Tuesday, 23 February 2016

EU Mythbusting

So the date of the EU referendum has been set at June 23rd. And with a load of nonsense already starting to be spouted by various people, I thought it's time to apply the wrecking ball of logic to some of their statements.

1. If we leave, we'll have trade tariffs with Europe again - everything will be more expensive. Lots of jobs depend on the common market - they'll all be lost.
These arguments are both predicated on the assumption that if we leave the European Union, then we will also leave the European Economic Area (EEA), commonly known as the 'single market'. This is not the case. Our membership of the EU stems from us being signatories to the Treaties of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, which have now been effectively superseded by the Treaty of Lisbon. Our membership of the single market stems from us being signatories of the EEA Agreement, which is a completely separate Treaty. If we leave the European Union, it does not affect our membership of the EEA, which means there wouldn't be any tariffs, and our exports to the EU would not be affected.

The idea that we'll have capital flight because big manufacturers only base themselves here to access the single market is also nullified. We won't be leaving the single market - we'll be leaving the political union that sits on top of it.

2. Over 50% of our exports go to the EU - they'll be lost if we leave.
As discussed, our European exports are related to our membership of the EEA, not the EU - they are 2 different legal structures established by separate agreements. Our exports to the EEA would be unaffected if we left the EU. Furthermore, the 50% figure is somewhat misleading - 50% of our exports are routed through EU ports such as Rotterdam, but their ultimate destination is not the EU. These are often forwarded on to end destinations outside the EU. It is not fully clear what proportion of our exports are actually consumed within the EU.

Again, we could carry on using European ports by virtue of our continued membership of the EEA, or we could regenerate some of our own ports such as Hull, Liverpool, Glasgow, Middlesborough, Bristol and Grimsby - which were thriving port cities once, and could be again.

Finally, on the subject of exports, it is worth noting that we import far more from Europe than we export - in other words, even if the EU nations were minded to throw their dummies out of the pram and stop buying British goods (which would probably be illegal under international law anyway), their exports would be hurt more than ours.

Conversely, we export far more to non-European countries than we import. In actual fact, it would make more sense for us to be in a common market with the United States and the Commonwealth nations than it does with Europe.

3. Human rights laws come from Europe - if we leave, then those laws will disappear.
This is utter nonsense - England has human rights laws going back 800 years. The Magna Carta guaranteed basic rights, as did the Bill of Rights, and the concept of Parliamentary Sovereignty has limited the State's power to interfere with the individual's rights, except by the express permission of Parliament, chosen by the people. We have a long tradition of human rights laws which pre-date the EU by many centuries.

Furthermore, the current implementation of human rights law is in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998. Contrary to popular belief, this Act did not stem from legislation instigated by the EU, but is a domestic implementation of the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention is a Treaty - the EU is a political union. If we leave the EU, we are not leaving the Convention.

The UK was a major contributor towards drafting the Convention, and was the first state to ratify it in 1951, 23 years before we joined the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner to the modern EU. Our obligations under the Convention will not cease simply because we have elected to leave a political union bolted on top of it. To further highlight its difference, Russia is a signatory to the Convention, but is not a member of the EU, as with many other states.

4. The UK will break apart if we leave the EU.
This is based on the threat by the SNP to hold another referendum on Scottish independence if, in an EU vote, England voted to leave and Scotland voted to stay.

Firstly, it is worth noting that social attitudes in Scotland are far closer to those in England than the SNP would care to admit. True, Scottish support for the EU is higher than English, but the Scots are a sceptical folk as well. It wouldn't surprise me if Scotland voted to leave the EU as well.

Secondly, the SNP can make threats about another referendum as much as they like - and are likely to continue to do so, as Scottish independence is their sole reason for existence. However, the fact of the matter is this - the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal authority to hold a referendum in Scotland. That can only be granted by the Westminster Parliament. If they wanted another referendum, they would need to force a majority vote in the House of Commons. They would need Tory support for this, which is unlikely.

Thirdly, their demands for yet another referendum are unlikely to go down well in Scotland. Most opinion polls show little support for another bruising and divisive referendum - unsurprisingly, most Scots just want to get on with their lives.

Finally, even the UK voted to leave (it probably won't), another Scottish referendum was granted (highly unlikely) and then the Scots voted to leave the UK (also unlikely), Scotland would face the same situation as it would have faced post-secession before. It would no longer be a member of the EU, and highly unlikely to be welcomed into the fold under the same terms they currently have. They would have to go through a formal application process, be required to join the Euro and Schengen zones and have approximately the same representation in the EU Parliament as Malta. It would be required to maintain border controls with England, face a situation where its financial services industry has 80% of its customers living in a foreign country using a completely different currency, and be living through a period of very low oil prices at a time when its public finances would be heavily dependent on oil revenue.

Scotland leaving a UK outside the EU makes even less sense than Scotland leaving a UK inside the EU.

5. Cameron's renegotiation is a better deal.
Only by the narrowest of margins. The Prime Minister's 'renegotiation' allows 15 national parliaments to club together to block legislative proposals from the European Commission, allows us to reduce the level of benefits payments we make to foreign nationals, places an arbitrary and slight braking mechanism on the EU's profligacy and won't be written into Treaty. In other words, it's window-dressing.

The European Commission is the executive wing of the EU Government which is unelected and unaccountable. It shouldn't be allowed to propose legislation at all - better yet, it shouldn't even exist. Allowing 15 Parliaments to club together to defeat it simply reinforces our status as a federal province within a political union. National parliaments are little better than glorified local councils under EU rule.

Next is the proposal to reduce benefits. Ahem. Why do we have to pay benefits to foreign nationals at all? Why do we need the consent of the Polish Government before we change what British taxpayers' money is spent on? We wouldn't expect them to clear their spending plans with London, so why should we clear it with Brussels, Paris, Berlin or Warsaw?

The proposed brake on spending is fractional - the EU is highly profligate and this is unlikely to change. The best way of reducing our exposure to this profligacy is to leave it. Let the Europeans waste their own money if they want to, but they shouldn't be wasting ours.

And as the final insult, as trivial as these changes are, the EU isn't even prepared to codify them in a Treaty - which means that we just have a 'promise' from them. Like the 'promise' that no Eurozone state would ever have a deficit greater than 3%? Or the 'promise' that British taxpayers' money wouldn't be used to bail-out Eurozone states in trouble? Or the 'promise' that we would have a veto over deeper integration? Or the 'promise' that the EU wouldn't get a formal written constitution? Or the 'promise' that immigration would only be in the tens of thousands? In Britain, we have a word for 'promises' from the EU - we call them 'lies'.

Cameron's renegotiation is marginally better than our current position, but the difference is so slight as to be almost imperceptible, and the EU's leaders cannot be trusted to keep to their word.

6. If we leave the EU, France will change border controls back to Dover. 
Currently, we have an arrangement with France where UK Border Police are able to deploy to Calais, to prevent illegal immigrants entering the UK through the Channel Tunnel. However, this arrangement is not contingent on EU membership - it is a private bilateral arrangement between the UK and France. France's interior minister has also stated that the arrangement would not be affected if we left the EU.

The factor that is most likely to affect our border arrangements with France is a change of government in France, not our membership (or not) of the EU.

7. Leaving the EU will devalue the Pound!
In the short term, this is quite likely - but currencies fluctuate every day. In the event of Brexit, the currency markets would no doubt be a bit spooked, and we'd probably see a fall in the value of the Pound. However, we'd probably also see a similar fall in the value of the Euro, as the EU's second largest economy and largest military power (that's us) decides to go it's own way.

Either way, a drop in the value of the Pound would likely only be a temporary issue, and may actually work to our advantage. Part of our problem in exporting goods and services is that we have a strong currency, and therefore our exports are relatively expensive compared to competitors. A short term drop would probably be a welcome boost to UK exporters.

8. All of our European flights will get more expensive!
Difficult to say either way on this one. As discussed, there is no reason why leaving the EU should entail leaving the EEA, which is primarily responsible for the harmonisation of duties and tariffs on airline tickets. A temporary drop in the Pound could see overseas holidays spike, but the Euro would most likely suffer similar falls, so the exchange rate between the two may not be affected.

Either way, it doesn't make a huge difference. If people don't go to Europe on their jollies, they'll go somewhere else in the UK, and that's more money being spent at home. So the country as a whole would benefit. The only people that would lose out is the EU - as discussed, we're a huge export market for them. It would be irrational in the extreme for them to fall out with us.