...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, April 19, 2016



"We have had our lovely leaflet from HM Government about reasons to stay in the EU… but could I please have both sides of the argument given as facts so I can make an informed choice?"

People don't actually make up their minds based on facts.

So, if you are inclined, even slightly, to vote "remain" then the government's little pamphlet provides some comforting homilies to warm you to the idea you're making the right choice.

But, and this worries me, if you find yourself wanting "other facts" to justify your doubts maybe you're drifting into the "Leave" camp.

That doesn't make you a bad person.

The desire to protect your own, yourself and your family first, is one of the strongest human impulses.

I do however think that some very bad people are trying to use this to their advantage. Ask yourself, do you believe that Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson are acting in your interests or in their own?

Asking for the facts ought to be a good thing.

But the "Leave" campaign doesn't HAVE any facts. They have promises and guesses. Uncharitably, they have fiction.

It's not like they haven't had FORTY YEARS to work out what they would do instead.


They deny every fact presented by the Remain campaign – every report is biased, every testimony is a conspiracy; every piece of friendly advice is an unwarranted interference (and in the interest of a foreign power!).

(Though when President Obama wants us to remain and President Putin wants Britain to exit, you have to ask: who exactly do our best interests coincide with?)

John Redwood on the Today Programme (18 April), a Tory deriding the Treasury report on the grounds that you cannot trust Tory Treasury figures (I kid you not), said in pretty much these words: "We will be better off if we leave. I cannot tell you why or how."

(Do you remember how the Scottish Nationalists promised, promised everyone in Scotland would be better of leaving, because Scotland was a proud, independent, oil-rich nation… and then the oil price collapsed.)

I'm pretty sure John Redwood will be better off. But will YOU?

Remember how the Tories said they were "held back" by the Liberal Democrats? And then, as soon as they could govern on their own, they cut benefits to the disabled to give a tax cut to dead millionaires.

That's why they want to get out of Europe. So that they don't have to give workers their rights, or paid holidays. So they can trouser more of your money.

Michael Gove, supposedly a "leading intellectual" in the "Leave" campaign was given free reign to present his "vision" to the nation on the Today Programme (19th April).

His so-called positive pitch can I think fairly be summarised as:

"Europe might go wrong! Immigrants! Deregulate the banks [seriously! After that went so well last time?!] We have no influence in Europe! But they'd give us a magic trade deal! Terrorism! Aren't Remain MEAN!"

If I might borrow from Raphael Behr, pressed to present what post-Brexit Britain would look like after leaving the EU, Gove answered:
"Like Canada, but not Canada. Better in indescribable ways. Imagine a good thing. That."
And Gove is supposed to be the BRAINS of the outfit!

Perhaps I can help him out.

These are the three basic arguments that the "Leave" campaign deploy:

  1. Britain should govern its own affairs.
  2. Britain would be better off out.
  3. Britain can never control immigration while we are members of the EU.

And these are all DEEPLY disingenuous positions.

I will try and approach these as three questions. I'll try to avoid using too many numbers because politicians have used "bullshit statistics" so often that now a lot of the time statistics obscure rather than enlighten. And I'm not going to pretend I'm not biased.

1. How much say in our own affairs do we have if we remain or if we leave?

This is what you might call the "philosophical" reason for the "Leave" campaign and plays strongly to people's sense of patriotism, and belief in "our way of life".

Many people who want to leave the EU do so because they have an honest belief that Britain is better governed and should only be governed by laws made by the British Parliament.

(They tend to do this by talking about a "European elite" or "democratic deficit" or about "Europe 'overruling' Westminster". Nationalists in Scotland and Wales say similar things about the Westminster government.)

If we remain in the EU then the Westminster government will not have as much freedom as it would if we were to leave.

  • There are some pieces of EU law, called "regulations" which immediately become UK Law. These are the most powerful – and most controversial – pieces of EU law. They cover areas of consumer protection, your rights at work, and the rules for companies (including the rules for banks and finance institutions).
  • There are other pieces of EU law, called "directives", which Westminster will have to pass as its own legislation to bring into British law.
  • There are some things that Westminster cannot do because they would be against the various treaties that the British government has signed up to – though of course we have treaties with lots of places, not just the EU. AND "Leave" say we would make new trade agreements, which would mean we would have to make many lots MORE treaties if we were outside the EU.
  • And there are some things which the Westminster government would not do because it would be diplomatically difficult.

Equally, if we remain in then the British Government gets an equal voice in the main governing body of the European Union, the Council of the EU* [that's one vote in twenty-eight], and can appoint one of the EU Commissioners [one of (again) twenty-eight; one for and from each member state].

[edit to add additional explanatory note:]

European Union Laws – regulations and directives – are proposed by the Commission, but only become law if they are agreed by both the Parliament and the Council.

(Except for decisions on the common external tariff and EU trade treaties, which require only agreement of the Council.)

Agreement of the Council of the EU requires what is known as qualified majority voting: a decision is only agreed if about [pardon the numbers here] THREE-QUARTERS of the votes are in favour AND those votes represent at least HALF the countries of the EU AND those votes represent at least TWO-THIRDS of the population of the EU.

[*note: originally I referred incorrectly to "the Council of Europe", which is a different body. I am grateful to Richard Allan for pointing out this correction.]

So by remaining in Europe, our Government has less power to govern itself, but more power to govern all of the other countries in the EU.

We, the British people, also get a direct say in running Europe because we get to elect Members of the European Parliament.

[We get 73 out of 751 or 9.7% of the parliament. Germany has 96 MEPs, France has 74, Italy, like the UK has 73. The next largest country is Spain with 53 and then Poland with 51 and Romania with 33. Other countries have 26 or fewer MEPs. No one country is able to dominate.]

How democratic is Europe?

The EU is MORE democratic that the Westminster Parliament in the UK.

ALL members of the EU Parliament are elected by a proportional voting system to represent all the viewpoints of the citizens of Europe; the House of Lords [MORE THAN HALF the members of the UK Parliament] are UNELECTED, and the remaining members are elected by a highly disproportional system that gives complete power to Parties that have support from a minority of the population.

The "Cabinet" of the EU is made up of elected heads of government of all the member states; the Cabinet of the UK is appointed on the whim of the Prime Minister and can even include people who have not been elected at all (usually by granting them an instant peerage).

In the EU, the top civil servants, the Commissioners, are appointed by democratically elected governments and are accountable to the elected Parliament; in the UK, top civil servants, the ones known as mandarins or Sir Humphreys, are unaccountable and appoint themselves.

The board of the European Central Bank are appointed by the Heads of Government of the member states, after consultation from the European Parliament. The Governor of the Bank of England is appointed "by the Prime Minister" though as this is on recommendation from the Bank, effectively the bank selects its own governors.

And so on.

So how "democratic" are they, these people who seek to steal your right to vote in Europe?

John Redwood, since I mentioned him, holds a seat that has never (and I mean NEVER, since it was first created 131 years ago) elected anyone other than a Tory. Essentially, he has a job for life, gifted to him by a tiny unelected, unaccountable selection committee of the Tory Party. So does Michael Gove. So does Boris Johnson, another leading figure of the "Leave" campaign. Or there's the Lords Lawson and Lamont, who take unelected seats in our Parliament and lecture us on how we should get out of Europe (Lawson while living comfortably in France!). And the list goes on. You can NEVER get rid of them.

We saw, during the expenses scandal, that the safer an MPs seat the more likely they were to abuse their expenses. So this isn't just unfair, it's fundamentally CORRUPTING.

And many of the "Leave" campaigners are the same people who campaigned to keep Britain's unfair, corrupting voting system, and keep themselves in a job for life.

These people have done everything in their power to retain power unaccountably and for ever. Why should you believe that they want out of Europe in your interest, and not their own?

For YOU as an individual, your say in your government amounts to: if we remain – one vote every five years for your Member of Parliament and one vote every four years for your Member of the European Parliament. If we leave, you will get only the one vote every five years for your MP.

If you think that the government having less power to do exactly as it pleases is bad, then you might well think that it is better to leave the EU.

However, if you think government should not have more power over you, or if you think that having two competing centres of power competing for your vote gives you, as an individual, more say, as you get two vote and have several different representatives to approach if you need, then you might prefer to stay in.

But doesn't the EU make 75% of our laws?

Bluntly: no.

EVERY Law that affects the UK has to be passed by Parliament. Our MPs cannot be forced to pass European Laws.

Research by the House of Commons Library in 2010, found that few of our laws were influenced by Europe.

[I'm going to have to use some numbers here: just under 7% of Primary Legislation (Acts of Parliament) and just over 14% of secondary legislation (regulations being adjusted by ministers under previously agreed laws).

Even assuming that there's no double counting if you add those figures together (and there certainly is) then that is no more than one fifth of our laws coming from Europe before they are agreed by MPs.]

Other research by the BBC's "More or Less" has tried to trace where that "75%" figure comes from. The earliest reference they could find was a speech by… Nigel Farage. It appears that he just made it up!

(See also: Boris Johnson, who; got fired by the Times for making up stuff when he was Europe correspondent.)

How much power can Britain wield?

Campaigners for "Leave" (those who got to vote in the 1975 referendum) often say something like: "we voted for the Common Market; we didn't sign up for this super-state".

But the biggest single change to the EU (the change from EEC to EU, in fact, but that also formally abandoned the ideas of a country called Europe in favour of "ever closer Union") was when Mrs Thatcher used Britain's influence to champion the Single European Act.

The EU is now a much more "British" free trade area than it was when it was the EEC.

What may change that in the future is a side-effect of adopting the Euro on the single currency area. Although primarily a way of making trade even easier, the economic fallout has driven calls for stronger and faster POLITICAL union. (Because a European government that would be able to distribute money to poorer areas is seen as the answer to the pull of money to areas that are already successful.)

So long as we remain in, though, we would have an absolute block on that because we could, in the end veto it. The only way it could happen is if Britain (and all the other members) agreed that it was more in their national interest to let it happen.

So the thing to learn here is that when Britain gets involved in Europe, we get a more British Europe; when we haver on the sidelines, we lose influence and Europe goes another way.

2. Will we be better off if we remain or if we leave?

You might call this the "practical" question of the referendum, and it is the one that will be the decider for most people who are not committed believers in Europe of Brexit.

Britain is a trading nation. We sell a lot of things to Europe. We buy an awful lot more things from Europe.

The "Leave" campaign like to claim that this gives us the upper hand in negotiations – "they need to sell to us more than we need to buy from them", they say.

I buy more from Asda than Asda buy from me. Brexit logic says this puts me in a stronger position than Asda. Do you think that's true?

A very large percentage of our nation's income comes from the financial sector.

[More numberwang: The City of London contributes more than 11% of all the tax raised by the government.]

A large part of that income is because the City is allowed to trade in Euros and on the European exchanges. They are allowed to do that because we are part of the EU. If we leave, that business will go to Frankfurt. It's probably worth more to Germany than all their car sales put together.

Some of the people saying we should leave, claim we could easily negotiate new free trade agreements with other countries. They suggest Canada as an example. It took Canada seven years to negotiate her free trade agreement with the EU. That is "Leave's" definition of "easy".

But yes, of course we could negotiate new deals. But why start again when we are already in the biggest free trade agreement in the World? If it's about trade, we've already got the best deal going.

As part of the EU we have no tariffs between us and other EU countries. Also, as part of the EU we have automatic tariffs between us and every other country in the World. If we leave the EU, we will have the common tariff between us and our neighbours. Imports from Europe will be more expensive. Exports to Europe will be harder. That means for consumers in the UK prices will go up; and for anyone selling anything to Europe either their prices will go up and their product become less attractive, or they will have to make cuts to stay competitive.

This is not to say that Britain could not survive outside the EU. But that the "Leave" campaign appear to be saying that the first thing they would do is struggle all out to get back to where we are now. Does this not seem like it will be a great big waste of time, money and life?

If we leave – it is said – we would be free to negotiate with countries outside the EU. Except we are free to do that now. The EU in no way hindered the recent trade deals with, say, China (that one to among other things build a nuclear power station). We have negotiated deals with India and Brazil too. Leaving does not make these deals any better. It could make them worse, if we can no longer offer a gateway to the European market.

They say we could negotiate a new deal with America. The Americans have said they have no interest in negotiating with a UK outside of the EU.

Meanwhile, others of the "Leave" campaign are saying we should leave precisely because the EU is foisting a free trade deal with America upon us.

Which is frankly incoherent. But it is why it is so difficult to counter the "Leave" campaign "arguments", when they can just switch to the exact opposite of what they've just been arguing.

TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership, is mainly a deal to recognise each other's regulations and standards, and so make it easier for small and medium sized companies to trade across the Atlantic. It is not a threat to the NHS or any other state service, as these are explicitly outside the negotiations. And it is not a "secret deal". In fact it is one of the most openly talked about trade deals ever. We know much more about TTIP than, for example, that deal with China I just mentioned.

If we leave Europe, we will no longer have to obey all the EU's regulations. Unless we want to trade with the EU (which "Leave" say they do), in which case we will have to obey all the EU's regulations (just as Norway and Switzerland do). Except we will no longer have any say in how those regulations are decided.

And if we want to trade with America… we will have to agree to obey America's regulations. Unless we can negotiate a deal to recognise each other's regulations and standards… ah, like the one we are negotiating right now with the backing of the entire EU.

In summary: if we leave the EU then we will be able to do all of the things that we can do now… except for the ones that we can't. And some of the ones we can will be harder.


What are the downsides to remaining in?

Growth in the European Union, post 2008 banking crisis, has been slower than elsewhere in the World. Though mainly that is because developing economies like India and China have grown while developed economies outside of America have stood still. And American growth is an exception literally being powered by shale gas extraction (fracking).

There is an ongoing problem for the Eurozone countries that is causing money to be sucked into Germany and away from Southern Europe. (Actually, the same thing happens in the UK because London sucks money in away from all the rest of the country, except the government pushes it back out again by spending.)

As a productive manufacturing economy (we are more like Germany than Greece) this would be more likely to work in Britain's favour, drawing more inward investment and purchases here.

What if we need to bail out the Euro? Even though we have obtained explicit exemptions from anything to do with the Euro AND David Cameron managed to get the – actually significant – agreement that the EU would act in the interest of all members not just the Eurozone members, it is not impossible we might find ourselves in a situation where it is necessary to help out our neighbours. We did, for example, help to bail out the Irish Banks. And we did this because it's right to help your neighbours when they need it. But also because having our neighbours go bankrupt would be really really bad for us too.

So if Europe does go bust on our doorstep… do you think we would be able to ignore that and suffer no consequences? Or do you think that we would be obliged – by self-interest, if no better human instinct – to help out even if we'd left, because the alternative would be to wreck all those trade deals with Europe we are promised would happen easily once we exit.

In which case, being in or out of Europe wouldn't make any difference.


But it costs us money to be in the European Union

Yes it does. Just like it costs to be a member at Costco so you can get the better deals on prices.

Britain pays money in to the EU and gets money back. We pay more money in than we get back, so there is an effective cost to remaining in.

That's because we are the second richest country in the EU (after Germany and in recent times ahead of France).

If you believe that the richest should pay more in tax than they get back in benefits in order that the poorest should be supported, then you should have no problem with that at all.

And if you believe that the rich should not have to pay to support the poor, then ask yourself how much of the health service, schools roads and other services you would be willing to do without if the City of London thought the same way about the rest of the UK.

On that basis alone, and sticking purely to the facts, the "Leave" claim that we could save money is morally reprehensible.

[Numberwang: The "Leave" claim that the EU costs £350 million a week is also a lie. That's a strong term, but they have been repeatedly given proof that it is not true and there is simply no excuse any more for repeating that claim. Because of Mrs Thatcher's rebate, we actually pay in £250 million a week. And we get about half of that back in support for farmers and fishermen and other grants – which "Leave" usually promise they would continue to support, so cannot be counted as a "saving" – meaning our net contribution is £120 million a week. A little more ONE THIRD of what "Leave" continue to claim. What do you think that says about all their other numbers? Oh, wait, there aren't any.]

I'll add more here: it's not just moral. It's a multiplier. By getting access to trade, without tariff barriers, we make much more money.

And "we" means ALL OF US: workers and businesses and everyone who trades with the EU, and all of us consumers who get things cheaper from the EU.

The government gets back in higher tax returns the money it invests in paying the membership fee for all of us, but then all of us ordinary people get lion share of the benefit.

When they talk about cosuing "us" however much a week, the "Leave" are counting the money as if only the Westminster Government that counts. Ordinary people's cash doesn't matter.

Usually those Tories who back "Leave" claim to be in favour of giving you more of your own money. But for some reason when it comes to Europe they want the Westminster Government to keep more of your cash and you to get much less of it.

[Some more Numberwang: UK GDP is about TWO TRILLION POUNDS. That's £2,000,000,000,000. Leading economists estimate that the free market gives us a head start worth 1-3% a year on our growth figures. But even suppose membership of the EU adds just a TENTH of that, JUST 0.1% to growth, that means we add two billion pounds a year to our GDP, EACH year, EVERY year – so we would be TWO billion quid better off next year, FOUR billion the year after, SIX billion the year after that and so on. It quickly dwarfs any cost of taking part.]

3. Will there be more or less immigration if we remain or if we leave?

This is the dark side of the referendum.

UKIP (and others, often but not exclusively on the political right) will often say "it's not racist to talk about immigration". Well, it IS the way UKIP talks about it. They claim "we're not allowed to talk about immigration." We've talked about almost nothing BUT immigration for the last ten years at least (remember Michael Howard asking: "are you thinking what we’re thinking" – no, we weren't, fortunately).

Immigration means change, and that can be frightening. We like stability, because it means safety and (as before) protecting our own.

Failure to manage change – to make sure that homes are available and services remain able to cope with numbers – leads to tension. And in a time when services are being cut back, it's easy – and wrong – to put the blame on "the others".

(And just by raising the subject of racism, they are giving the nod and wink, the "dog whistle" to people who ARE racist.)

The (not very) coded message in the words used by UKIP (and the "Leave" campaign) is that immigration would be a LOT lower if they were in charge.

Mr Farage like to say that the EU is prejudiced against non-EU citizens and that he wants to treat everyone equally. What he really means is that he wants to be equally prejudiced towards everyone.

Firstly, this begs the question: "is immigration actually a bad thing?"

Economies with net immigration always do better than ones with negligible immigration or net emigration. Always. Britain in the Nineteenth century, America in the Twentieth, potentially Germany in the Twenty-First.

In simple terms, more people do more work.

"Ah," comes the reply. "That all very well for the middle classes with their plumbers and restaurant staff, but it not good for everyone because immigrants take low paying jobs and so keep wages down for working people." This seems so self-evident that people don't challenge it, but there is NO EVIDENCE AT ALL that this is true.

And you know that if there WERE evidence, the "usual suspects" would be shouting about it very loudly.

It turns out immigrants do not just "take jobs". They also create opportunities: they need food, homes, schools, services. This leads to further economic growth and MORE jobs.

Areas of high unemployment are caused by economic decline, or because local people do not have the training or experience to apply for new jobs that are created. But that's not caused by immigration. That is a failure of government, a failure to manage change and to deliver education (or re-education) and opportunity. And Government could and should intervene to help.

Very often, immigrants are both highly motivated and better educated, which can see them being placed in jobs that locals are not able to get. That is not caused by immigration; those jobs could not have been filled without immigration.

Will we be at greater risk of terrorism if we remain or if we leave?

This is the even-more-highly-charged version of the immigration question: the old "stranger danger" the red under the bed, the yellow peril, the black man in pursuit of the white woman, the witch in the woods. It's old and it’s ugly.

The speed and glee with which some of the "Leave" campaign jumped on the terrorist atrocity in Belgium to try to scare people into their camp was very nearly as sick and evil as the terrorist perpetrators themselves. I do not say that lightly. Both groups were trying to use a horrible act of murder for political ends. And both with the SAME political ends: to weaken and divide Europe.

The rolling news cycle and the immediacy of the internet (not to mention politicians and police promoting their own little empires) makes it seem that the threat is greater than ever. Yet we used to suffer two or three terrorist outrages every YEAR. Now, we've had two incidents in the last DECADE.

But we should not be linking terrorism to the Europe debate AT ALL. The roots of terrorism are complex, taking in a long history of Imperialism, fallout from the Cold War and the World Wars, global poverty, abuse of religious ideals, disenfranchised youth, criminal cartels, oil, corruption, Western failure to support Russia that has led to renewed guarded hostility, the miscalculation of European approaches to Ukraine, all those terrible choices that led to Iraq, Libya and Syria and some people who, given the chance, are just pure evil.

We cannot walk away from that mess, even if we quit the EU. No man is an island. These days, even no island is an island. Even the most paranoid of "Leave" campaigners are not suggesting we seal the borders entirely. Mostly, in fact, "Leave" say they want us to be an "open trading nation". Terrorists would still reach these shores.

Blaming the Schengen Area is a complete red herring.

Firstly, without an awful lot of barbed wire, passport controls will not make for secure borders between the countries of mainland Europe who do not have the advantage of a small sea between them and their neighbours; they are just too long, too open and too easy to cross.

The greatest terrorist threat to this country was the IRA and they never had any difficulty slipping back and forward across the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Second, Schengen also means a common ID papers area, and allows police in any of the states within it to challenge people for their ID – that's actually MORE draconian security than in Britain, more actually, than Britain is willing to put up with (given our huge scepticism about "stop and search" and "sus laws" and "ID cards").

Tackling terrorism requires international co-operation. Isolation can only make us MORE VULNERABLE.

But what about our "culture"?

In the last 500 years, we British have been all over this World and brought back cultures from everywhere on the globe. America, Asia, Africa and of course all of Europe, have influenced us, from our language to our cuisine. Our tea comes from China, our curry from India, our coffee and chocolate(!) from the Americas. Our algebra and astronomy come from Islam.

Multi-culturalism hasn't failed. Quite the reverse, it thrives in the way we all (almost all) manage to rub along together in our silly busy ways, making accommodations with each other. That's life.

The global meltdown of 2008, and the austerity afterwards, plus the behaviour of certain of the super-rich, has shaken people's faith in the liberal economy, in spite of literally decades of proven success (not to mention protectionism directly causing the Great Depression and a World War!).

Our leaders have demonstrated their failings over and over. Some have been greedy – but fewer that you think – some have been stupid.

Add to that, the long-running Tory civil war over Europe – between those who see our place in the World as taking part in the common endeavour and those who yearn for a dead Empire – has combined with half a decade of the Labour Party indulging its worst tantrums to scream "traitors" at any and all outside the Party faithful and between them they've managed to create a truly toxic atmosphere of resentment, grievance and hostility.

And grievance is all that "Leave" has to offer. Why can't things be like they used to be?

Why? Because they are BETTER now.

When I look at the world, I see war and famine in Africa, I see religious conflict and terrorism in the Middle East, I see human rights abuses and billions in poverty choking on the very air in China…

Europe used to be just like that. Hundreds and hundreds of years of war, and famine, and plague and death.

And I see what we have achieved in Europe. Together

Millions of refugees are risking death to get here. Why? Because every single person living on the face of this planet (apart, it seems, from Britons) knows one true fact:

If you want to protect your children: BE PART OF EUROPE.

The EU question isn't quite the same as Climate Change or Evolution where "balance" means there's a debate between the people with science, research, evidence and peer-reviewed data… and dangerously deluded idiots who are actively harmful to the survival of humans as a species.

But broadly speaking, and there are nebulous areas of gut feeling about this, but the risks and rewards of liberal economies, free trade and international cooperation are worth more than isolationism and protectionism.

That is a fact.

Really that's the only fact that matters.

Peace, human rights, scientific exchange, free travel, retiring to the Costa del Sol (even if you're not a Great Train Robber), cheaper roaming tariffs… they all follow from that one fact.


You still want the facts? Here are the facts:

Here is the IMF's (International Monetary Fund's) World Economic Outlook report for 2016 listing United Kingdom exit from the European Union as one of seven main risks to the outlook for the world economy.[pdf];

...and here is the report by a globally recognised authority on the risks of us staying in… oh, wait there isn't one.

This is the UK Treasury study (in great depth) showing we would be worse off for leaving the EU;

...and here is the study showing how we will be better off if we leave… no, hang on, there isn't one of those either.

Here is the case from the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) for Remain;

...and here is the… oh, no, you guessed it, no reputable business group for out either.

Here are the Scientist for IN;

...nope, no scientists against.

And here are the Featured Artists Coalition (from Pink Floyd to Radiohead) who want us to Remain;

...I think you're getting the picture by now.

So finally here are the In Facts from In Facts.