Although I have followed politics and current affairs from an early age, even I was too young to remember Britain’s failure to join the European Coal and Steel Community, Euratom and most significantly the failure to join the European Economic Community! If we had been there from the very beginning, we might not have needed the current EU Referendum.
Nevertheless, under the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan, Britain realised it had made a mistake and applied to join the EEC. Since I was aged 12 at the time, I remember the shock of President de Gaulle’s 1963 veto of Britain’s application, and his subsequent veto in 1967 of the application made by Harold Wilson’s Labour government.
I was very pleased when Edward Heath finally managed to negotiate our entry into the EEC. From then until now, I have never doubted that membership is good for Britain, despite having many frustrations with specific EU policies, of which the most ludicrous is the regular decampment of the European Parliament to Strasbourg wasting everyone’s money and effort.
I have a postal ballot and as soon as it came I returned it with a Remain vote. I support Britain’s continuing membership of the EU for many reasons but they can be condensed into three key points.
1. European peace and security
From the very beginning, the European process was designed to make another European war impossible. The goal, quite rightly, as stated in the preamble to the EU treaty, is to create “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity”.
That vision does not prescribe any particular details. It is up to us, the peoples of Europe, to decide what we want to have done at a local level, done at the level of the nation states of which we are citizens, and done at a Pan-European level.
By linking the nations of Europe together with greater trade and combined decision-making processes, the EU has been fabulously successful at eliminating the hatreds that have caused carnage in Europe for centuries culminating in the horrors of World War 2. When the Iron Curtain fell, it was the desire to belong to the EU (aided by practical EU democratisation guidance) that embedded democracy in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which had previously been communist dictatorships.
Today, EU cooperation is a key part of how we stand up to Putin’s Russia, and how we deal with instability in the Middle East and North Africa.
2. Shared prosperity
The most basic education in economics teaches you about economies of scale. However the more barriers to business there are, the less business takes place. Because international trade is always more difficult than domestic trade, companies which have a large home market are more successful than companies which have a small home market. That is why the USA produced car giants while the Netherlands did not.
For decades, Europe has been engaged in a process, which is still incomplete with regard to services, to convert the home markets of what are now 28 EU member states into a market that functions in exactly the same way as one single home market irrespective of which EU state a company is incorporated in. That process has dramatically improved the economies of EU member states.
Nevertheless, they have not benefited equally.
For example, countries are free to over regulate their domestic labour markets. Some countries such as Spain, France, Italy, Greece have terribly restrictive labour markets in which it is very hard and expensive to terminate unwanted employees. Others such as the UK have very liberal labour markets. The predictable economic results have followed: the UK is one of the biggest gainers from EU membership and has very low unemployment while the other countries listed have relatively high unemployment.
3. Britain’s voice in the world
Our maritime prowess from the time of Queen Elizabeth I and even more importantly the UK being the home of the Industrial Revolution led directly to the British Empire, with the UK becoming the most important country in the world. Obviously that could never last. However, the UK remains an incredibly important and influential country despite our relatively small population of around 65 million.
One of the key reasons we are so influential is our membership of many international organisations. One of those is the EU. Our population alone automatically makes us the third most powerful country in the EU in terms of voting power (the qualified majority voting rules give Germany 15.9 per cent of the total votes, France 13 per cent and the UK 12.7 per cent) but our true influence within the EU is greater as a result of our other overseas connections such as the Commonwealth and our closeness to the USA. Conversely, our membership of the EU adds to our influence within the rest of the world.
Who would like us to remain in the EU?
I never need other people to help me make up my mind.
However, my own analysis that membership of the EU is good for the British economy is supported by the economic experts of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, HM Treasury, the Bank of England, the OECD, and the IMF. Most importantly for me as a former PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, that conclusion is also shared by the economics team at PwC. Brexiteers now rubbish all these organisations, because they do not give the answer the Brexiteers want!
Large companies and the top professional services firms understand exactly how important single market membership is to the UK and the overwhelming majority of those who have put their heads above the parapet (thereby risking the venom of the Brexiteers) support continued EU membership.
Both diplomatically and emotionally, our closest foreign friends are Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA. The heads of government of all those countries are emphatic that they believe remaining in the EU will be good for Britain. Because that is not what the Brexiteers want to hear, they accuse these friends of deliberately mis-advising us in the interests of their foreign countries!
Who would like us to leave the EU?
To name but three: Vladimir Putin of Russia, Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, and Geert Wilders of the Dutch PVV.
Why would I ever do anything those three want?