Is a Brexit worth the risk?

Words, Benedict Smith

The EU referendum. It’s the conversation that’s dividing friends, family and the entire nation. Everybody’s talking about it. Where do you stand? Brexit? Remain? Or, with just a few days to go are you still swaying back and forth?

The polls are inconclusive, a hair’s breadth in it. As it stands, the UK will remain Europe by the skin of its teeth. 44% of the UK want in, 43% out, but it’s the undecided 13% who could have the final say come the 23rd June.

Just how much more toing and froing will take place before we head to the polling stations? And more importantly, how much more can we take? Such uncertainty can’t be good for the blood pressure of the nation, that’s for sure.

I’m sat firmly ‘in’. And my mind was probably made up before I’d taken much notice of the referendum media eating up our timelines.

I’d like to think that in the 21st century we’ve reached a point where Europe can unite, not split. Call it romantic, naïve even, but that’s my line of thinking as we enter the final straight.

I’m not voting entirely with my heart though. I’ve done my research. After all, this is a decision that’s going to affect the rest of my life. Unlike older voters, the reality is that I’ll be around to live through whatever happens.

My morning coffee was spent listening to Liverpool Law School’s Professor Michael Dougan shed light on the EU – a debate that’s become tangled in myths, lies and make-believe, from both sides I might add. So if you’re still undecided, check out the video below. It’s a far better analysis of the situation than I’ll ever be able to make. 

I get the feeling that nobody really knows what the plan of action is if the UK left the EU. What happens to the free movement of people, goods and money? Access to the world’s biggest single market? The 3million EU nationals living in the UK? Hey, I don't know. But worryingly, I’m not so sure the ‘Leave’ camp do either.

If the UK votes to leave the EU this week, we can only be sure of one thing: uncertainty. A Brexit would leave one big, dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over the UK. It’s unavoidable. Sure, uncertainty can be opportunity in disguise. But leaving the EU is a gamble, and one without any clear plan of action. 

If the UK is, “one of the leading powers in one of the most important organisations on the planet.” Why leave? To become a bigger player in the global business community, free from stifling European regulation and able to trade with whoever, whenever, wherever? That’s the dream, right?

And it sounds great. Kiss goodbye to Europe and do business exactly on our terms, with anyone we want. A clean break. The one step backwards, two steps forward approach.

Not quite. Leaving the EU will also terminate all current trade agreements with countries outside Europe. All agreements were made with and through the EU. “Back to square one” as Professor Michael Dougan bluntly puts it.

Brexit’s most famous campaigner, Boris Johnson, wants something similar to Canada’s agreement with Europe. Free trade deals, while maintaining control of our borders. But is this realistic? Or just some utopian day-dream? The latter if you ask me. 

David Cameron was first to criticise Boris’s dream as just that: ‘wishful thinking’. And with a Canada style deal, the UK could be looking at seven years of business uncertainty. Seven years!? Sorry Boris, I’m with the PM on this one.

And for all his faults, the Prime Minister doesn’t make a bad case about staying in either.

“Let us remember, this isn’t some abstract question. These are actually people’s jobs, people’s livelihoods, people’s life chances, people’s families we are talking about. I say: don’t put them at risk, don’t take this leap in the dark.”

He’s right. The effects of leaving the EU will trickle-down right through to me and you. The super-rich aside, uncertainty affects everyone. Our mortgage, pension, savings, holidays, phone bill and the one thing that makes all of this possible – our jobs.

The future of work. Our jobs. Our livelihood’s. It’s what so much of this debate boils down to. Because without a job you aren’t buying that house, saving money, holidaying in Majorca or upgrading to the new iPhone.

So, will a Brexit affect UK jobs? A poll asking 1433 people hasn’t thrown up anything particularly telling. 37% don’t think a UK break-away will affect their job, 35% think otherwise, while a big old 28% just don’t know. With divided opinion and a whole lot of not knowing, the stand-out theme of the EU referendum is – surprise surprise- uncertainty. Again, is it really worth it?

PWC have come out firing. A Brexit could end up costing the economy £100bn and the small matter of 950,000 jobs by 2020. Forget uncertainty, leaving the European Union sounds like economic suicide to me.

Sure, these are just predictions. Educated ones at that. But still predictions. Does PWC have business interests in remaining in the EU? Of course. But who hasn’t?  

I’m not saying we’ll all be jobless in four years if the UK decides to leave. But without a clear plan of action given to us or much more than a chucked together fag packeted idea, who’s to say that we’ll benefit from packing our bags and leaving? 

Boris and Farage and the rest of the Brexit Camp would, naturally. But with exit negotiations that take years, I can't imagine we'd feel any benefit for quite some time.

Even if rumours of a year-long post Brexit recession are a little wide of the mark, there’s no secret the UK economy would suffer straight away. A dip in economic confidence is all but guaranteed. And it’s no secret that smallest firms get the brunt of a slump. From freelancers and contractors, to micro and small businesses, there’s 4.6million self-employed people in the UK. Are they willing to risk leaving the EU? We’ll soon find out…

A Brexit would mean freelancers working across Europe will come up against more red-tape headaches and time-consuming regulation. Along with a visa application, anyone working in an EU country will need to prove their business will benefit the country they’re working in.

In context, I could be drinking coffee, writing this in Barcelona sun. I wouldn’t need a visa or a special permit to work there. I wouldn’t even need a visa to live there. Think we’d still have the same free movement of people if we were to leave the EU? Think again. The barriers to business would simply grow.

And if I was a German company, would I go through the headache and hassle of hiring a UK freelancer? No chance. I’d simply hire talent inside the EU – faster and for less.

The EU isn’t perfect. Far from it. But it creates jobs, opportunity and in turn wealth. I believe in it. And what’s more, can we really justify the risk of a petulant exit? Because if the UK were to leave, there’s no going back...

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