A couple of months ago, the French Tricolore flag flew over St Clere during some filming. I felt profoundly uncomfortable; I am proudly, emphatically patriotic when it comes to our nation and St Clere’s place in it.
On the day the referendum was announced, I was firmly sitting on the fence. To begin with my only certainty was that we shouldn’t be having a referendum about something as important and complex as this, we pay our government to make those decisions. But a referendum it is and I wanted to make sure I voted the right way, looking at facts rather than headlines. For the past decades I’ve enjoyed a little internal snark about the bloated European institutions and bossy legislation about bananas and felt no real loyalty or connection to the EU. But having dug around, read around and listened around over the past few months I have gradually leant further and further and then leapt off the fence and am now proudly, emphatically, patriotically in the Remain camp, so much so that I want to shout it from the roof top (which is sort of what I am doing here!) If you want to have a dig for yourself, this is a very useful website; https://fullfact.org/europe
So what swung me? Well, the more I dug, the more I felt most of my irritations about Europe were, well, wrong. These were the swing points.
Migrant Crisis – As much as I’d like to blame the massively worrying problem of the migrant crisis on the EU, it is from countries outside the EU that these lorry-loads and boat-loads come. They get to Europe on their way to the UK so our problem is a fraction of what it would be if we were outside the EU. There’s no point thinking we can control our ports to stop those who want to reach the UK entering illegally, there are literally thousands of landing areas on the south coast of England. This is not something we want to face alone.
Stupid, bossy legislation from Brussels – It turns out that the vast majority of that legislation comes from the World Trade Organisation. Britain currently deals with the WTO through the EU, hence the legislation which the WTO requires comes to us from the EU. If we were on our own and wanted to trade internationally we would have no choice but to sign up to the WTO legislation anyway so there would be no less stupid bossy legislation. In fact, our lawmakers would need to spend the next few decades re-negotiating and re-writing all that legislation into our national laws rather than focusing on the huge challenges that face us as a nation.
The Expansion of the EU – yes it feels unfair for some of the weaker countries on the outskirts of Europe to be in the EU under the same terms as the huge contributors. However in these worrying times, would I rather that Turkey, Greece, Croatia etc were turning somersaults to try to please the EU and comply with their stupid bossy legislation about democracy and human rights? Or would I rather they were excluded from the EU zone and be ripe picking for less democratic forces on their other borders?
Might UK trade better alone? Trade nowadays is unbelievably complex; the EU is currently completing six years, and thousands of hours of negotiating with Canada on a trade agreement. The thought of the UK spending the next years/decades negotiating individual trade agreements with every country they need to trade with, when there are already those agreements up and running, seems utterly ridiculous.
I have also been lucky enough to speak to a number of people who understand global economics substantially better than I do and who come from different places on the political and geographic landscape. They all seem to have spoken to me with one voice; the UK is facing a serious prospect of a further recession. There is a chance that steps can be taken to prevent that likelihood becoming a reality. That chance fades substantially if the country votes to Leave in the referendum.
Finally, I’ve learnt over time that the best way of making difficult decisions is to listen to the advice of the best possible team. On the Remain team is the Governor of the Bank of England (quick aside; two of his predecessors owned St Clere), the head of the International Monetary Fund, the CBI (which represents British businesses) and President Obama. On the leave team is President Putin, Boris Johnson and please-God-not-President-Trump. It’s just no contest.
If we Remain, I have real hope for St Clere’s economic future. We are doing lots of business, our farming subsidy helps mitigate against the dreadful wheat prices, companies and individuals seem to be spending more money which benefits our business. We’ve taken on new employees and we are investing in the estate which shows how positive we are about the future. The uncertainty of Leaving is a huge worry for us.
So, from on-the-fence to pinning-my-flag-to-the-mast in a few months. I’m seriously considering raising an EU flag over St Clere until 23rd June. Do you think I should?