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Viewpoint / Viewpoint: EU Referendum myth buster

Alex Garrick-Wright.

WITH JUST four days to go until the EU referendum, it’s essential for voters to get their facts straight. Alex Garrick-Wright helps clear up some common myths about the EU.

“Most of our laws are being made by unelected bureaucrats from Brussels.”

Provably false. Wildly false. Irresponsibly false. But easy to tell people because of a general lack of education about how the EU works. Let us remedy that:

The European Commission is made of one commissioner per country, selected by that nation’s government to represent them.

The European Commission proposes legislation. It is then debated and voted on by the European Parliament (made of directly-elected MEPs) and the Council of the EU (made of ministers from each national government).

No unelected official gets to vote on the adoption of EU law. This is further bolstered by the fact that if enough national governments object to the legislation, it gets shot down.

Do they make most of our laws? As with all things, the truth is complex. How do you qualify a law made by the EU? If you define that as “laws passed by the European Parliament and Council of the EU” as above, it’s around 13 per cent. If you define it as “any law that is influenced by EU legislation” then it could be up to 50 per cent.

Even defining “our laws” is an exercise in smashing your head off the desk. Do you count international treaties? Acts of Scottish Parliament (both pre-1707 and post-1999), the Paris Agreement, Supreme Court judgements, the Magna Carta?

It’s not black and white, and it should not be represented as such.

“We could still do trade with the EU without being a member, like Norway and Switzerland.”

Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland get to play with the EU in the European Economic Area because they are members of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA). If the UK left the EU, it would probably apply to the EFTA to trade with the rest of Europe freely.

EFTA membership, however, means that member nations have to allow free movement of workers, and abide by considerable European regulation without any ability to vote on or influence those regulations.

Although an EFTA member, Switzerland confusingly trades with the EU not through the EEA, but by bilateral trade agreements, which also require free movement of workers and require adherence to EU regulation.

“We could save £350 million per week and spend it on the NHS instead of giving it to the EU.”

Straight off the bat you have to question whether the current UK government would genuinely spend this money on the NHS.

But let’s take that £350 million per week – or £17.8 billion per year – figure and see what the reality is:

In 2015, the UK gave £17.8 billion to the EU. We immediately get a rebate – last year this was £4.9 billion.

The EU then gave the UK £4.4 billion to spend on various areas such as agriculture and regional aid. It then gave the private sector in the UK a further £1.4 billion.

The UK then counts the EU aid to developing countries from our contribution as part of our own foreign aid budget to the tune of £816 million (this is money we would be spending anyway as we are obliged to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on aid, as per a G7 commitment that’s totally separate from the EU).

After all of that, the UK’s contribution to ‘Brussels’ is £6.3 billion. For comparison, in 2015 the UK Government gave the fossil fuel industry £5.9 billion in subsidies (including companies like Shell and BP).

“We would have less immigration.”

As mentioned above, if we wanted to do trade with Europe from outside the EU, we would need to enter bilateral treaties with them or enter the EEA – and the price of both would be free movement of workers for a start.

In 2015, 270,000 people came to the UK from Europe – and 85,000 Europeans left. That’s a net figure of 184,000.

Forty one per cent had a job already lined up. EU immigrants currently number a mere five per cent of the UK’s population, and 78 per cent of those who are of working age are in work and paying taxes.

Ridiculously, these people will not be allowed to vote on the UK’s EU membership, despite being here legally and paying their fair share of tax – which is more than some of the prominent campaigners on both sides can say.

If the UK left the EU, it is still unknown what exactly would happen to the European immigrants who already live and work here, but it would seem likely that they would have to follow the same rules as non-EU immigrants.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, recently proposed a minimum income of £35,000 that an immigrant would need to be making to be allowed to stay. This is £7,000 above the UK’s average income and could potentially mean deportation for non-British teachers and nurses, to name but a few.

UK nationals living in Europe will experience a similar state of limbo as to their status in their new country.

“We don’t need the Human Rights interfering with our lives.”

A common misconception, but the European Convention of Human Rights is a separate entity from the EU. Leaving the EU would still leave us as a signatory to the ECHR, and cases could still be referred to the European Court of Human Rights.

Alex Garrick-Wright graduated with an Honours in Law from Strathclyde University, specialising in European Law. He wrote his honours dissertation on the balance of sovereignty between nations and the EU.

 

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