My first reaction to the EU Referendum debate was to question why the UK would want to abandon its hard-won privileges, accumulated over the 20+ years that it had been a member of the EU, and why I would want to forsake an institution to which I felt a certain affinity, it being almost as old as myself. And when those in the Brexit camp were depicted as destroyers of EU values, and the debate was twisted into a moral one, with Brexit supporters accused of being intolerant, irresponsible, and regressive, the last thing I wanted to be associated with was the villainous Brexit camp. Listening to the arguments of both sides also made me prefer the “Remain” side, which made me feel more secure and which admitted the ailments of the EU more easily than the “Leave” camp were able to admit the negative impact Brexit would have on the UK.
However, after thinking beyond the economic losses, and I do think that there will be unavoidable economic losses, whatever some Brexiteers would have people believe, and putting them into perspective according to my own lifestyle, I am now thinking…
1. Although the cost of living will rise (import tariffs for goods/services/energy, etc.), once tariffs are agreed the UK economy will rebalance itself, and the UK gets more foreign investment from outside the EU than any other member state. Some say that many countries and the EU as a whole will not want to do business with the UK anymore, but even if that were the case – UK being understandably less attractive than before – economic stability is more important to business than simple profit, and helping to stabilise the UK economy after Brexit is in other countries’ best interests. In the meantime it will cut spending / increase taxes / borrow money to offset impact of economic shock. The UK tax rate is low compared to other “top ten” largest economies except India. If the EU fragments after Brexit it will prolong the period of uncertainty and economic instability, but on the other hand the UK won’t be “missing out”.
2. Higher wages and difficulty in hiring low-paid workers will encourage automation and modernisation. Reduced immigration of low-skilled workers will make room for high-skilled workers. Relaxed rules on non-EU immigration will help reverse the falling figures for university enrolment of non-EU students.
3. A weaker pound sterling will benefit exports, and the UK is the world’s 3rd most popular online shopping destination for international shoppers. Exporting more and importing less will reduce the trade deficit. The UK’s trade performance is at its worst since the global financial crisis.
4. The UK will be free from EU regulations, directives, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and will be able to make policies because it wants to, not because it is compelled to. It can stop helping everybody a little and help less people and institutions (farmers, charities, universities, etc.) but more effectively. Fears that the government will not prioritise consumer/environmental/human rights/labour/social issues are unsupported by past record of UK initiatives, and in any case the UK needs to listen to its people, not to be supervised by the EU. The UK will not be giving up on EU ideals of freedom, collaboration, and peace, or rather, it is time that British citizens trusted its government to do “good” of its own accord.
5. Some decisions previously dependent upon EU regulations and directives will become the responsibility of devolved governments, giving Scotland / Wales / Northern Ireland more regional sovereignty.
6. The UK is better off free from certain EU imposed rules:
i. The quota for landing fish, which is hurting an industry which contributes nearly as much as the agricultural industry to the UK’s GDP. It doesn’t make sense that the UK, which has more than double the length of Iceland’s coastline, catches 30% of the amount that Iceland catches.
ii. Free movement, whereby EU immigrants are entitled to UK citizen benefits and jobs. The “emergency brake” gained by David Cameron will only last for 7 years.
7. Trade deals will be negotiated, by people probably just as inexperienced as the Swiss (etc.) were when they first began their negotiations. They will be worse than EU deals, but they will be on UK terms and will be better for the UK in the long term. Trade deals between the EU and other countries on the other hand could be damaging for the UK, notably the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which has provisions for “investor-state dispute settlements” (ISDS) that will allow companies to discourage governments from introducing laws or regulations that might reduce corporate profits, thereby posing a threat to the NHS. The biggest worry is that the UK will be out of the single market in 2 years but trade deals take 10 years to negotiate. But the WTO will prevent punitive tariffs from being imposed on the UK and the UK will have double the leverage that Switzerland has, even if it falls from being the world’s 5th largest economy (to being 10th largest is what is being predicted).
8. Loss of access to the single market looks to the future, as even though the EU is the world’s biggest trade zone, UK trade with non-EU countries is growing at a quicker rate than trade with the EU. To join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, have done, will require compromises (probably adherence to the rules that the UK dislikes) but the UK can make deals separately with its biggest trade partners in the EU (Germany, France, The Netherlands, Ireland). As for the loss of free trade in services, although it will affect the UK’s financial industry (which contributes to 10% of its GDP), it will be less damaging than the loss of free trade in goods, as EU red tape currently makes it still quite difficult for businesses to expand in Europe.
9. Loss of R&D (Research & Development) funding from the EU will be compensated by government funding, as pressure on funding the education of EU students will be relieved.
10. Loss of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme will be compensated by reciprocal healthcare deals with individual countries, as has been made already with Australia (etc.).
11. Loss of funds to charities is something that charities will have to deal with. The government is unlikely to ignore those in need at home, and as for the rest, the UK is bound by international aid commitments. The job of a charity is to raise their own funds, not to be handed grants.
12. Loss of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and guaranteed EU support of UK farmers will force the government to form its own agricultural policy. Subsidies help farmers to survive, not prosper, and the government will decide which areas to invest in and make actually profitable, helped by the growing trend in buying artisan/fresh/local/organic.
13. Intelligence sharing is unlikely to stop, as too much will be at stake (the UK has one of the largest number of terror cells in Europe, and 2016 events have made clear the intentions of terrorists to launch cross-border operations) for the EU to withdraw access to the Schengen Information System and the European Arrest Warrant. In any case, the UK’s main intelligence sharing is done with non-EU countries (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). Security in terms of energy, defence, etc. is unlikely to worsen in the long term as it will put more pressure on the individual country itself to be responsible for its own well-being and that of its overseas territories, notably Gibraltar and the Falklands, which in the case of Brexit might face a closing of the border from Spain and recognition of Argentinian claims from some members of the EU.
14. Finally, coming back to moral problem, the UK is not going to lose its reputation for benevolence just by making it harder for EU citizens to live and work in the country than before. The UK helps more than just the people in the EU, and more so than other countries. The UK is unique in being the only major developed economy to meet international foreign aid targets. It takes pride in giving more – in proportion to its GDP – to the world (0.7% of its GDP) than other countries including France (0.4%), Germany (0.4%), and the US (less than 0.2%). As long as the aid reaches the right people, and I am aware that the aid may be inadvertently funding corrupt and authoritarian governments, then the UK helps foreigners by improving conditions in their home country. So that the quality of living may improve not only for those who can afford to escape the poor conditions, but for everyone.
Those on the ship are members of the European Union (EU). The UK is located on the right of France, holding the ladder, and the newest member Croatia is on the left. Except Croatia from the explanation below.
Germany has the most voting power in the EU Council, and is located at the helm below the EU flag. Next are the 2 countries to its left, followed by those on the cabin rooftop, from the right to the left. After them are the countries at the portholes, followed by the rest of the countries on the deck, from the front row to the back.
The countries in the water are the candidates for EU membership.
The countries on the island are potential candidates for EU membership.