Wednesday, 22 June 2016

My vote to remain in the EU

The EU referendum campaign is drawing to a close. It hasn’t been a good campaign. Yet the consequences of this vote are enormous – much is at stake.

We have heard arguments from the sublime to the downright ridiculous. The Tories have turned on each other in a bitter fight to the finish, which says more about the Tory party than it does about the real issues. This has been a fundamental problem because it has distorted the case for Britain remaining an active member of the EU.

Tory internecine warfare threatens the stability not just of their party, but also of the United Kingdom. Whatever the outcome, wounds opened by the campaign will be difficult to heal. The future of the Tory government is in question with the potential for political chaos if Britain votes to leave.

So, it has been left to Labour to make the substantive case for remain. Their case is a good one. It is idealistic, pragmatic, economic and social.

Labour with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership set out to make a distinctive case – to be inside the EU as an active member campaigning for reform. Corbyn's assessment of his position on the EU with a score of 7/10 probably represents the view of the majority in the Labour party, and the position of many voters. He says, honestly, that he 'doesn't love the EU' but thinks we can work for reform better by being in than out of the union. It would be foolish to consider the EU as perfect, but its weaknesses are not good enough reason to leave. Labour's position is sensible and reasoned. So tomorrow, polling day, I will be voting for Britain to remain a member of the EU.

I respect the arguments of those who wish to leave the EU. There are good arguments for leaving. But there are equally valid reasons to stay. I will be voting remain because I believe we are better able to work with our partners in Europe on climate change, on rights in the workplace, on consumer protection and social justice. These issues are transnational and need transnational collaboration.

I also believe on balance the economic argument for remain is sound. Our economy has benefited by our membership, with more sustainable growth since we joined. It has attracted massive inward investment to the UK.

A regulated single market requires a body to ensure those regulations are applied fairly and consistently and requires a degree of pooling of sovereignty. We need to work together to develop the poorest areas and those in decline, creating jobs and opportunity. We can do this better together with fair regional funding. We all benefit by this funding because it strengthens the market in which we sell our goods.

The mantra of the Leave campaign has been to 'take back control'. Sovereignty is a key issue, but I didn't see any lack of sovereignty when the British parliament sent our troops to Iraq. Nor was there a lack of sovereignty when our government imposed austerity measures and cut benefits to the poorest and the disabled. There is no lack of sovereignty as parliament decides to renew Trident.

So what then do they mean by take back control. They are not talking about real sovereignty. They are talking about 'our borders' and immigration. It is an unconvincing argument. It is the economy and conflict that drives migration, and the demands of the UK economy will continue to drive migrant numbers, whether we are in or out of the EU. It is notable that the leave campaign were unable to say that numbers would fall if we leave!

The leave campaign have an attractive slogan - take back control. On the substantive issues that affect us, we haven't lost control. Our problems don't stem from the EU. Our NHS and social care are in crises, not because of our EU membership, but because of actions taken by our government. It is disingenuous for leave to suggest otherwise.

I am an internationalist because I believe social justice should be international. Too much of our economic well-being and freedom is predicated on the oppression and exploitation of people in other parts of the world. We don't address that by leaving the EU.

Some on the left see the EU as a political tool of global capitalism, but I see the potential for challenging that system, creating and protecting workers rights and freedoms, working with our socialist partners in Europe. We won’t always win, and progress may be slow, but I cannot see how we can do it alone, with our economy at the mercy of a resurgent neoliberalism.

My father’s generation saw the carnage that the toxic mix of capitalism and imperialism brought to the peoples of Europe. Instead of seeing the promised homes fit for heroes, he saw instead the consequences of capitalist failure and greed. We also saw the results of that greed and failure in the recent banking crises, and our problems owe more to that than to the machinations of Brussel's eurocrats.

Perhaps the EU isn't essential for peace, but in my lifetime we have seen Europe at peace with itself. It has been part of the settlement that has allowed Europe to change. We have seen the Berlin wall fall, and a united Germany at peace with its neighbours. The EU is part of the process of post war economic, social and political development on which that peace is built.

Indeed, this was heralded by Winston Churchill in 1946 when he called for a european structure for peace. 


“There is a remedy which ... would in a few years make all Europe ... free and ... happy.
It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”

Europe is a better place that it was. We have seen the end of fascist tyranny in Spain, and democracy flourish. We have seen the end of dictatorships in Greece and Portugal. We have seen Europe working together – working together in regional development, in research and in health – and working together to create social justice and trade union rights enshrined in law.

Human rights transcend national boundaries and we need international bodies to foster and protect them. That isn't a loss of sovereignty. It is giving power to people.

The EU isn’t perfect. But we have seen Europe flourish as a family of democratic nations.

The truth is we have created a better Europe - not a perfect one, but a better one. It is a Europe that protects democracy and human rights; a Europe that promotes consumer rights; a Europe that protects rights in the workplace; a Europe that promotes social justice. I do not believe we can better stand against global capitalism outside the EU.

So is reform inside the EU possible. The answer is clear. In every nation, in every corner of the Continent, the appetite for fundamental change is growing. That desire for change should be directed toward a fundamental transformation in the governance of Europe, and we should be at the forefront of that push for change.

So let’s remind ourselves why the right-wing brixiteers don’t like the EU. They detest the fact that the EU’s single market (the world’s largest market) is a market with rules to protect consumers, workers and the environment and to regulate multinational companies. It is this regulation they call ‘red-tape’, and they would sweep it away.

Leaving the EU is a bit like jumping off a seaworthy boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and extolling the virtues of being 'free' to swim to shore. We may drown, but at least we are ‘free’!

Global Capital is what it says – it is global. It requires global regulation. We don’t strengthen our fight against it by leaving the EU – we weaken it.

There is a tendency to think that whether we remain in the EU can be the product of some form of calculation – the amount we receive from the EU vs. the amount we pay in. But such a calculation is not possible unless you can put value on that which is incalculable. 

We cannot measure the benefit to the UK by a simple spreadsheet. How do we give monetary value the social provisions of the EU? It is argued that if we left the EU we could simply replace the social legislation with our own. But think, how long that would take, and think of the political struggle to achieve it. Would the Tories willingly replace every level of social legislation? No. Of course not! It is precisely the social legislation protecting workers rights that they want rid of.

It took a Labour government to sign up to the social provisions opposed bitterly by the Tories. 

So, the argument isn’t simply the consumer market of some 500 million providing jobs and inward investment in UK businesses, or the extended consequences of that for the supply chain, for jobs and the broader economy.

For me it isn’t simply the massive €1 bn UK science receives through the EU. It isn’t the support for our small and medium sized businesses and regional development, or the support for small farmers. 

Nor is it that the EU has accounted for 47% of the UK’s stock of inward investment worth over $1.2 trillion. Or that Access to the EU Single Market has also helped attract investment into the UK from outside the EU. 

It isn’t what we get, or what we can get from our membership – it is what we can achieve by working with our European partners. 

The UK’s net contribution to the EU budget is around €7.3bn, or 0.4% of GDP. As a comparison that’s around a quarter of what the UK spends on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and less than an eighth of the UK’s defence spend. The £116 per person net contribution is less than that from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. Yet Vote Leave continue to peddle the misleading figure of the cost, and pledge to spend it instead to solve almost every problem from housing to the NHS! It is pie in the sky. It is disingenuous. 

Our universities generate £73 billon a year for the British economy! That is a massive figure, and demonstrates the value of our universities. But we depend heavily on the EU to achieve this in two ways: 1) EU students studying here and 2) EU research funding in science and technology, the fruits of which will translate into innovative economic benefit. 

125,000 EU students generate £3.7 billion a year, supporting directly 34,000 jobs.

The universities also receive £725 million per year in grants form the EU. My own college, University College London receives £34.5 million per year in research grant income from the EU. All this contributes to the UK economy and innovation.

If you don't think this is at risk if we left the EU, then consider these questions. Would the government, or any political party, guarantee to replace the EU grants for research? If so, where would the money come from?

Would they be prepared to increase taxation to do that? I doubt it. Our universities lead the world and we hit way above our weight in the international league tables. Much of this is helped by our membership of the EU and our collaborations with other EU bodies.

There may well be ‘too much’ red tape. But it is better inside determining what those regulations are, than outside simply having to conform to them but without any influence on what they are.

The case for our membership of the EU is threefold.

It is Idealistic: the EU has helped create and maintain an area of peace and stability in a continent that was ravaged by war for centuries. We underestimate that achievement at our peril. 


It is pragmatic: our countries are highly interdependent, and we need to find common solutions to common problems in many fields. The EU is the structure we’ve built together for this purpose. Be it managing our common market, cooperating in fighting terrorism and criminals, or working together on the environment, we can achieve more together than apart. 


It is also right from our own self interest: EU membership is vital for British jobs. It is the main destination for British exports. We need to have full access without tariffs and a seat at the table to defend our interests where the common rules for the common market are made.

Our economy has benefited from the EU membership. Gross domestic product per person has grown faster than Italy, Germany and France in the 42 years since we joined the EU. By 2013, Britain became more prosperous than the average of the three other large European economies for the first time since 1965. Before we joined we were regarded as the 'sick man of Europe' with sluggish growth and sterling crises.

Patrick Minford of Cardiff University, a leading Brexit economist, suggests a boost to GDP growth by 2020 on the basis of Britain dismantling all tariffs unilaterally post-Brexit. Under Minford’s assumptions this is great boon to some sectors of the economy which would benefit from cheaper imports. However, even supposing he is right, he acknowledges it comes with a massive cost as “It seems likely we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech”. In other words it would devastate our manufacturing base.

Economic success if we left the EU would depend on our ability to reach good trade deals. The Treasury Select Committee – comprised of prominent Brexiteers and Remain campaigners – has agreed a unanimous report in which it concluded that "reaching high-quality trade agreements with countries like China, India and the United States, while securing access to the agreements to which the UK is party by virtue of its EU membership, would be a considerable diplomatic challenge; it would take time, resources and the goodwill of other governments." There are very few certainties. Be wary of those who say leaving the EU will be easy.

So there it is. These are my reasons for voting remain.



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