I keep seeing people online complain of an absence of facts in the EU debate. This is inevitable because we’re making a choice about the future, and all we can have are best guesses. The best guess of the ‘remain’ campaign is that things will carry on as they are, and maybe even get better as we figure out better forms of co-operation with our neighbours. The ‘leave’ campaign has even less certainty about what to expect, because no country has tried this before.
In asking what we don’t know, it’s possible to learn a lot. We don’t know what will happen to the million-odd Britains living in the rest of Europe. It seems likely they’d have to come back or individually negotiate with the countries they’re in. Equally we don’t know what would happen to EU citizens living in the UK. That must be a terrible uncertainty for many people right now. The potential disruption to millions of lives, is colossal. Add the disruption to businesses losing employees, the massive extra work for the border agency processing everyone, and the sudden shift in demographic as we send back young working people and repatriate retired people. Are we ready for that?
Most (possibly all) of our trade agreements are held through our EU membership. If we leave, we leave those agreements and all of our export business will have to be re-negotiated. I’ve seen an estimate that this will take 2 years. That’s 2 years of business chaos, and uncertainty, and we know for a fact that stock markets and investors don’t like uncertainty so it’s pretty much bound to cost us in the short term. As a lone country that’s just lost all its trade agreements, would we have a strong position to negotiate new ones? I don’t think so. The leave campaign thinks we can get better deals, but I’ve yet to see any reasons for thinking this. We could get much worse deals.
We don’t know to what degree our leaving would destabilise Europe politically and economically. Whatever the impact, (and surely there will be some) we are going to feel the ripples, the small strip of water between us and them will not protect us. We’ve seen what happens when there’s an international financial crash – economics seems to involve a delicate house of cards made out of belief at the best of times. We play with that at our own risk. Europe doesn’t want to fall apart, so it is in the EUs interest to make sure no other country is moved to follow our lead and leave. They have every reason to try and cripple us if we go, to sure up their own edges. It would be the politically sensible thing to do.
We don’t know what will happen to everyone living in Gibraltar – currently under British ownership, but likely that won’t be feasible if we leave. That’s a whole other set of people waiting to see if we’ll plunge them into chaos.
We won’t protect our fishing by leaving, the EU will just make its fishing decisions without anyone in the mix to speak for our industry. In fact, they will carry on making all kinds of decisions that have an impact on us, and we will have no say. I think that makes us less powerful, not more powerful.
Now let’s consider the things we do know. If we want to stay in the Free Market, we’ll have to play by its rules, and that does mean freedom of movement, so one of the major things the ‘leave’ set want probably isn’t available unless we’re prepared to stop trading with the EU. That’s 44% of our export market. So we could end up in much the same position, only with less influence and more penalties. I can’t square this with any argument for greater autonomy, because I can’t see how we can achieve that without hiving off and hurting our economy. As an anti-capitalist, there are things in this that attract me, so anyone with right wing leanings should be hearing alarm bells!
We do know that if we leave, we’re looking at much more tax and duty on both imports and exports. So we won’t be competitive in Europe, and anything we’ve depended on importing may get more expensive. Our car industry would suffer especially. Our economy is pretty fragile right now, it wouldn’t take much to throw us into a depression.
We do know that if we leave sufficiently to close the borders, we Brits all lose our right to freedom of movement in Europe. That’s not a loss I’m keen on. The peace agreement in Northern Ireland is based on the EU. If we close our borders, we have to close the border between northern and southern Ireland. We don’t know how that might play out, but anyone over thirty probably remembers how well everything was going in Northern Ireland before the peace deal. More scope for chaos and misery.
A successful ‘leave’ with closed borders might allow our government to finally get shot of all the red tape and all those pesky human rights laws. They’ve been clear that it’s a reason to go. You know, things like your right to clean water and air, to a safe working environment, to a fair trial, the right not to be imprisoned for political reasons, the right not to be tortured. The right to move, and of course the right to family life which for people caught in the border closing could be torn apart. When the government talks about red tape hampering business, they mean laws that protect humans and the environment from exploitation and destruction.
So no, we don’t have a lot of facts, but I think we do have enough information to make some informed decisions about the future.