Sunday, 8 November 2015

It is the biggest gamble voters will be involved in during my lifetime

Those who want us to leave the European Union have no answers as to what it will be like on the outside.

So changes to the EU – YES. Walking away - NO
Image by Ashley Morgan Photography
Last Wednesday, at the British Wool Marketing Board Annual Conference in Cardiff, I debated Europe – In or Out with an UKIP MEP, Stuart Agnew. On a show of hands I won the vote by something like 60/40.

What was apparent throughout the hour and a half of debating was that the MEP was rather effective at pointing out the problems within the European Union (EU) and also using facts to merely exploit peoples’ unhappiness with the current state of British politics. But when he was challenged as to what it would be like outside the EU the paucity of information and any notion of certainty about the future was noticeably lacking.

All the time I kept on asking him to tell the audience what was the future outside the EU going to be when it came to investment, economic growth, future for businesses such as agriculture, the rural economy and so on all the audience got were platitudes and vague generalities. When cornered he kept on resorting to some peculiar answer that the ‘people should be asking such questions of the Prime Minister’ almost as if raising such issues was nothing to do with UKIP’s Brexit campaign.

Of course no one can have any certainty whatsoever as to our future outside the EU so people who are listening to UKIP and other groupings like Britain First are taking a massive gamble with not just the country’s future but with their own future prospects as well. 

So if no-one can be certain why take such a leap in the dark? Why risk and place under    jeapordy what we know and have now? Come the day after the Referendum if the vote will be a Yes to stay in the EU then we know where we are.  Life goes on and some changes to our relationship might have been secured through negotiations. But should the vote be No and thereby leave the EU what then? There will be no going back.  Not like leaving a golf club, a political party or a relationship.

During the debate it became clear that despite all their bold assertions UKIP and the Euro-sceptics are not able to provide much certainty as to future options and prospects.
For sure it would be a messy and protracted exit. The Lisbon Treaty allows some 2 years or so for such an eventuality but the EU is not noted for arriving at quick decisions. Certainly in this situation and with 28 members states involved and a very wide range of agreements, protocols, trade agreements and other international relationships to sort out the exit negotiations between Britain and the EU are likely to go on for longer than that.

Consider the uncertainty and impact on investment, the financial markets, the value of sterling, business and commerce, the outflows of capital and labour and much more.

So what do we know?

Image by Ashley Morgan Photography

The UK is part of a market of 500 million people and we have Free Trade Agreements with 50 other countries. Half of what we sell some £226bn goes to the EU and 3 million jobs are linked to the trade with the 28 countries. In return over £26bn per year is invested in the UK by the EU countries. It is also calculated that because of the trading agreements on goods and services the savings per person amount to some £450 per year.

In Wales between 2007 and 2013 the EU Structural Fund is having a tangible effect on our quality of life. There has been an investment of over £1.9bn covering some 290 projects, representing £3.7bn of total project investment. This investment has helped to deliver important benefits for people, businesses, the environment, and communities. This investment has assisted over 190,000 people to gain qualifications and over 62,800 into work. In addition around 30,000 jobs have been created and over 10,400 enterprises supported. Already a further £2bn package of support has been agreed for the period up to 2020.

In agriculture, Wales has maintained its share of CAP funding as a result of strong engagement with CAP reform, with vital income support payments provided to 16,000 farm businesses across Wales. A recent study by Agra Europe outlined a worrying future for agriculture and the rural economy should Britain leave the EU. Currently the farming industry receives between £3.5bn and £4bn in financial support. In this report it is envisaged that according to the UK Government’s own figures outside the EU the level of support would fall to just over £1bn.

When I challenged Stuart Agnew about how will the UK Government continue to fund projects like the ones I have highlighted, the level of support for farming and the future of the current Rural Development Plans which support the rural economies and communities he just came up with the usual answer that everyone should seek information from the Prime Minister.
For weeks David Cameron has been under pressure from the other government of the EU to outline his specific renegotiation demands and in varied statements four or five areas seem to be emerging where he is seeking changes. They include, not being part of the move towards ‘ever closer union’; cutting regulations and increasing competitiveness; no additional discrimination or costs from the integration of the Eurozone; completing the single market and matters relating to social security, free movement and immigration.

Image by Ashley Morgan Photography

As he will set out the terms David Cameron will also this week indicate that he would not be afraid to advocate Britain leaving the EU if he does not get the changes he is after.  Such a threat is foolish in the extreme and is really not the best way to expect co-operation from the other EU countries. I am sure his message is more directed at the Eurosceptics in his own party and towards UKIP supporters. However Cameron needs to understand that neither of those groupings will be satisfied unless and until Britain does leave Europe. So if ever the Prime Minister will place party before country then Britain and the Union of the 4 nations will indeed come under severe threat and a very uncertain future.