We asked a Senior Politics lecturer why we should vote to remain in the EU

“Think of Europe and the world. We can make it better.”


On June 23rd, we face the biggest political decision of our generation. This decision can understandably seem daunting, especially with both campaigns seeming to favour slander over genuine facts.

We asked Dr. Simon Sweeney, a Senior Lecturer in International Business and International Political Economy at the University of York, why we should vote Remain in the upcoming referendum.

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Dr. Simon Sweeney

There has been justifiable criticism of the EU referendum campaign for its high volume tit-for- tat slanging match, with claim and counter claim leaving voters confused and dispirited. I want to write about simplicity and complexity in this debate, and finally make a recommendation.

Anyone interested in understanding political economy – the relationship between politics and economics – should know that it is extremely complicated. In dividing up resources no one gets all they want. We are dealing with complex issues despite the binary choice, Remain or Leave. The reality is complicated, and no matter what the result, no-one will be entirely happy.

Here lies the greatest and most dishonest claim of the Brexit campaign: they bang on about ‘taking control’, mostly of immigration. They even label June 23 ‘Independence Day’. There can be no independence in facing up to global challenges like climate change, environmental sustainability, the distribution of resources, taxation and tax evasion, demographic change, and corporate power. These issues need collective and multilateral responses at a regional and worldwide level. Independence is a chimera. Britain’s influence will be sharply reduced outside a political organisation that has throughout six decades achieved levels of environmental protection, democracy and human rights, living standards and social benefits that are among the highest in the world. The EEC/EU has been a model of political development, and for most member states it has been the vehicle through which they have transformed from dictatorship to democracy. Certainly it has its own acute crises, especially a dysfunctional economic and monetary union and high levels of unemployment. But it can only deal with these challenges, and others, collectively. For Britain to walk away from the world’s largest single market, which we in Britain helped to create and have benefited from enormously, would be bizarre in the extreme.

A single state seeking bilateral agreements or even no agreements cannot control, or adequately address worldwide threats. Nor can it fully contribute to international stability. The only way to control immigration would be to make the country so unattractive no-one would want to invest in it or come here. Yes, wrecking the economy and becoming a police state would reduce the flow of migrants.

As many experts have said, including the Chairman of BT Sir Michael Rake, migrants are net contributors to the UK economy. They work in critical sectors with labour shortages: food production and processing, the care sector, the National Health Service. Many work for low pay with unsocial hours, in hospitality and cleaning. Without migrant labour the UK economy would collapse. Leave knows this, but asserts that EU migration is a net cost, damages public services, and limits ‘our’ access to schools, health and jobs. It is the UK government which sets taxation and decides investment in these services, not the European Union. But the old adage applies: if you tell a lie often enough, people believe it.

The vast majority of experts from government organisations, think-tanks, academic s and leading economists, as well as countless heads of state and senior figures from the world over agree that quitting the EU would be economically disastrous. Leave dismisses this as ‘project fear’. Indeed any argument against leaving is destroyed simply by its rebuttal. How simple is that? Even a 0.6% fall in GDP would knock out the saving from the net annual cost of membership, £8.4m according to independent expert sources. Another lie that gains salience merely through repetition is that we pay the EU £350m a week. The net figure is nearer £158m once the rebate, structural and agricultural funding and other grants from Brussels are taken into account. The UK’s net contribution to the EU is a mere 1.5% of total UK government spending.

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The European Union has many flaws and needs reform. But if it wasn’t there, we would need to create it. It has been the foundation of peace between 28 countries, 14 of them former dictatorships that joined since 1980. Now they are functioning markets under the rule of law. The euro has proved an enormous cost for some, and the eurozone crisis must be resolved. The Union must also be more transparent and strengthen its democratic legitimacy, but Britain is no democratic paragon of virtue: we have a government supported by a mere 25% of the franchise and we still have an unelected second chamber. Many communities in the UK feel as remote from London and our home grown political elites as they do from Brussels.

It is false to claim that our lives are ruled by faceless bureaucrats in the Commission, a kind of civil service that incidentally employs less that 10 percent of the number in Whitehall. EU law is made by the Council (elected heads of state and government), the Council of Ministers (Ministers of the of the 28 member states), and by the Parliament. We have a voice in this process, which is a bit like a larger version of our own UK union. It’s not perfect, but being at the table means we can participate in decisions which affect the environment, trade, health and safety, product standards, labour, and security. Laws and regulations apply across the entire Single Market which is far more efficient than having different laws for each state, as would surely happen if the EU were to unravel.

And there’s the danger. In a multipolar world of major power blocs, to return to 1930s-style state vs. state competitiveness in every field of politics, power and economics would invite catastrophe. It’s not perfect, but the European Union is a far better basis from which to confront challenges than dipping out in the pretence that we can ‘take control’. Brexit risks a right wing nationalist upsurge here, but also across the Continent. So don’t think only of yourself on June 23. Don’t even think only of your country. Think of Europe and the world. We can make it better.

One final recommendation: if you’re young, this vote is about you more than it is about me and my generation. If you agree with much of this article, do yourself a favour: persuade an older relative or friend to vote the same way as you. It matters.

The EU Referendum is this Thursday, June 23rd.