Why Britain should have remained in the EU

Britain's future outside the EU -  A thematic guide to the UK

Leaving the European Union may be fatal for England and for the United Kingdom; and it will not be good for the EU either. A look at the background, the arguments and the potential consequences of Brexit.
Index :  Britain and Europe - a short history Why some say "out"
What happens now that Britain has left the EU? 

      See also
► :  Brexit timeline ?  A timeline of main events since 2016.
► :  Brexit, or an alternative -  solutions to the crisis ?

Britain and the European Union - a short history

Churchill would definitely have voted to remain.

  Britain has had no more formidable Europhile than Winston Churchill.
  Sadly, no statesman or woman since Churchill has come remotely near putting the argument for European union more forcibly and eloquently than did Churchill. And it is the 50-year lack of any great eloquent Europhile in Britain, and most significantly in his political party, the Conservatives, that has put Britain in the situation it is in today, once more outside the European Union. On its own.

  Churchill towered over British 20th century history like no other statesman. And among the many things that made him a statesman, not a politician, was his understanding of history. In 1953, Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature  "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values".
  In his historic "Zurich speech" in 1946, Churchill exhorted his audience at the University of Zurich to "re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it
with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
  It was not Churchill's first exercise in working towards the unity of Europe. On June 16th 1940, before the fall of France to Nazi Germany, Churchill and the French prime minister Reynaud had agreed to unite, (yes unite !) Britain and France into a single nation. Churchill himself announced:  "The  two Governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union. The constitution of the Union will provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial, and economic policies. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain, every British subject will become a citizen of France."  Alas, within weeks, Reynaud had been replaced by the collaborator Pétain, and Churchill's union could not materialize.
  In the late 40's and 50's, Churchill continued to press for a united Europe, and was one of the key architects of the Council of Europe; and though he was - and still is - often portrayed as the "British bulldog", Churchill was certainly no introspective sovereignist, no isolationist.
  He had some reticences about certain supra-national aspects of European union, but was generally favourable to the principle of uniting the nations of Europe. Alas, other British politicians of the time lacked Churchill's vision, and were more nationalistic. So when in 1950-51 negotiations began for the setting up of the European Coal and Steel community, Britain's Labour government did not participate.
  By 1957, Churchill had retired from public life, and when six nations of Europe got together to form the Common Market, Britain was not one of them. Conservative prime minister Anthony Eden had in 1956 rejected new plans to unite Britain and France, and was more interested in maintaining relations with the Commonwealth and the USA. As for the Labour oppsition, they were not interested in building bridges with other European states that were all run by Conservative or Christian Democratiic governments.

Playing catch-up

Once the EEC (the common Market) was set up, there were many in Britain who quickly decided that the UK had made the wrong choice; and it was not long before  both Conservatives and Labour  came round to thinking that we would actually be better in than out. So began twelve years, from 1961 to 1973, during which successive British governements tried to undo the big mistake of 1957, and join the new family of European nations.
  Unfortunately, there was one man standing in the way, and that was French president De Gaulle. De Gaulle, a fervent French nationalist, bore a deep personal animosity to Churchill in particular, and the English speaking countries in general; he begrudged Churchill for not having considered him as an equal during the war, and he begrudged the English-speaking countries whom he saw as trying to impose their model and culture on the rest of the world. And so twice, in 1963 and 1967, de Gaulle as President of France personally vetoed Britain's applications to join the EEC.
   Success did not come until 1973, after De Gaulle had died, when Britain was welcomed unanimously into the expanding EEC.

Britain in the EEC

There was however little celebration in Britain when Conservative prime minister Edward Heath signed Britain up as a member of the EEC.
   De Gaulle's two vetoes, as well as nostalgia for a bygone age when Britain was the world's greatest power, had both helped to foster reticence towards Europe. There was no elected European parliament in those days, so the argument that the EEC was a supranational unelected body interfering in Britain's affairs at least had some truth in it at the time.
  Even so, that did not stop Labour prime minister Harold Wilson calling a first "in/out" referendum in 1975, in which voters voted 2:1 in favour of remaining in the EEC.
  The Conservative party was by then badly split between its pro-European centre and its nationalistic and Eurosceptic right wing. Margaret Thatcher, who was from the hard right wing of the Party, was nevertheless enough of a stateswoman and sufficiently pragmatic to see that the answer to Britain's problems with Europe would be best settled from the inside, not from the outside.  From her famous quip at the 1979 Dublin summit, "I want my money back", through her signing of the European single Market Act in 1985, Margaret Thatcher played a decisive part in strengthening and imporving Britain's position within the EEC.
   However by the end of her time as Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher was being more and more pressured by the right wing of her party, who considered Europe as an unnecessary bureaucracy and a threat to national sovereignty. Unfortunately for Mrs. Thatcher, the general mood of the Conservative party did not follow; and in the end it was Margaret Thatcher's growing Euroscepticism that led to her ousting as leader, and her replacement by John Major. As Conservative prime minister, it was he who in 1992 signed the Maastricht treaty that replaced the EEC by the new European Union.

Britain in the EU - from Major to Cameron

   In 1995, Britain did not sign the "open borders" Schengen agreement, Britain and Ireland obtained an "opt-out" ensuring that they did not need to join, and also demonstrating that everything in the European Union need not necessarily apply to all states. Later in 2002, Britain was one of the countries that, though in the European Union, did not adopt the Euro.
   From 1997 to 2010, under the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Britain interacted constructively with the rest of the European Union; but in the Conservative party, stuck in the opposition for 13 years, Euroscepticism caused increasing dissent in the ranks. The choice of the mildly eurosceptic Iain Duncan-Smith as leader was an ill-inspired choice that left the party in the doldrums. It was not until the election of David Cameron in 2005 as party leader that the Conservatives again began to become electable.
  And if they did so, it was because Cameron was  a pragmatist . A Eurorealist, rather than a Eurosceptic, he managed to paper over the gaps in a fractious Conservative party by including in his shadow cabinet, then cabinets, people from all sides of the party, including convinced Europhiles and some hardened Eurosceptics.
  For a while he was successful in his management of both the Conservative Party and the nation; but then the decision to hold a referendum on continued membership of the EU was a massive gamble, where the stakes were enormous. Cameron gambled high, and he lost.
  Like all currently surviving British prime ministers, Conservative and Labour, Cameron asked the British people to vote to stay in the European Union. He was joined in this by the leaders of all the other major British parties - Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and the Green Party. In this David Cameron  achieved a rare consensus that transcended party politics.
  It was just a pity that he could not achieve the same consensus in his own party, nor even in his own cabinet. And that in spite of the political consensus, the "Leave" campaign, run by a consortium of far-right populists and self-seeking politicians, prevailed, and a majority of voters chose to take Britain out of the EU.
  Cameron had called his referendum at the worst moment possible. 2016 was the year in which, all over the world, right-wing populism was at a peak, and it was also the year in which Europe was hit by a wave of immigrants fleeing the war torn areas of the Middle East and north Africa. According to the propaganda of the "Leave" campaign, hundreds of thousands of migrants coming out of - notably - Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, were all  wanting to come to Britain, and Britain could not stop them if it did not control its own frontiers .  These were of course lies; Britain always controlled its own frontiers as it had never signed up to the Schengen agreement; and the migrants were not all coming to the UK. But as 2016 showed the world, lies help to win elections. And referendums.

Why some said "out"

   For some people, the EU has always been a convenient scapegoat for all of Britain's problems. Of course, all is not perfect with the European Union, far from it ; but blaming the European Union for all the (sometimes imaginary) woes of Britain is neither fair nor intellectually honest.  It is simplistic in the extreme to blame Europe for everything from immigration, taxes, bureaucracy and housing shortages, to a decline in national values, unemployment or crime on our streets. Leaving the European Union would not, could not possibly, solve all our problems and return Britain to some kind of imaginary "golden age"; and those who say or imply that it would are dreamers, wishful thinkers, or just political opportunists.
   For thousands of years, rulers, autocrats, dictators and politicians have sought to further their own ambitions, bolster their own beliefs, or  mask their own failures, by pointing the finger of blame at others, at outsiders, at scapegoats....  At foreigners, at Protestants, at Catholics, at Muslims, at imported labourers, at the French, at the Irish, at the Jews, at the heathen, at the poor.... and today at the European Union.

Vote "out" to reclaim our sovereignty.

 There were many in the "Leave" campaign who claimed that by leaving Europe, Britain would be able to get rid of EU legislation, and make our own laws instead.
  This was extremely simplistic, a populist sound-bite, and a gross deceipt.
   While it is impossible to state an exact figure (check out with EU legislation actually sets the framework for perhaps a quarter of UK law. Most of this is quite uncontroversial, and the UK would have enacted the same, or very similar, legislation with or without the EU.
    In addition, as an active member of the EU, the UK played a significant role in shaping EU law, which was then adopted into legislation across the EU. Here, a precise figure can be quoted. In 98% of cases, new EU legislation is in line with the position taken by the UK, and takes our considerations or objections into account. In only 2% of cases have laws been introduced in forms that the UK was not in favour of. But that is part of the democratic process of working in a team with our neighbours. Sometimes a country is outvoted. Just occasionally. Far more often, the laws that the UK wanted have been applied actoss the European Union.
   Leaving the EU has certainly given the UK, and some people in it, more freedom to do what they want in some cases. But that is very much a double edged sword. The liberties that some people have wanted to "claim back" are not necessarily in the interests of the population as a whole. And leaving the EU law-forming mechanism now also means that EU law (much of which the UK will still have to respect if we want privileged trading terms with the EU) will henceforth be shaped without any input from the UK.

  Petty legislation needs to be rolled back, not just in the UK but throughout the EU. Britain in the EU could do a whole lot more to make that happen than Britain can now do from outside the EU .

  While there are some incredibly useless and frustrating bits of EU bureaucracy, they are the tiny tip of an iceberg. In most cases, the EU's "infringement" of national sovereignty is there to protect consumers, to standardise equipment and services between countries (making life far easier for exporters), to establish environmental legislation (for everyone's good), to help the poorer or less developed regions (such as parts of Scotland Wales Northern Ireland and northern England), to protect workers.
  Most of this is in the interest of all citizens of member countries; and in many cases, even those countries that are not in the EU (Switzerland, Norway) follow European Directives, apply European laws, and they pay into the EU budget even though they are not members!  It is simply wrong to suggest that by leaving the EU, Britain can now just forget all about EU rules and standards, stop making any payments into Europe, and just benefit from a free-trade deal. As the long process of negotiating a final deal has shown, that is simply not the case.
   On fish: Nigel Farage ran a publicity stunt with a flotilla of small boats coming up the Thames to complain about interference from Brussels, about "quotas" that prevent fishermen catching what they want. But quotas are there to preserve massively dwindling fish stock in the seas. By definition, fishing quotas must be agreed internationally. Leaving the EU does not change an iota of that. It is thanks to stringent quotas that the North Sea has not been left as a fish-less pond, its marine ecosystems devastated by over-fishing, as was feared would happen back in the 1980s.
  On milk and dairy products: Protests by farmers, who complained that EU milk quotas were a restriction on their freedom, led eventually to milk quotas being abolished in April 2015. Freed from this bit of EU "market rigging", farmers all over Europe rushed into producing more milk..... with the result that there is now massive overproduction of milk in Europe, and the price has collapsed, driving hundreds of dairy farmers out of business.  Other factors, notably sanctions against Russia which reduced the export of milk products, contributed to today's problems, but this was not the only cause. There was logic in the EU quota system, even if farmers and nationalist politicians protested that they were an infringement of their rights and sovereignty.

  Besides, in today's global environment, "sovereignty" is a very relative concept. The UK is bound by countless treaties and international agreements, each of which by definitions impinges to some extent on "national sovereignty". The UK and bodies in the UK are signed up to dozens of International organisations and treaties, the UN, NATO, the Commonwealth, the OECD, the International Maritime Organisation, the WHO, the IOC, FIFA, the ISO, the Council of Europe, the International court in the Hague, the WWF, Interpol .... and many more, which together place FAR more restrictions on our right, as a nation, to do exactly what we want, than does membership of the European Union.

  "Taking back power" , "freeing ourselves from Brussels"  or "getting back our sovereignty" are just slogans, and those that have claimed that leaving the EU would achieve any of these results in more than a token manner have either been burying their heads in the sand, or deliberately pulling the wool over the eyes of credulous voters, in order to further their own personal ambitions.  How many times in recent history has the argument of "national sovereignty"  been used by the far right to gain or attempt to gain power ? It was used by Hitler, by Franco, by Mussolini; it is used by the far right parties in Europe today, Pegida in Germany, the Front National in France, the Northern League in Italy, and others.... all of which are as Eurosceptic as Nigel Farage's UKIPaznd Brexit party  in the UK.
   The trouble is that when they have come to power in different countries of Europe or the world, few nationalistic and sovereignist leaders have been able to deliver the goods. More often than not, they have led their countries into disaster, economic stagnation, isolation and ruin. The final days of the Trump presidency in the USA have confirmed this.

Vote "out"  to stop immigration.

Leaving the EU has definitely not stopped immigration to Britain. It may even increase it. Now that it is no longer in the EU the UK can decide more easily who can come to Britain and who cannot; but that will make little difference other than to bring in a few more immigrants from Asia and a few less from the EU.... which is not really what the anti-immigration lobby has been suggesting.  Britain needs immigrants, and not just highly-skilled immigrants, but also medium skilled immigrants,  and low-skilled immigrants to do all those jobs that British people don't want to do and for which employers can't recruit enough staff. The idea that we could choose just the skilled immigrants our economy needs, is a non-starter.
  Besides there is an inevitable and unstoppable tendency for people suffering from poverty and misery in the least developed or most war-torn parts of the world, to try and get a better life somewhere else. Wouldn't you?
  In the 19th century, millions of Europeans fled  poverty to seek a new life in Australia, the USA, Canada and other parts of the world. Now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, and Europe is on the receiving end. Recent tragedies in the Mediterranean, with thousands of people drowning, have clearly demonstrated that immigrants and asylum-seekers will continue to come clandestinely, whatevder the risks to their lives, even if the official gates are closed shut.
  At present, there is a Europe-wide management of immigration; even before leaving the EU, Britain had already partly opted out of this, and some who wanted to come to the UK have ended up in Germany or Scandinavia or somewhere else. Now that the UK has left the EU, the argument in the remaining countries may well be. "Well, if they want to go to the UK, that's not our problem; send them on."
  In time, as the gap in living standards between the southeastern part of the EU and the northern countries narrows, the incentives of people to migrate within the EU will diminish. Nothing has done more to help bring about this result than the European Union, which has done masses to revive the economies of member states that were once behind the Iron Curtain. It's a result that all in Europe should be proud of.
    Rather than provoke migration within Europe, the EU has worked to moderate it. If money from the richer EU countries, including the UK, had not been used by the EU to help develop the economies of Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and other less economically developed parts of Europe, there would be more intra-European migrants today trying to reach the wealthier nations of the west, not less.
  Apart from locking up all immigrants, minorities and the people one doesn't like (as was tried by Adolf Hitler), the most effective way to stop immigration is to improve conditions and living standards in the countries that people want to leave.
   Even outside the EU, Britain cannot just expel all immigrants. As far back as 1948, well before the creation of the European Common Market, Britain was one of the initial signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which has nothing to do with the EU. The majority of immigrants into the UK come from countries outside the EU, not from the EU at all. And Britain has always had 100% control over these.
   The idea that Britains could somehow return to being a nation without immigrants,or merely a nation with significantly less immigrants, now that it has left the EU, is a travesty, just smoke and mirrors. It's a con trick perpetrated by a number of either delusional or else totally self-seeking politicians, on credulous voters who will believe anything if it is said simplistically. And the worst thing about it is that those who instrumentalise the immigration theme at the same time naively or cynically deny all connection between their rhetoric and the actions of xenophobic fanatics on the far right, to whom they give inspiration and encouragement.... and in the views of the fanatics – legitimacy.

    From top management level down to humble domestic jobs, and all those jobs that the British don't want to do, Britain's economy is heavily dependent on "immigrants".

Vote "out" to save millions of pounds each year

Yes of course, being in the EU has a cost.
Being in a golf club, or darts club, or running a car, or owning a house... they all have costs too. But we pay our subscriptions, our vehicle licences, our rates or rent, because we believe that the cost is outweighed by the advantages procured by membership, mobility, or a roof over our heads.
  The same is true of membership of the EU.
  The costs could probably be reduced and possibly will be, if the EU gets serious about reducing wastage. But even if they were reduced, it would be a drop in the ocean
  Belonging to the EU cost the UK just under £120 per person per year, on average.
  That is peanuts compared that to the average amount of income tax paid by a British taxpayer, which was £4,985 in 2014....  
 The cost of belonging to the EU was 0.34% of Britain's GNP (the nation's annual turnover); the cost of domestic taxation is 35%.... 100 times greater !
   And of course, a good bit of our payments to the EU, used to come back to the UK in the form of EU grants, aids, subsidies to a range of beneficiaries.
   As Stephen Hawking  pointed out, British scientific research, which is vital for the  economy, has up to now been heavily subsidised by grants from the EU.
  It is essential to get things in proportion, and not be dazzled by misleading  figures that get brandished around out of all context, and without the least bit of perspective.

Vote "out" and renegotiate new trade treaties with the EU and other countries

Yes it will be possible.... but very costly, slow and complicated! Vritain has negotiated a "deal" with the EU, but already plenty of British companies and producers are finding that life and exporting have got much harder.

Wishful thinking

It is largely wishful thinking to imagine that leaving the EU will solve all the nation's problems. It may solve some, but it will create others – much greater ones
  Most studies show that leaving the EU will hit jobs, the value of sterling, the position of Britain in the world, our very credibility as a nation on the world stage.  The leaders of the G20, the forum of the world's top twenty economic powers, made this point unanimously at their summit in Shanghai in February 2019. It has since been repeated by the IMF, the OECD, and other international organisations too.
  Thousands of international companies have their European bases in the UK; and now that Britain is no longer in the European Union, many have left or begun to leave, or at least move some or a significant part of their operations to a country that is in the EU, notably to France, Ireland and Germany.
  For years Britain was among the most popular parts of the EU for attracting inward investment; but now that the UK has left the EU, all that "get a foothold in the EU" investment will go elsewhere.

  There were some  "leave" campaigners who suggested that once Britain leaft the EU, the EU would be anxious to rapidly set up all sorts of sweet trade deals with the UK to replace the advantages of the single market that we will have left.
  This ideawas at best fanciful, at worst grossly misleading.
   Yes, a post Brexit British government will want to make sure that trade with Europeis not seriously impacted; the UK has a huge incentive for this. But Europe? Far less. A big fall in trade between the UK and Europe would indeed be massively damaging for the UK, since the EU takes over 40% of UK exports; but for the E.U. the impact will be far less, since only 6% of EU exports go to Britain.  It would be very painful and costly for a post-Brexit UK government to slap on new import duties on goods from the EU; but it would be fairly easy for the EU to slap on new duties on goods from the UK. In the event, the "deal" agreed in December 2020 has made sure that this will not happen.... on most trade: but not on all trade, as UK manufacturers and traders began to discover from 1st January 2021

   It is just wishful-thinking, a foray into the world of politics-fiction, to imagine that a Brexit will somehow give Britain back a kind of sovereignty and freedom that will let her government rapidly negotiate great new bilateral trade deals with Europe and other countries too, so that we all live happily, more prosperously, and more sovereignly ever after. That's the stuff of fairy-tales, not of history.

The conclusion 

  It is just an illusion to imagine that Britain will be better off by leaving the EU than by remaining in.  It is an illusion to imagine that leaving the EU will solve, or even start to solve, the problems of the day, or that it will somehow restore Britain's sovereignty in an increasingly networked world.
   As Prime Minister David Cameron was at pains to point out, Britain on its own carries little weight on the world stage. Britain, as a leading and respected pillar of the European Union, carried a lot more clout and influence.  

The demographics of Brexit

Among ordinary voters, who wanted to stay in and who wanted to leave the EU?

In short, about a third of the British population was undecided; but younger voters and better educated voters were more likely to vote for Britain to remain in the EU

Data from the British Election Study (Waves 4 and 6) were analyzed by Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo for a Chatham House Europe Programme briefing in December 2015. (Link).
The demographics of support for or opposition to Britain leaving Europe is summarised in this table. Percentages of respondents.
Category Britain should remain IN the European Union UNDECIDED Britain sould LEAVE the European Union
By age
18 - 34 42 37 31
35 - 54 30 36 33
55 + 29 28 43
By education : left school at
16 or under 22 33 45
17 - 18 30 38 32
19 or higher 45 31 24

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Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson... the figurehead of the "leave" campaign

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