Like Lord William Hague, I class myself as an EU pragmatist, who, despite its many faults, will be voting to stay in, not necessarily for myself but more for my children and grandchildren.
Living, studying and working in France, Germany and Canada when I was younger, gave me a more nuanced view of our standing in the world, something that is hard to acquire if your only experience of ‘abroad’ is your annual holiday.
Those wishing to stay in the EU will point to the economic benefits of membership of what is still the world’s largest single market in an increasingly dangerous world and the unnecessary risks of our coming out, while those opposed to continued membership will cite the need to take back sovereignty ceded gradually to Brussels over the past forty years and to regain control of our borders.
Their view is that then we could strike deals with the rest of the world and have a much more money to spend as we would not be paying into the EU coffers. There are, of course, many other nuances both for and against. If you are interested you will have to read the small print.
Neither side of the argument is in any way watertight. The ‘Common Market’ which some of us voted to remain in over forty years ago was very different from what we have created today. There are serious questions about the democratic deficit and whether it is still fit for purpose.
Despite delivering prosperity and a certain degree of stability for over half a century there are some serious question marks over its its long term future. The Euro has hardly been a massive success and the EU GDP is currently shrinking. Probably the single biggest crisis for us all both in and out of the EU is how it will deal with migration from the Middle East and Africa, which currently shows no sign of abating.
Those wishing to leave can make a strong case for releasing us from EU bureaucracy and allowing us to rebuild links with the rest of the world. The problem is that the rest of the world, at least as far as countries such as the USA, China and the major players in the Commonwealth are concerned, would rather that we stayed in. Australia, New Zealand and Canada, for example, have now forged trading links nearer to home.
The ‘deal’ that David Cameron has brought back from Brussels has convinced him to campaign for us to remain in the EU, but nearly half his MPs disagree. Some cynics will argue that it is no more of a deal than the one Harold Wilson claimed he had got back in 1975. I would not.
Whilst it was never likely that major change would occur overnight, despite the Prime Minister’s efforts, what he has done is to open the door, maybe without realising it, to possible major change in the EU in the future which, if you believe the words of the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, following last weekend’s EU Summit, many other states will be keen to support.
With the United Kingdom leading the way, we could have a real chance to shape the EU to reflect more the aspirations of its citizens and not just those of multinationals and big business in general.
Of course, if we were to vote to leave the EU life would go on. There is no guarantee, however, that we could forge trade links with the rest of the world as easily as some think a small country geographically if not economically, as we can whilst being part of the EU.
There is also no guarantee that companies such as Siemens, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and many others would remain here unless a deal could be struck with our former partners quickly for us to gain access again to the single market. It is true that you could argue that our current partners need us more than we need them, but can we be certain that they would want to play ball if they had been rejected?
The problem for those of you who are undecided is that nobody really knows what a Brexit will produce. One thing that does strike me is that we always seem to give the impression to our partners in Europe that we want it all our own way.
What happened to the ‘give and take’ necessary for any successful marriage to work? Undoubtedly we tend to play the game by the rules, which is more than can be said for some members – remember the burning British lamb carcasses at Calais a few years ago or the illegal fishing by Spanish trawlers in the North Sea, to give just two examples?
And yet, what about the transitional arrangements available when many of the former eastern bloc countries joined around ten years ago that were waved aside by the Blair government, which could have slowed down the numbers entering the UK from countries like Poland and the Baltic States? And what about all the EU grants that we could have applied for over the years but didn’t?
Sovereignty is an issue that keeps cropping up. What membership of the EU asks members to do is to ‘pool’ their sovereignty in certain areas. Over the past few years most of the legislation passed at Westminster has had nothing at all to do with the EU and this will continue to be the case. Don’t forget, it’s not just the United Kingdom that has agreed to cede certain powers to the EU but all the other 27 member states as well. Why should we be any different?
So, we can now look forward to four months of claim and counterclaim and, by the end of it, I imagine that many people, busy trying to make ends meet and provide for themselves and their families, will be getting pretty fed up with it all by June, if not before.
But, hang in there, listen to the arguments and, above all, vote. A clear result either way would put the matter to bed for a generation at least. Anything less and we could be in for even more uncertainty.