EU referendum: how should you decide?

The national campaigns on both sides of the EU referendum debate have been really and truly causing me to despair. I’ve found myself switching off each televised debate, BBCQT programme and episode of Newsnight because it’s all turned into sneering and posturing and who is lying/exaggerating/scaremongering most.

That is not the way to do things.

This is how I recommend you decide.

On June 23rd, voters will have a chance to express their opinion on whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. Although the consequences are huge, this is essentially a straw poll. Which means if you know what you think, you need read no further. Go forth and express your democratic right. But if you’re thinking ‘hang on, I don’t have enough information to decide – just misinformation!’, bear with me.

One of the reasons the Leave/Remain campaigns are going all scaremonger-y and emotional is that, quite simply, Brexit means a lot of known unknowns. So Leave/Remain have filled in the blanks with the scenarios which most suit their cause. The prevailing view amongst economists is that Brexit will mean a short-term economic hit, with strong probability of recession, but what about 10 years, 30 years, 50 years down the line? The truth is that it is an unknown.

The one figure we do know is how much we pay in to the EU. Leave have inflated it to £350 million per week; it is actually £250 million per week (taking into account the rebate, which never actually leaves the Treasury; but not counting the money the UK gets back through EU funding). This is still a considerable sum of money.

But no matter the exact figure, surely the point is value for money. My take is that there’s no point in talking about the money unless we also talk about the outcome. For example, you go out for dinner and spend £20 per person. Was it worth it? Well, that depends. Was it a greasy main meal which left you feeling odd the next day, or a stunning three-courser with free-flowing bubbly? In other words, we need more information.

When the European Coal and Steel Community was set up in 1957, the aim was to create a common market so that member states could find a way of peacefully trading coal, steel and other goods rather than going to war. The EU, via the EEC of the 1970s, has undoubtedly expanded upon this; in particular regarding the number of member states, the number of areas it legislates on, and in its move towards a single currency with the Euro (although this cannot be unilaterally imposed). But the tenets of peace-keeping and free trade between member states remain unchanged.

Think about what the EU does; the kind of laws it writes; its objectives. Which stands out for you: its greatest successes (e.g. single market; stability of former Eastern-bloc countries Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia; protecting human rights and workers’ rights) or its greatest failures (e.g. ERM crisis, Common Agricultural Policy, allowing Greece to join the Euro too readily)? Do you see freedom of movement as providing opportunity or risk?

I recommend that you take the time to decide which issues matter the most and look up how the EU has behaved in relation to them. The European Union Law website is a good starting point. If time allows, check out Westminister’s record in the same areas to compare and contrast.

Yes, it’s dry. Yes, it’s complicated. But it’s always worth knowing whether you’re in for an upset stomach or the ultimate dining experience.

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