June 23rd is the date in which we will finally be rid of the clumsy combination of “Britain” and “exit” that serves as the name for the collective campaigns for us to leave the EU. This alone, due to fear of once again having to deal with this word, should be adequate inspiration for our leaving of the European Union.
One of the first serious considerations we have to account for when approaching this discourse is trade, and whether or not they are adequate alternatives or additions. Close to the River Clyde, near Glasgow, stands the 150ft Titan Crane, surrounded by the abandoned memories of what once was a thriving local industrial ecosystem with worldwide trade implications. Amongst these implications were the continuous trade in Wool and dried fruits from Australia, butter from New Zealand, Steal from Canada, spices from India, Tobacco from the Americas and sugar from the Caribbean.
Indeed, the remarkable imperial nature of Glasgow’s past still maintains a legacy in street names such as Jamaica street, Plantation Square and India Quay.
And so, we have previously sat at the centre of the “kith and kin” commonwealth trading ecosystem, rather than seek a similar status at the centre of the European trading community, in a system named the “Imperial Preference.” In return, we exported the produce of what once was a great British industrial complex.
Coupled with the Titan crane is the site of the Singer sewing machine factory, which once incorporated over 17,000 people on its pay roll, along with the epicentre of John Brown Engineering at Clydebank leading to shipyards that launched ocean liners such as the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and the QE2.
Now, however, the Titan Crane stands as one of the only memories of another overlooked age of Imperial preference. What this age represented was a system of trade, in which its security was guaranteed by import tariffs and preferential trade agreements, casting a reflection of anti-European alliances and further commitments. Churchill himself made his view adequately clear when considering “If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, then she must always choose the open sea”. Nowadays the open sea should be interpreted as the BRIC economies.
After our interventions in the early 1940s , this trade system began to fall apart at a similar rate as the decline of the British Empire and, therefore, so did the city ports.
As we approached the 1970s, Liverpool was the second largest industrial port in the country, after London. Similar to the Clyde, the Mersey connected Britain to the wealth of the entire world and mostly did business with the current and former countries of the British empire. However, as a result of Edward Heath’s signing of the treaty of ascension (coming into force on New Year’s Day in 1973)—confirming Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community, Liverpool found that its geographical location lacked pragmatism when it came to European trade. Many of the old “kith and kin” companions did not appreciate the new expressions of pro-European amicability as the trade produce of Commonwealth countries faced import tariffs—a result of the new friendship with Europe.
The evolution of trade from the Empire to Europe changed the centre of the gravitational pull of British trade from the city ports of the west to the new fine trade ports of the south and east. A further implication of our new European membership was the acceleration of the decline of traditional British manufacturing and the incline of, what is now, arguably, our strongest export—the service based economy. The manufacturing that survived, though severely diminished, is now more closely integrated with European economies more than ever before. Gestamp Tallent, a Spanish-owned company, with plants in the north east and the midlands, has factories in 10 EU countries and a further 10 in non-EU countries. At the plant in county Durham, specialised parts for cars are made. It is fair to say that this plant is a good indictment of the 40 years of the EU membership. In 1980, seven years after our entry into the European Economic Community, it sported a turnover of around £3m a year only for this to increase tenfold, to £30m a year by 1990. Today, the sales of this particular plant exceed £200m a year.
Now, where is the market for the products produced by the county Durham plant? Two thirds go abroad to plants that are mostly within the EU where the cars are assembled. Only a third of what is made is sold to car plants in the UK.
Would a vote to leave the EU threaten economic activity like this? I think it is unrealistic to say that such trade will be negatively affected by our (if we have to use the term) Brexit. It will be in the interests of the other EU countries to go on trading with the UK—and in their interest that other nations can, and do, trade freely with Europe from outside the EU.
Having assessed the European implications of on our economy, and more specifically trade, the second largest issue associated with this debate is the security implications involved in Brexit.
The UK’s threat level is currently at “severe,” the second highest status on the scale, and the government sees a terrorist attack as “highly likely,” We are quite prominent in the Neanderthal mindset of IS with, it is predicted, over 2,000 individuals with Islamic state sympathies or terrorist connections living in this country. We have prevented a Parisian style attack in this country because of the nature of our intelligence and the nature of our borders.
September 2001 and the London Bombings of 2005 inspired reform in the intelligence community in this country. We broke down inter agency connections that lacked pragmatism and have removed “silos” that still exist in some of the European intelligence communities.
The old foreign policy rivalries have largely been set aside and yet, absurdly, in France and Belgium the police and intelligence agencies share little love yet alone intelligence. It is widely known that, for a Belgian police officer to find out what Belgian intelligence knows about a security threat, a Belgian police officer sometimes needs to learn of the threat from UK police, who, ironically, have learned of the threat from the Belgian intelligence.
Britain has something that is unique to continental European countries—a single coastline. Because we have not have not signed up to the Schengen open borders agreement, it is difficult for organised criminals to obtain the sort of armoury used in the Paris attacks. It has been admitted by senior EU counter terrorism officials, prior to the migrant crisis, that, despite the strengthening of the EU’s external borders, once weapons of this kind have crossed over from the Balkans, there was very little that can be done to prevent them crusading across Europe.
Furthermore, our strongest intelligence relationships are with countries that are outside of the EU. These nations make up the “five eyes” intelligence community consisting of the UK, Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand, along with having strong ties with the intelligence communities in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, one could argue that leaving the EU will not have a negative effect of the security capabilities of the country. However, we have been subjected to situations in which the security of our nation has been threatened by EU laws. It was, under EU law, illegal for us to deport Abu Qatada, a threat to national security, because of the fear that his trial in Jordon would include evidence obtained by torture. This links amicably with a further fear that the “in” campaign has with Brexit. This is the fear that we will repeal our human rights legislation. I severely doubt that a country that has socialised medicine would immediate bin their liberal values upon Brexit. Furthermore, one may remember that at the beginning of the current parliament it was proposed that we repeal the human rights act. This was justly and swiftly met with immediate defeat in parliament and so our human rights worries would not be ones that are worth dutiful consideration.
Arguably the most controversial issue surrounding the whole debate is the problem of immigration. The world is a bigger place. Globalisation is occurring and now transportation is easier. Net immigration levels being bigger than the Huguenot wave is almost inevitable. The migration of 50,000 Huguenots occurred over a period of 100 years. Today, we let in more than 620,000 people per year. In the seventies, long term migration from European member states was, on average, around 20,000 per year. By the nineties, this number had gone up to 60,000 and in 2014 it was 251,000. It would not be unfair to argue that this is not sustainable.
From Jewish migration to Windrush, to the Asian migration in the seventies and eighties, immigrant communities have integrated and made this country a better place. This is not an attempt to place blame, stigmatise or discourage people from coming to our country and trying to create a better life. However we do have an unsustainable system in place.
One could aim to amend this by firstly removing the passports of those who fight alongside terrorist groups and, should they successfully leave the country, deny them entry upon return. Secondly, we should close our open borders with Europe and adopt a points based system designed to make a fair system for commonwealth countries along with ensuring that we have enough skilled workers.
This journey does not have to be lonely. This country has survived and, arguably, seen its best days in a non-EU binding security, trade and immigration environment. Despite its aesthetically unpleasant sound, ‘Brexit’ represents our ability to recapture our sovereignty. We have defeated far greater threats, from European countries, to our sovereignty. Haven’t we had enough?