June 21st, 2016


Why I'm voting "In"

I've been a fan of the European Union and a believer in the European project for a long time. The EU is not perfect, but nor are we; even though the continental mainland has round pin plugs and drives on the right, surely we are not all that different from our neighbours. Indeed, apparently we agree with them about 95% of the time.

I'm fed up of hearing that the EU is un-democratic. There are elections for the EU parliament every 5 years, dontcha know? What's more, unlike UK parliamentary elections, they are carried out under a broadly proportional system. And those damned EU commissioners, how dare they, when they are appointed by democratically elected national governments of the Member States! What does happen is that there is a constant tension between Member States and the EU as a whole. There's a self-interest for national governments to play up their own democratic credentials against the collective. Frankly one of the greatest attributes of the EU for me is that it can provide checks and balances our own system of government lacks.

I'm fed up of hearing that the EU is corrupt. In fact its accounts have been signed off as fair and accurate for the last 8 years. I couldn't find any data online that could confirm or deny whether the UK government's accounts would stand up to similar scrutiny. Yes, some money may be mis-spent, I'm afraid I do feel that Greece is a basket-case, and it's a waste of money moving the parliament to Strasbourg every month, but I did say I didn't think things were perfect.

Historically, Britain has had a half-hearted approach to Europe. Attlee was sceptical, even though he was dismantling the British Empire at the time; Churchill was more pro-European. Heath is clear in his autobiography that he knew full well what "every closer union" meant so please don't tell me we were misled in the 1970s. After the implosion of the Conservatives in the mid 1990s, Blair should have had the courage to go further with Europe than he did - I feel it was a missed opportunity to join the single currency. (No, I wouldn't advocate joining it right now; but the UK would have been one of the most significant players in the Eurozone had it been a member. As in quantum mechanics, the experimenter inherently changes the conditions and interferes in establishing the result). I can't understand why we continually insist on standing aloof, opt-out after opt-out. Europe, on the other hand, has had a mostly positive approach to the UK. Five of the six founder members were intensely frustrated during the early years of the EEC, when De Gaulle's France was the enfant terrible repeatedly blocking UK membership.

I like the single market, but for it to work there must be fair regulation and freedom of movement. Go to a museum and look at medieval weights and measures - they were used to verify merchants were trading fairly when goods were of unknown provenance from far away. Directives on trade play a similar role today and prevent a race to the bottom. The EU would ensure a fair playing field with workers' rights, but Cameron has all but scrapped the Working Time Directive. The UK is chronically unproductive; is the only way we can compete by working until we drop? No, we need to address the productivity problem. Similarly, the environment is a shared resource - and the Earth is the only one we've got - so protecting it as widely as possible, with the EU's precautionary principle, makes sense.

On migration: in general, I don't believe they are stealing our jobs. If you're unhappy that your plumber is Polish or the NHS is staffed by doctors and nurses from overseas, the question to ask is why we aren't training enough people ourselves to do these jobs. I doubt it's a great experience coming over to Britain to pick seasonal fruit and vegetables, but if there were British people prepared to do those jobs then gangmasters wouldn't bother to ship them in from abroad. I'm fortunate to work in IT, a sector with a skills shortage, and the team in which I work includes people whose ethnic origins are British, Chinese, Russian, Indian, Israeli, Italian and Iranian (with apologies to anyone I've missed); my line manager is Australian. Having taken part in the hiring process it's just a case of finding people of the appropriate calibre at all.

Were the question on the ballot paper about whether I approved of Cameron's "re-negotiation", I would vote no, because I'm disgusted by it: I didn't want it and I don't think it helps anybody. Britain needs to grow up, and stop being "special". But that's not the question. I'd encourage everyone who is eligible to vote to do so on Thursday, but I particularly hope you, like me, will vote to remain in the EU.