Brexit.

One of the problems with democracy, is that the average voter knows relatively little about the complex and nuanced realities of the economy and the wider world.  The precarious balancing act of fiscal policy, domestic spending, diplomacy, taxation, trade and more, is like trying to blow a ball of jelly up a hill using trained ferrets with hairdryers strapped to their backs.

Fanciful concepts like closing borders, halving tax rates or disbanding government departments, can sound attractive when considered in isolation, but when understood from a wider position you realise that everything is linked and has a knock on effect.  If every decision in this country went to a referendum, we would be bankrupt in a few years and before long degenerate into a failed, lawless state.  Ok, so that is a slight exaggeration.

There exists a safety net.  All of the main parties are relatively sensible, although they can  wildly differ on a range of topics, when it comes to the basics of keeping the country running, they understand what is important, and no government has done anything really stupid (war being the obvious exception).

What politicians talk about doing (policy) in the run up to elections is only a tiny portion of what is involved in running a country, the tip of the iceberg.  Manifestos are not comprehensive documents – they are a sales pitch to the electorate.

By and large it doesn’t matter that the population are ignorant about so much, they get to decide who makes the decisions, they don’t make the decisions themselves.  Besides the vast majority of people have neither the time or the inclination to educate themselves on minutiae of quantitate easing, subsidies, tax incentivisation, population growth and more.  Each of these issues could provide a lifetime of study, and politicians are supported by experts in every field.  They don’t always get it right, but at least start from an informed position.

The British people will have their say on the biggest political decision in a generation.  Should we remain in the European Union, or leave.  Tragically, a large number of people seem to making their decision based upon isolated (and sometimes irrelevant) factors like how many foreigners live in their town, legislation they don’t like, or where they enjoy going on holiday.  Leave or remain, the potential implications are big – good and bad – and dwarf any concerns over minor inconveniences or conveniences.

Moreover there is a glut of misinformation and propaganda on both sides.  Try to wade through all this to get to the facts is difficult for someone who really cares  and is willing to put in the hours to research it all.  A number of people have asked my opinion and my answer so far has been “I’m not quite sure yet”.  The claims made on both sides are outrageous, and would have you believing that if we leave/remain (depending on who is talking) Britain will slip into a dystopian state from which it will not recover.

I like to research before making decisions, I spent about 40 hours of talking to people, reading reviews, scientific articles and watching various videos when deciding on which barbecue to buy (a Weber Smokey Mountain if you are interested).   I have spent a lot of time going through all the arguments for and against EU membership and I have come to a personal decision.  I genuinely went into the process with an open mind and below are some of the conclusions I made.  I am not going to say how I am going to vote, nor tell you how to do so, I just want to separate fact from fiction and unpack some of the large arguments.

Main ‘Leave’ Arguments.

EU is undemocratic

Erodes national sovereignty

We are better off alone in a modern global economy

Freedom from bureaucracy and EU regulations

It costs £350 million a week to be in the EU

Control our borders/immigration.

Main ‘Remain’ Arguments.

Economy will suffer if we leave – jobs, inflation, interest rates etc.

Pan European co-operation good for the consumer, combatting terrorism, cross border crime, fighting climate change etc.

Stronger leadership on the world stage because we are part of a hugely powerful single market.

 

 

EU – Undemocratic?

The accusation that the EU is undemocratic is an interesting one.  Essentially there is truth in the statement, but the argument is wildly exaggerated and a little unfair as all democracies are a little bit undemocratic.

Lets face it.  Nobody knows how the governance of the EU works.  Well at least I didn’t.   It is quite a complicated system which has to straddle 28 sovereign member states.  There are 7 institutions, the European Parliament, the European Council, The Council of the European Union, The European Commission, The court of Justice of The European Union, The European Central Bank and The Court of Auditors.

Membership of these institutions is broadly by one of three methods.  Direct representation (they are elected to their position), deferred representation (an existing domestic politician represents their country) and appointment.

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If it all sounds rather boring thats because it is.  An important point here is that any law has to go through the Parliament and the Council.  These two very powerful parts of the EU power structure are made up of elected representatives, so the EU is very much democratic.  In the UK the head of the Bank of England and the MPC (who set interest rates), the head of the NHS, the head of Defra, Judges, hereditary peers and many more are not elected they are appointed.  By and large it is a good system, as far as I can see the EU is no less democratic than the UK, and if it is there isn’t much in it.

Does the EU erode national sovereignty?

The short answer is yes, but the important answer is how much and what difference does it make?  Being part of the EU means we are subject to EU law, remember that we are involved in making the law via the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and in some cases we have a veto on the EU Council.  It is important to point out that the EU has no say on the big issues like welfare, health, taxation, national budgets, defence, education etc.  The EU takes some sovereignty but not much.

Is this important?  To me no.  Looking at all the EU laws I think most of them are pretty good and sensible, without the EU I reckon the UK Parliament would have passed equivalent laws anyway.

Better off alone?

To a degree this is unprovable because it is a hypothetical scenario – we will only truly know if it happens.  However the arguments in favour fail to convince me.  As part of the EU we have access to the single market – and it represents about 50% of our trade.  As part of a 500 million strong union we have significant leverage when negotiating trade agreements.  If you go to the table with a domestic market 90% smaller that is undeniably a weaker position.  The leave campaign talk in possibilities, nothing concrete has been offered.  In my opinion this point is not demonstrably true.

Freedom from bureaucracy and regulation.

If we leave the EU we will of course not have to comply with EU regulations.  Well a little bit.  If we still want to sell cars or pork pies or whatever into the EU, we will still have to meet EU standards for those products, except now we have sacrificed any involvement in drafting these standards.  Moreover many of these regulations are British law already.  The majority of EU regulation would exist in another form anyway if we weren’t part of the EU.

£350 million a week

This figure is false because it doesn’t take into account how much of that money is spent by the EU in Europe and also the rebate we get (essentially a discount negotiated by Thatcher).  The real figure is £136 million a week which is still a lot of money.  However seen in the broader sense of Britain’s overall budget, it is pretty small, about 0.4 percent.  The right question isn’t how much something costs, but what you get for that money.  For instance the NHS costs 2 billion a week, and I hope, dear reader, you don’t want to get rid of that.

There is a pretty wide consensus that we ‘get back more than we put in’ in terms of trade and jobs.  Unfettered access to the single market, it’s about force and the external trade deals around the world is widely seen to be worth far more than the cost of membership. Moreover it encourages inward investment to the UK.  The CBI have the best roundup of the economic benefits I could find, you can read it here.

Control our borders/immigration.

‘Controlling our borders’ is a classic straw man argument, we already do control our borders, thats why we have passport control.  The immigration one is a little clearer cut.  If we left the EU, then people from other member states could no longer come and work in the EU without a visa, that is definitely true.  However, whether you like immigration or not, it has an unquestionable benefit to the economy and it is highly, highly unlikely that the present – or any future – government will want to stem the flow of immigration to this country by any reasonable amount.  We will probably end trading immigrants from EU countries for immigrants from non EU countries.

Will the economy suffer if we leave?

Losing access to the Single Market, it is very likely would have an impact on trade, investment and jobs.  Inflation and interest rates would go up and the housing market would stall or fall.  For many people however a dip in house prices would be worth leaving the EU for!  The Remain campaign suggest each household would lose 4k by 2030.  That is ridiculously specific and there is no way to quantify such a claim.  It is my conclusion that the economy would suffer if we left, but not seriously.

A co-operative continent.

The EU has delivered much cheaper things for the consumer – like roaming charges and flights.  Things that couldn’t be achieved without the EU.  The achievements tend to be modest, and there is no ‘crowning glory’ that EU co-operation can claim in terms of consumer benefits.  When it comes to security there are better results, joint efforts between separate national security services is widely hailed as being effective at fighting cross border crime, and terrorism.  I am sceptical of how much that is down to the EU – i.e. would MI5 not be able to work with the MAD or the CNI if we weren’t in the EU?  I can’t seem to find out though, and Daniel Craig won’t respond to my emails.

Stronger International leadership for Britain as part of the EU?

This is a difficult one, most international ‘stuff’ for Britain due to the EU seems more ‘backroom’ not in the shady sense, but a boring one.  There is the odd exception, but the key international moments for Britain over the last few decades haven’t really been much to do with the EU.

I am sure I have missed out some of the arguments and no doubt someone who still lives with their mum despite being a grown adult will take time off from playing World of Warcraft to point it out to me.  Thanks in advance.  The arguments I have covered are the ones that I think are most important and/or falsified to some degree.

I think this boils down to Sovereignty versus Clout.  When we pool our sovereignty with the other member states of the EU we are richer and more powerful, but leaving would hardly see the UK fade into poverty and insignificance, I have no doubt if we leave we will continue to be a major player politically and economically, but not quite with a capital ‘M’.  If we sacrifice that we have full control over all our laws, although we can expect to see pretty similar laws and regulations to what the EU currently has.

 

17 thoughts on “Brexit.

  1. Concise and readable.
    But…… It is plain from the EU documents that establishing cities within cities is part of the reason that those with the opportunity to make more money will benefit the most.
    And….yes we would have a say if we stay…. But just how much influence has Britain exerted on the EU so far in decisions?

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  2. Nice work.Where there is always a roadblock in any and every policy statement, white paper, government initiative etc, etc, is the relative levels of trust one has in those purporting to have ‘the people’ at the centre of their agenda.The vast majority of those involved in the stay/leave process are ‘in the red’ as far as trust goes, so…. Your helpful insights go some way to sorting the dilemmas.

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  3. Thank you. This article is far more helpful than anytjing Ive heard from our politicians. This is more the sort of information I’d expected we would get before the vote. Maybbe Im too naive!

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  4. No one seems to recall that we begged and begged to be allowed ‘in’. New treaties would take years to negotiate and the overall damage to the economy would be considerable. We should remain and cooperate with our
    European friends – well that’s my ‘thinks’ anyway.

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  5. Hi, really nice piece and I was impressed at the research you have clearly done into the structure and decision-making processes in the EU. One thing however – as a student of European Law in the University of Groningen, The Netherlands – I am constantly told, and have read countless academic articles, about what is called “the democratic deficit” of the EU. Although legislation is approved by the Parliament and the Council there are several aspects to this process which are decidedly not in keeping with democratic processes.

    A few examples are: the fact that, in some EU countries, a grand total of 16% of the voting population turns out to vote in EP elections (that’s Slovakia by the way), giving the EP some seriously weird legitimacy problems. Another reason is that having the executives of countries (which are elected in the UK however not in all EU countries) approve legislation is not something that happens anywhere: the assembly votes on legislation that is proposed and then implemented by the executive – simple trias politica. Thus, the fact that the Council of Ministers has the role that it does in the decision-making proces is very strange. The other reason the EU is actually seriously lacking in democratic legitimacy is the very existence of the European Commission. It’s appointed rather than voted on, and we, as the people of Europe, do not have any say in removing them if we’re not happy. Thus, there are problems and I just thought I’d let you know that the “DD” (as it’s sometimes referred to) is a known issue in the EU.

    This, regardless of whether you really care about the democracy of the society you live in, is a decidedly strange and potentially dangerous thing about the EU.

    However, don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason why I’m in the Netherlands (exercising my free movement rights under the TFEU) and I guess I don’t need to brandish about on the internet which way my vote will go on the 23rd June. However voting for staying in the EU far more nuanced than I find that either side make it. By posting this, I hope to show that I accept that the EU is far from perfect however I am still committed to supporting “the project”.

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  6. Great article – thankyou! It really is so difficult to sift through the noise and the outright lies to get to the bottom of things, so something as well researched and well thought out as this really helps.

    I just wanted to add that Britain does have a fair amount of influence when it comes to decisions being made within the EU – we are a key player alongside France and Germany, both for historical reasons and because of the relative size of our population/economy. The number of ‘votes’ any member states has when deciding on any issue depends on population size, so as the third biggest country we’re pretty much up there at the top in terms of negotiating clout, even if the significance of that doesn’t filter down into what we are told as ordinary people.

    I have family members and close friends who have worked within the EU institutions and in those very negotiating chambers, so I’m inclined to trust what they have to say about how these institutions work over and above biased politicians and media.

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  7. very interesting – but what neither you nor anyone else I have read on the subject seems to mention is the potential effect on people OUTSIDE the UK. Brexit would involve the UK repudiating a treaty it has freely entered into, which it is of course entitled to do. However, there are other parties to that treaty, and other parties who may themselves have entered into treaties at least partly after considering the UK’s involvement in the EU. Clearly, the UK must make its own mind up, but the possible effect on “non-UK” should, in my opinion, form part of the subject matter to be considered.

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  8. A balanced article that put a number of thoughts/opinions I had in print.My concern would also be asking the electorate to decide on a complex issue that may be used as a protest against the current Government and Europe in general.I also believe in democracy.

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