What are we going to do about being TRIM?

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UK200Group past president David Ingall looks at the issues of Brexit and the current refugee crisis and its effect on the UK.

At some time in the next two years we will hopefully be given a chance to make up our minds about the European Union and whether we continue our membership. We are told that our government is trying to set out to our fellow members what we don’t like and what needs to be changed in our relationship. We are told that this will be an effective renegotiation of all the treaties signed over the years on our behalf. We are already seeing tensions within the government between the pros and the sceptics about how the government machine will operate during the referendum. We are also seeing public pronouncements from various Euro leaders telling us that this or that is their “red line”.

Though the “European Project” has an ultimate objective (which is never really stated out loud) in reality it has staggered forwards over the years without any apparent plan, just legislating for the current crisis or problem. Now they have to deal with Perfidious Albion but how are they going to deal with us? Our issues have gone on the back burner during the crisis over Greece and now there’s the immigrant problem. Though Dave is meeting with a couple of other prime ministers in the next week or so he is going to have a problem keeping everyone’s attention on our issues. One does wonder if he was more overtly euro sceptic whether there would be more attention. And what is he saying? Is he going through a cosmetic exercise for our benefit hoping that the resources at the disposal of the “yes” campaign (including the government marketing machine) will ensure that there will be no real competition?

Just to keep him up to the mark I have compiled my own list of the issues where there needs to be movement from the current position. Immigration is in the headlines currently, both as far as those fleeing oppression and trying to gain entry to the EU and the migration from other EU countries. There is much posturing about trade in the event of a Brexit. Could we strike just as good a deal as an associate member of the EU? There are other countries in that position that do not have the disadvantages we currently appear to have. As an accountant I worry about an organisation that has an expensive bureaucracy that seems to have problems with controlling the vast sums it handles. And what are the real costs of our membership and what do we get for our money? Finally there is regulation and the law. The constant drip of regulation, not to mention the Human Rights Act, seem to impose limitations on our nation to set and operate laws that are relevant and useful to our citizens.

In the above paragraph I have tried to summarise all the issues that are going to be central to the arguments at the referendum. We could reduce them to an acronym, TRIM. Trade, Regulation (and laws and law making), Immigration and Money (Finance, costs etc.). There is another overall subject, rather like the elephant in the room, which I will call politics. Not our politics but those of Europe and the EU overall and our relationship with our neighbours; not to mention the manner our own politicians deal with us, the voters and whether they are being straight with us. For that vote is going to be as much about how our own politicians treat us. The debate, argument and statistics and counter statistics that we will suffer in the weeks and months leading up to the big day will be a morass, threatening to engulf us. There does seem to be a certain reluctance to lead the sceptics but that might be understandable as no one currently knows what concessions will be on the table. Forty odd years ago the no campaign was led by Enoch Powell and Anthony Wedgewood Benn, about as far apart politically as you could imagine. Rather like Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson sharing a platform currently.

We do have a moral (and apparently legal) obligation to help those who have fled their homelands because of war and/or fear for their own safety. We cannot deny others that right but we have a duty to ourselves. There is a confusing mix of refugees, illegal immigrants and migrants. Some of whom we can empathise and others who are a mixture of obligation under the EU treaty and illegals. If we were a lifeboat should we overload it to the point everyone on board is at risk? We are seeing apparently overwhelming numbers seeking to enter the EU currently but how many can we (the EU) cope with? The Schengen Agreement, which has operated for about 20 years, now extends to all the EU except the UK and Ireland and any new entries to the union are obliged to join in the Agreement. Thus all those landing in Italy and Greece and other countries are not legally subjected to border checks as they cross Europe. It seems not to matter that they may have entered the EU zone illegally.

We are however seeing some of those countries overwhelmed by the tide of immigrants calling for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement, not to mention a sudden light bulb moment for those countries faced with a recent terrorist type event on a train in France on the way from Holland. The progression of EU legislation, moving towards the ultimate objective of a single country, is very much subject to the law of unintended consequences. Another spiffing idea that comes back to bite you.

Our ONS has estimated the net inward migration for the year to 31st March 2015 at 330,000 plus of course the births meaning that our population as a country increased by around half a million in the past year. How much space do we have? We are already short of housing and many young families cannot afford to get onto the housing ladder so how is this going to affect our long term prospect as a country? Yes, currently we are doing rather better than most of Europe economically so we are going to be an attractive destination for economic migrants, but for how long?
During the coming months we will face a deluge of statistics claiming to substantiate one proposition or another about the benefits or otherwise of the EU and we are going to have to weed out what we choose to believe or not. But we should remember that old adage that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I hope to be able to return to the other issues at a later date. But in this debate cynicism about the statistics and “facts” is everything. Listen (at least as long as you can bear until terminal boredom sets in) and make your own judgement and try to work out who is trying to sell you something. Remember, the most difficult result for the politicians will be a “No” vote when they will actually have to do what the electorate has voted for.

David Ingall

Past President

UK 200 Group

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