaning we pay £250m a week. The EU then spent £4.5bn of the budget in the UK – for example in farming subsidies, business grants, educational funding. Which means our annual bill is £8.5bn or £160m per week
In the last two months £64bn has been pulled out of the UK economy over fears about Brexit. That’s nearly eight times our EU membership fee. Vote Leave, led by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, argues that the £350m a week will be spent on the NHS. They also promised to match every subsidy and grant the EU gives the UK. So that is an expense of £700m a week.
Last year my income tax bill came to £2,022. I paid:
- £512 to the welfare budget,
- £403 to the NHS,
- £259 to state pensions,
- £253 to education,
- £109 to defence
- £101 to the National Debt
- £89 to the police
- £61 to Transport
- £55 to Business and Industry,
- £40 to Government administration,
- £36 to Culture, media and sport,
- £34 to environmental measures,
- £32 to housing and street lights,
- £26 to International Aid
- Finally £12 to the EU Budget.
That’s 0.23p a week. What’s more, economists argue that for every £1 the UK pays to the EU it gets £10 back through economic trade. So that £160m cost a week becomes £1.6bn in economic returns. That’s £83.2bn a year. It doesn’t make sense to turn our backs on that in favour of the return of £8.5bn to the UK. The i newspaper costs 40p, a pint of milk costs 45p. Last year our EU membership cost me 26p a day.
This is, of course, a simplified approach to the economic benefits of staying in the EU, however 88% of leading economists agree that Britain’s economy is stronger in the EU.
If we leave the EU we will still pay in. We will still pass laws off the back of EU decisions if we want to trade with and maintain relationships with Europe, but we won’t have a seat at the table. On the balance of probability, we will not be in a position to get a “unique and better deal” for Britain. We won’t have a vote in 10 years’ time to get back in. Even if we did, we would lose all our current veto rights. We would have to join the euro and we would probably have to be part of the Schengen agreement.
On immigration, Vote Leave argues it’s about taking back control of our borders and bringing down our immigration figures. Well, it’s clear that not even half of Britain’s immigrants came from the EU at 184,000. The majority come from outside the EU – an area where we have ‘control’ of our borders – which amounted to around 188,000 people.
For me, immigration isn’t even an issue. We have three million EU migrants in the UK and with a population of 66m that’s not the crisis they are making out. I have no issue with the free movement of labour. I have lived and studied in Sweden. What’s more the EU covered my fees and gave me a grant.
I don’t believe immigration is holding wages back. I think migrants do all sorts of jobs with all different skill levels and they contribute to the UK economy and our culture. We didn’t become the fifth biggest economy in the world by shutting ourselves down to immigration. In fact, the likes of the NHS and post-war Britain were built/rebuilt off the back of our immigration policies.
As for having no control over our borders? Well, we do to an extent. We are not part of the Schengen agreement which means that even EU migrants need a passport to enter the UK. We have the right to stop people entering the UK if we think they are a threat to national security. In fact, last year our border control officers stopped 2,165 EU nationals from entering the UK.
In my opinion, the EU is not undemocratic. It might seem less democratic than our own parliament but I argue that we at the grassroots don’t play our part in the EU, which is why it seems that way. We vote in our representatives regardless of turnout. We send a nominee to become a commissioner and we get a good portfolio. We’ve held trade, finance, foreign affairs, a seat at the top table. Yes, we don’t directly elect the president of the EU but we don’t directly elect our prime minister either.
We have our own undemocratic body right here in the UK. The House of Lords is the second biggest political chamber behind China’s National People’s Congress and has significantly more members than the elected House of Commons. Yet, election after election, it is regarded as a non-issue. So much so that Cameron has filled the House of Lords at a faster rate than any prime minister in history. Yet there isn’t the same outcry that we see against the EU.
We have control of our laws. We have a veto on EU laws. We sit at the top table and make the decisions. We get £10 in economic benefit for every £1 we put in – that’s 900% mark-up on our tax investment. The EU has the interest of all members at heart and sometimes that means not getting our way. But it is still for the interest of the EU.
£64bn withdrawn in two months all for the sake of £8.5bn a year! The EU gave us uniform rights across the member states, which the Tories want to take away. Paid holiday. Paid paternity and maternity leave. Paid sick leave. The European Convention on Human Rights which the Tories want to scrap and re-write. Yes, we hear stories about EU regulations creating common standards for a common market, but the myth of straight bananas is precisely that (as are many other myths the right-wing press likes to scream about as evidence the EU is a meddlesome bureaucracy).
I could go on and on about the benefits of remaining in the EU. I could list the countless warnings from heads of states, organisations, businesses and academics about the harm a vote to leave could cause. I’ve made up my mind. I’ve listened to the arguments, I’ve listened to the experts, I’ve listened to my friends and families, but for me Britain is stronger in the EU. It is safer in the EU.
Just 26 years ago, the EU was divided by an iron curtain. We were divided in lifestyle and politics and had been on the brink of another war. Many of those nations are now part of, or wanting to be part of, the EU. Ukraine is literally fighting to become a member and we take it for granted.
I for one am proud to be an Anglo-Romanian European and I want Britain to remain at the head of the decision-making table. If we vote for Brexit, we will lose our place in Europe. We will have to re-negotiate our trade agreements with all member states, and all countries that we have traded with through the EU.
I want us to be part of a union where 28 heads of democratically elected governments come together in the best interests of all EU citizens. Yes, this may mean we won’t always get our way, but if we don’t like something we have the right of veto. I am in no way saying the EU is perfect. What I am saying is that it is an ever growing, ever developing union of countries, and we should be a voice for change to develop this union and not run away from it.
Your vote on Thursday is not for or against politicians. It is not on a policy that can be reversed in five or 10 years’ time. There are no safe seats, and there are no wasted votes. Your vote will have a direct impact on the result, and with polls too close to call, your vote matters more than ever.
If you are still undecided, talk to people, ask questions, and find answers. I don’t expect you to become an expert on EU politics, or an economics expert. What I don’t want you to do is to wake up on Friday morning, or come home from work on Friday night when the result is expected, and think, “If only I had…” Mine is but one opinion – form your own and take control of your future by voting.