Twenty Reasons Not To Back Brexit
Some time ago, the Telegraph courageously published a list of “20 Reasons you should vote to leave the European Union”
Now may be as good a time as any to have a look at those.
1) We’d get our money back
Telegraph: “Some of your taxes go the European Union. Some, but not all, of that money comes back to Britain in subsidies to farmers, grants to universities and so on. How much? In 2015, our gross contribution was almost £18 billion, but a budget “rebate” won my Margaret Thatcher in 1984 reduced that to £13 billion, around £200 per person in Britain. The Treasury says around £6 billion comes back to the UK in subsidies and grants, meaning our net EU payments are worth a little over £100 per head. In cash terms, Britain is the second biggest contributor to the EU budget after Germany.”
£100? So less than the telly licence is staying in the EU. But it isn’t. It’s being used for things, some of which help you. For example:
- the EHIC card scheme that means you can get healthcare throughout the EU. And, because of that, much cheaper travel insurance.
- shared standards for food, toys, medicines etc. that would cost individual governments much more if they had to sort them out themselves.
- a shared market, where anyone can sell goods or services to anywhere else in the EU without additional tariffs or customs checks or bureaucracy.
- shared investment in scientific research projects, which allows big, multi-country projects to happen, and helps fund centres things like Manchester’s Graphene centre.
- a development fund that supports areas that national governments might have neglected. In the UK, that’s anywhere that isn’t London.
- an accessible justice system that helps settle disputes between countries without them resorting to war. If you don’t know why that matters, look here.
2) We could decide who comes into our country
Telegraph: EU members must allow all EU citizens to enter their country and work without restrictions. The “right of free movement” has allowed hundreds of thousands of Europeans to live and work in Britain. In the 12 months ending in September 2015, an estimated 257,000 EU nationals arrived in the UK. The Office for National Statistics estimates that there are more than 2 million EU nationals working in the UK.
We already have the power to restrict access to those who don’t work, and those that do are paying their way. We know this because GDP per capita has not changed, meaning that immigrant workers are, on average, earning as much and paying as much tax, as UK citizens. Moreover, many are working in the NHS because the UK hasn’t spent enough time or money training up replacements, and fill skills gaps in many technical industries.
3) We could make our own laws again
Some British laws are passed and implemented because of decisions made at an EU level. Business For Britain, a pro-Leave group, reckons 65 per cent of new British laws are made in Brussels. The House of Commons Library says that between 1993 and 2014, a total of 231 Acts of Parliament were passed because of EU membership, 24 per cent of the total. In 2010, the UK government estimated that about 50 per cent of UK legislation with “significant economic impact” originates from EU legislation.
We do make our own laws. EU laws only apply here when we’ve put them into UK law. And the 24% isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as much of it is detailed, technical, dull stuff, such as labelling regulations and data protection rules – which we’d have to produce anyhow, at similar cost in money and time, and which would have to comply with EU regulations in any case if we were to sell our services there.
4) Our courts would have the final say over those laws
Telegraph: When Britain joined the EEC in 1972, Parliament accepted that European law could have primacy over UK law. That law is ultimately overseen by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The court’s power has grown steadily, and the Lisbon Treaty gave it power over 135 areas of criminal justice policy; Britain has opted out of all but 35 of those measures, but participates in the European Arrest Warrant scheme, which gives the court the right to order EU nationals (including Britons) be extradited to face trial elsewhere in the EU.
So (a) we agreed to it, (b) we’ve opted out of most of it and (c) the things we haven’t opted out of are the ones we use ourselves. So leaving the EU would achieve what? Remember, also, that neither the International Court of Justice nor the European Court of Human Rights are part of the EU, and both can over-rule nations.
5) We wouldn’t have to accept decisions forced on us by other countries
Telegraph: Many EU decisions are taken under “qualified majority voting” rules, where countries’ voting weights depend on their size. That means countries can be outvoted, forced to accept decisions with which they disagree. Britain is outvoted more often than any other country. Between 2009 and 2015, Britain was on the losing side of 12 per cent of QMV decisions. By contrast, France was on the losing side of less than 1 per cent of votes. The areas where Britain was most often outvoted included the EU budget and EU foreign and security policy.
Democracy brings with it the risk of sometimes losing. The EU is democratically run. Leaving would mean we wouldn’t have a vote at all, but because of the way security works, we’d still have to cooperate with the EU. The EU budget is a tricky matter, but as it’s less than 1% of the UK government’s spending, there are probably more urgent things to worry about.
6 )We wouldn’t have to listen to lots of European presidents
Telegraph: The EU is not a country but it has no fewer than five presidents. Donald Tusk is president of the European Council, the group comprised of EU heads of state and government. Jean Claude Juncker is president of the European Commission. Martin Schulz is president of the European Parliament. Mario Draghi is president of the European Central Bank. Jeroen Dijsselbloem is president of the Eurogroup of countries using the single currency. They wrote a report last year calling for much greater integration of the euro countries, another step on the road to a superstate.
The presidents represent the views of their respective bodies. So Donald Tusk is the spokesman for for the European Council (made up of the 28 heads of state, including Theresa May), Martin Schulz speaks for the European Parliament (which contains all our MEPs), and Jean Claude Juncker speaks for the European Commission (which contains 28 commissioners, one appointed by the UK) which has oversight of the EU’s civil service. The UK is not a member of the Eurogroup, so we don’t need to worry about that. As for greater integration, see the point about democracy, above.
7) We wouldn’t have to listen to, or fund, the European Commission
Telegraph: The European Commission is more than the EU’s civil service. It also has the right to propose new laws and regulations. It employs around 23,000 officials. In 2011, a think-tank estimated that more than 10,000 Commission staff were paid more than £70,000.
See above. And remember that the UK’s civil service is, despite austerity, still over 400,000, even though it doesn’t have to bother itself with the (mostly very tedious) stuff the European Commission does for it.
8) We could have proper vacuum cleaners
Telegraph: Under an EU regulation that took effect in 2014, vacuum cleaners with the most powerful motors (1,600 watts and above) are banned. The European Commission says the ban will save energy and encourage more efficient devices. Which?, a consumer group, says it prohibits some of the best machines currently being made. Sir James Dyson, the British industrialist, says the efficiency rules were skewed to favour German vacuums over his products.
They would say that, wouldn’t they? This is a silly argument, not least because modern vacuum cleaners are, with a few iffy exceptions, much better designed than older, less efficient ones. The UK government has agreed, through the UN, to tackle climate change in many ways, and could have blocked this if they’d wanted. They didn’t. So we’d have had something like it, in any case.
9) We wouldn’t have to worry about Turkey
Telegraph: The EU wants to grow even bigger. There are five official candidate countries: Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania. To get in, each has to adopt all EU rules and political standards, then “accession” has to be approved by the leaders and parliaments of every EU member. The Commission says there’s no prospect of any new members before 2020; many European politicians believe Turkey will never qualify, though both sides say they are committed to its entry.
In which case, we don’t need to worry about Turkey.
10) We could set our own tax rates
Telegraph: The EU wants to “harmonise” the rate of VAT and the goods to which it applies. VAT must be at least 15 per cent but can be cut to 5 per cent on certain specified items. EU-wide consent is needed for any changes, which is why George Osborne needs European permission to reduce VAT on tampons and sanitary towels.
Wanting something and doing it are two different things – and remember, as members of the EU, we help decide what it wants.
In this case, there’s a very good reason why a trading partner isn’t allowed to unilaterally add, or remove, taxes on specific products, and that’s to stop them skewing prices to suit themselves.
11) We could support British companies in trouble
Telegraph: EU single market rules discourage governments from giving financial support to private companies, to make sure “national champions” do not have a commercial advantage over rivals. Those rules meant that ministers couldn’t directly bail out Tata Steel’s UK plants.
Bailing out companies is not a good idea at the best of times. If, for example, France decided to throw huge subsidies to loss-making cheesemakers, British cheesemakers would be mightily, and rightly, miffed, as they wouldn’t be able to compete properly. Equally, should the government have bailed out Woolworth’s or BHS? To do so would have rewarded the asset-strippers.
Telegraph: The EU’s common fisheries policy attempts to manage and share EU fish stocks by giving each nations’ fishermen quotas for what they can catch. Critics say that forces up prices for consumers, forces fishermen to dump millions of dead fish back in the sea, and decimates national fishing fleets.
Quotas are necessary because of UN agreements, that the UK signed up to, oblige us to cooperate with neighbouring countries to manage fish stocks. So we’d have the same situation, regardless.
Moreover, one of the reasons British fishing fleets have suffered is because those who bought quotas sold them to companies in other countries.
As for the dumping of surplus catches, a common criticism of the Common Fisheries Policy. That’s now been banned. By the EU.
13) We could get rid of windfarms
Telegraph: Wondering where all those wind turbines come from? Brussels, of course. EU members have agreed to increase the share of their electricity generated from “renewable” sources. By 2020, Britain is supposed to get 15 per cent of its power this way and could in theory face legal action if that target is missed.
Our shift to renewables is driven by global climate-change agreements, to which the UK is signed up to. The EU helps administer and monitor the move, by setting targets in consultation and collaboration with the UK. The UK happens to have chosen wind power as a key element of its strategy, but that is a purely domestic decision, as was the level of subsidy.
14) We could have blue passports again
Telegraph: Your passport is red because Britain is in the EU, and EU members have standardised their passports, and agreed that “European Union” is the first thing written on the cover. The red passport replaced the old blue document in 1988.
A blue cover can be obtained from many obliging retailers, and will cost a lot less than the rise in insurance premiums you’ll see when the EHIC card goes.
15) And our own entry lanes at airports
Telegraph: Remember when you came back from holiday and there was an entry lane marked UK PASSPORT HOLDERS? It’s not there any more because EU rules oblige members to treat all EU nationals in the same way, so Britons have to queue up with their fellow Europeans when they want to come back into their own country.
Only at UK airports. Everywhere else in Europe, we’ll be outsiders, strangers or worse.
16) We wouldn’t have to fund EU foreign aid
Telegraph: The EU has its own foreign aid programme to give away your money. In 2013, it spent almost €15 billion (£11.8 billion) on foreign aid, almost exactly as much as the UK Government.
And why would that be a bad thing? The EU spends, for 28 nations, no more than the UK government spends individually.
17) It would be easier to get rid of fridges
Telegraph: The EU has a say in how you dispose of white goods through Directive 2012/19/EU. Before the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive came in, you could dispose of your fridge in your local landfill to be destroyed by a giant metal crusher. But now fridges are deemed hazardrous, so have to be disposed of safely in special closed units (“approved authorised treatment facilities”). This has spawned a new industry disposing of Britain’s old fridges, and irritated a lot of householders.
Not really. The rules the EU put down were deliberately transferred into UK law by the UK Parliament. You might, if you lobbied for long enough, potentially get a bill proposed to change it, but don’t hold your breath.
Moreover, the main reason fridges are deemed hazardous is because many still contain CFCs, which were banned by the Montreal Convention, which the UK agreed to. Montreal is not noticeably within the EU.
18) No more stupid recycling bins
Telegraph: Local councils’ drive to get you to recycle more of your rubbish is partly driven by the EU. The European Commission wants much less rubbish to go to landfill, and its Landfill Directive sets tough targets for councils. As a result, the UK Government imposes heavy fines on councils for landfill use, adding to council tax bills and encouraging the proliferation of different household bins
There is nothing obviously wrong with trying to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Moreover, many councils have delegated waste collection and processing to companies owned by other EU states. So leaving the EU is unlikely to make life easier in this respect, either.
19) British MEPs would be sacked
Telegraph: Every month, the European Parliament – hundreds of MEPs, their staff, translators and other officials, 10,000 people in all – moves from Brussels to Strasbourg, where it sits for just four days. This “travelling circus” is widely regarded as being hugely wasteful: the Conservative Party has estimated the cost at £130 million a year.
Unemployment is not a good thing. Moreover, the UK government has just authorised £61m for repairing a clock, and spent at least £113m on an entirely unnecessary election. Throwing stones like this could look very unwise in retrospect.
20) Finally, we could have proper lightbulbs again
Telegraph: In possibly the most infamous EU instruction in recent years, traditional incandescent lightbulbs are restricted in favour of low-energy alternatives, which many people feel do not offer the same level of illumination.
With Brazil, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Russia, South Korea and many more nations giving up on them, there are reasons for this that don’t simply amount to EU wilfulness. The world changes. Live with it.