Michael Gove’s statement in the Sunday Times (28th July) that...
The referendum on British membership of the European Union is probably the most serious national decision this generation of voters will be asked to make.
The campaigns for and against our membership are inevitably heated and add to the pressure on us all to check the accuracy of the claims and counter claims. Advocates for remaining in the EU have been accused of a fear campaign whilst their opponents are accused of lying about what membership does to the UK. The challenge for voters is to control our prejudices and check the facts before prayerfully casting our votes on June 23rd.
One claim is that leaving will give us back control of our borders and halt the pressures of immigration on our jobs, housing and public services. We need first to ask whether the immigrants really are coming here only because we are members of the EU. Second, would we be able to trade with EU countries post exit if we reject free movement? Norway and Switzerland are not members but have to accept free movement in order to trade with EU states. On trade, the leavers argue that the EU needs us more than we need them. Actually our exports to the EU represent 12% of our GDP but EU exports to the UK are only 3% of their GDP. There are other growing markets around the world but the EU’s market is the biggest in the world. In any post exit negotiations, this will surely give them the stronger hand.
Business leaders who back Brexit say that the EU ‘red tape’ is a burden on British firms and costs us £600 million a year. There is no doubt that EU regulations do affect smaller firms but some regulation is necessary. For example, the measures to protect workers’ rights would hopefully remain even if we leave the EU. However, the image of Brussels as a huge bureaucracy is a myth. It is half the size of one Whitehall department such as HMRC.
The leavers claim that EU membership costs us £55 million a day. That is simply wrong. The net cost of membership, taking account of the grants and farm subsidies they pay us, is only £17 million per day or 30p per person. This gives us access to the 500 million EU markets which the CBI estimates to be worth £3000 to every UK household. It is true that the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world and currently growing faster than those of our neighbours, but Brexit could mean our exports would be less competitive in Europe with tariffs added. Often forgotten are the implications of leaving for Britons resident in EU nations. Brexit advocates say they are far outnumbered by the EU citizens living here; in fact the numbers are nearly the same, as they are close to 2 million.
The advocates of staying have to answer criticisms that the EU is democratically weak. The Commission is unelected and the EU Parliament weak compared with the Westminster Parliament. Subsidiarity would partly compensate for this, but has not been applied as extensively as the founding fathers intended. The outcome of the referendum will affect us all so it would be foolish to shirk our own democratic duty or to vote without prayerful reflection on the implications of our choice.