This time last year we were all panicking about a possible Scottish secession, something that surely appealed to Braveheart fans, but didn’t make sense under any other point of view. This year it’s Brexit and, since work has sort of killed all my plans for travelling this month, I’ve decided to write a little bit about it. Besides, it’s a sort of a return to my old love, academia.
My point, if you haven’t got the time to read all the yadda yadda yadda, is quite simple. Exiting the EU will hurt the UK a lot more than it’d harm the rest of the European Union. Additionally, there isn’t a single scenario for an out-of-the-EU Britain, which makes even the smallest amount of sense. Read on and you’ll see what I mean: I’ll start, in this first post, by debunking some common misconceptions about the EU, and in the next one I’ll move on to talk about possible scenarios for the UK should the Sun have its way.
Before I move on, however, a quick couple of points. Firstly, about me. I’m Italian, yes. I can see all the UKIP voters going Yeah, ‘course it doesn’t make sense, it’s your ass on the line matey. Well, in facts, no. I’m a Federalist, a particularly geeky band of fellows who want closer European integration, even under a political point of view. My dream is a United States of Europe. History shows that British opposition has always watered down, or indeed stopped, all such initiatives up until now. From my personal point of view, a EU without the UK would be more likely to get to a Union. But the fact that it makes sense to me doesn’t mean that it makes sense for Britain.
Secondly, and lastly, much of the EU debate these days is based on blatant lies. I know that this article will reach only a minuscule fraction of those who’ll drink at Bonkers Boris’ source, but I’ll try and stay as far from politics, dogmas and slogans as possible. What I’ll use will be, instead, statistics and information.
The Leviathan, the dictatorship and other common EU misconceptions.
The “Out” campaign has a few favourite horses, and it flogs them relentlessly. The bad thing is, they almost always are wrong. Here they come.
The EU is an attack to our sovereignty. The EU is a largely technocratic body, which is well-suited to rule technical matters such as air traffic, or what constitutes a spirit and what instead is a beer, but it’s very much out of its depths when it comes to ‘high’ politics, such as foreign policy. There’s a High Representative for the EU for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini (who succeeded Lady Ashton), but her powers are limited. For starters, the Representative is nominated by the European Council (the Prime ministers of all EU states), and s/he needs the OK of the European Council (or of the Council of the EU, which is the meeting of ministers of the EU). In other words, if the various prime ministers and foreign ministers don’t play ball, Mogherini goes nowhere. Think at the recent talks about migrants: who did you see around the table in Brussels? It was Angela, David, François, Matteo and so on, the Prime ministers. Federica was nowhere to be seen.
The EU churns out too many laws and always tells us what to do. If there’s one critique to the way the EU works that I wholly subscribe, that’s the lawmaking process: it’s clunky, it’s cumbersome. The EU has three types of binding acts; leaving treaties aside, we have regulations (immediately applicable in all member states), directives (EU gives a target and all member states reach it the way the want) and decisions (a document aimed at a particular individual, be it a member State, or an organisation). That sounds like a lot. However, according to the House of Commons, only 13.2% of the acts enforced in Britain between 1993 and 2014 are EU-related. Let’s also have a look at the topics that the EU legislates about. According to EURLex, the database for all EU law, there are 19,407 acts currently in force and 37,814 that no longer are so. That makes 57,221 bundles of papers that have flown out of Brussels’ gates. Seems that the Daily Mail is on to something, huh? Well, not really. Because 57,221 if the total of the stuff produced by the EU in its existence; the UK alone, in little more than 20 years, has produced 34,105 acts. In other words, the Commons has printed out 60% of the EU’s lifetime production of paperwork in two decades. In addition, more or less half of the EU’s current laws are about bilateral agreements, agriculture, customs and freedom of movement: all in all, technical items. A microscopic 621 laws have been promulgated about foreign policy, another hint at how far the EU from meddling with the States’ sovereignty.
We no longer have control of our frontiers. Well, no. The EU has abolished internal frontiers with Schengen, but the UK isn’t a member State. Land in any British airport and what you’ll see are Border Force agents and passport gates.
Yes, but it’s full of people like you nonetheless. Ah, that’s true. Myself, and many others, have come over and are taking over British jobs. That’s because the freedom of movement is one of the founding principles of the European treaties, and it works both ways: Brits can live in Poland, and Poles can live in Britain. I’m sure that something has to do with the fact that English is the de-facto second language of most of Europe, but let’s look at putting things into perspective. Eurostat here comes to help, with data that’s recent enough (2014):
The table shows that the UK doesn’t have the largest resident immigrant population in absolute terms – second after Germany, a little ahead of Italy – and in average terms, with Switzerland, Germany and Spain ahead. As for the EU citizens, once again the UK lags behind Germany and is smack on average with many of the largest EU economies. And let’s not even look at the Swiss, shall we? Plus, let us not forget that there are 2.4 million non-EU immigrants in the UK, whom couldn’t have sneaked in from the continent because, as we’ve seen before, Britain isn’t part of Schengen.
EU immigrants nick our jobs and clog our welfare. Another popular myth is that EU immigrants are nicking British jobs and scamming its welfare. About for the jobs, if the Poles and Romanians and Bulgarians are undercutting the locals, we ought to see a somehow large, or increasing, unemployment rate. Yet, Britain has the 4th lowest unemployment rate of the entire EU at 5.1%, and it’s been falling for years. And what about the scummy benefit tourists that, according to the press, are all claiming benefit for their 12 kids who are living in their countries of origin? Well, according to data from the House of Commons and published by the Daily Telegraph (hardly a Europhile paper), only 2.5% of the working age benefits were claimed, in 2014, by EU citizens. The proportion for tax breaks for families is larger at 6.4%, but enough to yield such a crusade as we’ve seen lately? Perhaps not.
The EU costs too much. Many – too many, in fact, to link here – have said that the UK spends £350m a week in funding the EU. As the fine guys at InFact explain, that’s not true. The UK contribution to the 2015 EU budget is £18bn, but it doesn’t account the famous rebate negotiated by Mrs Thatcher and the EU monies that return to the UK under the form of agricultural or regional development funds. If those are taken into account, the result is £8.5bn (see page 14 of this report), £1.5bn less than the previous year. That’s £160m a week, or £135 per head per week; less than half than what your Nigel Farage claims. Norway – an example I’ll discuss in the next instalment – pays about £670m a year to gain access to the EU markets. Norway has 5 million people; that makes roughly £130 per head.
We can do without them. Rule Britannia is a fantastic rallying cry, and it’s incredible how this little plucky island nation has managed to do in the centuries. Napoleon’s embargo didn’t really hurt Blighty at all, but the Royal Navy’s blockade crippled France. And Germany in WWI. And WWII. But can Britain simply do a two-fingers salute at the Continent nowadays? Maybe no. Granted, the UK has a trade deficit against Europe and a breakaway option bringing tariffs against German BMWs, Italian wines and French cheeses sounds enticing enough, but there are two things to consider. First, what comes around goes around and, second, the concept of proportions. If the UK was to levy customs fees on European imports, then it’s reasonable to expect Europe to do the same with the UK, and here is where proportionality comes into play. A quick calculation with the Office for National Statistics’ data (here and here) shows that UK-to-EU exports are 12% of the British GDP, or 44% of the grand total, whilst EU-to-UK exports tally up to only 3% (here for the 2014 EU imports in the UK, here for the EU’s GDP. The €-£ exchange rate is assumed to be 1=0.79). Long story short, a EU divorce will hurt UK plc a lot more than the EU.
So, I guess this is enough for this initial instalment. We’ve seen that the EU isn’t the behemoth people paint it to be, its running costs are as punitive, for Britain, as they are for a state that actually isn’t part of the EU, and Britain isn’t the only place that’s getting an influx of EU migrants. In the next one I shall look at four different scenarios for a disenfranchised UK vis-à-vis the EU, and how none of them makes any sense whatsoever. Or any more sense than remaining part of the EU.
Brief update. A conjuring of work commitments and the fact (bohoo) that I failed to save a file meant losing much of Part 2 of this article, which is something that is pissing me off quite well. It’ll, eventually, arrive. Apologies.