Brexit? “No! No! No!”
When the possibility of the UK leaving the EU first raised its head, I confess I was rather complacent about the whole thing. Frankly, I thought it had a snowball in hell’s chance of actually going anywhere. I simply tuned out UKIP’s small minded bigotry and carried on regardless.
How wrong could I be? Since then, the ‘out’ campaign (for that is what it is, regardless of whether the starting gun has actually been fired) has really gained momentum, and I have grown increasing concerned. This morning’s Telegraph tells me that that 47% of the population want out. Now I’m worried. Brexit will be seriously damaging to farming and seriously damaging to Wales. If you are a Welsh farmer it will be catastrophic.
The basic thrust of the argument seems to be:
- Britain is a net contributor to the EU. If we get out we’ll have more money to spend on British people. God knows we need it.
- We wouldn’t have to let in immigrants who take our jobs and sponge off our welfare system. Then everything will be fine.
- We won’t have to put up with any more of those ridiculous and petty regulations. Common sense and good old British pragmatism will reign once more.
It’s all hopelessly simplistic and hopelessly wrong.
The UK is a net contributor. But that’s only true if you look at it as a single homogeneous unit. But it isn’t is it? Wales is a net beneficiary to the tune of several £Billion. Same goes for the other ‘Less Developed’ and ‘Transition’ regions including the South West and parts of the North of England, Northern Scotland and Northern Ireland. It depends not only on where you are but what you do. Farmers and people in rural communities are heavily dependent on the EU Common Agriculture Policy and the Rural Development Plans, which pour £Billions into our rural economy. But surely if Westminster government used its windfall to continue to support these areas and these businesses everything would be OK? Perhaps. But the chances of that happening are, let’s be generous, slim. There is precious little evidence that farming, the environment and the rural development are priorities for Westminster, and plenty that they aren’t. Ask anyone who works or, more to the point used to work, for DEFRA. I suspect that Health will swallow it whole and it won’t even touch the sides!
The idea that immigrants are dragging the UK economy to its knees is misguided. More than that, it’s just nonsense. Even the Treasury says so. I quote ‘Immigration is beneficial to the economy because new arrivals are likely to be of working age and contribute in taxes’. And how do many of them make those contributions? By working on our farms and horticultural units. If ever there was an industry that needs free movement of labour, it’s ours.
And what about all that regulation? If we left, we would still have to comply with a whole raft of legalisation to trade with EU. Where do you think the lion’s share of our lamb, beef and milk ends up? If we did cast off the EU shackles, something would take its place. People don’t just make up regulations for fun, you know. They have a purpose, even if it’s not always clear. True, Brexit would enable us to put in place a system closer to the UK’s needs and priorities, but before you get too excited, remember this. Our frustrations with what we see as petty meddling are as much to do with interpretation and implementation as with the regulation itself. The institutions, and indeed the people, who will do the interpreting and the implementing in the brave new world will be the same as those who are doing it now. Plus le change, I suspect.
I can see that if you lived in one of the more affluent areas in Britain and your world view was confined to your own little bubble, the idea of Brexit could seem quite attractive. But it would be disastrous for whole swathes of the country particularly the more rural areas. As I hope I highlighted in my last blog, it’s these that meet societies most basic needs. If these were to suffer, the implications would be felt right across the country.
It’s in everyone’s interests to give Brexit an unequivocal thumbs down.