Friday, 17 June 2016

The EU referendum- "false weights and measures"?- weighing up the arguments

“The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)

Unless the opinion polls have got it wrong (again) in a few days' time the country will be voting to leave the EU. However, I believe the country would be doing so based on myth rather than fact. It's a classic case of adding 2 and 2 and making 5. People see more migrants. At the same time they see their pay stagnating, public services over-stretched and struggling and a housing crisis with rents and prices out of the reach of so many. They understandably assume these problems must all be linked to excessive immigration. But an examination of the actual facts shows that these problems all have entirely different causes and, whilst immigration makes some of these issues more challenging, it actually offers us the means to tackle some of those problems.

Unfortunately our own Prime Minister's actions have only added fuel to the Brexit fire and if we vote to leave on Thursday this will be his lasting legacy. Brendan Cox, the widower of the tragically murdered MP Jo Cox has said this government's migration policy is "a masterclass in how to get the crisis wrong; set an unrealistic target [keep immigration below 100,000], miss it, report on it quarterly and in doing so show a complete lack of control heightening concern and fanning the flames of resentment." 

At the same time the government's policies have only exacerbated the economic problems that have understandably got people so incensed in the first place; austerity-driven cuts to our public services, further reducing our affordable housing stock, cutting benefits to the working poor and doing nothing effective to deal with issues like zero hour contracts. Is it any surprise that so many people have only become reinforced in their beliefs that the country can't cope with all these migrants who, even if they didn't cause these problems, are only making matters worse? And is it any surprise that they want to give him and all our establishment politicians a bloody nose in the referendum by voting out? It's the one thing they feel they can do to control their own future and improve their lot. Sadly in doing so they are only likely to make their lives a whole lot worse. It's almost as if David Cameron had cleverly engineered the whole thing so that we do leave the EU.  Yet remaining in the EU is one of the few things he passionately believes in! Sadly, we have a Prime Minister gifted with brilliant presentation skills but very lacking in the more important qualities of judgment and wisdom. Yet he has those in spades compared to the man who will almost certainly replace him if we vote to leave on Thursday.


Too much of the referendum debate has been based on spin and distortion of the available evidence; “false weights and measures”, causing many to vote completely disregarding any evidence and just go with their “gut.” But “gut instinct” is a very poor guide. It is nearly always determined by irrational thought processes, arising from our own limited direct experience and the undue influence of the media and our friends. As a guide to making the right decision you might as well just toss a coin. We need to use our God-given gift of reason by looking at and weighing up the evidence.

 In looking at the evidence as a Christian (and a democratic socialist) I would suggest we should be asking the following key questions:

·         Will Britain remaining in or leaving the EU be more likely to extend Kingdom values (not United Kingdom values but Jesus’s Kingdom values) both here and in the wider world, i.e. what will most likely best promote peace and justice, especially for the poor?

·         Will Britain remaining in or leaving the EU be more likely to bring prosperity to people generally here (and again especially the poorest) and in the wider world?


If it is possible as far as it depends on you live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

For 70 years Western Europe has enjoyed something it had never experienced before. Peace. Or at least the absence of war. One of the key changes in Europe that has ensured that lasting peace is the major European nations all working and freely trading together through the European Union and its predecessors. If we leave the EU we risk the domino effect of other countries following and then the collapse of the whole European project. The risk is that once the European nations are no longer working together the natural order of things would eventually be restored; division and war.

Leaving the EU could cause further threats to peace even closer to home.  In Northern Ireland. Particularly through the efforts of our then Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair a cross-community peace agreement was reached which has so far spared my own children’ generation from the fear of Irish terrorism. Those two Prime Ministers have recently warned us of the threat that Brexit would inevitably lead to a re-imposition of Irish border controls. This would be a worrying sign and reminder of the sectarian tensions still bubbling under the surface in Northern Ireland, an opportunity the die-hard remnant of terrorists would be only too keen to exploit.  

With the Scots overwhelmingly in favour of membership of the EU, the UK leaving the EU is also likely to tip the balance in favour of Scottish independence and bring the end of the United Kingdom.


“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people…” Isaiah 10:1-2

One of the main arguments put forward for Brexit is the way un-elected officials of the EU undemocratically impose oppressive laws on the UK, tying us up in its sticky red tape. How can we ensure our laws are just and appropriate for us when 75% of our laws are imposed by the EU? But this argument does not stand up to the evidence:

  •      The way the EU makes laws, although complicated, is not as undemocratic as is widely thought, certainly compared to UK’s own law making process. The Commissioners (who are chosen by the democratically elected MEPs) propose laws but they are reviewed and amended by the democratically elected Parliament. The ultimate decisions on the EU laws to be implemented are then made by the EU’s Council of Ministers, made up of the elected leaders of the EU nation states. The fine detail of those regulations are then drafted by EU civil servants just as UK civil servants do for most UK laws. MEPs are elected according to a proportional representation system. Our UK government is elected by a first past the post system which has given us a government voted for by only 37% of voters, whose laws are reviewed by an entirely un-elected second chamber, the House of Lords.
  •      We have far more control over EU laws than is recognised. 87% of EU laws have been actively supported by the UK government. Only 3% were actively opposed. In some areas of EU law we have our own veto and we have opted out. For example, the disastrous Euro and the completely open borders of the “Shenghem” agreement, so that, contrary to Brexit propaganda, we can in fact police our own borders.
  •      Through EU legislation we can act much more effectively with other nations  to tackle important global issues like climate change, international tax evasion, terrorism and other international crime and of course fair trading conditions across the whole of the single market. In fact in many of these areas UK governments have been able to use its influence to get Europe to adopt our own policies for the good of Europe and the wider world eg on climate change. The irony of the damage done to our steel industry by China's cheap dumping of its own steel is that through the EU we could have done much more to protect our industry. Sadly, it was our own UK government that blocked EU proposals to increase tariffs on Chinese steel.
  •      The vast majority of our laws are made here in the UK and not by the EU. About 15 to 50% of our laws have been partly influenced by EU law. However, not all laws are equal in their impact on our everyday lives. Much of the EU’s laws are very specific in regulating terms of trade in a myriad of different industries and have no real impact on the wider public. Of those that do have a wider impact many of the EU’s laws are actually beneficial and make life better and fairer, often protecting ordinary folk from injustice and exploitation by the rich and powerful. Indeed, at this very moment the Supreme Court are forcing our government to comply with EU law by taking action to reduce our air pollution (Note by the way decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, eg over prisoner’s voting rights, have nothing at all to do with the EU).
  •      Virtually all the unjust laws imposed on us in reality come not from the EU but our own UK government. The EU has no or virtually no power over most areas of law making that effect our everyday lives (as long as we treat EU nationals equally). Our health service. Our education system. Our welfare state. Our housing policy. Our taxation policy (save for VAT). Our armed forces and when and whether we go to war. When I think of all the unjust laws and government decisions that have made me most angry in recent years I cannot find any that came from the EU. The bedroom tax, the illegal invasion of Iraq, reducing welfare benefits for the working (and non-working) poor, the selling off of control of our public services to private companies, reducing taxes on the rich and increasing them on the poor, reductions in access to justice. These laws were all made here in the UK.
  •       In employment law the EU provide foundational underpinnings which our own government cannot remove even if it wanted to. These include minimum paid holiday and maternity/paternity leave, rights of agency workers and maximum working hours. Our current employment minister and Brexit supporter Priti Patel has advocated a bonfire of such employment “rules” if we leave the EU in order to free us from “red tape.”
     We would not help put right any injustices done to poorer nations by leaving the EU. Whether we leave or remain it will alleviate none of the pressures on poorer Southern European countries like Greece. In fact, most economists would say it would only make them worse because of the potential economic downturn that our leaving would probably trigger throughout the EU and the wider world.
     The threat from something like TTIP would be greater if we left the EUThe proposed trade deal between the USA and the EU could allow multi-national companies who have bought into government contracts to sue our government if the government tried to end them. However, many European countries have voiced strong objections and most commentators now think it very unlikely that TTIP as presently drafted will be adopted. A greater fear is of something similar happening if we left the EU and a right wing government so desperate to do trade deals with anyone would happily sign up to whatever terms the USA wanted.

Democracy by definition surely always involves surrendering some control over our lives to a political authority for the greater good of the community. That is what the EU seeks to do and often more successfully than our own UK government I would suggest.


“…there need be no poor people among you, for in the land your Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.” (Deuteronomy 15:4)
Cost of contribution to the EU

The true cost of our contribution to the EU is not “£350 million a week “but about £100 million or about £6 billion a year. That’s still a significant sum. However it is tiny compared to other annual items of expenditure; about 0.3%. The real question is whether we get value for money for our £6 billion annual fee? I would suggest it is money well spent.

Cost/benefit of immigration in or out of EU

The alleged cost and burden of immigration on the face of it is a strong argument in favour of leaving the EU. In 2015 net immigration into the UK was 1/3rd of a million. 20 years ago before the accession of the Eastern European countries net UK immigration was well below 100,000 a year. It is argued that the current high levels of immigration place a huge demand on our already overstretched NHS, education system and housing stock. It is also argued that such high numbers of immigrants competing with us for jobs creates unemployment and depresses wages, particularly for the poorest. Because of the EU’s free movement rules the government has no control whatsoever over immigration from the EU and therefore effectively cannot control immigration overall or plan for its demands.

But is EU immigration actually a burden on the UK?

In economic terms actually EU immigrants through their taxes put more into the UK government coffers than they take out in terms of benefits they receive or services they use. They are a £2.5 billion a year net contributor. This is because most EU migrants are younger and fitter than the average UK citizen and nearly all just come here to work. Most also come to the UK already trained and geared up for work. This saves the UK billions in education and training, especially in specialist fields like medicine, science and engineering. At the lower end EU migrants also come prepared to do essential jobs that UK citizens are often reluctant to do, such as care workers or farm labourers.

In terms of our NHS and care services per person EU immigrants actually place less demand than the rest of us because they are young and fitter than the average UK citizen. You are far more likely to find EU immigrants caring for you or your family in hospitals and care homes than being cared for. Although they make up 4.7% of the UK population they account for 5% or our nurses, 10% of our doctors (already trained of course) and about 13% of our care workers. 

 Where EU immigrants do however increase the burdens are in our schools and housing (although they actually take up 3% less public/social housing per person than average UK citizen). However, the question must be asked since the government is £2.5 billion a year better off from the taxes of EU immigrants why is it not re-investing that revenue to support those areas bearing this burden to increase their expenditure on schools and public housing ?

Does EU immigration actually create unemployment or reduce wages?

No. In 2003 just before the start of significant EU immigration our unemployment rate was 5% and the numbers in work 28 million. In 2015 our unemployment rate was still at 5% and numbers in work had increased to 31.5 million. There is no evidence that EU immigration has overall increased unemployment. On average across all income groups, including the poorest, EU immigration has very slightly depressed wages, but by the equivalent of 1% over 8 years. For a low paid worker earning £8 per hour that’s the equivalent of 1p per hour! In reality overall EU immigration has had no effect on wages one way or another.

Leaving the EU will stop these high immigration levels, won’t it?

No. Even if we left the EU this would not magically stop our high levels of immigration Leaving the EU’s free movement zone would probably reduce net immigration, but probably not by that much. Immigration to the UK would still almost certainly remain high by historical standards because:

  1. Even now, with the highest ever levels of EU immigration, most of our immigration comes from outside the EU. We could control and reduce this in theory but the government chooses not to for a number of reasons, principally because these immigrants are needed to do jobs here. (David Cameron's pledge to reduce net immigration to below 100,000 was therefore a reckless lie that he never intended to meet to and therefore has not tried to!)
  1. We have an ageing natural population and a reducing natural workforce to sustain them. We need a significant supply of labour from overseas to help care for our elderly and do other jobs which not enough of the natural population either want to do (eg farm labourers) or have enough right skills to do (eg certain scientific/engineering jobs).
  1. The end of free movement would be a two way street. 1.3 million Britons currently live in the EU. Our exit from the EU is likely to mean many of them returning here when they lose their own benefits of free movement and equal benefits. Many are going to be economically quite inactive and likely to be heavier consumers of health and care services.
  1. There is likely to be a significant increase in illegal immigration. French ministers have already warned us that once we leave the EU France are very unlikely to maintain our policed border in Calais.
But won’t the immigration levels just increase if we remain, especially when Turkey joins?

Turkey and other new countries are not going to be joining the EU any time soon. We have a veto over them joining. Immigration levels from the EU may well reduce in the near future for a number of reasons. Most who have studied the trends believe they will. For example, immigration from the original Eastern members spiked after they initially joined joined but then leveled out. The same is likely to be true of the more recent joiners. The benefits restrictions recently agreed are also likely to have some impact.

Cost/benefit from international trade in or out of EU

The EU gives us free access without trade tariffs to the biggest single market in the world of over 500 million people. It is the only market right in our doorstep and 44% of our current trade is with the EU. 3 million UK jobs are directly linked to it and many more jobs are indirectly supported by those jobs. Money coming into the UK through trade with the EU circulates around the economy like oxygen carried in our blood. Just as an example car manufacturers from outside of the EU single market typically pay tariffs of at least 10% to export to the EU. Membership of this single market also affects the price we pay for goods and services we buy from Europe. Every single serious economic organisation who has looked into has advised that if we leave the EU the negative effects on international traditional would make our government and most of us significantly worse off than if we remained. The list of the organisations giving these warnings is lengthy and impressive including; the London School of Economics, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, the Bank of England, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the OECD and the International Monetary Fund.

90% of economists who have analysed the data and projected the likely outcomes have come to the same conclusion. The outcome of Brexit will be either fairly or very bad for our national and individual incomes. This is expected to result in an eventual overall fall in the income the UK generates each (Gross Domestic Product) of £26 to £55 billion a year due to a combination of factors resulting from leaving the EU single market; increased costs of imports, big reductions in foreign direct investment, reduced productivity and reduced exports. If you don't believe that Brexit would have such a negative economic effect then just witness the billions just wiped off our stock markets and the plummeting value of the pound  when opinion polls have pointed to Brexit.

As a knock-on effect the IFS also estimates that the UK government itself will lose tax revenues of £20 to £40 billion every year, likely to mean spending cuts, tax rises or both. 

An additional loss, which may be even harder to quantify is the expected damage to our scientific research, because of the loss of substantial direct EU investment in science and the reduction in invaluable knowledge collaboration with leading scientists throughout Europe. It is not surprising therefore that 83% of research scientists oppose Brexit.

But won’t the costs just be borne by the elite? Won’t most of the country,
especially the poorest, be better off?

No. The economic consensus is that the economic cost of Brexit would not be just born by the rich. The pain would be evenly shared across the income distribution – every income group, including the poorest, would lose out by similar proportions. The average Treasury forecast is that the average household by 2030 would be about £4,300 a year worse off than if we had remained in the EU. The Bank of England, the IMF and many economists are concerned that Brexit could well lead to another recession. Recent experience tells us in a recession the poorest always suffer most.

Don’t the EU need us more than we need them? So surely the EU will just do a trade deal with us, won't they?

No. 44% of our exports go to the EU. No other EU country exports more than about 10% of their exports to us.  We have far more to lose than any of the other individual countries that make up the EU. There is not a single country in Europe that has secured a free trade deal with the EU that has not had to accept free movement of people and uncontrollable immigration this can bring and pay huge sums to be a member yet without having any control over the rules.  Just ask Switzerland and Norway.  If we wanted to do a free trade deal we would have to accept this. Since this is the very reason we would have left the EU that is just not an option. Importantly, the EU will inevitably feel it has to punish us for leaving to try to halt a domino effect of other countries following suit and the whole union falling apart. The German Finance Minister has just told us that if we leave the EU there will be no way back for us into the single market.

But who cares about trade with Europe anyway as we can just do our own trade deals with the rest of the world, can’t we?

We should care because the European single market is the only market right on our doorstep. If we leave the EU undoubtedly new Prime Minister Boris will be desperate to deal whatever deals he can with other countries. However, we will be starting two goals down with other countries. First, the EU already has trade deals with 50 other countries we will lose rights to. Second, we will only be speaking for a market of 65 million rather than 500 million, so we are unlikely to get as good a deal or as quickly as the EU. As President Obama warned us recently we would go to the back of the queue.

But if we leave reduced red tape would mean a big economic benefit, won't it?

An economic benefit to whom? Most of the so-called EU red tape are rules and restrictions that actually benefit and protect ordinary people. In any event to trade with the EU from outside the single market would mean more not less red tape for anyone exporting goods or services to Europe.

… but what else has the EU ever done for us?

Oh nothing apart from:

·               cleaner beaches and rivers
·               cleaner air
·               lead free petrol
·               restrictions on landfill dumping
·               a recycling culture
·               health warnings on cigarette packets
·               cheaper mobile phone charges (including now no roaming charges)
·               cheaper air travel
·               improved consumer protection and food labelling
·               a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives
·               better product safety
·               single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance
·               break up of monopolies;
·               Europe-wide patent and copyright protection
·               no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market
·               price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone
·               funding to areas hit by industrial decline
·               freedom to travel, live and work across Europe
·               funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad
·               free access to European health services
·               labour protection and enhanced social welfare
·               smoke-free workplaces
·               equal pay legislation
·               statutory holiday entitlement
·               the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without paid overtime
·               strongest wildlife protection in the world
·               improved animal welfare in food production
·               EU-funded research and industrial collaboration
·               EU representation in international forums
·               bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO
·               EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty
·               the European arrest warrant
·               cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling    

·               EU wide counter terrorism intelligence

But can we trust the "experts"?

Didn’t they say similar things about the dire consequences for the UK if we didn’t join the Euro? No. Economic opinion was very much divided there.

But  they didn’t predict the crash, so why should we listen to their predictions now? They are entirely different things. With Brexit economists are trying to predict the outcome of a known event,ie the UK leaving the EU. With the crash the economists did not know about the events that caused the crash, which were millions of little mircro events, ie banks overextending themselves through subprime mortgage lending. Anyway, if doctors failed to diagnose a rare disease would you then never take any doctor’s advice again on anything?

But isn’t all too speculative? No one really knows what will happen next year, let alone in 10 years

All forecasting, whether it’s the economy or the weather is speculative, but expert professional forecasting takes all the known data about past performance and conditions and then makes reasonable assumptions to predict what will happen. No one can be confident that we will each lose out by the £4,300 a year the Treasury predict.  The figures calculated are really just an indicator that things are likely to be seriously worse rather than an expectation that it will be exactly that number. 

With Brexit pretty much every serious economist or economic organisation all say more or less the same thing. The likely longer term consequences of Brexit are going to be somewhere between fairly or seriously bad for the health of the UK economy, government revenues and our own individual pockets. To argue that you can’t listen to the economists’ predictions because they can’t be certain about the precise number is like a man ignoring his doctor’s advice to lay off the hamburgers and fizzy drinks, because he can’t tell him how heavy he’ll be in 10 years’ time or whether and when he will have a heart attack. No he can’t precisely predict those things but he can be pretty sure that if he keeps up the hamburgers and fizzy drinks he will be rather fatter in 10 years’ time and at serious risk of a heart attack or other health problems.

The data that the economists base build their predictions on is data from real life, real life people and their economic experience. They get a much broader picture than anyone can just based on their own direct experience. When virtually all serious economists are giving similar predictions about the economic damage Brexit will do it would be rather foolish to ignore them. Imagine you were planning a summer party for tomorrow. You need to try to predict what the weather will be like so that you can decide whether to have it in the garden or the house. To make that judgment do you just rely on your gut instinct about what the weather will do? Or do you do what most people would and consult experts by getting weather forecasts from professional meteorologists? Predicting the weather is very difficult, but we are far more likely to get it right if we follow expert evidence than just go on gut instincts, our own limited experience or popular opinion. If we ignore all weather forecasts we are likely to end up getting wet.

The bible advises us that when we make major decisions we should not just rely on our own instincts or the loudest voices but seek advice from wise advisers: 

“For lack of guidance a nation fails, but a victory is won through many advisers.” Proverbs 11: 14

I do not mean listen to the politicians on either side. They are advocates not advisers. We should  heed advice from the leading experts in their field, like the 90% of leading economists and 83% of research scientists warning us that leaving the EU is likely to be significantly damaging to our economy and development of science.

We need to deal with the world as it is now and not as we would like it to be. We need to recognise that in an increasingly smaller world on our own we are only a fairly small nation that simply cannot have the power and influence we once had when we had an empire. Working with our European neighbours we will trade more successfully in a joint single market 8 times the size of our own and speaking with the voice of 500 rather than 65 million we have a much better chance of influencing the rest of the world and meeting the major challenges of the future; terrorism, climate change and the rise of the robots. Together we are stronger and richer. Apart we are weaker and poorer.

 I believe the biblical priorities that should dictate how we vote in the referendum are peace, justice and prosperity for all. I consider that when we fairly examine the actual evidence and listen to the real experts we should find we are likely to risk losing much more than we gain if we leave the European Union.  

“A man who isolates himself seeks his own desires; He rages against all wise judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1)

The fuller article from which this was taken can also be viewed on my blog

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