One of the most vexing questions we’ve been asked recently is whether or not we should leave the European Union. And to be completely frank, I don’t know whether we should or not.  
There are several factors to take into account, and I don’t think any of them are decisive as yet.  

Firstly there is the issue of sovereignty; I think this is quite a weighty issue and needs to be looked at seriously. Do we have control over our own destiny as part of the EU? Or do the majority of our laws come from “Brussels”? There are several conflicting data points on this: I saw something yesterday which advised that “just 13.2% of our laws have anything to do with Brussels, according to the House of Commons Library” (from here). However, here is another source of data advising that approximately 60% of UK legislation originates from the EU. And here is what seems to be a balanced piece which argues that any figure between 15% – 50% can reasonably be justified. So where does that leave us? I still don’t know.  
I heard Julian Fellowes on Question Time a couple of weeks ago (our TV planner is full to the gunnels of stuff I still have to get around to watching), and I thought his approach was an interesting one; he wants to leave the EU but negotiate a trade deal which would leave business in the same position as it is today; that is, we would have free trade with the EU, but not be compelled to implement its laws or join its associated bodies. He stated that even if we had to pay in as much as we do today, then it would be worth it, since we would have our sovereignty back, and this would be a much stronger formulation than “an end to ever-closer union”.  
On the other hand, there are those who argue that if we are not inside Europe and influencing the decision-makers, then we are paying in to a club where we have no say over its byelaws and regulations. And I can see that point of view too; however, we are one member out of 28 and so the question then arises – although we are part of the group, how influential are we?

Then there is the question of the general direction of travel of the EU. People have warned that the EU wants to create an EU army, and apparently “Article 42 of theTreaty on European Unionprovides for substantial military integration within the institutional framework of the union, but would our exemption from “ever-closer union” excuse us from that? With UK military spending apparently on the wane, would we want to participate in and contribute to a European-wide standing force? Would that be in addition to or in place of our existing British army? I think I would have serious concerns about abolishing our national army and replacing it instead with a European army, but if we fund a European army in addition to our own national army, what would that accomplish? 
I also saw an article on the Guardian website advising that European Central Bank policymaker Benoît Cœuré is urging eurozone politicians to create closer economic and monetary union, or risk seeing the European project unravel; again, would our exemption excuse us from that?  
And if we are excused from military union, and financial union, is there much point in us being a “full” member of the EU at all? Again, I don’t know, but these are all serious considerations and need to be taken into account.  

Some pro-Europeans state that we are safer as part of Europe, whereas others assert that we would be safer outside of Europe. So which is the correct version? I don’t know; the BBC had a stab at explaining the situation here, and I’m not sure that they come to a definitive conclusion. There are other services like Channel 4’s fact checking service, and “Fullfact.org”, which I think we should all make more use of; I have just signed up to FullFact’s emailed newsletter, and I hope it will shed light on some of these questions.  

There are people who claim that by leaving the EU, we would save a lot of money, or free up that money to spend on our own national priorities. It is beyond doubt that we are a net contributor to the EU, but unless leaving the EU would directly lead to me giving less money to the government, i.e., pay less tax, this is an irrelevance to me. And even if a lower tax take was promised, I’m not sure that would sway me to leave *in and of itself*, as I can afford my current taxes, and I believe / assume that those funds go to deserving causes.  

There is the issue of continued trade with Europe; some people claim that we won’t be able to trade on the same terms as we do today. I’m not sure that this would be the case; I have seen it written that the WTO (World Trade Organisation) takes a dim view of trade barriers being erected where previously there were none. And since there are no barriers to trade currently between the UK and mainland EU, and since all EU members (as far as I know) are members of the WTO, they shouldn’t introduce barriers to trade now. And I don’t think that trade between the UK and the EU would cease completely two years to the day after we invoked Article 50 (the right to leave the EU); I think it would continue as per today’s trade until the new terms were agreed.  
We would still be members of global bodies – like NATO, WTO, Interpol, and I’m sure many others. So we wouldn’t retreat from international relations at all; we would still have our place at the table. We would still be part of the G7, the G20, the Security Council, etc. We would still have the Commonwealth. 

There is a question over human rights, and labour working conditions too. We were instrumental in setting up the ECHR, the European Court of Human Rights, and now some people think that the judgements coming out of the ECHR are affecting our national legal system. There are criminals, for example, whom we would like to extradite, but they claim their inalienable right to a family life and the legal proceedings are delayed by years – one such high-profile case was that of Abu Qatada (if I’ve got that right?). It seems to be unclear whether we would have to leave the EU in order to leave the ECHR. The question has been asked in the European Parliament, and there is a paper by the UK civil service on the same topic. But I question whether we would want to leave the ECHR, or whether we would rewrite any of the judgements that we’ve implemented as part of our participation in the European Convention. I think the world is a different place than it was 40 years ago and the edicts of the ECHR are probably sensible for the most part.  
Regarding improved working conditions, yes it would seem that being part of the EU has improved  working conditions throughout the EU. They have legislated for minimum standards related to working and employment conditions as well as informing and consulting workers. One rule which I know that the EU introduced was the Working Time Directive, which states that workers can’t work more than 48 hours in a week. That’s a good thing, but the majority of the labour force work 35 – 40 hours a week, and so this shouldn’t impact the majority of us; I do know that it had an impact on the NHS, as it limited the number of hours which doctors could be on call continuously for.  
If we seceded from these agreements, do I think that this would lead to an immediate abolition of everything which has been implemented relating to human rights and labour laws? No, I don’t think that would happen. And if it did, say for instance that the Tories removed some protections for labour, they could be voted out at the next election and those protections could be re-implemented, if the voting public felt strongly enough about that. Those in power wouldn’t be able to blame those faceless grey suits in Brussels for that, since we would have taken sovereignty back into our own hands.  

Then there is the question of the “reformed Europe” and what we would actually be voting for if we chose to stay in. I think that the concessions gained by Cameron fall a long way short of what he promised, and on that basis, I think voting for Brexit, just to spite him / give him a bloody nose, has a certain appeal. However, we then have to question who we would be lining up with… And George Galloway and Nigel Farage are not the sort of people I want to agree with politically. In fact, as a guide, if they are arguing for or against something, I would normally expect to take the opposite position. And that goes for most of the people voting for Brexit; they are not my normal political bedfellows.  

One concrete aspect it would be a shame to lose would be pan-European co-operation in the area of education. I had the chance to go on the Erasmus programme, although I didn’t take it, while I was at university. I could have studied in Venice or Holland for a year, funded by the EU. The fact that I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity is still something that I regret to this day, but the fact that it is there and available is brilliant. If we withdrew from the EU, that programme would disappear, but surely its benefits have been appreciated, so would twinning programmes spring up in Erasmus’s place? Possibly… 

Another thing to consider is that it would take longer to go on holiday to Europe. We wouldn’t be able to queue up in the blue flag lane, and countries could make us wait to enter, but since this is an infrequent, perhaps annual event (unless you happen to be a businessman working in mainland Europe), it shouldn’t have much of an impact – in my view.  

And yet, and yet…  

We did manage to survive before joining the EU. We were actually quite successful, globally speaking. I’m not suggesting we aim for world domination again, but we could make our own way. And if we vote to stay in the EU, and we don’t like the direction of travel, when would we sensibly review our membership again? In another forty years? We can’t keep having referendums every five years or so, that would just be silly.
  
I did read that whether we leave or stay, there won’t be much impact. At worst, we might have GDP 2.2% lower in 2030, and at best we may have GDP higher by 1.6%, depending on how the Brexit was handled. So maybe we’re all worrying over nothing? I don’t know, but I’m hoovering up facts and data points like nobody’s business, trying to work out which is the right decision. And hopefully before 23rd of June that might become clear…?

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