Why do I think we should not leave the European Union?

Here I’ve set out why I believe we should stay in the EU. I realise that not all of those reasons may be ones that persuade you but I hope there’s one or more in there that convinces you we should stay in.

If you still don’t believe that there are enough positive benefits of the EU, then you need to come to a view on “what do we gain or lose if we leave?”

We can be clear about the benefits — and disadvantages — of currently being in the EU.

However when it comes to leaving there are no facts. No one knows what will definitely happen if we leave because it hasn’t happened yet and — to be honest — it will mostly not be in our control what happens to us if we do.

Therefore the question you need to ask yourself is — what do you think is the most likely outcome of leaving? If that most likely outcome is bad for you, are you willing to bear that cost for the benefits you think there are of being outside the EU? If the outcome you think most likely is good for you –are you willing to take the risk that that outcome doesn’t happen and one that is worse for your friends and family does?

If you subscribe to a zero-sum, “macho”, winner takes all version of politics have a think about who will be in the most powerful position if we leave:

The rest of the EU is a lot bigger than us — the economy of the European Union is about five times larger than ours. In global trade, and global trade deals, size matters.
The trade we do with them is more important to us than it is to them — whilst the absolute value of our exports to the EU is roughly the same as what we import, our exports to Europe are far more important to us than the EU’s exports to us are to them. The UK’s exports to the EU make up 50% of our exports. The EU’s exports to the UK make up about 10% of their exports — so arguing that we are in a stronger position trade-wise than they are is like saying that you buy more from Tesco than Tesco buys from you, so you have more economic power than Tesco.

Anyone telling you that we will be able to waltz into Brussels and set out own terms for a trade deal with the EU is flat out lying to you.

Immigration

I assume we can move past the nonsense — we don’t have control of our borders (we do), Turkey is about to join the EU (it isn’t) anyone can come to UK (they can’t), we can’t get rid of foreign criminals (we can — and also bring back criminals to face justice in the UK) that if we wanted to we could just get rid of immigrants (putting aside the impact on our economy, if we did we would also be seeing two million Brits living in the EU heading home, and — out of interest — how far back would you want to go?) and instead talk about the real issues around the impact of immigration — its impact on jobs, wages and what is means to be British.

I know from speaking to thousands of people up and down the country over the last few years that some people have concerns about how immigration affects the ‘British way of life’. I believe it is right that people who come to live our country learn English, accept British laws, and try to become part of our communities. The overwhelming majority of people who move here already do this. If this is what we want to achieve we can do this inside or outside the European Union — it partially comes down to having the right government policies, and it partially comes down to how each of us individually behave towards each other. If we are failing to do this now, this is our responsibility, not the EU’s.

If you have specific concerns about Muslim immigration, both my personal experience and looking at the actual evidence that exists, means I disagree with you — but you should also know that leaving the EU will make not a blind bit of difference to how many Muslims there are living in, or coming into, the UK as almost all Muslim immigrants to the UK come from outside the EU.

Where people do not want to participate in our society, or treat others as they expect to be treated themselves — whether they be Christian, Muslim or of no faith at all — that is a problem we can deal with ourselves, and the EU in no way stops us from doing that, and has never done.

Jobs and wages

Some people, mostly people who are lower paid, have seen their pay squeezed by migration from elsewhere in Europe which has allowed bad employers to cut wages or hold them down. I don’t believe that the ‘political class’ or ‘the establishment’ or whatever you want to call them have done enough to protect those who’ve had their wages squeezed. I think it is too easy for those in well-paid jobs or in elected positions of power to ignore this. I have heard it too many times — and it’s not just anecdote.

It is crucial for us as a country to have a better answer for how we better protect those of us who are lower paid from having our wages hit hard by there being more people willing to work at the same job. Everyone in this country should be paid enough to be able to live a good life. (I’ve jotted some notes about how I think we should do that at the end of this post where it says [1]).

We cannot fix that overnight. I wish we could. Therefore we vote from where we are.

So, if you feel that your wages — or wages of people you know — have been hit by migration from elsewhere in the EU I say this:

It is more likely that not that leaving the EU will have a greater impact on your standard of living that the impact of EU immigration if we stay in. Here’s why.

If we leave the EU the most likely outcomes are either 1) we continue to have to accept that people from the EU can move to our country without a visa in order to be part of the EU single market — the arrangement that Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein have — or 2) that we don’t have to accept visa free travel but instead we face significantly increased tariffs on our trade with the EU (the situation faced by members of the World Trade Organisation — basically, all the other countries in the world).

Let’s put aside the first scenario — why would you vote to leave if you believe the outcome you want is to face all the rules and memberships fees we have now from the EU, but give up our country’s ability to influence and vote on them? (if you look up “stupid” in the dictionary you’ll find this listed as a definition).

So let’s take a good look at the second scenario. In this scenario the tariffs that will be added to British goods and services will mean the exports we are trying to sell will become more expensive to countries across Europe (who, as you remember, purchase 50% of our exports). That will mean that less people will want to purchase them. Which will mean that the companies who make them make less money. Which will mean they will either cut wages and / or fire people, which is both bad in itself and also means there will be less tax revenue to pay for public services. Clearly this won’t happen to every company, or to every job but, on average, this will be the direction of travel.

Add on top of that the uncertainty that all sides in this debate accept we will face upon leaving. Anyone who works in business will tell you that they will put their money in the place where they can get the most reward with the minimum risk. That is why investors look for less return when they invest their money in Europe when compared to, for example, Africa. If we vote to leave the EU we will without doubt become the most risky major Western economy to invest into because absolutely no one knows what our future will hold. That means investment and jobs that would have come to Britain will flow to France, Germany, the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

On top of this we will see the protections that the EU provides on our workers’ rights disappear. You can make up your own mind whether ‘Vote Leave’ campaigners would seek to reduce these rights if we left the EU (here’s a clue).

I hope it’s crystal clear that in this scenario British jobs and wages, and the rights of British workers, are very likely to be hit far harder by leaving the EU than anything we have seen happen due to EU immigration. And if jobs and wages are hit, that means tax revenues will be too, which means, particularly under this government, it is not unrealistic to expect spending on other areas such as the NHS and pensions to be cut further too. And it will be ordinary people across the UK — like all of us, our friends and our families — whose lives are made worse because of it.


The idea that, as Vote Leave suggest, if we leave the EU we ‘take control’ is utter nonsense. We will leave ourselves in a weaker position, and nothing is more messy than a disorderly retreat.[2]

Even if you don’t believe — as I do — that there is a positive case for the EU then please think hard before you vote to leave. This is likely to be one of the most important, if not the most important, votes that you will face in your lifetime. And your decision will impact not just you but your children and your family.

No one knows what will happen if we leave the EU — because it hasn’t happened yet and there is no way of knowing exactly what will happen if we do. Clearly, you might believe that another, better, scenario is more likely than the ones I set out above. However if you do think that, you need to ask yourself — are you willing to take the risk that you’re wrong?


A couple of notes

[1] In terms of how we address the squeeze on the wages of the lower paid, some of that will be higher minimum wages (which I have always supported and, if we are fair to this government, is something they have done good work on). Some of it will be stronger unions (some people may not like that answer, but the reality is in countries where unions are strong and well-run, workers are better paid, better trained, and more protected, and companies take a longer term view. Germany for example). Some of it is a better education system — including life-long learning — making sure everyone has the skills to compete in a world where there are fewer and fewer low-skill or manual jobs which are well paid. That is an issue very close to my heart, and is an article for another time.

[2] And I haven’t even touched on the story of Northern Ireland, or the potential effect on the future of the United Kingdom, but if you care about the UK staying as one you should care about that too.