Europe: an update of the arguments

I promised when I first posted about this in February that I’d update the arguments as we went along, and I’ve been doing that.   This is the latest version.

Good arguments to REMAIN

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

Good arguments to LEAVE

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

The EU makes it possible to control things which are beyond the scope of national governments – including the environment, trade, multi-national corporations.

True, but the EU’s track record on international regulation has not been good – often because of obstruction by the British.

THE EU has a ‘democratic deficit’; it is remote from the people it serves.

More than half-true – but in the UK, the same is true of almost every tier of government, including local government.  Democracy is an argument for more engagement in the decisions that affect us, not for withdrawal from those decisions.

The EU has defined and raised  minimum standards across Europe, e.g. on the environment, transport, water quality.  Without it, standards will fall.

No counter-argument.


In some fields the EU has promoted a ‘race to the bottom’, undermining citizens’ rights.  Examples include the rules on public services and the bar on living wage contracts.

In any federal system there will be decisions that member states might disagree with.  The test is whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Britain’s diplomatic influence is magnified by the EU. John Major has given a series of examples – including sanctions on nuclear development and the protection of the Kurds – where the UK took the initiative, the UK could not have done in its own right, and where the USA eventually followed suit.

Major’s specific  examples are powerful, but the EU is primarily focused on European affairs, not only foreign policy.


Europe is also a social project which makes life better for its citizens, for example through travel, residence abroad (more than 2 million Britons live in other European countries) and social protection.

There has long been a consistent political majority against ‘Social Europe’ and the project has stalled for many years.

Some shockingly bad decisions by the European Court of Justice (e.g. Rüffert v Niedersachsen, 2008 C‑346/06) have revealed a structural weakness – there is no obvious way to revise and correct defective federal laws without revisions of the treaties.

This could also be seen as an argument for extending the powers of the EU to facilitate the review of federal legislation.

The EU has created rights for its citizens across Europe, such as rights for workers, for women and in consumer protection.   Without it, rights will be eroded.

This is largely true, but the counter-argument is the ‘race to the bottom’: the EU has also undermined significant rights, such as the enforceability of collective wage agreements.

The free movement of people within the EU has been chaotic.  The principle has been undermined by the combination of enlargement and the abandonment of basic planning and population management to cope with social change.

This is a problem of free markets.  Social and economic development depend on establishing a common framework, not on laissez-faire.

The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner and UK industry and finance will have to comply with its conditions to maintain access.

No counter-argument.  If the UK becomes, like Norway, only a member of the EEA, it will also have to accept free mobility of labour.


The EU’s handling of the Greek crisis reveals a deep malaise –  narrow financial interest,  some bad behaviour on both sides of the argument, bullying of the weaker party and a disregard for the welfare of European citizens.

Without regulation and agreed procedures, the bullying will get worse.  This is an argument for stronger regulation and clearer rules, not for leaving.

Britain’s economy depends heavily on the provision of services to other countries and many of those  services (especially finance) could as effectively be provided elsewhere.  Leaving threatens an economic catastrophe for Britain which the IMF has warned could go beyond that to engulf the world economy.

The counter arguments are weak.  The defence that Britain is too big to be allowed to fail is naive, as is the emphasis on the size of the economy, which is based on book values rather than an analysis of prospects.

Bad arguments to REMAIN

(with counter-arguments)

Bad arguments to LEAVE

(with counter-arguments)

The EU has brought peace to Europe.

True, but it doesn’t follow that the UK’s presence is central to that.

The EU undermines national sovereignty.

Sovereignty is all about the authority to make laws – rules of recognition, change and adjudication.  The EU safeguards  the rule of law throughout Europe.  

The EU wants to be a superstate.

The EU aims to develop the rule of law at a different level from the nation state.  Many British politicians don’t understand that other governments don’t work the way they do: most have shared competence at different levels of government.  Other federations are not centralised.

The EU promotes liberal markets.

The EU is wedded to a model of ‘structural adjustment’ that has been discredited in other international organisations.  European markets stand in need of regulation and consideration of the consequences of collective actions.

The EU stops the UK from controlling its borders.

The UK cannot expect in a  modern, open, connected society to govern EU or non-EU migration at the frontier.   In most European countries, migration isn’t mainly controlled at the border: it’s controlled through employment, access to housing and services.

 The USA wants Britain to remain as a conduit for furthering US interests.

It’s difficult to see what’s in this for the UK or for Europe.

Leaving means that the UK will be able to act as it wishes and negotiate arrangements in its own interests.

It won’t, either with Europe or (as Obama has made clear) with America.  Negotiations will be difficult and slow.  The EU nations will favour trade in areas  where trade runs in their favour (e.g. cars) while blocking other imports (such as foodstuffs: the example is the previous French ban on British beef, blocked by the EU).

The UK can make the EU better through positive engagement.

The UK has often  made the EU worse.


The EU has promoted trade rules which exclude or  disadvantage developing countries.

This is a fair criticism of policy, but it is an argument for changing that policy rather than for leaving.

The EU is stopping the government doing what it would otherwise do over issues like human rights and workers’ rights.

There is a confusion here between the EU and the European Court of Human rights: but in so far as this is true, it is an excellent reason to remain.


There is something deeply wrong in principle with the idea that a majority can vote to extinguish rights valued by a minority.   This is particularly important for British citizens living in other EU countries.  Many British citizens who are resident in the EU are ‘under-registered’ and those who have lived in the EU for a period over 15 years are being denied a vote.  The process is flawed.

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