This is likely to be my last post before the referendum. I have not managed to write all of the posts I had planned, but I think I’ve managed to cover most of the big issues in the campaign.
This post summarises my thoughts on the EU referendum, and briefly addresses some of the issues I would like to have explored in more detail. I will explain 10 reasons why I will be voting for the UK to remain part of the EU, and point to 10 Leave campaign myths that I believe should not influence your decision as to how you vote on Thursday.
10 reasons the UK should remain in the EU
[Note: these are in no particular order!]
Our membership of the EU has created jobs. As I’ve mentioned here, some 3.3 million jobs are now linked to trade with the EU, and I pointed out here that EU migration to the UK has increased demand for goods and services which in turn has created further jobs.
The UK receives £14 million per day in investment from EU countries (see here). This is made much easier by the EU ensuring the free movement of capital between Member States. In addition, a number of overseas companies have set up in the UK in part to benefit from access to the EU’s single market. There is a real risk that we would lose at least some of these investments if we were to leave the EU.
As I’ve argued here, the UK benefits immensely from being part of the EU’s internal market, which ensures the free movement of (among other things) goods and services. As it stands, 44% of UK exports go to the EU.
Our membership of the EU also brings us benefits in terms of trade outside of the EU. The EU has negotiated preferential trade deals with over 50 countries, and continues to negotiate further deals on our behalf. As a result, around 58% of UK exports are in some way connected with these trade agreements and our membership of the EU.
The UK chose to allow the EU institutions to negotiate these deals on our behalf, and we benefit from the fact that the EU does this because it has a stronger negotiating position than the UK acting alone. In negotiating on our behalf, the EU is offering access to 28 Member States, over 500 million consumers, which is likely to be more appealing to any given country than the UK negotiating alone.
If we were to leave the EU, we would have to renegotiate all of these trade deals. This is likely to be both a costly and lengthy process. The shortest period in which any trade deal has been agreed with the EU is four years, and I still remain unclear as to what the Leave campaign is suggesting as the model for our future relationship with the EU.
All of this is covered in more detail in this post.
As part of the EU, the UK benefits from a number of intelligence sharing and other arrangements that benefit UK security. To give you two specific examples:
- The UK benefits from the European Criminal Records System, which allows countries to exchange information, including finger prints, contained in national criminal records databases.[i]
- The UK benefits from the European Arrest Warrant, which provides for individuals suspected of criminal offences to be arrested and extradited swiftly back to the country issuing the warrant. As a result of our involvement with the European Arrest Warrant, over 1,000 suspects have been returned to the UK to face trial, and the UK has extradited over 7,000 individuals to stand trial in other EU Member States.[ii] A particularly high profile example of this was the arrest of Hussein Osman, who was involved in an attempted bomb attack on London on 21 July 2005.[iii] He was arrested in Italy and brought back to the UK pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant. He was sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment.
5. Employment rights
I was hoping to find time to write a detailed post on this, but instead I would encourage you to read a piece written by Professor Michael Ford QC here. As he explains, most employment rights in the UK (with the exception of unfair dismissal and national minimum wage) are guaranteed by EU Law. Examples are: working time protections; paid annual leave requirements; paternity and maternity rules; limits on working hours; protections for agency, fixed term and part-time workers; and health and safety rules.
6. EU rules benefit us in our day to day lives
I’ve already outlined above how EU rules guarantee important employment rights, but there are other rules that also benefit us in our day-to-day lives. Examples that I’ve given in these posts (here and here) are rules that:
- Ensure safer car seats for children;
- Regulate the quality of toys sold throughout the EU to ensure they are safe for children;
- Confer important protections to our domestic industry to ensure that certain products cannot be produced by just anyone;
- Eliminate roaming charges for using your mobile phone in the EU;
- Ensure that you have access to emergency healthcare in other EU Member States under the same conditions as nationals of that country; and
- Provide you with important rights (including, in some cases, compensation) if your flight is delayed.
I think it is a shame that little has been said about this benefit of the EU. Debates on the EU have often overlooked the reason that the EU was created by the Member States. The EU has as its objective the maintenance of peace between EU countries. The original idea was to foster trade links between countries so that another war between these countries became not only unthinkable, but practically impossible.[iv] To put it differently, countries that trade together are much less likely to go to war with each other.
Furthermore, membership of the EU has enabled a number of central and eastern european countries to liberalise their economies and transition from communist control. These are huge successes which should not be overlooked. I’ve often seen suggestions that the EU’s objectives are somehow sinister, but in my view nothing could be further from the truth.
As I have argued here, the UK benefits immensely from funding from the EU. In 2014, the UK government received £4.4 billion from the EU in funding. This money is spent on areas such as regional aid, funding research in UK universities, and supporting research and development projects taking place in UK businesses.
9. Environmental protections
EU Law has taken a number of steps to improve environmental standards within the EU countries. It has resulted in initiatives to ensure that, for example, our beaches are cleaner and our cars produce less CO2. These are objectives that cannot be as effectively achieved by one country acting alone because that country may be reluctant to take steps to reduce emissions or pollution if other countries are not making the same commitment. If you’d like to know more about what the EU has done for environmental protection – have a look here.
Remaining a member of the EU gives the UK control over what goes on in the EU. As I’ve pointed out in these posts (here, here and here), as part of its membership of the EU, the UK has a seat on the European Council (which sets the direction of the EU) and the Council of the EU (which is involved in adopting EU legislation). We also have the right to have an EU Commissioner, and to elect Members of the European Parliament. If we leave the EU, we would lose all of these, and our influence over the future direction of the EU.
This is problematic because the UK needs to have a future relationship with the EU given all of the economic benefits it brings. As I’ve argued here if the UK leaves the EU and joins in a different form, we would leave ourselves in a situation where we are subject to EU law whilst having no influence over it. Therefore, contrary to the Leave campaign’s claims, a vote to leave the EU actually results in the UK having less control over the EU.
Can we maintain these benefits by leaving the EU and re-joining in a different form?
One of the most common Leave arguments in response to the benefits that I’ve highlighted above is that we can retain these benefits by leaving the EU and re-joining in a different form. In this post I have outlined the various options for the UK’s future relationship with the EU if we were to vote to leave. My key points are:
- We have no way of knowing whether we would be able to retain these benefits, or how much it might cost to retain them, as the Leave campaign still haven’t presented a comprehensive plan as to what form our future relationship with the EU would take. If they had presented such a plan, we could consider it and decide whether this would be better for the UK. I fail to see how we can decide whether or not to leave the EU without any clear plan as to how this would happen and what our future relationship might be.
- As it stands, most of the models that are currently available to the UK would entail: i) the UK being subject to EU Law whilst losing all of its important controls over whether it is passed; ii) contributing to the EU’s budget; and iii) accepting the free movement of people. It may be possible to negotiate a different model, but we need to know what form that would take, how much it would cost to negotiate, how long negotiations would take, and how likely it is to be concluded, before we can decide on whether this is an appropriate route to take.
Those are my reasons I will be voting to remain in the EU. I fully acknowledge that the EU has problems, and that it is in need of reform. The EU is not perfect, far from it, but I would much rather be on the inside of the EU, encouraging reform, than be on the outside without the controls that we currently have. I firmly believe that the benefits of our membership of the EU far outweigh the disadvantages, and I firmly believe that the disadvantages can be more effectively tackled by being part of the EU, rather than leaving.
10 myths of the Leave campaign
1. The UK sends £350 million per week to the EU
This isn’t true and I explain this in more detail here. This figure is the UK’s gross contribution to the EU. When you factor in the money the UK gets back from the EU, it comes down to £161 million per week. You might think this is still an amount worth saving, but we would still need to consider the following:
- If we were to join the European Free Trade Association, or follow the Swiss model, we would still be required to contribute to the EU.
- Leaving the EU would not be costless, therefore, any savings to the UK would need to be reduced by the costs of:
a. Negotiating our exit from the EU (which could take up to two years, and possibly even longer);
b. Renegotiating our future relationship with the EU (which could take even longer to negotiate);
c. Negotiating trade deals with over 50 countries to replace those that may be lost from leaving the EU (depending on our future relationship with the EU) and any other trade agreements we may want to conclude;
d. Passing laws to cover the areas that are currently governed by EU law;
e. Taking back regulatory functions that we have conferred on the EU; and
f. Any losses to the UK economy or loss of investment into the UK as a result of leaving the EU. As I mentioned earlier, the UK receives £14 million per day in investment from other EU countries, and 3.3 million jobs are in some way linked to trade with the EU. I’ve also outlined above that the EU provides grants to both our public and private sector. If any of this is lost as a result of leaving the EU, this would further reduce any potential saving, especially if government funds have to be diverted to dealing with these consequences.
2. If we remain, the UK would have to join the euro.
As I’ve explained here, the Treaties are absolutely clear that the UK cannot be required to join the euro.
3. If we remain, the UK would be forced to contribute to any further Eurozone bailouts
As I’ve explained here, the UK would not be required to contribute to any further bailout, and to the extent EU funds are used for any bailout, provisions must be put in place for reimbursement and to ensure that the UK is protected from any liability.
4. Remaining in the EU means that the UK is committed to further political integration and/or we would lose further control of policies to the EU
As I explain in this post, the EU only has the powers conferred upon it by the EU’s Treaties. These Treaties must be agreed by every EU Member State, and cannot be changed without the UK’s consent. Therefore, we cannot be forced into further integration, or lose control over further policies, unless the UK consents to this. Furthermore, a piece of UK law, the European Union Act 2011, requires the UK to hold another referendum in the vast majority of circumstances where further powers are transferred to the EU.
So, further powers cannot be transferred to the EU without the UK’s consent, and if further powers were to be transferred, it is very likely that we would be given the opportunity to vote on this in a referendum, and we can decide whether we want this to happen.
5. EU Law is made by unelected bureaucrats who we didn’t elect
This argument is an oversimplification and overlooks the democratic input into the EU’s law making process. I’ve explained the process of making EU law in this post. Broadly, it can be summarised as follows:
- The EU’s treaties, which set out the EU’s powers in broad terms, are agreed by all 28 Member States of the EU. Therefore, they are agreed by our democratically elected representatives. These Treaties confer specific powers on the EU’s institutions to pass other forms of legislation to put the EU’s powers into practice – this is a structure our government has agreed.
- When the EU’s institutions pass legislation, they do so in one of three ways
a. A process known as co-decision. The basic idea is that legislation is proposed by the European Commission (which is made up of Commissioners nominated by the EU Member States and approved by the European Parliament), and must be approved by the Council of the European Union (made up of democratically elected ministers of the Member States) and the European Parliament (made up of democratically elected individuals).
b. By the Council alone (made up of democratically elected ministers of the Member States), which will normally consult with the European Parliament; or
c. By the European Commission, which acts under powers that have either been given to it by the Member States via the Treaties, or by the Council and (normally) the European Parliament.
Furthermore, whilst it is true to say that the Council of the EU often votes by way of a qualified majority, there are four points that should be considered: i) in practice, the Council tries, wherever possible, to ensure that legislation is passed with the agreement of all Member States; ii) even if the Member State does not agree to that particular piece of legislation, it has agreed to the EU acting in that area generally; iii) the UK retains a veto over legislation in particularly sensitive areas such as foreign affairs and taxation; and iv) this practice mirrors what happens in the UK – for example, legislation can be passed without our individual MP agreeing to it.
Personally, I think the issue of democracy should not dominate the referendum debate. It is certainly a factor to consider, and I agree there are problems with the EU’s structure, but it needs to be viewed alongside other issues as well. We are members of a number of other international organisations that are not fully democratic (e.g. NATO and the Council of Europe/European Convention on Human Rights). The EU is perhaps the most democratic of these international organisations, yet is the most regularly criticised for a lack of democracy.
To my mind, the reason governments join international organisations is for the benefits they bring to a country. Therefore, it is important to consider whether the EU brings sufficient benefits to the UK to justify remaining a member of the EU, and I have outlined a number of those benefits above. Issues of democracy can be resolved by reforms to the EU’s institutional structure, something that has been going on for a number of years. If we remain part of the EU, we can influence that structure and improve it. If we leave, we lose that control.
6. EU migration is a drain on the UK’s resources
As I’ve detailed in this post, the statistical data does not support this claim. EU migrants that come to the UK to work will in most cases be contributing to public services through tax, and creating further demand for goods and services which in turn creates more employment opportunities. Fullfact have looked at the various studies in this area and noted that most studies suggest that the fiscal impact of migration in the UK is relatively small (costing or contributing less than 1% of the UK’s overall Gross Domestic Product). In addition, the studies referred to above are consistent in concluding that EU migrants are more likely to create fiscal benefits the UK.
In terms of the NHS, a comprehensive study by the University of Oxford (referenced in the link above) found that immigration does not have a significant impact on NHS waiting times in A&E, and in fact noted that immigration seemed to reduce waiting times for outpatient appointments. The study also concluded that recent migrants (those coming to the UK after 2000) were less likely to use hospital services compared to the UK-born. As I noted in my previous post on this (link above), the study did note an increase in waiting times in more deprived areas of the UK immediately following the 2004 enlargement of the EU, but any increase in waiting times reduced to an insignificant amount after 3-4 years.
On education, it has been noted that increased numbers of pupils with English as a second language does not have any impact on levels of achievement for native English speaking students.
I think it is also important to remember that the EU’s rules on free movement of people give us the opportunity to live and work in another EU Member State, and over 1 million UK citizens currently take advantage of this opportunity.
7. If the UK remains in the EU, [insert country name] will join the EU
I’ve explained the process of how a Member State joins the EU in this post. In short, the UK has important vetoes over countries joining the EU. Specifically:
- The UK has a veto over whether a given country can become a candidate country, which starts that country’s process of negotiating to join the EU;
- If a country is given candidate country status, the UK is directly involved in the negotiations for that country to join the EU. This means it could, for example, request that any agreement for a candidate country to join the EU contains temporary restrictions on free movement of people. The EU Member States have imposed such restrictions in all agreements for countries joining the EU concluded since 2004; and
- Even once those negotiations are complete, the UK also has a further veto as to whether that country is permitted to join the EU.
Therefore, no country can join the EU without the UK’s consent.
8. The EU stops us from preventing dangerous criminals from coming to the UK
As I’ve explained in this post, EU Law allows for Member States to restrict the free movement of individuals with criminal convictions whose conduct represents a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society. Therefore, if the UK can demonstrate this, it is entitled to deny entry to individuals with criminal convictions.
Furthermore, as I’ve mentioned above, the European Arrest Warrant specifically provides for individuals suspected of committing criminal offences to be arrested and extradited swiftly back to the country issuing the warrant.
9. If we stay in the EU, there is going to be a European army
I’ve seen this argument feature quite prominently in recent weeks. The position on this is simple: it cannot happen without the UK’s consent. [v] Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union states as follows:
“The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.“
The European Council is made up of the Heads of State/Government of all EU Member States. Therefore, any attempt to create an EU army (which, incidentally, I very much doubt would happen because many Member States are not in favour) could not take place without the UK, and all other Member States, consenting.
Furthermore, the European Union Act 2011 (a provision of UK law) provides that a referendum would have to be called if the UK were to hand further defence powers to the EU, so it is likely that we would be asked to vote on whether we want this to happen.
It is worth noting that the powers mentioned above have been used for EU Member States to conduct joint military operations (this is where various armies work together), but this is because the EU Member States have consented to this. Member States can choose to work together in military areas if they so wish, but any such initiatives are entirely optional, and the UK cannot be forced to join.
10. EU membership makes the UK more vulnerable to a terrorist attack
To be honest, I’m surprised I’m even having to respond to this one. I am amazed that the Leave campaign have sought to make the link between EU Membership and terrorism. It’s simply not true. As I’ve mentioned above, the UK benefits from a number of intelligence-sharing and other security arrangements which help it to be more secure. Moreover, the fundamental point is this: whether or not the UK is likely to be the subject of a terrorist attack does not depend on whether we leave or remain in the EU. Terrorists are not going to be influenced by whether or not we are a member of the EU.
Overall, these are the reasons I will be voting to remain on 23rd June, and I really hope you will too. However, whichever way you vote, all I ask is that you take the time to find out as many facts as you can before you make your decision. This is probably the biggest decision we’ll be asked to make in most of our lifetimes. Whichever way we vote will have an important impact on our future, so it is important to know exactly why you are voting one way or another.
I have one final request (or maybe it is actually a few requests) – recent polls have indicated that people are most likely to listen to friends and family about this referendum, so do take the time to explain which way you are voting and why. Equally, if you’ve found any of my posts helpful, and I really hope they have been useful, please do share them (and I would also love to hear from you to know whether they have helped).
All that remains to be said is thanks so much for reading this (and indeed any of the posts on the blog). I started this as a means to explain how the EU works and detail my reasons for wanting to remain in the EU, and I have been really overwhelmed with the response, so thank you for that. I hope it’s been useful.
Footnotes (AKA things for the super keen)
[iv] See the Schuman Declaration here – http://europa.eu/about-eu/basic-information/symbols/europe-day/schuman-declaration/index_en.htm.