To leave or not to leave – that is the question


The EU is in the news and is likely to stay there for many months to come.

My relationship with Europe as a political issue started way back when I was 11 years old. It was 1975 and my school organised a debate on the referendum to decide the future of Britain’s membership of what was then called the Common Market. I spoke for the NO campaign.

After reading my carefully prepared speech, my Father said he would turn me into a politician. I supposed he succeeded.

More than 40 years later we approach another referendum and I have to say I am undecided. It’s been a bit of a journey though!

As a left wing Labour activist in the early 80’s, I supported the then party policy of immediate withdrawal of what was by then called the EEC. As time passed I came to accept the inevitability of our membership and as a trade union official I saw some of the benefits of the social chapter first hand. Then I witnessed the failed experiment with the single currency and the terrible effects on southern Europe.

As an internationalist I am in favour of the principle of European cooperation, but on the other hand I don’t like the sprawling bureaucracy that the EU has become. Reform is clearly needed but where is the progressive case for it?

The contemporary NO campaign has shades of the Little Englander about it, but the YES campaigns launched by both Labour and the Lib Dems appear to be saying we stay in at all costs. Why didn’t they wait to see the results of the government’s renegotiation first?

A part of me wants to sign up to the party campaign because those whom I greatly respect politically are enthusiastically getting behind it. However, at the moment I don’t feel able to commit.

So for now I will remain on the fence and continue to follow the ongoing debate closely, waiting to be convinced.


* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Feb '16 - 12:50pm

    This is excellent David.

    as someone two or three years younger than you , who became interested in politics very young, it is interesting the journey we have been on.As far as our own party tendencies , I am as near to Eurosceptic as our party has without being for withdrawl.I agree with your reasons.

    Yet I am for staying in and for greater reform. More democracy,flexibility,and cultural rapport. We must ,in my view see Cameron as a friend on this , his approach is a pragmatic , but committed one, and he has made the best of what he could.Room for agreement.

    I think the fence is not a good place for someone of substance.How about coming down and joining with those of us pruners in the garden, keen to get rid of the weeds and yet for much more of an organic garden!

  • Good points. I’m very much on the fence: instinctively anti-establishment, appalled by the EU’s democratic deficit (which is not an endorsement of the UK’s own system), unhappy that our membership obliges us to put Europe ahead of everywhere else… and yet… repulsed by the motley crew lining up at the front of the leave campaign, alarmed that a vote to leave could be the best possible outcome for Boris Johnson’s nefarious ambitions, frankly terrified that on our own we’ll tear up vital human rights accords, employee protections and use this as carte blanche to target migrants, etc.

    I’m disappointed but not surprised that the Lib Dem leadership presumes we all want to remain. There was a worthwhile debate to be had.

  • Problem is that everyone knows the EU needs reforming, everyone talks about but nothing ever happens.

    Would anyone do business with an organisation that hasn’t had it accounts signed off for 20 years ?

  • Stewart is “disappointed but not surprised that the Lib Dem leadership presumes we all want to remain. There was a worthwhile debate to be had.”

    Agreed. We used to be at least constructive critics of the EU. We should have set out what changes we wanted from the EU prior to the PM’s negotiation and then savaged him over the thin gruel (thanks, J R-M) he has returned with. Not a bit of it. Just activist/metropolitan bubblethink, sneering at the Outers, whether campaigners or the public and a blind assumption that we’ll all just leaflet and canvass for In. No chance. I think we like the EU because it makes the UK Government do things we approve of but that we know the British public won’t vote for. Very Liberal. Very democratic. Not.

  • I recognise the discomfort with party leaderships that just say “the EU is great and leaving would result in disaster” when the case is much more nuanced. I believe we are better in the EU, but I am expecting both the In and out campaigns to be hyperbolic and put off most voters by making ridiculous wild claims in opposite directions.

    If the last European elections showed anything pure positivity look slike religious fervour and not good public policy. All international bodies we are members of have issues to varying degrees (EU, WTO, NATO, UN etc. and to a certain extent the UK itself) but the benefits outweigh the costs so we should stay in them, however not be afraid to criticise them.

    Success in this should come from rational objective argument, but it will be lost in hyperbole from both sides.

  • Presumably we will accept the result (we have Democrat in our title after all) but make a case – in due course – that rejoining would be in the national interest.

    If the EU would have us!

    But we would be very foolish to do it too keenly, nor too soon.

  • john knight 22nd Feb '16 - 6:44pm

    My attitude is that of a critical friend. The EU needs to be more democratic which would mean more power to the European Parliament. I think the bureaucracy criticisms have been overblown I believe there are more Local Government Officers in Birmingham than bureaucrats in Brussels! There is an emotional attachment to the EU in parts of Europe partially because there has been no fighting within the EU borders since the inception of the EU.

  • 4 minute U-tube video explains 3 possible scenarios that would impact the UK if we leave the EU.

    I like the simplicity of the message.
    Is the information in the video accurate?

  • Denis Loretto 23rd Feb '16 - 5:33pm

    Some of the people who would regard themselves as progressives and lean towards Brexit seem to me to be looking at too trivial a level – bureacracy and that sort of thing, or failure to be radical enough.

    Last night I heard ex Governor Howard Dean speaking at Chatham House. His subject was not Europe but he made a point of saying that he considered the European Union as one of the most remarkable achievements in world history. He set its achievements against not only the centuries of internal wars between major European nations but also the break-up of the Soviet Union rapidly followed by the welcoming of so many of its former vassal states into the peace and increasing prosperity of the EU. For the UK as one of the EU’s leading nations to contemplate leaving it he considered almost beyond belief albeit he was careful to say that the citizens of the UK must have their right to decide respected.

    Whatever the shortcomings of the present EU setup, to use exiting as a way to address them makes no sense to me whatsoever. “Progressives who lean towards Brexit” should remember what Dora Gaitskell said when her husband leant in the same direction back in 1962 – “the wrong people are cheering”.

  • Denis Loretto 23rd Feb '16 - 5:48pm

    I have just noticed above that someone called John has come up with the tired old comment – “Would anyone do business with an organisation that hasn’t had it accounts signed off for 20 years ?”
    Here is the truth –
    Every year the EU budget is audited by the independent European Court of Auditors. Every year for the past eight years the Auditors have signed off the accounts as being reliable and accurate. And every year, British media have claimed that the EU accounts haven’t been passed by the auditors at all.
    For example the European Court of Auditors stated, when presenting their report for 2013, their conclusion that the 2013 accounts present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the EU and its results for the year. As well as the opinion on the accounts, the ECA is also required to give an opinion – based on its audit testing – on whether the underlying payments were made in accordance with EU rules. They said “For 2013, the estimated level of error in these transactions was again too high at 4.7% for the ECA to give a clean opinion on the regularity of expenditure.”
    But – and it really is a big but – the ECA made the point that the blame mostly rests with member states who made incorrect claims for EU funding in the first place. The ECA concluded that “for a large proportion of the errors found, national authorities had sufficient information available to have detected and corrected many of them before claiming reimbursement from the Commission. This could have significantly reduced the error rate.”
    It should be noted that all government accounts across the world have a percentage of managerial errors. For example, in some recent years, the US government accounts had error rates higher than 5% – worse than the EU. In the UK, some government department budgets have error rates bigger than the EU budget. For example, according to the National Audit Office, Housing Benefit error has increased to 5.8%.
    It is also a fact that the EU budget is always balanced, so there is no debt or deficit.

  • David Warren 23rd Feb '16 - 6:05pm

    Thanks for all the comments.

    Politics is clearly going to be interesting again between now and June 23rd.

  • David. I wish 16 year olds could have had a vote too for many reasons.
    Michael Howard’s positive reasons for leaving have been the best I have heard from the out campaigners. It was on Radio 4 this morning just before 8am.
    Yes, politics is exciting and being discussed again more widely.

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