On June 23rd the British electorate faces the most momentous decision most of us will ever have to make - one that will affect all our lives, and especially those of our children and grandchildren. One from which there will be no going back a few years later, unlike general elections where you can turn the government out at the next election.
In your pages so far there has been a preponderance of pro ‘Brexit’ opinions expressed. I want to put forward the opposing view. I believe a ‘leave’ vote would have catastrophic consequences for the UK, and potentially catastrophic consequences for the rest of the EU.
Much of the debate so far has focussed on the financial aspects and the impact on the UK economy. The overwhelming weight of opinion from independent organisations, both nationally and internationally, is that leaving the EU would have a significant negative impact on the UK economy and families’ incomes. This would be especially so in the short term (which would nevertheless last several years) until new trade treaties were negotiated to replace our membership of the EU’s single market.
The argument that because the EU as a whole exports more to us than we do to them, they would be falling over themselves to do a favourable deal quickly is nonsense. Whilst nearly 50% of our exports go to the EU as a whole, the rest of the EU exports only seven per cent of its total exports to us. In all post-Brexit negotiations, the bargaining position of the EU would be much stronger than that of the UK. The EU could use that to restrict UK access to the EU market for services, or to grant such access only if the UK complies with tougher regulations for financial and other services than before.
In published surveys so far, a significant majority of individual businesses, both large and small, are in favour of remaining in the EU. Especially critical of the possibility of leaving are those owned by overseas non-EU companies such as Hitachi who have invested heavily in UK production precisely because it gives them access to the single market.
Another negative consequence of leaving could well be the break-up of the UK as we know it. If Scotland voted to remain with the UK as a whole voting to leave, it is highly likely that there would be a second Scottish referendum on independence, only this time with a different result.
Since 1945 we have had peace in most of Europe, and always had peace within the Common Market/EC/EU. The achievement of this was one of the fundamental reasons for the creation of the then Common Market in the first place.To quote former Prime Minister John Major (Daily Telegraph 20/3/16): “In an uncertain world the UK, as part of the EU, is better able to face up to the aggressive policies of hostile nations. We are safer, because the EU has brought together former enemies to face common perils. In the last thousand years of history, no previous generation has been so fortunate. It would be sheer folly to put this all at risk.”
Should the UK leave the EU it would greatly encourage right wing nationalist anti-EU movements in several countries (e.g. France, Poland, Hungary) and could start a domino effect leading to the break-up of the EU, which might then lead to conflict between nations currently within the EU.
Many world leaders, including of course Barak Obama as US President, have urged us to stay within the EU for both security and economic reasons. How many are in favour of us leaving? None of the leaders of nations who we would regard as friends. Who would be pleased if we left? Why Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Marine le Pen of the Front Nationale in France!
One of the criticisms levelled at the EU is that we are dictated to by ‘faceless, unelected bureaucrats’ in the European Commission. This is not true. The European Commission administrates the EU and its laws, but it isn’t in charge. Laws can only be passed by the elected European Parliament, in concord with the EU Council, whose members are the elected government ministers from each EU country. The Commission is responsible to the Parliament, which elects the Commission President, approves the Commissioners, and has power to dismiss the entire Commission. Treaties, and any enlargement of the EU, have to be unanimously agreed by every EU country. The countries of the EU pool some of their sovereignty for the common good.
Other key areas of our life that would be negatively impacted by our leaving the EU include: environmental regulation, scientific research, the pharmaceutical industry, the NHS, and our universities. This is not just my opinion – it is the publically stated view of a large number of distinguished people in those spheres of activity.
In short, do we want to remain ‘Great Britain’ in the EU or pull up the drawbridge, leave and become ‘Little Britain’?
I hope very much for the sake of my children and grandchildren it is the former.