Should we vote In or Out?
Which is best for us?
I honestly can’t tell you.
I don’t know.
I have my hunches, but I’m no clairvoyant.
But I do know drivel when I see it, and that helps guide me.
I’m going to vote In in the EU referendum. Not because I’m a huge fan of the EU – I believe it needs restructuring, and is wasteful in many ways. But I also believe this of most political establishments.
I’ll admit that my support for In is largely as a reaction to the xenophobic arguments and claptrap put forward by the Out campaign groups. I want nothing to do with such bigotry and xenophobia. Unfounded arguments based entirely on lies and misinformation.
Here’s an attempt at putting in writing some – just a small few – of my thoughts. My aim is not to belittle or vilify people with an opposing view (except for the main campaign groups and proponents) – many good friends of mine will vote differently to me on June 23, and I don’t want to lose friends because of this referendum. I will also doubtless be ridiculed for my views or mistakes in my thinking etc. That’s part of the problem – we don’t know enough about what is an extremely complex situation.
Nevertheless, here goes.
We are told time and again that ‘we’ pay some £350m a week to the EU. I’m at a loss why people, especially in this part of the world, swallow this myth and accept it as fact. First of all it’s not true. If we accept ‘we’ to mean the UK, then ‘we’ get a rebate; plus the EU gives significant structural funds to the UK. This as well as the idea that payment in gives ‘us’ access to a huge market with no added tariffs on exporting/importing goods, or individuals not having to pay for visa applications to enter and/or work in different countries. Nearly half of the UK’s exports (44%) go to the EU. In April 2016 the value of UK exports to ‘Europe’ was £24.9bn. Over half of the UK’s imports (53.2%) come from the EU (ONS).
Imagine having to organise a tariff agreement with the EU and have to pay taxes on those exports? By the same token in April 2016 Imports to the UK from ‘Europe’ stood at £39.8bn.
In the one month of March 2016 the exports value to Germany, Netherlands and France alone stood at £6bn, and imports from those countries stood at £10.6bn. The EU is now the largest economic bloc in the world, with a GDP greater than the USA’s. Our membership means that we can trade freely within this bloc.
Brexiters argue that even if we were out these countries would still want to trade with us, and some go as far as to say that ‘they’ need ‘us’ more than we need them. Really? Do we really produce things here that nobody else in the world can produce, or for that matter that nobody else in the EU can produce and provide cheaper because they don’t have to pay import or export duties? OK some things we do, notably food-stuff, and importers already pay a quality premium. Will they be willing to pay more?
What about the rest of Wales’ exports, the bulk of our exports? (according to Wikipedia: Aerospace Systems, Business & Financial Services, Cereals, Chemical Products, Dairy Products, Electricity, Electronics, Iron & Steel, Machinery, Oil & Gas, Pharmaceuticals, Plastics, Renewable Energy, Road Vehicles, Textiles, Timber, Water).
Added to that without the free movement of people these firms would see their costs go up further due to increased wage demands, and the halt in the flow of cheap labour. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing – probably a good thing – but it nevertheless will result in increased production costs here making exporting dearer. Whether it’s a good thing or not, that’s what is likely to happen. In order to control this and ensure a decent living for all we need an effective and principled domestic Government. We’re yet to elect one.
Furthermore, if EU countries had to pay duties to export to the UK, who do you think will have to pay this duty? The company? Well yes, of course, but they will only pass this cost on to the buyer, so to my mind at least it’s inevitable that we will see an increase in pricing. Added to this, with countries like Germany trading freely with the world’s largest trading bloc, the UK will become insignificant to their companies and corporations. Their sales ledger will show the UK as a small bit part of their overall sales, and more bureaucratic to boot. They could easily decide to increase prices and we could do nothing about it.
As John Springford from the Centre for European Reform said: “Britain would face an invidious choice after Brexit. The EU would insist that in return for full access to the single market, the UK must continue to sign up to EU laws, pay budget contributions and accept the free movement of people. As Britain would have voted to escape these perceived burdens, higher barriers to trade with the EU are all but certain. The higher the barriers, the greater the damage to the British economy.”
I accept I might be completely wrong here, but the Government’s that we’ve elected, even since universal suffrage, have all worked to the rules of the market, where the free market is king. Now I’m no fan of the free market. It doesn’t work in the interests of people and communities. But not only do we live in a capitalist society, but it is now a global society. We cannot isolate ourselves from this. That’s not to say that it doesn’t need changing, but it seems to me that the EU is a good vehicle for this change. If we are going to change a global ideology we need to be a part of an organisation with a global clout. While the EU is currently a pro-austerity capitalist organisation working in the interests of capital, the type of capitalism espoused by those wanting Brexit is more dangerous still. Turbo capitalism has nothing on what they would allow to develop in a post Brexit UK. This would be Capitalism on steroids, or Potent Capitalism.
Now think also about those companies who have decided to make the UK their base in order to access the EU single market. Take the Automotive industry, for example. According to a 2014 KPMG report ‘Automotive accounts for 10% of the UK’s trade in goods, suppliers add £4.8bn in added value and the sector as a whole turned over £60.5bn last year”.
“The automotive industry accounts for 4% of GDP (£60.5bn) and currently provides employment for more than 700,000 people in the UK.”
53.1% of UK-produced vehicles were sold across the EU in 2014-15. What do you think would be the reaction of these automotive companies if they were slapped with an import/export duty and added bureaucracy on those vehicles? (www.smmt.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/SMMT-KPMG-EU-Report.pdf) As I say, I’m no clairvoyant, but I guess they wouldn’t be overly happy and I’m sure that – given the global nature of capitalism – other EU countries would be more than happy to welcome their production plants. And as we know, these large companies don’t generally have much loyalty to any one country. What’s important to them is their bottom line.
So, forgive me for that long interlude, (and my intention was not to talk about trade with the EU!) but from what I can see our payments into the EU, while I appreciate are not insignificant, is nothing compared to the economic benefits that being a part of a single market brings.
Where was I? Oh yes, I’m at a loss as to why people here say that ‘we’ pay in £350m a year to the EU. Wales is one of the poorest parts of the EU. We have less income per head than most other countries and regions. Nearly a quarter of Wales’ population live beneath the poverty line. According to Eurostat GDP (Gross Domestic Product – “the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a county’s borders in a specific time period”, Investopedia) per capita in Wales ranges from €15,000 in Ynys Mon to €30,400 in Cardiff. A wide variation, granted. But compare this with the GDP of inner London West, which stands at a whopping €179,800.
Another measurement is GVA (a productivity metric that measures the difference between output and intermediate consumption. GVA provides a monetary value for the amount of goods and services that have been produced, less the cost of all inputs and raw materials that are directly attributable to that production – Investopedia). According to 2014 figures average GVA in England stood at £24,091 per capita (ranging from £17,381 in the north east of England to £40,215 in Greater London). Welsh GVA was £16,893 – the lowest in the UK.
So do ‘we’ pay £350m a week to the EU? NO! The UK Government does, yes. But most of that money comes from wealthy tax payers who are largely based in the south east of England. ‘We’ in Wales are having to receive funds from the EU because of our poverty, a poverty created by a Westminster Government which has historically and consistently neglected Wales, milked us for all of our resources, and failed to allow our economy here to develop in the interests of our communities.
Brexiters argue that leaving the EU would mean that ‘we’ could have this money back to spend on what ‘we’ want and need here. *Claptrap klaxon*. I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. Wales is already underfunded by Westminster by at least £300m a year (it’s likely to be significantly more than that). Do you really believe that Westminster has Wales’ best interests at heart? Do you really believe that Wales would receive a fair share of what the UK pays into the EU? Really?!
Do you really believe that this money would come to Wales or even benefit Wales? What, like the £15bn which the UK Government will spend on Crossrail in London? Or the £43bn which the UK Government will spend on the new HS2 linking London and Leeds. Or the fact that London gets far more capital spending per head than any other country or region within the UK. Yeah, like that’s fair.
The UK Government hasn’t given two hoots about Wales since, well since ever, so why should they start now?
‘We’ (Wales ‘we’) will not get any of this money back. The main people putting this argument forward are Potent-Capitalists who want to keep their money to themselves. We’re already seeing the wealthy getting wealthier, harvesting even more of the UK’s wealth while the rest of us are getting (relatively) poorer. And we believe that these people want to spread the money ‘returning’ from the EU?! Seriously??! They’re already failing to distribute wealth properly for goodness sake!
Many farmers I know will opt for ‘Out’, based on the belief that they are over-regulated and that they would receive the funds from Central Government in any case.
Now I do sympathise with much of this. They’ve seen direct payments decrease over recent years. However that’s the choice of the Welsh Government transferring funds over to regional development programmes and not the choice of the EU. And yes, there are many regulations put in place, but these regulations have by-and-large been agreed by Westminster Ministers at the Council of Ministers. I would hope and wish that much of these laws would be in place under either a Westminster or Welsh Government – they are aimed at protecting species habitats, ensuring a diverse wildlife and ensuring our ecological well-being.
I do think that CAP is to be blamed for the fact that we have seen Welsh farms become so overly dependent on two basic products, red meat and milk.
But to claim that we would continue to receive equivalent subsidies post Brexit is, I believe, to hope in vain. Gillian Bristow wrote a brilliant paper in 1998, “Measuring Regional Variation in Farm Support: Wales and the UK, 1947-72” and in it she notes the various funds that Welsh farmers received prior to the UK joining the EEC in 1973. She even points out that prior to the UK joining, “Indeed, the UKgovernment was determined to defend these subsidies upon entry to the European Community in 1973, citing their critical importance to the economic fortunes of hill farmers in regions such as Wales.” So on the face of it there might be some truth to the belief that they will be looked after post-Brexit. However she concludes that the UK Government’s agriculture policies 1947-72 regarding grants and funding “penalized Wales where farm size was smaller on average than in the UK as a whole. Indeed … they show that hill farm subsidies were not sufficient to compensate for the disadvantage Welsh agriculture experienced from its smaller average farm size.”
So, far from receiving equivalent funds historical evidence suggests that Welsh farming would likely receive less than required under an UK deal than what is received currently from the EU (and let’s face it, Wales has always received less than what it needs from the UK).
Some might argue that this might be a good thing, and force farms to streamline and be more competitive. That’s as may be, however for that to happen far more farms would have to go, we would have more ‘ranches’ and less family farms, the rural economy would suffer as a consequence and the way-of-life, culture and language could suffer irreparably.
So while I can see why many in the agricultural community might be tempted by an Out vote, I fear the reality will be worse.
Then we have the immigration argument. The latest and most ridiculous of which is that 77 million Turkish people will be moving here once Turkey joins the EU. That is such an asinine statement that it really doesn’t deserve a response. However it’s repeated often by people who really should know better. So, here’s a comment in the form of a question. Do you really believe that the whole population of one of the world’s fastest growing economies is going to move en-bloc to the UK? Come on!
Yes, we’ve seen large growth in numbers of people coming to the UK from mid and eastern Europe. (Wales has seen less on average than the rest of the UK. However Wrexham has seen more.) But is this a bad thing? We’re told that they are putting a strain on our services. But that’s simply not true.
Government policies – lack of funding, centralising services away from communities, downgrading – are putting a strain on our services. We have more elderly people living in Wales than any other part of the UK; we have more childrens homes in the north east than other regions; we have a huge prison being built on the outskirts of Wrexham. These things all require the use of our public services and have nothing to do with EU migrants. Am I saying that these things are bad? Not necessarily, no. But these are the facts, and there’s no point blaming immigrants from the EU (or refugees from Syria for that matter!) for stretching our services. As I said earlier EU migrants into the UK tend to be young adults that work, and they pay more into the treasury than the average UK citizen.
The Welsh language saw a dramatic decline in use between the 1940’s and the 1980’s, before the UK joined the EU and long before Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, etc joined the EU. It’s not like the English language will be threatened! (though some people have even expressed this concern! – I know, really.)
The Welsh language and customs of Wales have to fight for their survival every day of every year, and it’s not migrants from Europe or elsewhere that’s threatening our cultural existence. When Brexiters say that these migrants can’t speak ‘our’ language, but my language is Welsh, and while these Brexiters are arguing for the compulsory teaching of English I’m not hearing many Brexiters arguing for the compulsory teaching of Welsh to new migrants. However what I am seeing is many migrants sending their children to Welsh schools. Farage, BoJo, Gove, IDS et al have never spoken out for Welsh, Cornish, Gaelic, Scots or other languages native to the UK. In fact Boris Johnson referred to Welsh as a “weird creole” language (albeit in his political novel, Seventy Two Virgins). And don’t get me started on Brexit mouthpieces’ (Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun) views on indigenous languages!
These people are speaking out for a greater England, and not a pleasant one either but one where the elite retains control and where money is kept in the hands of the few. Because let’s be clear, they aren’t particularly fond of the people of the UK either, are they? They hate people who receive benefit payments. They despise the working class. They detest Liverpool! They don’t like the concept of a heterogeneous society, let alone the fact that the State they live in and claim to love is one. What they do like is power and money.
So think, why would people who only like power and money want Out of the EU? We’re back to potent capitalism.
I’m voting In because Brexit as propagated by its main exponents is based on lies, xenophobia, and bitterness, and those leading the campaign are doing it purely because of their own self-interests and egotism.
There’s much more I could say. But I’ll end with:
I’ve got one life, and I don’t want to live my life in bitter hostility to everyone, looking over my shoulder doubting everybody, thinking the worst of others. I want to see the best of people, the best of society. I’m In.