Crexit or cremain? Should the people of Croydon vote to leave the EU?

By - Monday 9th May, 2016

In Croydon’s interests and in our country’s, Charles Barber will be voting to stay

On Thursday 23rd June, the British public and the people of Croydon will make a decision with long-lasting and difficult-to-predict consequences. Whether to leave or remain is one of the most complicated decisions that we, as a people, have ever been asked to make.

The reason that I’ll be ticking the box that says ‘stay’ perhaps says more about how I wish Britain to be viewed by the rest of the world than it does about my detailed analysis of the economic advantages and disadvantages of taking such a decision. Yet I do believe that choosing to stay as part of one the world’s biggest trading blocks will give us a better chance of improving both the economy and the life chances of ourselves and our children. The EU’s free trade area and the free movement of people, together with regulations that at least try to give some protection to workers’ rights, give businesses a great opportunity to find new markets right on our doorstep.

We could choose to leave and negotiate a model similar to that which Norway has in its relationship to the EU, but we should be aware that Norway itself has found it prudent to accept the free market and free movement of people. It also pays the EU lots of money and accepts many EU regulations whilst having no say whatsoever in its policies. And those who believe that Brexit will curb immigration might be interested to learn that Norway has recorded a higher rate of immigration than the UK in the last few years.

It is easy to point to over-regulation from Brussels as a reason for leaving the EU. However, in a recent conversation with a pro-Brexit friend, he seemed close to arguing for reduced regulation so that we could provide inferior goods and services. If we wish to compete in the modern world, then surely raising standards to improve health and safety and efficiency is to our advantage?

You never get everything that you want, but leaving the negotiating table in a huff will reduce us in the eyes of the international community

I am sure that there are some unnecessary and unhelpful EU regulations, but this doesn’t mean that they all are. In a more complex, fast- changing world, the opportunity to make joint decisions over such matters as climate change, crime and terrorism is also one that I would prefer to be a part of. The EU has made and will probably continue to make mistakes, but it does offer its members the chance to come together and find solutions to shared problems. Leaving the negotiating table in a huff at not getting our own way in everything will lower us in in the eyes of international community and have a negative impact on our trade, diplomatic and cultural relations with other countries. Many of them view the current uncertainty with incredulity.

We hear a lot about sovereignty, but it’s always been a relative business. No country has complete sovereignty over its own affairs and we are all tied together in regional and international agreements. We make them because we consider it good for us. No-one, for example, brings up the question of sovereignty over our membership of NATO, yet in the hopefully unlikely circumstance that Russia invades Estonia, we would be legally obliged to go to its defense.

Brexit will encourage the belief that simple, nationalist solutions exist when problems are really global

The EU is far from perfect and needs to be both democratised and reformed. But it came into being after the devastation of the Second World War, when a group of countries decided to get together to cooperate, in the hope that this would both aid prosperity and help to keep the peace. It has not always been an easy journey: the aftermath of the global financial crisis and a major influx of refugees and immigrants present serious challenges. But long-term, the project of peace and stability has been a successful one.

There is a worrying rise of far right parties across Europe, and I fear that Brexit will only encourage people to think there are simple, nationalist solutions to global problems. I think that many people who believe that we can thrive and prosper outside of the EU are living in the past, swayed by visions of a mercantile British empire that we no longer possess.

So: what about Croydon?

At a time when Croydon is developing its own Tech City, to appear to turn our backs on the European market could surely reduce the project’s chances of success. And it’s not just in the tech field that strong trading relationships matter. If Croydon wants to be a truly vibrant city on the fringe of London, South London’s ‘capital‘ and ‘economic powerhouse‘, it makes little sense to marginalise ourselves or to place ourselves outside of this major trading block. I urge my fellow Croydonians to ensure that Britain can play a full role in fashioning a new, modern Europe of democratic countries that largely share the same values and concerns as we do.

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

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  • Anne Giles

    Hear! Hear!

  • Bob_G

    I’m personally all in favour of a European free trade area, along with the regulations required to ensure consistent quality standards. However the EU is rapidly changing into an undemocratic federal state. If we hate what the people running Croydon council are up to, we can kick them out (and often do). If we hate what the people running the UK are up to, we can kick them out (and frequently do). If we hate the way the EU’s council of ministers run the UK, then the best we can do is pack the PM off to beg for a few minor and time-limited concessions. I love Europe, and think EFTA & the EEA aren’t too bad, and even the much derided (non-EU) ECHR is probably worth sticking with, but we need to escape the EU now. This is our last chance.

    • Charles Barber

      The EU Council of Ministers do not run the UK and the EU is not turning into an undemocratic federal state. I agree that there is sometimes a difficult balance to be struck between the regulations of the E.U. and those of nation states but nation states still have sovereignty. Greece could vote to leave the E.U. and renege on all its debts but, despite all its economic problems, it hasn’t yet chosen to do so. The E.U has many failings and I suspect it was a mistake to create the Euro, but it has also helped to create a more democratic, tolerant Europe. The current rise of far right nationalist parties in Europe has far more to do with the global economic meltdown of 2008, than with the E.U. . I fear if we do decide to leave the E.U. , we will be even more at the mercy of the worst aspects of corporate capitalism, than if we stay. When I look at all the politicians that are so keen for us to leave, I feel my rights are in far much more danger, if they become the leaders of our country.

      • Chris Mendes

        About the EU Council of Ministers, you are clearly unaware that a) it mostly works on the basis of Qualified Majority Voting, and b) since 1996 we have opposed new laws on 55 occasions and have lost 55 times. These decisions result in the overruling of British law and policy making which is not in our interest and against the will of us and our democratically elected representatives.

        Furthermore, saying that a country is still “sovereign” because it can at any time leave the EU – is like saying that we are a Republic because we could at any time abolish the monarchy. What an asinine argument.

        By rushing to the defence of national sovereignty whilst advocating EU membership you have spectacularly demonstrated that you don’t understand the EU at all. I would refer you to Francois Hollande’s speech to the EU Parliament for example where he spoke to a standing ovation about replacing national sovereignty with European sovereignty, and that more and more integration was the way forward.

        In short, as the Vote Leave Area Co-Ordinator for Croydon South, I could argue for us to stay in the EU better than you could, and would therefore recommend to fellow readers not to refer to you as a source of advice.

        • Charles Barber

          Thanks for all your kind words, Chris. The idea of absolute sovereignty is, I fear a bit of an illusion. You mean the majority decision wins the day when you talk about the Council of Ministers, which sounds reasonably democratic to me. Presumably we haven’t disagreed with all the new laws that the Council of Ministers have introduced, and sadly I do not share your conviction that our current government’s position is always in the interest of the majority of citizens. It is interesting to note that we didn’t support the EU members that wanted to put more restrictions on China dumping its subsidised cheap steel into the European market.
          As Vote Lave Area Co-ordinator for central Croydon, I would have thought you would have had enough faith in your own supporters to let them make up their own minds.

          • Chris Mendes

            Sovereignty is an illusion? O’dear. Well it’s clear where you stand then and which category you are in. Most people on the Remain side argue that yes there’s a “democratic deficit” as it’s known in the EU and yes we yield sovereignty, but the supposed benefits x and y are worth it.

            People like yourself on the other hand overreach beyond credibility and choose to live in a dream world by pretending that there is no such trade-off because the EU is a democratic institution and that “sovereignty is an illusion”.

            What world are you living in? Is Japan not a sovereign state without needing to join China and share law and policy making? Is Canada not a sovereign state without needing to join the US? Is New Zealand not a sovereign state without needing to join Australia?

            No. Sovereignty is not an illusion and the loss of it is what undermines democracy.

            When you have a grievance of some kind that relates to a particular law for example, you can meet with your democratically elected local MP and if you are right he will act on your behalf and its his or her job to achieve as much as possible in Parliament.

            But if the law relates to an EU law, democracy smashes into a brick wall. It cannot be changed. The only way an EU law or regulation can be changed is if the unelected EU Commission chooses to.

            Democracy only works when you know who your representatives are, and nobody knows who any of these people are, let alone being able to vote for them or vote to remove them.

            For you to state “sounds reasonably democratic to me” shows everybody reading how little you know about or value the importance of democracy.

            Do not try to pretend that the EU is democratic or that sovereignty is not important, you will only succeed is making yourself look even more foolish that you do already.

    • Chris Mendes

      Well said Bob. I commend you for recognising the deliberate lack of democracy throughout the core of the EU, unlike the author of this ill-considered article and subsequent comments below has demonstrated.

      Moving away from democracy and onto an area where there’s perhaps a friendly disagreement, is the matter of the free trade area.

      A more accurate description of the EU with respect to trade, wouldn’t actually be “free trade area” as that’s a loose term and such areas do exist outside the EU.

      The EU, political union aside, is a highly protectionist customs union. Yes it has a tariff free area inside, but it’s important to remember the extortionately high external tariff barrier that sits around the EU, protecting it from the outside world.

      We argue that this is not a good idea, and that the business case for big businesses and corporations advocating that we stay in the EU who are recipients of the very protection that the customs union provides, is not the same as our economic interest as citizens and as a country.

      One of the consequences of being in a protectionist customs union is that everything is bought and sold and highly inflated prices. The same goods are sold outside the EU for much lower prices.

      If we leave the EU and become a global free trader, the market for commercial goods and services suddenly expands beyond the region, and on day one we immediately switch from EU prices to world prices – and the cost of living for consumers like us immediately goes down by 8%.

      I would recommend searching for ‘Economists for Brexit’ to find out more.

      In short, I oppose the EU on both political grounds as well as economic grounds, and I do not think that being a member of a highly protectionist customs union is in our best interests at all.

      You’ve only got to look at where the technological innovation in the world is today, it’s not in Europe, and look at countries like Switzerland and see how well they are doing as a free fully liberalised global market player outside such an old-fashioned 1950′s regional customs union.

  • Chris Mendes

    I don’t know where to begin. Your article proposing that we stay in the EU is amongst the most feeble that I have ever seen – full of argumentative nonsense and red herrings.

    For instance, to equate the lost sovereignty from 43 year old EU membership to the lost sovereignty as members of NATO is either a liberty or an act of incredible ignorance that cannot be allowed to pass.

    How many laws and regulations does NATO pass in its common Parliament to become the law of the land of member countries? How many common policies does it have like the EU does, such as agriculture, trade, fishing, commercial, criminal justice to name a few? How much money have we lost control of as a result of our membership?

    What on earth are you talking about?

    NATO is a military and foreign policy alliance because it is absolutely sensible to co-operate with friends and allies around the world. Nobody in Croydon is against the objective.

    To equate NATO with the EU – a political union from which 65% of our laws and regulations derive, led by 28 unelected commissioners proposing and implementing policy that nobody has ever heard of let alone voted for, and where we are locked into a world unique regional customs union the economics of which is high debatable in 2016 – is a self-discrediting argument that requires no further comment from me.

    I will be submitting an article of my own very shortly to counter this form of ill-considered and babyish argument.