Looking back, it’s amazing to realise just how badly the British economy was by the end of World War Two. Despite being a victorious ally; the post-war government was saddled with massive debt and a crumbling global empire. India, the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ gained independence in 1947 at the same time as Pakistan. In 1949, the Empire was replaced by the British Commonwealth with the word ‘British’ subsequently abandoned. During the decade of the 1960s, the McMillan and Wilson administration’s sought membership of the expanding European Economic Community (EEC) but where Charles de Gaulle exercised the French veto on these occasions to exclude the UK. When he died in late 1970, the new French government was more sympathetic to British entry and where, on January 1st 1973, the United Kingdom was formerly accepted as an EEC member. At the time, many people including myself wondered why we had bothered in the first place.
On January 2nd, it seemed that many staple product prices had escalated to hugely inflated prices in an effort to support the relatively poorly run and inefficient farming systems inherent in most of the nine nations. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) generated wine lakes, butter mountains, meat, milk and cheese surpluses that could have fed starving Africans but for the fear of depressing prices within the EEC. Grain was stored in huge sheds with all of these products withdrawn from the shops – and all to support the ‘croft mentality’ of the small farm holding whose production costs were far higher than that of the farming methodology applied in the UK. Reports of people working in local car factories by day and tending to their small holdings in the evenings and weekends ensured that one felt betrayed by membership and a ballot of continued membership was conducted in 1975 to decide whether the UK had made a serious error of judgement. Amazingly, the vote was 2:1 in favour of remaining and despite the exodus of many inward investors from the USA. For towns like Glenrothes in Fife, the withdrawal of such large employers was acute and serious since few like investors from Europe were eager to replace them. The legacy is that of several roads in the ‘new town’ that still bear the names of American cities and that of incomplete road interchanges and junctions due to the falling revenues available to local government. The sale of public housing by the Thatcher administration from 1979 onward was also contributory to the industrial decline and high employment figures of that era and where the effects are still present in modern times.
Truth be told, many of these small ‘crofts’ within continental Europe of the 1970s ought to have succumbed to the natural forces of marketing as advocated by Adam Smith but survived longer than they should have on account of the EEC CAP policy. Even in current times, there are still nineteen countries in the community who still grow and undertake sugar production using beet root crops rather than the far more efficient and less wasteful effort of importing sugar cane with the latter compelled to pay a levy in order to support the others. It’s just one example in which the ‘free market concept’ became corrupted and where politics and legislature became a necessary part of the operating system – and particularly so as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was absorbed and more Eastern European countries were accepted as members. Britain paid a heavy toll to become members of the EEC and especially in terms of the fishing and agricultural rights. Today, most Fife harbours lie empty and devoid of the fishing vessels that once formed a multi-generational link and employment for thousands. Shellfish landed in some ports is often frozen, shipped to large processing plants in China and then returned fully packaged and branded as a product of Scotland.
During the last forty-five years, the former ‘free market’ organisation that we signed up for has become more federalist in approach and forever seeking to undermine the laws and rights of all nationalist governments and where threats like the transatlantic investment program or ‘ttip’ may seek to claim taxpayer’s money in recompense to locally elected government decisions. (See the separate article on TTIP on this website for more details). With nearly a half century of experience, it is pertinent that we take stock of what membership actually means in current times.
Without Europe – In or Out? Brexit & Bust?
A short time ago, the people of Scotland were granted the once-in-lifetime chance of independence and where considerable discussion focused on the value or currency and the value of oil. With a scary narrow margin, we can look back and say that we ‘dodged the bullets’ on that occasion. The pundits advocating joining the ‘Euro’ and where North Sea Oil would make us millionaires are now conspicuous by their silence. A strong vote for an independent state would have been disastrous and illustrative of how quickly an economy based upon such aspirations could have gone horribly wrong in a very short period of time. Voting to leave the European Community would also invite a series of new and unnecessary problems best resolved by remaining as a solid and supporting member. It’s akin to the ‘lone star’ state of Texas, with the second largest economy after California, ceding from the Union of the USA even though it has the right to do so if desired by a majority. That’s never likely to happen in current times whilst times are good and this author can’t realistically see much sense or advantage to ‘Brexit’ strategy unless economic times turn bad and where migrants of all races may find themselves targeted if high rates of unemployment beckons.
Taking a favourable stance, there’s no doubt that leaving the EU would result in substantial cost savings of approximately £13bn in revenue contributions whilst receiving £4.5bn in refunds and presenting a net figure of about £8.5bn. It equates to about seven per cent of what is currently expended to support the fourth largest manpower organisation in the World – the NHS. In terms of trade, departure from the EU presents major risks in that no member state has ever undertaken the task. On a daily basis, the EU represents a common market in which no tariffs are applied to the shipment of goods from one country to another and streamlining the process by a huge degree. With more than fifty per cent of British goods being currently exported to European destinations, the ‘knock-on’ effects of leaving the EC become incalculable. Whilst Ukip leader Nigel Farage says that a deal similar to that negotiated by Norway with access to the market yet excluding EU laws on agriculture, fisheries, justice and home affairs should be possible; there is no automatic guarantee of this outcome. Eurosceptic businessmen complain that the vast majority of (SME’s) small to medium enterprises which have no direct dealings with Europe are constrained and restricted by regulatory burdens inflicted upon them by decisions made in Brussels rather than London. All in all, there’s a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty about what kind of agreements might be possible in the wake of a ‘Brexit’ strategy being applied with some countries determined to make life difficult for the UK in order to discourage further dissenters from leaving the EC. France recently announced that there would be consequences for Britain if it voted to leave the EU and that’s perfectly obvious to this author that Fife might suffer more than many other parts of the UK.
The French connection stretches back to the ‘Auld Alliance’ of 1295 and in current times, the French multinational Thales Group has contributed significantly to the construction and assembly of the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier assembled at Rosyth dockyard and which remains as a main and principal employer in Fife. Precia Molen, a French based multinational company with a lengthy pedigree of engineering excellence is currently investing large sums of money in Dunfermline to create a larger and more diverse manufacturing facility in Scotland and which is certain to invite more employment to that facility. Both may be threatened by ‘Brexit’ campaigners.
Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the creation of a new nuclear power station providing around six per cent of future electrical supply for England has been awarded to a French company and which is currently stretched on account of the North Sea Oil revenue situation and causing delays as a major consequence (see the North Sea Oil article on this website for further details).
Many water companies in southern England are run by French companies.
In terms of investment, there was a major hesitation which occurred in the months preceding the Scottish independence vote and the same is likely to occur in advance of the European vote; then and afterward. The major risk is that London’s status as one of the global financial centres and a gateway for US banks operating in Europe may decline in the wake of ‘Brexit’. Fears that car-makers might face difficulty exporting into a tax-free Europe were promoted to UK workers of ‘Rolls Royce’ and ‘Mini’ models by BMW as to how it might affect their business and potentially lead to the closure of these factories. The notion that London could re-invent itself as a supercharged economy like Singapore has relatively few supporters. In recent times, we’ve seen how one of the largest banks in the World threatened head office movement to that destination but pulled back from the brink at the last moment. In a complex situation, a yes vote would almost certainly cause some companies to relocate in Europe.
Without Europe – Immigration and Employment
Whilst potentially the most contentious issue facing the EC at this time; it effects different member states in different ways. Under EU Law, Britain cannot prevent anyone from another member state from coming to live and live in the UK and whilst Britons are equally free to seek equivalent rights to work on the continent. In practice, however, the result has been a deluge of immigration into Britain particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe. According to the Office for National Statistics; there are nine hundred and forty-two thousand Eastern Europeans, Romanians and Bulgarians working in the United Kingdom. There are also seven-hundred and ninety-one thousand western Europeans and two point nine three workers whose origin is beyond that of EC borders. China and India make up the largest source of foreign workers in the UK – and where all of them impact upon their ability for local people to afford accommodation requirements and the needs of the local people. In so many cases, like that of immigrants granted housing in Middlesbrough painted with ‘red doors’ and then targeted on account of such doors; one can understand the local fury when they protested and added to the subsequent cost of the immigrant accommodation. It’s typically made worse when an immigrant is allowed to live and work here; claiming benefits and then allowed to send such benefits back to his country of origin in support of his family. David Cameron says that the concessions he won during a renegotiation with the EC will mean lower rates of child benefit: in my book that’s capitulation and surrender. It’s never been the duty of British Tax payers to finance the child of anyone living in the land of their birth nor allow immediate entry into the healthcare system.
Perhaps the hardest gauge of measure is the direct effect on British employment with some suggesting an initial cost of three million jobs and where the competitive market would include the new immigrants; some of whose loyalty to the nation might be questionable.
There is no question of the UK remaining within the cooperative umbrella of the NATO Alliance and actively participating in the defence of Europe and elsewhere as required unless the Scottish National Party (SNP) push again for the stupidity of a unilateral non-nuclear defence system. NATO is a completely separate issue with no direct link to European membership.
Without Europe - Conclusions
In closing, I personally suppose that the restoration of our borders to self-control ought to be more effective than the free movement of people and goods throughout the European Union but I have doubts since the enemy is more often likely to emerge from within rather than without. Voting for independence from Europe on June 23rd isn’t likely to change this in the slightest. The dreadful events of 9/11 in the USA illustrate and remind us all that terrorism haunts us all and ultimately, we all work better together in a collective fashion than alone when it comes to security matters. Most times; it works okay but what the media reports is when it doesn’t!
For the most part, I detest the existence of a Federal Europe yet understand its censure, command structure and declarations – but I also feel better in recommending the retention for membership rather than the speculative and uncertain outcomes of nationalistic independence. Back in the 1970s, we paid a heavy price to become a member and suffered a lot of pain and adjustment. It's time to accept that, fifty years on, too much has changed and so much additional pain can be avoided by simply accepting the status quo.