Vote Leave supporters sing from a well worn song sheet. Yet beyond repeating the easily memorable chorus, there is little understanding of the underlying complex issues.
Leavers frequently allege we do not control our own borders. This is rather strange as those returning to the UK from the EU may recall that when entering the UK we are greeted by the big signs ‘UK Border’ and an array of Home Office passport officers.
As we are not part of the EU’s Schengen Area, non-EU nationals entering from the EU are strictly controlled. Leaving the EU would not resolve the perceived immigration ‘crisis’ because only 42% of current migration into the UK is by citizens of other EU countries. Even then, there are as many UK citizens living in the rest of the EU as there are EU citizens living in the UK. Only 2.5% of those claiming UK jobseekers allowance are EU citizens (ONS). Of the remaining vast majority, many are students who contribute to local employment and growth while the balance work and pay more in UK taxes than they receive in benefits (Dustman and Frattini, 2013).
It is also wrong to suggest that the EU dictates who we can co-operate with. Independent Vote Watch shows our elected UK Ministers ‘win’ 94% of the decisions in the EU Council. Our directly elected European Parliamentarians also play a key part in decision-making (if they turn up unlike many UKIP MEPs). As Rob Wainwright, the British Director of the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol warned recently, leaving the EU would “make Britain’s job harder to fight crime and terrorism because it will not have the same access to very well-developed European co-operation mechanisms that it currently has today”.
The Leavers also have little understanding of how the world trading system works. ‘Regaining’ one of the 163 seats in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would not amount to much, not least because its global negotiations were effectively declared dead last December. A seat on the WTO grants Most Favoured Nation trading status which trade experts disparagingly refer to as ‘Least Favoured Nation’ status. We have the best British free trade deal now through our EU membership which gives us free access to 500 million affluent European consumers, and additional weight in international trade negotiations with the US and other partners as we are part of the world’s largest economy with 30% of GDP rather than alone with only 2% of global GDP.
Lastly the Leavers portray the cost of our EU membership as a huge burden. The sum of 55 million pounds per day may sound large, yet our payments are only 1% of the tax we pay and one seventeenth of what we spend on our local government. EU institutions employ about 33,000 people, about the same number employed by Leeds town council. We are hardly funding a superstate! The CBI (2013) estimates we gain almost 10 times as much in terms of jobs, foreign investment and trade. If we left the EU and concluded an arrangement like that of Norway or Switzerland, we would have to pay about the same as we do now for access to the EU Single Market and have to adopt all EU rules. Do we still want to pay and have no say?
It is clear that if we vote leave, we lose control.