Dear Fellow Londoner,
After 17 years as your London MEP, I believe it is my duty to inform you why I am more than ever convinced of the merits of the UK Remain case and why we should vote for the UK to remain a member of the EU on 23rd June.
The forthcoming referendum on EU membership - if decided by facts and figures alone in terms of economic net benefit to UK - would be a straightforward one for the Remain side to win and I believe all the economic predictions by HM Treasury, the International Monetary Fund, Bank of England, and Institute for Fiscal Studies have made that case strongly in recent weeks suggesting up to a 6% hit on our economy by 2030 post-Brexit.
For many Brexiteers the argument is driven by emotions and nostalgia, which is perfectly understandable and legitimate. However, for me, the EU is not merely transactional. It represents a willingness to pool a limited amount of sovereignty for a greater common good. This is primarily based on our strong links with the Continent derived from our common culture, history and values in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world. I will set out below the main policy areas which are relevant to the debate in my view.
First: the economy. The EU Single Market is worth some £12 trillion - that is double the GDP of the entire Commonwealth, an entity which figures so frequently as part of the OUT narrative as an alternative political-economic club. Some 50% of British foreign trade is with other EU states, worth around £230 billion per year, while 200,000 UK businesses trade with the EU. Moreover, EU member states invest £24 billion per year in the UK, revenue largely incentivised by access to the Single Market (which incidentally is a British invention, enacted by Lord Cockfield, Prime Minister Thatcher's then Trade Commissioner).
Despite assertions to the contrary by Brexit supporters, access to the Single Market for EEA countries such as Norway (another country at times suggested by the Leave campaign as offering an alternative model of engagement with Europe) does not come without significant cost. Norwegians pay around 75% per capita of the net contribution the UK makes, and is obliged to codify about 75% of EU laws into its own domestic body of law without any opportunity to shape that legislation.
The UK's net contribution is around £340 per year per household, a sum which although not insignificant at 0.5% GDP - or 1% of government spending - is less than average domestic household rates. Furthermore, a Confederation of British Industry estimate finds the net benefit per UK household is around £3,000 - a nine times return on investment. Britain benefits from a large number of jobs, often quoted as three million, dependent on free access to the Single Market. For example, the British car industry, which employs 700,000 people directly and indirectly, would be seriously impacted by higher trade tariffs imposed following Brexit.
The UK currently enjoys Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), negotiated on behalf of the whole EU with 53 countries, ranging from Colombia to Singapore. Since 2011, for example, under the EU-South Korea FTA UK bilateral, trade with South Korea has doubled. Such concrete statistics belie the myth that the UK's membership of the EU somehow prevents it from trading with the world. Germany would have long since left such an EU! The EU’s common commercial policy, combined with the 500 million consumers living within its borders, strengthens its international bargaining power when conducting trade negotiations.
Considerable prosperity will be derived from important trade deals currently under negotiation, notably the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Similar deals with New Zealand and Australia are in the pipeline. Indeed, when all proposed FTAs have been concluded, an anticipated 80% of UK exports will flow to either the single market or to third countries via EU FTAs.
Should the UK vote for Brexit on June 23, it will undoubtedly be very expensive and time-consuming to unscramble existing trade agreements and renegotiate bilateral deals to replace them, with delays of six to eight years expected on average. Moreover, the UK no longer possesses the technical expertise required to competently negotiate complex, intricate trade deals and would take many years to regain these skills.
Next, let's examine the EU's impact on the environment, research and animal welfare. EU membership means an ability to hold British local authorities to account when they breach air quality directives. EU membership also means world-class UK universities can benefit from Horizon 2020 grants for medical and scientific research on an international collaborative basis, and London institutions have consistently received a disproportionate share of that fund.
The European Reference Networks system has bolstered the fight against rare cancers, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control helped prevent the Ebola outbreak reaching our shores. EU membership has, moreover, greatly improved animal welfare; live transport conditions have become more humane and the EU's Habitats and Birds Directive serves to protect animal conservation. EU agreements have brought about supranational action to fight climate change, including a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. Such trans-border issues are clearly far better coordinated across a block of 28 member states than by the UK acting alone.
Consumer protection is an important advantage of continued EU membership for Britain. Some 27 million Brits visit EU member states for business or tourism, and enjoy many protections when doing so. For example, mobile phone roaming charges levied on data usage and voice calls will be abolished altogether from 2017, and UK citizens have freedom to access the EU 27's health care systems through the European Health Insurance Card. Brexiteers say it will be possible to replace this with travel insurance but how will an elderly infirm citizen obtain insurance cover? The Single Market law has deregulated Europe's airline industry, making flights less expensive and entitling passengers to compensation when airlines cancel flights.
Additionally, British students have been able to study abroad for the same low university costs as local nationals, and professional qualifications are now mutually recognised across the EU. Erasmus - the intra-EU study exchange programme - remains extremely popular.? In a dangerous and increasingly unstable world our domestic security is boosted by EU instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant, PRUM decisions on DNA and fingerprint databases and Passenger Name Records. Cross-border intelligence sharing facilitated by Europol and Eurojust, an EU agency dealing with judicial co-operation in criminal matters, expedites bringing criminals and terrorists to account. A popular fiction claimed by the OUT campaign is that the UK's EU membership prohibits us from barring suspected EU criminals and terrorists access to Britain. This is not true. Over 6,000 non-British EU citizens were turned away from our borders in the last six years on the grounds of their potential risk to public safety.
In an area in which I have particular expertise - having been on the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee for 15 years - I have found that UK global influence over foreign policy stems in no small part from the strategic clout on the international stage that EU membership provides to us. Brexiteers repeatedly fall back on nostalgia for Britain’s imperial past and its relationship with the wider English speaking world, or ‘Anglosphere’. In reality over the past 40 years, English-speaking countries have reoriented their economies toward their regional partners. It is my experience that there are now more English speakers in Flanders than in parts of rural India. In fact, 97% of all secondary school children in the EU learn English as a second language.
Certainly, Commonwealth countries continue to regard the UK as a vital trade partner. But this is in large part because Britain is viewed as a bridge to the world’s largest economic bloc - the EU’s Single Market. Indeed, no Anglosphere foreign leader has ever called for the UK to withdraw from the EU. The US President and Prime Minister of India have both publicly stated that a Brexit is strategically against their governments' interests.
The EU's diplomatic initiatives have produced tangible and lasting foreign policy successes. For example, the European External Action Service played a central role in reaching the recent Nuclear agreement with Iran; it brokered a previously unthinkable deal between Serbia and Kosovo (principally by dangling the carrot of EU membership before both countries); and led international sanctions against Russia in response to Moscow's aggression in Ukraine. A maritime Common Security and Defence Policy operation off the Horn of Africa undertaken by the Royal Navy-led European Union Naval Force (Eunavfor) Atalanta has virtually eliminated the scourge of regional piracy, securing vital global maritime trade routes. The Eunavfor Med EU naval mission is busy combatting people traffickers off the Libyan coast. All of these are policies in UK interests and pushed by the British Government at EU level, leveraging the greater weight of 28 Member States.
In conclusion, significant political problems naturally follow a Brexit. For instance, who or what entity could protect Gibraltar once the UK loses freedom of movement leverage over Spain? It is entirely conceivable that the situation could revert to the mid-1980s and pre-Spanish EU membership, whereby Madrid could close the border on a whim, disrupting cross-border family life, employment and trade.
Equally, what will happen to the Union if England votes OUT and Scotland votes IN? A constitutional crisis could well ensue, potentially breaking up the UK and disrupting centuries of fruitful and harmonious partnership. Similarly, how will Northern Ireland and its Catholic population cope with a customs - and maybe even a persons' border - with the Republic of Ireland? A Brexit would quite feasibly jeopardise the prevailing peace settlement, unpicking years of delicate intra-community negotiations.
A Brexit could furthermore exacerbate the current situation in Calais, adding significantly to the pull factor incentivising migrants to our shores. The Le Touquet treaty, a bilateral UK-France instrument agreeing that travellers seeking entry to Britain must clear UK immigration in French ports, is likely to be abrogated. Without UK border controls filtering refugees and illegal migrants at source in France, many could make their way to Kent.
Indeed, coming at a time when Greece's economy teeters on the brink and the ongoing migrant crisis remains unsettled, Brexit could destabilise the entire continent. This scenario at a time of the rise of the far right could undermine our cherished fundamental cornerstones of democracy, rule of law and human rights. It is a situation the leaders of so-called Islamic State, and Russia’s President Putin, would be delighted to see.
Therefore, I stand firmly behind the Prime Minister’s renegotiated deal which offers a more fair and balanced relationship between the UK and the EU. I believe that a Brexit would mean putting the UK's economic growth and prosperity at risk, and pose a danger to our domestic and international security in an era of increasing global instability. No clear, credible alternative economic narrative has been put forward by OUT supporters. So, even if you have no love for the EU, I appeal to you as prudent voters to vote to stay IN. Why take a leap into the dark when we now enjoy the best of both worlds? The EU is a unique example of limited supranational governance, a model for peace, security, prosperity and a vision for the future - rather than a yearning for the past.