The European Union referendum is a genuinely momentous decision that we all face. Although I like and respect Hilary Benn as a constituency MP, I have to respectfully disagree with his stance on the referendum and indeed many of the premises he bases his decision on.
I would suggest one simple test as to how anyone should vote: what would you do if the question were whether or not to join the EU?
The EU was formed with the best possible intentions however it has clearly and repeatedly failed to reform and adapt to changing times and remains rooted in the past. Tony Blair attempted to reform a small part of the EU in return for surrendering part of the UK’s rebate and nothing has changed. Relative to what he claimed he was setting out to achieve the ‘reforms’ David Cameron has come back with are derisory. If surrendering a 9 figure sum per year and the prospect of the second largest economy in the European Union leaving weren’t enough to secure reform what chance of reform when the ‘Europe question’ has been decided and we’re in for another generation at least?
It’s already very clear that the European Union is saving some bad news on an increase to the EU budget until after the referendum, what more is in store if we vote to remain? I would suggest that while Brexit carries risks remaining is a risk too.
The EU is obviously not fit for purpose in the 21st century. While it may have helped ensure peace in Europe, although I would also suggest NATO should claim some credit, it is now sewing the seeds of disharmony. Witness the protests in Greece against the austerity imposed on them by, in their eyes, the hegemony of Germany. The rise of extremist parties across the continent as the EU shows itself incapable of and/or unwilling to deal with the pressing issues of our time.
The obvious thing to be pointed to, and Hilary does so, is the single market. Free trade within Europe has and continues to be a a large, if ever decreasing, benefit to the UK economy, however this does not need the political structures of the European Union. There are free trade areas throughout the world that don’t have their own Parliament, their own executive through a Commission, their own anthem or their own flag.
The members of every other free trade area are permitted to retain their own seat at the World Trade Organisation, can make free trade deals with others outside the free trade area and are not required to place export barriers on those outside of the area. They are also not required to obey regulations in their domestic trade and business – a local corner shop isn’t exporting to the European Union but has to obey the European Union’s rules. 70% of all trade in the UK is domestic yet all of it has to obey those rules, putting a burden on the vast majority of UK businesses that just isn’t necessary.
I would assume there are a number of reasons why the European Union is not replicated anywhere else in the world and perhaps we should concede that the other 6.5 billion people in the world may have a point in confining themselves to trade agreements rather than copying our model. Certainly the economic growth elsewhere in the world relative to Europe suggests that they might.
This ignoring that, in the digital age, where services rather than goods are 70% of the UK economy, geography has never mattered less. So why restrict ourselves geographically?
Of course no-one can describe exactly how our trade deals with the EU and the world would look were we to leave, however neither can anyone point to how the EU will look in a few years time. The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world, the 2nd largest economy in Europe, and on course to become the largest economy in Europe within 20 years. The EU exports tens of billions more in goods and services to us than we to them. It is not in their interests to attempt to punish with trade barriers us for leaving and, if they were to do so, what better evidence could we ask for that leaving was the right choice? Why would we want to associate ourselves so closely with a group that makes its own citizens poorer in a fit of petulance?
What is assured is that we would have a seat at the World Trade Organisation. We would have our own voice, not be a mixture of 28 voices whose direction we may or may not agree with. I would suggest that the 5th largest economy in the world, a maritime nation with a state of the art services sector and a long history of trade before we were members of the European Union would certainly have a voice that would be heard both in trade and other matters.
What else is assured is that a number of large businesses have said that if we were to vote to leave the European Union it wouldn’t bother them in the slightest. They would continue to invest in the UK.
Hilary is definitely right to worry about what would happen to workers’ rights were we to leave the EU. However, I would ask why we have our own opposition if the Labour Party are relying on the European Union to do this job? Surely it’s up to our own politicians to make the case to keep these rights if it comes to it, not to abrogate this responsibility elsewhere? Labour are the opposition and must be prepared to act as such without a European Union safety net. They may not like the answers that our democracy produces all the time, but they are the will of the United Kingdom and as such have to be respected.
The Labour party are advocates of devolution yet want us to abide by directives produced in Belgium and France rather than decisions made by our own Parliament, our directly elected representatives. This seems quite a contradiction.
The European Arrest Warrant was raised. The same European Arrest Warrant that led to a 20 year old from London being sent to Greece due to testimony beaten out of witnesses. He spent nearly 3 years in detention waiting for his case to be heard before he was, of course, cleared. The rest of the world manages fine with extradition treaties. The EU managed fine without the EAW until 2004.
There has been discussion on free movement, absolutely. Perhaps most relevant to many of those in Leeds Central are the words of Stuart Rose, the head of the ‘remain’ campaign Britain Stronger in Europe when he admitted that without free movement the wages of lower skilled workers would probably rise. He also went on to say that this is not necessarily a good thing, however I suspect those who maybe wouldn’t have to rely on ever-decreasing tax credits and housing benefit to get by, but instead are paid a fairer salary would disagree.
It’s difficult to equate the Labour Party with support of something that, in the words of the head of the ‘remain’ campaign, is causing lower wages for workers in the UK.
Without free movement we have full control again over our borders. We can fast track the professionals and skilled workers we need to help power our economy. We can unite families more quickly. We can offer shelter to those in desperate need. We can do all of this without concern for how many may arrive from the European Union, so without having to favour that one group can plan the infrastructure, the schools, hospitals and housing we need for our population, UK born and migrants.
I’m confident that an outward looking, optimistic United Kingdom seeking trade, co-operation and friendship throughout the world can be more prosperous and, thanks to having full control over our borders, be safer.
However, as Hilary said, we all have just a single vote, and I very much hope everyone uses theirs regardless of their decision.
This post was written by Carl Thomas using our Create an article for South Leeds Life page.
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