This post is entirely based on my opinions. If you don't want to read a post about my opinions there are plenty of excellent videos on YouTube. You have been warned.
I haven't blogged here regularly for a long time but decided to make a special post regarding the European Referendum (held today) and why I voted to remain in the EU.
The post is purely for my own selfish reasons, I want to be able to document my views before I know the result and hold my own opinions to account in a few years. It's not designed to convince anybody else, ultimately the vote is a personal decision.
I picked a few key areas from the debate.
Firstly it's worth considering how each side of the debate presented their arguments. In my opinion both were completely lacking: unconvincing at best and abhorrent at worst.
There isn't much more to say here, I summarise a general point about the sad state of UK politics at the end under "Next Steps". A few campaigners from both sides stood out with considered, reasoned views but were drowned out by a small set of personalities.
Immigration was one of the most hotly contested areas of the debate. In my opinion it is highly unlikely that overall levels of migration will change if we leave the EU. For this reason alone I am not persuaded by this issue.
We are reliant on the skills (and willingness) of others to come to the UK and do essential jobs, especially in sectors such as healthcare. It is also good for UK business to prosper by attracting individuals with specific skills in areas like science and technology.
If we leave we will still be able to attract these individuals from all across the world. It will still be possible for businesses to obtain visas so people can come and work in the UK. But it is a myth that we gain any "control" by doing this. We are not the workplace equivalent of a charitable old lady, handing out jobs to let the disadvantaged come and live in our paradise. In many cases we don't have the luxury of choosing because we are desperate for these individuals to come and work here.
At the other end of the scale a lot of low skilled, low paid jobs will still exist. Companies will still find staff from abroad if UK workers don't fill them, it will just take more paperwork. In many areas we are reliant on these individuals to prop up parts of our economy.
The underlying reasons for this are complex. In some industries there are simply a small number of people worldwide who have the relevant skills and experience. We need to make it both easy and desirable for these people to come to the UK, I believe that remaining in the EU is one way to assist this.
In other areas we have failed dismally to train UK staff. For example the UK no longer offers a bursary for prospective nurses to train, a decision made entirely by our own Government with no EU involvement.
Lastly many low skilled, low paid jobs are simply unattractive to UK workers. Individuals from abroad are willing to come here so they can send money home to an economy where wages are typically much lower. Many of these people aren't enjoying the life of luxury, they are often living in basic conditions away from family to support those who stay at home.
Economic migration was blamed throughout the debate for local issues such as the inability to get housing or a desired school place. Again I point much of the blame at a lack of investment internally in the UK. Because I believe that overall levels of migration won't significantly change I don't believe these issues would be fixed by leaving the EU. Skilled migrants will still have children of school age, use the UK health service and occupy housing.
Lastly a word on illegal immigration - there is no way this will stop if we leave the EU. In my view we can't be proud as the 5th largest worldwide economy (of nearly 200) and refuse to take any responsibility for people who are genuinely displaced from their own countries. I suggest we need to play our part (somehow), a leave vote doesn't remove these obligations.
Much was made of potential security benefits by both sides. Remain and we can work with Europe, leave and we can close the borders. I don't think either option makes a difference to either crime or terrorism. Unknown criminals will still get across borders, extremists will still try to conduct terrible acts.
Regardless of the result we won't stop cooperating with law enforcement or intelligence agencies in Europe, even if America stops using us to deal with smaller European states. Behind the scenes diplomats may need to offer more tea before agreements are reached but there won't be a visible public effect.
Lastly there's the increasing risk of countries like Russia & China. The only way to tackle either of these effectively is politically, in cooperation with a strong group of countries.
It's true that a lot of seemingly ridiculous regulation comes from the EU. In some cases our own Government make things worse by implementing it badly. But in order to trade with the EU (in any format) we need to adhere to EU regulation. Our widgets will have to pass EU certification, many companies will have to operate within EU rules. There may be benefits for smaller companies who don't trade outside the UK.
In some areas the UK might be able to ignore EU regulation (for example fishing) but I would not be surprised to see some form of trade barriers if this happened. In others we will have to comply with EU regulation anyway, like Canada will have to adopt the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) to do business with European citizens. Because regulation won't magically disappear I don't see this as an attractive reason to leave.
A lot of talk centred around what we pay in to Europe. Regardless of the exact numbers it is a tiny, tiny percentage of the overall UK budget. Some of it goes toward aid which pleases me. There is more we could do nationally to invest more wisely, therefore this argument does not particularly appeal to me.
So far I have tried to avoid criticism of either side because both were so terrible. However the fantasy economics played by the leave campaign were ridiculous. We cannot stop paying Europe and commit to spending the money on an infinite list of maintaining subsidies, funding the NHS, building schools etc. This is like cancelling your gym membership and hoping it covers a new house, new car and new TV. The numbers simply don't stack up.
Economically we can probably survive fine outside the EU, perhaps with a different set of services (ironically we could expand our current tax havens). It's even possible we would prosper. But this won't happen quickly, if we leave it will likely take a generation to see any real benefits. This won't help those people hoping a leave vote will cure their very real, very difficult situations in the short term.
Unfortunately things probably won't be radically different in a few years regardless of the referendum.
The outcome certainly won't change our two major political parties imploding in slow motion and the third who imploded during the last parliament (ignoring Scotland, who are doing mostly well for a unified party). Therefore what I'd like to see is..
- A remain vote, with a wake up call to Europe. Although I doubt the outcome will dramatically change Europe it certainly won't be ignored, partly due to the emergence of far-right political parties in other countries.
- MEPs doing their job. Many UK MEPs have a terrible voting record. We should hold them to account and try to ensure we participate in the EU, even if we don't always like the outcome.
- Some more honesty from the Government. Diplomacy requirements aside it is silly to pretend that we love the EU. Countries like Turkey watch the debate and know that we don't really support their membership bid. This is silly and doesn't stand us in good stead.
I have little expectation any of this will happen. Therefore a large number of people will continue to be disenfranchised with politics, blaming all problems on the referendum until at least the next general election. Understanding that real life is often a choice between muy mierda and très merde is perhaps depressing but at least pragmatic.