Firstly, a plea. If you’re a Remainer and you like this, please share it with someone who’s still on the fence, so it might make a difference.
Over the last few months, many people have tried to persuade us to vote to leave the EU tomorrow.
They’ve said that if we do there’ll be more money for the NHS, farmers, and tax cuts. That we’ll have fewer forms to fill in, cheaper houses, and more school places. Some of them have painted the EU as some kind of octopus whose tentacles throttle every street, office, and pub in the land, injecting a toxic mic of petty directives, political correctness, foreigners and foreignness into the bloodstream of British life. Cut off its tentacles, they say, and we’ll be able to manage our own migration, write our own laws, choose our own politicians, and spend our own money.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But my point is serious: by now, I do understand why people want to vote to leave.
But my argument is simple: leaving the EU won’t do what the Leavers say it will.
Let’s start with the simple question of sovereignty. Who’s in charge.
The Leave campaigners say the EU are in charge, and we have to take back control.
But they’re wrong. The EU isn’t in charge of us. It’s a club we joined. We joined, and we can leave. Yes, there are club rules and we follow them. Yes, there’s a membership fee and we pay it. But if we leave, we won’t have more control. We’ll have less control.
Whatever we decide, there’ll still be British criminals who flee to the continent from time to time. There’ll still be too much carbon in the air around the world. There’ll still be international companies who dodge taxes, international cybercriminals who try to hack our systems, and international banks which might take down the global economy if they fail. Again.
These aren’t one country’s problems: they are world problems. Britain will never control them alone. All we can do is try to control them by working together with our neighbours. That’s exactly what this club is for. If we leave it, other countries will just decide how we deal with those things without us. They’ll decide what we do and how much we have to pay to do it. But we won’t be in the room when those decisions are made.
That’s not more control. That’s less control.
Whether we remain or leave, you’ll still buy German cars, I’ll still subscribe to Swedish Spotify, and we’ll still drink Spanish wine and Belgian beer. Right now, those countries aren’t allowed to put extra taxes – tariffs – on things they sell us because it’s against the rules of the single market. But most of the people who want to leave the EU want to leave that club too. That means we’ll have less control over the prices of things we buy from those countries. They’ll be able to make things more expensive for us. And if they can make money from it, they probably will.
That’s not more control. That’s less control.
We could, of course, stay out of the single market and try to sell into it, like Switzerland or Norway do. But the rules are pretty clear about that: if you want to sell to its members, you have to follow some of its rules. That’s why even though Norway isn’t in the EU, it still implements three quarters of EU laws. Norway’s just not in the room to help decide what they are. It’s why even though Switzerland isn’t in the EU, a third of its laws came from the EU. Switzerland’s just not in the room either.
Needless to say, that’s not more control. That’s less control.
Some people will feel that all this is missing the point. They’ll tell you that being in the EU means being part of a European superstate. But that’s just wrong. The EU isn’t a state today. It won’t be. And even if it does integrate a little more, we won’t have to: EU leaders signed an agreement that is clear: “the United Kingdom… is not committed to further political integration into the European Union.”
In short, as long as there’s crime, climate change, tax-dodging, and other international challenges, we will always need to control them by sitting down with our neighbours. Voting Leave will mean we leave. If we wanted that control back, we’d have to turn around, knock on the door, and hope they let us back into the room.
Leavers say we have to leave the EU to control immigration.
But the truth is: leaving the EU won’t control immigration.
Today, British companies want to hire people from outside the UK to do certain jobs. There is a big list of skills which are in short supply in this country. (It looks like this). Leaving the EU won’t change that.
But if we leave, but let companies choose who they hire, we’re not controlling immigration.
And if we leave then restrict them too much, we’ll just hurt our economy.
The right answer for immigration isn’t leaving the EU, it’s for companies and taxpayers to fund more training for people to do those jobs, like other countries do. We should also reconsider EU freedom of movement, as David Cameron and Yvette Cooper say, and the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has implied.
The third big thing Leavers say is that if we leave the EU we’ll have more money to spend on the NHS. Not just the NHS. On everything. Tax cuts, school places, housing. You name it, someone on the leave campaign has said that leaving the EU will help us pay for it.
But the truth is: leaving the EU won’t save money. Cancelling our membership might save us pennies, but the loss of income would cost us pounds. About a third of the businesses in the UK say that if we leave the EU, they’d cut jobs or move. Even if only half actually do, it would hurt the economy. Less tax would be paid. As the BBC’s Reality Check page puts it: ‘the reduced tax take for the government would wipe out the savings from budget contributions.’
In short, leaving the EU wouldn’t mean more money to spend on the NHS, or anything else. It would mean less.
Then there is the question of farms. This deserves a lot more attention than I think it has got.
Farms don’t work like most businesses. For good reasons, farmers don’t just earn income from selling food. A lot of their income comes from the EU. How much of their income? More than half. 54% in 2014.
If we left the EU, either farmers would lose half their income, or the British taxpayer would have to stump up to reimburse them.
If we did, there would be less money to spend on other things.
That’s probably why the President of the National Farmers’ Union says that leaving “could devastate British farming.”
Leaving the EU would be like cutting farmers’ incomes by half and then saying to them “don’t worry, you can always ask the government to give it back. And by the way, when you do, you’ll be competing for that money with nurses, teachers, the military, and everything else.”
The Leavers seem to be saying that whatever you don’t like about Britain today, it will be fixed by leaving the EU. It’s the logic of the televangelist. Whatever you don’t like about your life – whether you want to be thinner, richer, happier, or smarter – their answer is the same: just do this one thing and it will solve everything.
Allow me to pour a bucket of cold reality over this.
Yes, we need more houses, especially in places where people want to live. But that’s not because of the EU. It’s because we haven’t built enough houses.
Yes, the NHS needs more money. But that’s not because of EU migrants – they pay more in than they take out. It’s because mental health needs more resources and the population is getting older.
Yes, we need more school places. But that’s not because of EU migrants – in case I hadn’t mentioned, they pay more in than they take out. It’s because the government has been cutting budgets.
If we want more houses built we need the government to chip in more. If we want more money for the NHS and school places, we need to keep businesses here and make sure we collect tax properly.
Remain means actually facing up to the real issues.
Until about a month ago, I admit, I didn’t have strong feelings about this referendum.
But as the campaign went on, I began to understand what was at stake. That voting to remain in the EU means voting to avoid the risk of our food, cars, and other imports getting more expensive. It means protecting our pensions by avoiding the hit to the FTSE that would follow Brexit (it already fell a lot when the polls showed a Leave lead). It means not risking farmers’ incomes or our rights to paid sick leave, maternity and paternity pay.
Remaining would deprive Scottish nationalists of an excuse to try to amputate Scotland from the rest of the UK again. It would avoid needing to build a wall to keep out immigrants, Trump-style, on the border with Ireland, where there hasn’t been one for nearly a century.
It gives us a chance to look our problems squarely in the eye, rather than succumbing to the fantasy that they’ll all be fixed if only we leave a club of countries who, after all, are our suppliers and customers, neighbours and friends.
In the end, voting to remain gives us a chance to show we’re not scared and defensive. We don’t duck challenges just because we need to cooperate with other countries to solve them. We show up, we muck in, we crack on. We stand with our friends and take control.