A simple argument for voting Remain

A simple argument for voting Remain.jpeg

The burden of proof is on the Leave side, and they have failed spectacularly to answer the most basic condition of Brexit

The tenor of the referendum debate has been both confusing and dire, with each side claiming and counter-claiming figures in their favour, and competing to paint the more fearsome results of the opposite decision. It’s left voters wanting facts rather than fighting, but macroeconomic predictions — rather like the EU’s labyrinthine institutions themselves — are complex; no facts come without caveats or shades of grey.

That said, I will be voting Remain, and there’s a simple reason. If you’re struggling to come to a decision on Brexit, this might help.

It begins with a single premise: for Britain to remain an economic force, it must maintain access to the single market. Few Brexiteers dispute this.

Those that do claim after Brexit we will be able to trade globally under terms set out by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), irrespective of our relationship to the European Economic Area (EEA). They ignore that, without tariff-free integration with the world’s largest trade bloc, our negotiating position with large economies like China, India, the United States and Japan is significantly weaker, not to mention that nearly half of all British exports are to the EU. This is why a CBI study (conducted by PwC) projects a more significant negative impact on British GDP when operating on WTO terms than as part of the EEA.

This is unacceptable and makes it clear that access to the single market is essential. Since we are currently within the single market, the burden of proof is on the Leave camp to show how we could achieve their aims from a Brexit, and still remain within the single market.

Not a problem, say the Leave camp, who claim we can still maintain access to the single market and achieve the three advantages they crave outside the EU:

  • An end to the £350m a week we send to Brussels

  • An end to the regulations and laws imposed on us by the EU

  • An end to unlimited migration from the EU to Britain

Putting aside the falseness of the £350m figure, the role Britain plays in shaping EU legislation, and the net contribution EU migrants make to the country, this would be an attractive proposition, were it true.

There is no precedent for a country leaving the common market (Greenland left in 1985, but it’s really an autonomous part of Denmark and you can fit its entire population in West Ham United’s new stadium with seats to spare). The two oft-cited options for the UK in a post-Brexit world are Norway and Switzerland.

Norway is a part of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA), along with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, which grants them access to the EEA. However, as part of the agreement, Norway contributes to the EU budget (over half as much as Britain per capita). Switzerland, despite also formally being a member of EFTA, has a separate set of bilateral agreements with the EU which allows it to trade in specific parts of the single market. It also contributes to the EU budget, although less than Norway.

Ok, so we would have to still pay into the EU, but it would be less than now, and that’s better right? Well, no.

Along with contributing to the EU budget, Norway and Switzerland must reluctantly accept the regulations decided in Brussels. And of course they must; the single market is essentially a standardised regulatory framework for trade — products and services legally produced and provided anywhere in the single market can be traded anywhere else in the market precisely because they follow the same regulations. The only difference for Norway and Switzerland is they have very little influence over what those regulations are.

Right, so we’d have to accept EU legislation without being able to shape it, but we’d be paying less and, crucially, we could control EU migrants entering the country? Nope.

As a founding condition of their trade relationship with the EU, both Norway and Switzerland have to accept free movement — they’re both in the borderless Schengen Area. And in fact, they experience far higher rates of inward migration than does the UK.

Those in favour of Leave claim that the UK would be able to negotiate a better deal for Britain, granting access to the single market along with limits on migration from the EU. However, this contradicts what the Council of the European Union said when Switzerland proposed a similar deal two years ago:

“[The Council] considers that the free movement of persons is a fundamental pillar of EU policy and that the internal market and its four freedoms are indivisible.”

In the event of a Brexit, David Cameron would likely be forced to resign, and Boris Johnson is the favourite to replace him, and thus lead the divorce negotiations with the EU. Since, as London mayor, Johnson was unable to negotiate an agreement to launch the Night Tube, it seems unlikely he’ll be able to face down the European Council for more favourable terms, especially as this would open up the door for Switzerland, Front National in France, and the rising nationalist parties of eastern Europe to demand the same.

So in summary: if we left the EU, we would need to continue paying into its budget, abide by its rules (without a say on what they are), and continue allowing migration from the EU; or we’d have to forgo access to the single market. The Leave side have stated sovereignty and a stop to immigration as the main reasons for leaving the EU, and so Brexit is really a choice between having access to the single market or not.

Remember that single premise at the beginning?

For Britain to remain an economic force, it must maintain access to the single market.

Therefore, Brexit is a choice between a Britain on its own outside of the EU, or a Britain within the EU remaining an economic force.

I want Britain to remain an economic force, so I will be voting Remain on Thursday. ⬢

PoliticsSamuel Caveen