EU in the dock…

Published:  03 June, 2016

Unfortunately being non political or not conversing about the EU referendum has been virtually impossible over the last year. I have listened to the debates avidly and spoken to countless manufacturers from the very largest in the world to numerous SMEs from a cross section of industry, as well as being in the privileged position of hearing leaders of British industry who have expressed their honest opinions based of real experiences at top level EU discussions and global forums. I have taken note of their fears and hopes for the referendum, with the large majority appearing to favour remaining. For anyone to dismiss such opinions and experience would in my opinion be folly.

Being editor of an engineering publication which has an obvious interest in seeing British manufacturing prosper, most manufacturers I have visited over the last year or so have asked me to express my opinions on the subject and I in turn have asked theirs. Therefore as would be expected of any editor of a respected publication, it is only right and proper for the readership to know and understand the editor’s perspective on such an important issue that we all have a vested interest in and to justify that position – not mere personal political rantings.

As I learnt from a very early age, presenting an argument requires not only good rhetoric but also substance and evidence to back it up – you don’t win debates through bullying or insults. Neither is it about being left or right wing - it is about what arguments stand up to genuine universal scrutiny.

Therefore my perspective on the referendum has been based on the information presented, and the onus is firmly with the out campaign to prove its case beyond doubt of the economic viability of leaving.

The majority of manufacturers and industry leaders I have spoken to in recent months have explained that the questions they want answering about leaving the EU have not been forthcoming. For example we have not seen any qualified figures, no substantive evidence as to what tangible benefits can be realised, no formulation of what future trade agreements will actually look like. How long for example would it take to agree bilateral agreements with the 50 plus countries which the EU has agreements with? In the meantime how can it be guaranteed that investment would not be put at risk? What strategies would be put in place to limit any possible decline in investment? Will jobs be lost? If as argued by the out campaign there was increased investment, exactly where would this come from and how would it be realised? Would Britain have access to the single market covering both goods and services? Does free trade depend on free movement? How can we guarantee that we will not lose the pool of skills that manufacturers and universities benefit from by being in the EU? How will the UK be able to influence Standards in the EU if we are not at the top table? Unfortunately for the Leave campaign it has spent too long attempting to rubbish the Government, claiming Cameron and Osborne have been exaggerating and inventing statistics. Its focus has been on trying to highlight how there is an institutionalised bias to remaining, which may or may not actually be true, when it should have been giving us coherent economic figures to substantiate its cause beyond doubt. For example what would a post-out vote Britain actually look like in terms of governance, global standing, and economic stability? No one knows and no one has been able to answer these questions satisfactorily for any of us to understand how leaving could be beneficial.

Therefore should thousands of British manufacturers risk taking a gamble into the unknown based on sound bites and unqualified statements? Can we simply shrug aside as institutionalised bias in favour of remaining of all the comments from respected figures across the political and business spectrum as well as the Bank of England and IMF? PWE even made a request to the official Leave campaign to respond to a series of responses by EEF’s chief executive officer, Terry Scuoler (see page 8), in order to give a fair balance to the debate, but they failed to respond. This has been the main issue with the Leave campaign from the outset in my opinion. The information needed to make an informed decision just hasn’t been forthcoming and consequently making a choice between in or out has been made a lot easier for me.

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