I very much doubt that Britons want any advice from foreigners on whether Britain should leave or remain in the EU. However, I feel I feel duty-bound to offer my advice anyway. I have the right to.
My British Roots
I was born in Stockport, so am entitled to a British passport. My father lived over 25 years in the UK married an Englishwoman. I spend my holidays England, Wales and Scotland. I studied partly in London and my PhD was supervised by Peter Dicken, an Englishman from the University of Manchester. I studied the restructuring of the clothing industry in England, I have spoken to people in the industrial heartlands: Leicester, Oldham, Bradford and Stoke on Trent. My wife has an M.A. in English from Southampton. To add to my pedigree my Greatgrandmother Gladys Dawson was from Largs, Scotland We drink tea as in England, our Christmas is with plum pudding.
My family history demonstrates the strong linkages between the UK and the Netherlands, but I do have similar linkages to Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and Poland. Borders might be physical features in a landscape, but borders cannot stand in the way of our brain and DNA. I am, as many others, a European with many more connections in blood and culture than there are borders. If you vote for a Brexit, I shall have (as well as my kids) part of my identity outside the EU. I descend from gardeners, cooks, office clerks and small business men. Hard work lead to accumulation of human capital and other assets: I was the first to go to University, I created my own company and stopped it to go in Politics. I am now Regional Minister in the Province of Gelderland. Many Britons died here around Arnhem and later around Nijmegen in 1944-1945, for the liberation of Europe from the Nazis.
Reform Yes, Brexit No
When one votes one should assess the cause leading to a choice and the consequences of that choice. When it comes to the causes. I do agree: Europe is not one bureaucracy. 28 bureaucracies negotiating as independent states leads to 28 bureaucracies. Yes compromise involving so many countries is a process of give and take, but independent countries such as Switzerland and Norway can only unilaterally accept rules made by others. Yes Britain, has taken more than its fair share of EU immigration in recent years but that is has always been a feature of the UK´s history, as is its religious diversity. And let´s be fair, its interreligious relations have sometimes been violent, as we all witnessed in Northern Ireland. But the situation has been pacified, partly thanks –let’s acknowledge it- to the European Treaty on Human Rights. We may disagree on the causes of a choice at the ballot box but I would stress the consequences.
Reflection on the consequences
The first consequence of Britain choosing to leave the European Union (EU) will be a period uncertainty as relations between the UK and the EU will need to be renegotiated. But the consequence will also be uncertainty within the country as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to vote differently to England. The United Kingdom as a Union would put itself at risk. The outcome of a leave vote would be more divisiveness in the United Kingdom. It would also disenfranchise the many Britons (like me) who live outside Britain. And it would bring uncertainty to millions of European bringing their skills and contribution to Britain. It may not be war but it would certainly be a drama for millions of people.
The second drama is on the economic side. A likely depreciation of Sterling will reduce spending power of Britons at home and abroad. It would lead, among other things, to a loss of pension income to my father who returned to the Netherlands, having worked 25 years in England. Many companies would certainly consider relocating their business to the continent. The economic uncertainty is likely to lead to a depressed stock exchange, and possibly consequences for the savings of many. But the consequences are not restricted to the UK; Europe would suffer. Even in my province it will almost certainly lead to a loss of exports, with an impact of 500 to 750 Euro loss in average income according to the Dutch Government Planning Agency. This is the consequence of uncertainty and the possible economic fall-out created by a possible Leave Vote. The impact of long lasting economic disintegration is much harder to predict.
The Illusion of Sovereignty
Some believe that the EU will swiftly offer a free market agreement or a customs union to the U.K. But a decision to offer such a concession would require the unanimity among all EU member states. Being democracies they shall need the mandate of their parliaments to negotiate and a decision of their Parliament to ratify such an agreement. Some countries may choose to a referendum, and the UK should consider the fact that the Dutch recently rejected an association agreement for Ukraine. Then consider, even if an association agreement has a broad coverage, it may be in Britain’s interests to adhere to EU laws and regulations, but it would have no negotiation power in relation to them in the future. It would then be a case of just adding a signature in the lower right corner of the resulting documents.
Some Britons attribute a perceived loss of influence and sovereignty to membership of the EU, but international migration and refugees is not only covered by EU law but also by the treaties of Geneva. The sovereignty of the UK is also constrained voluntarily by Parliament through many other treaties. The influence of the UK on its own would be much lower than as a key voice in the EU. For example, a question that would be raised is why a relatively small country (compared with India, China, etc.) keep its permanent seat in the UN Security Council. The EU has now over 200 treaties on trade with countries in the world. Britain would have to negotiate new treaties but without the skills and knowledge to do so. The expertise now resides in Brussels, since the EU has these skills and negotiation power. With instability in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union flexing its muscles in Europe again, a solitary Britain shall be of little comfort to either the country itself or its allies.
From Fact-Free Politics to Nuance and Generosity
The last consequence of a Leave Vote is on the kind of politics the Britons want to support. The Leave campaign has used distortions of facts, deployed immoderate language and created a climate in which scapegoating others, such as EU immigrants, becomes acceptable. I can not but conclude the that the murder on Jo Cox was a political murder, possibly inspired by rethoric of hate and racism. The Leave campaign has frowned a fact-based debate and systematically dismissed opponents as out of touch elitists or foreigners who should not meddle in British domestic affairs.
Whether part of the European Union or in splendid isolation Britons must reflect on what kind of society they wish for. I know Britain as a country of polished culture, of subtle nuances and controlled emotions, of a great yet kind sense of humour. It has consistently demonstrated tolerance and openness to other cultures (cappuccino and curry) but also pride in fish and chips and other traditions and, yes, peculiarities that we take up on the continent with enthusiasm, including a willingness to display the Union Jack on our T-shirts, handbags, cars and much else. Britain has great sports, particularly when it comes without hooliganism (sorry, but the recent events in France are nothing to be proud of, whether this is Britons, Russians or whoever).
A decision to Leave the EU would be a victory of the values of egoism, intolerance, fear, bad humor and isolation. Moreover, it shall have profound impact on the political culture in the UK, certainly in the medium to long term. That is what turning away from Europe will achieve.
My advice is stay with us, so that we can stay with you (don´t worry, not all EU citizens want to live in the UK).