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Economics & Politics

Why I back remain

My own perspective
Britain has had a peaceful, prosperous and forward-thinking seventy years. We have constructed an unrivalled service industry, developed an economy which is one of the largest most interconnected in the world. This has been profoundly aided by our membership in the European Union.
We benefit, and the world benefits, from the immigration, international relations, economy and environment that the EU enables us to build. Furthermore we remain outside of the Euro and have amongst the strongest controls of our borders within Europe. In fact our position in Europe is already unique to Europe [1]. As someone who has argued hard against many of the facets of Europe, to me leaving is a catastrophic self-inflicted wound. It would affect myself, my friends, my family and the nation to which I was born in a profound way.
I write about this on a personal level. I work for a company where a third of our employees are able to work here because of the EU, in an industry (software development) that would irrevocably suffer from losing the workforce that Europe provides. More than that, Britain is where I would to like set up my life. A country in which many of my friends and family live. A country which would be scarred for the foreseeable future by a leave vote.
The cost to myself and my wife residing in the UK is also significant. As the husband of an amazing Canadian woman, we pay £1,311 in visa costs alone for the right live in the UK. Paying £1,811 means that you can have the assurance of not sending two sets of passports and other essential documents via Royal Mail [2]. On top of this, I am required to have an income of more than £18,600. Despite being a married couple, we are expected to answer a seventy-six page form to prove the legitimacy of our relationship. I have been a migrant myself, and to me this is deeply and profoundly wrong. The vote to leave has become deeply intertwined with immigration laws in this nation, associated with a broader political movement which is run on mis-information and irrational thought. The influence from the xenophobic push from the right, the failure of the left to put a positive argument forward for immigration has created this culture. I believe a vote to leave the EU will only exacerbate this trend.
Living in a plural, interconnected, global world
Leaving Europe is an insular decision. We leave the political debate, we see less of our closest neighbours in our towns and cities, the active discussion our leaders in Europe hold will lessen. To me this is the single most important point. We live in an increasingly interconnected and global world, to actively choose this path lessens our ability to define and better our future. We would become mere spectators to global events that we would remain exposed to.
Great Britain has a GDP of $2.8 trillion. Significant. But as a percentage of the global economy we represent 3.8% of the world’s economy. By contrast the US represents 24%, Europe 22%, China 15%. That is 60% of the world economy, a group which we are currently a part of that we are potentially choosing to leave[3]. To even suggest we would have the same influence outside of this group is ludicrous.
The more liberal leavers tend to argue that Britain is shackled by the internal legislative hurdles, bureaucracy and undemocratic facets of the EU [4][5]. To this group I would argue that they should address the deeper problems the UK has in each of these areas, and that many of these problems we have at home. They won’t go away with a ‘No’ vote. The legal debates in the UK on what should be affected by VAT have often verged on the preposterous (see the case arguing if Jaffa cakes are a cake or a biscuit [6]). To anyone who wants to experience British bureaucracy first hand I suggest they try applying for any visa for the UK. You only need to look back to the 2010 election where quango, a byword for British bureaucracy, permeated our political discussion of macroeconomics[7]. We have many unelected positions in the House of Lords, many of which have religious affiliations. The UK holds these inadequacies of it’s own volition. If nothing else, it shows that we are more similar to Europe than we usually like to admit.
If Britain left, to me it would echo back to a dark moment in human history. In 1933 Japan walked out of the league of nations. They decided they could no longer hold discourse with other nations of the world. They decided that we were no longer stronger together. It was a precursor to war. I don’t know what Brexit would hold, and I don’t think it will inherently lead to war; but I do believe that the mere existence of Europe helps keep war at bay. That alone is worth a yes vote.
Immigration
The immigration debate in the UK has become disconnected from reality, revels in misinformation and flirts with racist and xenophobic sentiment. Worse still it taps into deep economic hurt of British nationals, laying blame on those least able to defend their own position. The UK does not take a huge number of immigrants on a global scale, and there have been moments in history where we have chosen to take much more today. Turkey alone takes 2.5 million refugees, Lebanon has 1.1 million, in Jordan Syrian refugees represent 10% of their population.[8] Today a we have a proposed cap of a mere 100,000 total immigration, that represents 0.1% of our population.
Immigration is good. For one thing it allows skilled labour in. 11% of the NHS employees were immigrants as of 2014[9], Full fact points out that of which 10% of doctors are from Europe [10]. Studies have found the a fiscal impact upon the economy to be negligible [11], something that would be hard to believe if the headlines of the Sun, and Mail were to be believed. The idea that we could find workers in our domestic market to fill the hole that would be left by EU citizens domestically is foolish. In my industry talent acquisition is an incredibly difficult hurdle, I can only imagine how much harder it would become if the labour market fell from 508 million to 64 million.
Many leave voters have said that we could still get the skilled workers in while forcing the unskilled out. To me this is a very un-nuanced argument. Anyone who has ever applied for a visa before will likely know that it can be an expensive, difficult and pressured process. It takes time for laws to adjust, and a vote to leave will see a brain drain of sorts. Even the most forgiving visa system in the world will reject a migrant we need. It also seems difficult to believe that we will have a forgiving visa system, having been exposed to the process it has proved expensive and punitive for even the most basic of visas. With a prevailing sentiment pushing for lower immigration, it would be all too easy for our political class to push out people that Britain so desperately benefits from. British passport holders have the luxury of a passport that has amongst the lowest visa requirements in the world [12], we are not regularly exposed to this. I don’t believe it has been made clearly enough to our electorate for this referendum.
More than provision of skilled employees, immigration gives us a greater empathy with nations that would otherwise seem much more distant and abstract. We can begin to understand on a much more personal level what it means to be from another nation. If we can’t do this with our closest neighbours, neighbours we have fought wars with, then why should we think we can with those much further away. If we can’t develop relations with Europe, then a deep self-assessment is required.
I have been, am descended from and intend to be an immigrant. I am married to a migrant. I have Canadian heritage on my Father’s side of the family. I wear the label of immigrant with pride. To me it is a part of living in a deeply interconnected world. I loathe that the word migrant has come to earn a negative connotation. The narrative that immigrants have purportedly festered economic blight by taking our jobs and leaching of our services is all too often wrong and festers the worst of human nature. It needs to stop, a vote to stay will only help this.
Trade and economic prosperity
Much has been said on this topic, and I feel like I personally don’t have too much to add. Nonetheless I have an anecdote that I think is somewhat important.
Trade agreements are difficult and laborious, they take years to put together. Canada had to fight seven years to get their trade agreement with Europe, and they have no trade agreement for their service industry[13]. Getting one for Britain would take time. Trade deals are large and complex, every country has an industry they want to protect or products they want to keep out of their markets. In a world where banking has such a toxic reputation, what makes us think Europe will want to import our financial services without tariffs and significant additional regulation. This does not speak of a process that will be straight forward, but one that is hard, laborious and prone to failure.
It is trade that will hurt us most immediately. It will see our day to day lives become more expensive. Budgets that are tricky will become difficult, budgets that are difficult will become unmanageable.
A final note
This isn’t a general election. Just as this article is not a statement of party affiliation, or an assertion of a particular view of socio-economic policy. It’s a statement that Britain is not so important that it can turn away from its closest neighbors. In doing so it only risks turning away from the rest of the world.
Please don’t turn out the light. I don’t want to live in the dark.
References
  1. http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21700384-our-final-brexit-brief-argues-multispeed-europe-suits-britainand-others-charms
  2. https://www.gov.uk/remain-in-uk-family/overview
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)
  4. http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/out-and-into-the-world-why-the-spectator-is-for-leave/
  5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2016/06/20/vote-leave-to-benefit-from-a-world-of-opportunity/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffa_Cakes
  7. http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/key-issues-for-the-new-parliament/decentralisation-of-power/quangos/
  8. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/02/syrias-refugee-crisis-in-numbers/
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/26/nhs-foreign-nationals-immigration-health-service
  10. https://fullfact.org/immigration/immigration-and-nhs-staff/
  11. http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/fiscal-impact-immigration-uk
  12. https://www.passportindex.org/byRank.php
  13. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2015/12/15-eu-canada-trade-negotiating-mandate-made-public/

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