Why Brexit Matters – Rt Hon. Neil Carmichael MP for Stroud

Last Thursday I attended a talk at Aston University by Neil Carmichael MP for Stroud on ‘why Brexit matters’. As a member of the Conservative Group for Europe, he is clearly in the ‘pro-Europe’ camp so I went along hoping to hear some convincing arguments as to why we should vote ‘stay’ when it comes to a vote later this year (most likely on 23 June).

I know that as a translator I probably should be 100% convinced that we should stay in the EU and so know exactly how I’m going to vote in June. But there’s nothing wrong without finding out more info to add to the gut instinct…So this is what I learned about why Brexit matters.

I already knew that we trade a lot with the EU, and that this was probably one of the biggest issues if we leave. What I didn’t realise is that it can take up to 4 years to arrange a free trade agreement and we would have to do a lot of them! Presumably in the interim between leaving the EU and arranging free trade agreements, things would be tricky? Exports would fall (the EU is 40% of our trade) which would hurt our growth, not to mention decreased, more expensive imports… Of course once the agreements are in place, assuming they’re good, things would be ‘back to normal’ or thereabouts. 4 years though…I’m still in the dark about how it will affect me as a sole trader working with EU clients, but I’ll figure that out later.

Other arguments for staying such as security – having the EU have our back in these times of international terrorism, and losing our sovereignty – actually we already lost that to NATO[1] weren’t all that compelling to me. Nor were Neil’s arguments about the good the EU has done (and can continue to do) in terms of the environment or promoting liberal democracy.

What I found held real significance – for me – was the overarching thread of influence. Influence that we have had in some of the major reforms that have taken place in the last 40 years – the introduction of the single market, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the EU enlargement in 2004 – all of which Neil stressed were driven by Britain. It was a point he hit home time and again – our interests are best protected when we help to drive EU reform.

Looking at it the other way round, how would we have felt about decisions made in the wake of the financial crisis on the financial services sector, a big employer in the UK, if we had had to sit on the sidelines with no influence over the outcome? What will it be like in the future, trading with EU countries and having to obey EU regulations which we have not helped shape and which we may not agree with, much as Norway’s situation is now? And what about our position in the world? The Empire is long gone and the Americans would prefer we stay in the EU, suits their interests better – how much of that is because we speak English, I wonder? – so it seems that to continue to lead, we need to be in the EU where our position is stronger than as a single state. Certainly that’s what the pro-Europe camp think; their slogan is ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’.

Immigration is perhaps the tabloid’s favourite bugbear and reason to leave the EU, yet net migration is not really so overwhelming. Of course having worked in both France and Germany, I have benefitted from the freedom of movement. Frankly, I think that if more children studied languages they too would be able to reap the rewards of this particular treaty by working abroad themselves. So I am inclined to agree with Neil on this actually being a positive reason to stay (BTW he naturally didn’t mention benefits, so we’ll leave that to another day!).

So to conclude, on the basis of this talk alone I think am now (still) sat on the fence but with my feet dangling over onto the pro camp. But I’m not going to make any decisions until I’ve learned (more) about the reasons why we might want to leave the EU and I’ll need some hard facts from a less biased source to do that!

[1] A “directive” is a legislative act that sets out a goal that all EU countries must achieve. However, it is up to the individual countries to devise their own laws on how to reach these goals. http://europa.eu/eu-law/decision-making/legal-acts/index_en.htm

 

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