Monday, 20 June 2016

Unity, Solidarity & Harmony: Why I'll be Voting Remain

Thursday’s EU Referendum allows us all to have our say on a very simple question: do we want to remain in the EU or leave?

When people are unhappy with their lot it’s tempting to vote for change because “things couldn’t be much worse than they are now”. This blog encourages a more thoughtful approach than that; things could easily get worse, so let’s think about the pros & cons of voting Leave.

Possibly the worst reason for voting Leave would be because you’ve heard that we send hundreds of millions of pounds a week to the EU and have been persuaded that we’d be better off spending that money on ourselves. It’s true that the UK’s net membership cost for being in the EU is about £9bn or £150 per person per year1. That’s a significant sum, but it’s dwarfed by the economic benefits that accrue to us as a result of membership. The vast majority of independent economic experts agree on this. The mid-range estimate is that we’d end up £30bn a year worse off if we left the EU2. So if your concern is about having more money to spend on ourselves, you should vote Remain.

If you’re inclined to vote Leave because of the issue of migration and a desire to control our borders, there are some facts worth considering before following that knee-jerk impulse.

Despite growth in EU migration in recent years, the majority of migration to the UK still comes from outside the EU. The EU doesn’t stop us addressing that. The UK has opted-out of the Schengen free travel area, so we have border checks on immigrants coming from EU countries. Take the refugee crisis as an example: there are refugee camps in Calais precisely because the UK’s membership of the EU allows us to prevent non-EU migrants from moving to the UK – we don’t need to vote Leave to achieve that.

Maybe what concerns you is EU migrants coming here and claiming benefits? The reality, as study after study has shown3, is that migration generally and EU migration in particular is good for the UK economy.

EU migrants tend to be younger people of working age who pay their taxes, consume goods and services and are net contributors to the economy. As the Institute for Fiscal studies rather succinctly puts it:
“immigration from the EU is good for the public finances”.
EU migration is not one of the causes of the economic challenges we face, it’s one of the solutions.

Maybe you have broader concerns about social cohesion and think we should reduce EU migration anyway. In this case it’s worth noting that Switzerland and Norway – who are outside the EU – have far higher levels of EU migration than the UK because in practice they comply with the EU’s free movement rules. Presumably they consider this a price worth paying for free trade agreements with the EU; a Leave vote doesn’t guarantee that the UK won’t draw a similar conclusion.

So the financial argument favours Remain, we already control non-EU migration and EU migration is something our economy actively needs - so why vote Leave? The standard answer to this question is something like “to get back control from the anti-democratic EU” or “to save us from EU red-tape”.

The EU may be a cumbersome, poorly understood and inevitably flawed institution, but it is – via the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament - undeniably a democratic one. But ultimately this is a question of values.

The EU stands for unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe; you either believe in those principles or you don’t. In practice these principles lead to reducing red-tape by harmonising standards and regulation, breaking down trade barriers, ensuring a level competitive playing field, protecting workers’ rights, championing human rights, preventing armed conflict and much, much more.

Achieving these lofty aims of cause requires compromise, inevitably involves ceding some level of control in return for achieving a wider consensus. That doesn’t mean the EU can simply steam-roller us into agreement. Remember that the UK opted out of the Euro, we opted out of the Schengen Free Travel Area and we have effective power of veto over, for example, any new member joining. At a more pragmatic level, we may not like all regulations that emerge from the EU, but if we wanted to trade with the EU following a Leave vote we’d still have to comply with many of them.

So there are economic and pragmatic reasons why I’ll be voting Remain, but these reasons pale beside the most important one: I’ll be voting Remain because I believe in building and safe-guarding unity, solidarity and harmony across Europe.


1. What Does Our EU Membership Cost?
Our net membership cost is our gross payment (the £350m per week plastered on Leave posters) minus our rebate of about £100m per week less the £90m or so which the EU spends in the UK (mainly as payments to farmers and investment in poorer regions.) So the true net figure is about £160m a week or £8bn a year. This figure is forecast to rise next year, so £9bn is a reasonable figure for the cost of membership before taking account of the wider economic benefits (which are estimated to be over 4x that amount). See Thoughts on the EU Referendum for more details.

2. Why Would Leaving the EU Cost Us?
According to respected independent economic forecasters, the short-term economic costs to the UK of voting Leave would be caused by uncertainty: depressed foreign direct investment, lower consumer confidence, falls in asset values and exchange rate volatility. See Thoughts on the EU Referendum for more details.

3. Who Says EU Migration Benefits the UK Economy?
The Institute or Fiscal Studies (IFS), Royal Economic Society, London School of Economics (LSE), Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), University College London (UCL), Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD), National Institute of Economic & Social Research (NIESR). Even, if you look closely at the figures, the anti-mass immigration body Migration Watch. See Immigration and the EU Referendum for more details


Alan Parker said...

The UK's hidden cost to the EU :
1. £2.4 BILLION in VAT paid direct to Brussels.
2. £1.7 BILLION "punishment for success" because we had higher growth than expected.
3. £642 MILLION Fine for "poor Accounting" on Farm Subsidies.(from YOUR money)
4. £I BILLION Towards Bail-Out of Greece
5. £150 MILLION fine for not flying the EU flag on projects partly funded by the EU with YOUR money.
6.£ 250 MILLION To Turkey and Albania to help them join the EU.
7. £300 MILLION fine a year until we meet Pollution targets set out by the EU.
8. £900 MILLION a Year to treat EU tourists on NHS
9. EU gifted £22 BILLION of your Taxpayers To boost French economy.
10. £300 MILLION costs to businesses for EU Red Tape
11. £40 MILLION in lost revenue in EU student Loans which are unpaid and the students have disappeared back to the EU.
12. £250 MILLION towards helping with costs of migrant crisis in Europe.
Due To the EU Water Directive which makes it virtually impossible to dredge rivers flooding which has cost both people and insurance companies MILLIONS.
5% VAT higher costs than any other European country for our energy bills. Our own parliament can't remove even for the poorest households

Anonymous said...

Any references there Alan Parker? Otherwise I'm saying you're a liar liar pants on fire. Prove me wrong. And if you do I'll happily withdraw my own claim.

Oh and source means actual original source. Such as a link to the documents or official source.

Thank you.

Sam Duncan said...

Kevin, you did sterling work during the Scottish referendum, and I know one argues with you at one's peril, but I'm afraid I have to disagree with you now. I accept that many of your arguments are sound, and I've been deeply frustrated with the official “Leave” campaign for concentrating on populist points which are actually very poor reasons for leaving.

However, you skirt the principal issue, that of the nature of the European Project itself. The EU does not represent “unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe”. Read its history. The Paneuropa movement, led by Jean Monnet, came up with the idea of a permanent secretariat to bind the elected governments of Europe in the 1920s and '30s, because they believed that the “strong men” on the march during the “age of dictators” were the inevitable result of universal suffrage. Its purpose is to resist the democratic expression of the peoples of Europe, nothing more or less. It represents contempt for those peoples and their “dangerous”, “capricious” ideas. I don't say this as a reaction to the Greek crisis, or the Irish referendum, or anything recent; the idea that the people cannot be trusted has been the core principle of the Project from the start.

The EU's “parliament” is simply a talking shop, a nod to democracy to keep the people quiet; at best, it's a weak chamber of oversight in the vein of the Lords, but with less power. Legislative power - the power to initiate and revise legislation - really rests in its executive, the Commission, and its Committee of Permanent Representatives. It's that Committee, incidentally, which decides whether a proposal is “contentious” enough to require discussion by a Council of Ministers. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, “democracy”. It's true that the various Councils do have some power, and Directives must be transposed into “municipal” law by our Parliament, which can therefore control the form in which they're implemented (if not the substance of whether they are or not) but the overwhelming majority of EU law consists of Commission Regulations, which pass directly into force without ever being seen by any elected representative.

The EU is not an intergovernmental trading bloc gone wrong with ideas above its station; it's a permanent supranational Government going exactly to plan. There will be no “reform”, because its Colleagues see no need for reform.

Ultimately though, it all comes down to something I said to another unionist blogger who came out for Remain: I voted against Scottish nationalism, and I'll vote against the emergent European nationalism of the EU. What do I mean by that? It's about the concentration of power. Even before the SNP took over, Holyrood has taken power both downwards from Westminster, and upwards from local government and the people themselves. That, to me, is the essence of nationalism: putting the nation - however that's defined - at the centre of public life, and although my instinct as a libertarian is for smaller units of government, I cannot support that.

The UK, on the other hand, while far from perfect, has proved relatively fluid, occasionally placing more power in Whitehall, often conceding it, and generally proving more resistant to concentrating it in one place than other European states (most obviously during that “age of dictators” that so frightened Monnet et al). But concentration of power is written into the EU's governing treaties. The EU has a direction: “ever closer union”. It's the Project's entire purpose, its raison d'etre. I simply can't vote for that.

Chris said...

I live in Netherlands and pay 21% VAT on electricity and heating for my home. A lot higher than the UK.

Kevin Hague said...

Sam - sorry, but I couldn't get past the polemical

"Its purpose is to resist the democratic expression of the peoples of Europe, nothing more or less. It represents contempt for those peoples and their “dangerous”, “capricious” ideas."

Sam Duncan said...

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. But let me just say that I used to be enthusiastically pro-EU, believing strongly in “a country called Europe”, for many of the reasons you put forward in your original post. So much so, I tried to learn as much as I could about its history and operation. Having learned about the Westminster system in school, I wanted to understand how our new continental government worked.

What I discovered turned me, implacably, against it.

Anonymous said...

There are no references to Alan Parker's list as he's grabbed it from social media. Just Google the first line and you'll see it being spread like manure in a field (quite fitting, really).

Alastair McIntyre said...

I still say that Globalisation is where the world is moving and so the EU is becoming more irrelevant. You might view the paper produced by the People's movement which also leaked the negotiations on the TTIP agreement. See

I also read in that paper that...

It is foolish of countries to identify their future with the EU. By 2050 there will be some 9 billion people in the world. The EU will then account for only 6 per cent of the world’s population, as against 20 per cent before 1950. Its share of the world’s gross product will have shrunk to some 10 per cent by 2050, as against 30 per cent in 1950.

In the coming decades most growth in GDP, market size and investment returns will tend to occur outside continental Europe. Most EU countries will have a shrinking and ageing population. The EU in general is likely to decline economically, politically and culturally relative to the rest of the world, and in particular Asia, where the bulk of humanity lives.

I did an article on Brexit which can be read at:

theambler said...

Completely stunned by this. We are living in interesting times. The case for Scotland in the UK has undeniably been weakened. No point fooling ourselves.

Anonymous said...

You haven't mentioned concerns over the trade tariffs the EU has with the third world and the human rights abuses the EU's policy has caused.

One thing the UK benefits from is the EU's high tariffs on trade with developing nations for anything other than raw materials. The tariffs, over 100% in some cases, have been blamed for suppressing industry and development in those countries since 2012 (Guardian article). It is still dragging on despite concerns from the UN and other bodies, particularly after the EU used duties to force Kenya to sign a new trade deal (Guardian 2015) and the number of countries with free-trade access under Everything But Arms has dropped from 49 to 37. The effects on Cambodia have been particularly bad (see boycottbloodsugar) but the EU got cheap sugar and even after three years of campaigning they've not provided compensation.

We've spent years campaigning inside the EU without change. Outside we can change the trade deals with the UK at least (one of the largest markets) so the developing countries get a better deal.

Anonymous said...

Kevin agree with your post and recent views on twitter. I voted remain and gutted and very worried about pretty much everything. There is the point that we voted two years ago for unified polity. We were aware that if there was a UK wide referendum we would vote on this basis. whilst I don't like it I think it has to be accepted.

The second point is the the GERS figures as you have so eloquently pointed out. These last year were frighteningly bad and look to get worse. There would also be increasing national debt share plus EU subs and the cost of setting up new institutions. The last point is that the EU would not let us since Scotland would need an EU bailout on day 1. Maybe you could put up a post on this. I'm worried that the anger (that I feel as well) is leading people here in an irrational manner just as we saw last week in the EU ref.

Anonymous said...

Removal of the First Minister Of Scotland

The current First Minister Of Scotland is actively engaging in foreign policy that is outside of her remit as this is a reserved function. The First Minister should be removed from office.

Scotland Act 1998 Schedule 5: 7(1)International relations, including relations with territories outside the United Kingdom, the European Union (and their institutions) and other international organisations, regulation of international trade, and international development assistance and co-operation are reserved matters.