There may be much that I don’t like about the European Union; the lack of accountability among MEPs – no one knows who their MEPs are – and the ridiculous waste of time and money caused by the European Parliament moving from Brussels to Strasbourg for a week each month are immense frustrations; the Euro is a disaster and we are fortunate not to be part of the Schengen area.
But Britain is no longer the sick man of Europe, as it was when I first arrived in the 1980s. The transformation has been remarkable. Our cumulative GDP growth rate has been hugely affected since the start of the single market, reaching 62%, compared with Germany’s 35%. We are the fifth largest economy in the world and the EU has helped us to get where we are.
Yet I will be voting to remain in the EU on June 23.
The “Vote Leave” campaign has failed to make an adequate case for leaping into the unknown and has instead run a campaign that can be stripped down to ten claims, all of them bogus.
It started with a TV advertisement that should have been rejected by the Advertising Standards Authority, claiming the UK pays £350 million to the EU every week.
This is utter nonsense. Not only do we receive a rebate equal to more than half of our contribution, but Brexit could trigger a recession, wiping four times that value from our economy.
After this, the first bogus Brexit claim is about our loss of sovereignty. What loss of sovereignty? We are not part of the euro; we are not part of the Schengen agreement; we measure our roads in miles and drink our beer in pints. We have total sovereignty.
And we have democracy. The EU Commission is appointed by elected representatives from each country, and there are elected Members of the EU Parliament. And we have a referendum on our membership of the EU right here, right now, here in the UK. Where is the lack of democracy?
The third bogus Brexit claim is that EU regulations cost British businesses £600 million a week, a figure that Douglas Carswell, Michael Gove and his co-conspirators have plucked from thin air.
There are many EU regulations we may not like, but many of them are to our benefit. For example, they protect workers’ rights and high industry safety standards. The largest barriers to business are the UK’s own staggeringly complex and ever-expanding taxation system, our planning and housing regulations. These are self-inflicted burdens for which the government of the day, and not the EU, are to blame.
The fourth bogus Brexit claim concerns migration. The UK government and Michael Gove himself have a target of reducing migration to the tens of thousands.
Immigration has brought enormous benefits to this country over the decades. Surveys of British social attitudes show the Polish community, for example, is highly respected, and seen for their extensive contribution to our economy.
And with one of the highest levels of employment on record and one of the lowest unemployment levels ever, in practical terms, we have full employment. Barely any of the 3 million migrants in the UK take advantage of our welfare state. They are young, and therefore do not use public services. They contribute five times more than they take out and in fact they are helping keep our public services running.
Brexit bogus claim number five is that we could negotiate more trade deals, worth greater value, if we left the EU. The reality is that our inward investment would dry up and London would cease to be the number one financial centre in the world. Some 60% of companies operating in the EU have their headquarters in the UK, making us Europe’s largest recipient of inward investment by far, yet it would be foolish to believe this would continue, were we to leave the largest single market in the world.
We are not a superpower, but we are a global power, and sitting at the top table of the world – the UN Security Council, the G7, G8, G20, NATO and the EU – is essential. We are a big fish in a big pond. If we were to leave the EU, we would become a tiddler in a giant ocean.
Brexit bogus claim number six is that our share of trade with the EU has been falling. That is quite obviously because we are trading more with emerging markets, but the EU still accounts for 44% of our exports and 55% of our imports. It is too big to jeopardise.
Brexit bogus claim number seven is that there will be further integration, leading to a superstate, and we will be dragged into EU bailouts. There will never be a United States of Europe. I come from India, a country that is a true federal state. Europe will never look like that. The prime minister’s negotiations have ensured that we are not committed to further unification and bailouts in the future.
Brexit bogus claim number eight is that there will be an EU army that will subsume the British Army. This is complete fantasy. This will never ever happen. It is also claimed that peace in Europe has been brought about by NATO. It has been brought about by NATO and the European Union.
Brexit bogus claim number nine is that Turkey will become a member of the EU and we will not be able to stop 75 million people coming here. Turkey is light years away from joining the European Union—this is scaremongering.
Lastly, Brexit bogus claim number 10 is that the EU is an economic mess, with youth unemployment up to 50% in countries such as Spain, Italy and France. These countries have been in a mess since 2008-09, when the financial crisis began.
We, on the other hand, because of our flexibility and control of our destiny, have thrived. Instead of boosting our economy, Brexit would threaten the unity of the United Kingdom by prompting another referendum on Scottish independence, but also we could be initiating the break-up of the whole EU.
There is an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” We are in control of our destiny and we have our sovereignty. If we Brexit, we will be sleep-walking over the cliffs of Dover into huge uncertainty and instability.
(Karan Bilimoria is founder and chairman of Cobra Beer, cross bench peer, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and founding chairman of the UK-India Business Council.)