But when Emma’s sister-in-law asked to do a guest post explaining why she feels it is very important we say yes to staying in Europe, we jumped at the chance. You see, scaremongering aside, we think it’s pretty hard to find easily accessible information that lays out some of the facts.
You may agree or disagree with Vicky’s point of view (though we can attest that it is thoroughly researched and grounded in an avid interest in politics) but what is important is that you exercise your right to vote and that you endeavour to make an informed decision.
Over to the fabulous Vicky Kingston…
The year of the yes blog has come in many forms, from food to fashion, personal challenges to the promotion of wider causes but today I’m using this opportunity to encourage you to say yes for a very different reason.
On the 23rd June the UK has the opportunity to decide whether to remain part of the European Union or to leave a community that it has been part of since 1973 . When I found out about the government policy to hold a public vote on our membership of the EU I was sceptical about whether it would ever come to pass (people say one thing to win a vote and another once they’re in power) but when David Cameron announced the decision to hold a vote this year I knew how I would vote and knew that I wanted to help others make the right decision. I proudly announced to my husband that I would join the campaign to help people say yes to Europe and understand the benefits that it bring. Unfortunately with less than a month to the vote I haven’t followed through on my promise.
It’s far too easy for me to say that life and work have ‘got in the way’ and stopped me making the time. The reality is that I’ve prioritised other things – a holiday to the US and the new series of Game of Thrones have been far more appealing!
Whilst I’ve spoken to friends and family who are already actively engaged in the debate or have asked my opinion (or who have been brave enough to voice theirs), there are many people who feel confused and sceptical of information provided by either the yes or the no camp. What would life outside of the EU really be like? Is it as bad as some suggest? What have they ever done for the UK but cost us money, straighten our bananas and force us to reign in our sovereignty?
I don’t profess to have all if the answers. I’m not sure that anyone really does and unfortunately now that the debate has descended into scaremongering and point scoring it is even harder to decide fact from fiction. What I do want to do is share some of what I know and have read in the hope that I might be slightly more engaging than the men in grey suits that are at the heart of the debate. The year of the yes is my opportunity to tell you why I believe that a vote for Europe is a vote for a stronger, happier and more prosperous UK. I might not have had time to get out in the campaign trail but hopefully I can use this opportunity to finally do something to encourage you to say yes!
The cost of membership
One of the main arguments from the out camp is the cost of being in the EU to the UK. They state that the UK could save £350m a week, or £18bn a year, from Brexit. So couldn’t this money be better spent on our failing NHS services, education or adult social care?
Unfortunately there is no comprehensive study on the costs or benefits of withdrawal but a recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests that a vote to leave would actually end up costing the UK between £20bn to £40bn a year and require additional austerity, lasting into the next decade, if the government still wanted to eliminate the deficit.
The leave campaign refute this but from my own experience and reading, the cost of withdrawal far outweigh the benefits.
The organisation I work for is owned by the Local Government Association and Treasury. Every day I work with public sector organisations, such as NHS Trusts who are fighting to maintain service levels with diminishing budgets. Part of my role is to help them to make efficiency savings, reducing bills and improving the environments that people live, work and learn in. But to save you have to invest. So where could this money come from?
The out campaign believe the money saved from leaving would provide this but evidence suggests money invested in Europe is nowhere near the amount required to plug the gap, nor does it account for the money received from the EU. In the NHS alone the Nuffield Trust suggest that after 2014/15, to avoid cuts to the service or a fall in the quality of care patients receive, the NHS in England must either achieve unprecedented sustained increases in productivity, or increase funding. They have estimated that by 2021/11 the funding gap will be worth between £44 and £54 billion. This dwarfs any money that could be saved by leaving the EU and also fails to take account of the fact that the EU is one of the only vehicles for UK public sector organisations to access free and low cost capital.
I can’t pretend that this isn’t tied up in bureaucracy and paperwork but what isn’t? I have seen and worked with organisations to draw down millions of pounds worth of investment to support innovation, efficiency and research. This includes support to make the NHS more efficient and help reduce costs. It has been reported by The Economist that Britain pays the EU £340 per household, compared to an estimated £3,000 yearly benefit of membership. London alone has received over £1bn in European funding to support vital infrastructure and efficiency projects such as those that I work on. Where else could we leverage this sort of benefit and at what cost?
The EU is also a huge export market for the UK – 39% of goods from London alone are exported to Europe and the EU now takes over 51% of British exports of goods, and close to 45% if services are added in. I have married into a farming family and we are often frustrated that whilst supermarkets continue to market their support for British produce the majority of lamb we produce is brought by the French and Belgians whilst New Zealand lamb continues to sit on supermarket shelves in the UK. Opting out of Europe would require separate trade deals which are expected to lead to additional costs, lower profit levels and ultimately produce that they are unable to sell. Being in the EU means that we have free trade deals with over 50 countries in the world creating new and exciting opportunities for British businesses, and are able to leverage better terms than we could independently because of our size. It’s the basic economics of bulk purchasing.
Another argument put forward by the out campaign is EU regulation and its ability to stifle progress, change and creativity. Regulation is critical to the management of any financial market and when compared with other counties the extent of regulation in product and labour markets found that Britain is among the least regulated countries in Europe. The UK Government may be able to reduce this further but if we want to continue to access the European market then these rules would still apply. Trade with far-off countries is costly, in terms of money and time so it seems unlikely that we would trade most heavily beyond our closest neighbours.
Freedom of Movement
As well as arguments around cost people are using the politics of fear linking decisions on Europe with that of immigration and freedom of movement. Immigration has become an incredibly sensitive and inflammatory topic of conversation even in the most unpolitical of environments and amongst those who would not consider themselves ‘political’.
This will not end with an exit from Europe. Aside from our commitments under the EU we have a commitment under the United Nations to support countries and more importantly individuals that are in dire, often life threatening situations whether that be through foreign aid or asylum. In fact countries that trade with the EU from outside, and many of our EU partners, have higher rates of Immigration than the UK. Mr Farage may try and convince us that an exit from Europe will ensure that British jobs and benefits are for British people but even a wall can’t stop that (if only someone would tell Donald Trump!)
What much of this debate fails to focus on are the benefits to UK residents of free movement across Europe: The ability to study and work in Europe, to access free healthcare and to allow the brightest and the best workers to support UK industries and professions or simply plug gaps where there are a shortage of skilled workers.
The debate rages between the leave and remain camp regarding security and whether we are safer in or out of the EU. I am not sure that leaving or remaining in Europe would make me feel any different to the way I do now about the threat of terrorism, nor do I believe that our position in or outside of the EU makes us any safer or at risk from these acts. The acts of terrorism that have occurred around the world by ISIS are not rational and are aimed at national Governments and their citizens with and without so-called justification.
The formation of the EU was as the result of the desire for unity after the Second World War and whilst we have a good relationship with our European neighbours I’m certain that somewhere down the line, opting to leave the EU will lead to increased tension.
Britain is seen as a leader in Europe, and the eyes of all the other member states are on us and our decision. If we leave the EU, this could lead to a domino effect with other countries leaving the partnership. The far right movement is gathering pace in France, Russia seem increasingly more isolated on the borders of Europe and there are a growing amount of refugees coming in to the continent because of civil wars and genocides in Africa and the Middle East. Is this really the time to be breaking down unions, ignoring refugees, pulling up bridges and isolating ourselves from our closest allies? History tells us that this type of attitude doesn’t usually have a happy ending and only leads to continued disillusionment and tension.
Exiting the EU could also prevent the cooperation that we currently see to counter acts of terror and ensure that both terrorists and criminals are brought to justice. The former Heads of both the MI5 and MI6 have warned that leaving the EU could undermine our ability to protect ourselves because it would restrict our surveillance powers, hinder cooperation and restrict data sharing.
Support for women: As a woman many of the rights that I enjoy are the product of the European Union and not British law. The EU prohibits discrimination of any kind in the workplace. Many of my friends are now expecting their first child and it is the EU that has ensured that we are entitled to 14 weeks maternity leave, maternity pay and job protection for those who return to work. In the US, by way of comparison, this is 12 weeks unpaid leave and paternity leave is almost laughable!
Job opportunities: Being in Europe means greater job opportunities. We are part of the biggest single markets in the world and at least 3million jobs are linked to our trade with Europe.
Consumer benefits: Being in Europe also keeps prices low due to the level of competition created by a single market allowing consumers to access the best deals. The Centre for Economic and Business Research has estimated prices could rise by £11billion per year!
Sovereignty and the ability to make our own decisions: The EU is only one example of where we reduce our own sovereignty. Other examples include the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and NATO where we currently accept that the benefit of membership warrants this trade off. In a globalised world, all nation states make continual trade-offs on sovereignty so should we chose to leave those groups as well?
What next for the UK: Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all expressed a strong desire to remain part of the EU. Commentators fear that an exit from the EU would create new tensions from the devolved nations for independence. Having fought so hard for Scotland to remain part of the UK could our actions in this referendum have unintended consequences?
Impact on the financial markets: Many organisations, both public and private, have estimated the negative economic effects of leaving the EU. It is difficult to fully understand the full impact that leaving the EU will have on the financial markets but when the referendum was announced the value of the pound had its biggest one-day fall. It has also reached the lowest level against the US dollar since March 2009. Whilst this only demonstrates the short-term impact of this announcement it does not bode well for a future outside of the EU or for the value of our money abroad!
I can’t tell you everything you need to know but hopefully, if nothing else, this blog has given you enough information to feel like you can make an informed choice or a building block to look for more and question the information you’re given. I know that not everyone is engaged or excited about politics in the way that I am, but you do not have to like politics to engage in it. The referendum is something that will affect us all, whether we like it or not and so I would encourage you to vote, to read and to understand what the decision will mean for you.
So as Maria says in the Sound of Music ‘So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye’ or as they say in the EU – Au Revior, Arrivederci, Tchau, Daag, Hejdå….. you get the picture!
How to vote:
If you’re not already on the electoral role you will need to register to vote by midnight on the 7th June. You can register online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
If you’re already registered you should have received a polling card by the 25th May
Voting by post:
If you haven’t already arranged to vote by post in elections, you will need to apply by 5pm on Wednesday 8 June to vote by post in the EU Referendum
(A reminder to all those that will be with me in Barcelona that day!)
Voting by proxy (i.e someone else – that you trust):
If you haven’t already arranged to vote by proxy in elections in England, Scotland or Wales, you will need to apply by 5pm on Wednesday 15 June to vote by proxy in the EU referendum