Tuesday, 18 August 2015

About that EU budget contribution...

Since the message isn't sinking in, I'll make this a short post. Looking at Twitter, Brexiteers are making some stupid unforced errors. Some in the No campaign keep making fantastical claims as to what we could spend our EU budget contributions on. Ukip thinks we can spend it on schools and hospitals. Business for Britain asserts that the cost of Britain’s membership could provide every UK household with an extra £933 a year. This is absurd.

There is a logical inconsistency here. One recurring argument the Yes campaign makes is that Brexit leads to the disintegration of academic co-operation. We know this isn't true because Norway etc are participants in Erasmus and Horizon 2020. But that does not come without making some contribution to the EU budget. Similarly we are promising no disruption to trade by way of single market access. Be it the Norway option or the Swiss option, we still end up participating in EU programmes, and we still are still involved in the creation of single market rules - which is not an inexpensive activity.

Additionally, there will be many areas of administrative and technical cooperation which all parties will want to continue - including agricultural subsidies, even if we repatriate them. Some of the more high profile ones include Europol and Eurocontrol, the latter taking in the development of the Single European Sky.

There is also the question of continued membership of intergovernmental bodies such as the European Space Agency, and whether the UK will want to run with projects such as the Galileo global positioning system, in which it has a heavy financial investment. The UK may also want to participate in interregional programmes under the EU's Regional Policy and take part in the activities of EU agencies.

More than this, as members we have made future commitments and we have signed contracts and leases going into well beyond 2025. We have yet to define the terms of withdrawal, but there is no possibility of it being free of cost - and we have yet to decide the programmes in which we will continue participation. 

In short, we cannot on the one hand be making reassurances of continuity of market access and at the same time say we're going to spend the money in other ways. Do we expect all future co-operation to come for free? That is the subtext of our message presently. If we want to win we are going to need grown up and rational arguments and if our side lacks economic credibility then there is no chance of leaving the EU. 

It's not about cost either. If Brexit turned out to be a bit more expensive or the about same, would we still want to leave? Of course we would, because it's not wholly an economic argument. It's about our place in the world and it's about democracy. If it's about the price of bread then we might as well pack up now. It's not a credible argument and in reality we can't say how much it would save. Moreover, some of our contributions are worth the money and not everything about the EU is bad. Blind and irrational loathing of the EU gets us nowhere. It's time to get a grip. Now.

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