Brexit Report: What the future may bring for Britain and expats

Brexit, jigsaw puzzle pieces

These are probably the most important pages we’ve published in the history of this magazine.

Along with my partner, I still own the Riviera Reporter publishing company that I founded almost three decades ago. But since I put editorial responsibility into the competent hands of Nancy Heslin and started drawing my French pension, I’ve been just as active as ever in managing the company, albeit far less visible in these pages. This will be a rare exception.

As different contributors here use different terms, we use them all. “Brexit” is a term commonly used to describe the process of leaving the EU but it’s an inaccurate label; the Northern Irish will vote also, so the entire UK is concerned, not just Britain. Brexiters are people who intend to vote to leave and are sometimes called Outers or Leavers. Brexiteers are those who actively campaign to leave. Those who want to remain in the EU are commonly called Bremainers, Inners or Remainers.

It’s fair to say that the results of the June 23rd referendum on whether Britain will remain in the EU will greatly affect all Britons, but the 2.2 million British expats in Europe more than most.

The EU is very far from perfect but, on balance, the case for remaining in is far stronger than the case for leaving. Britain has already opted out of the two most disputable EU measures – the euro and Schengen.

It’s easy to see why we are firmly in the remain camp. A look at the hard facts – comically dubbed “Project Fear” by Brexiteers – leads any sensible voter to the conclusion that, for all its faults (and there are many), the EU offers the UK more advantages than disadvantages. For expats it’s not even close.

The economic argument is striking. Within the EU, the UK has gone from being the “sick man of Europe” in the 60s and 70s to become Europe’s second economy, with the best GDP growth performance, ranking consistently among the top six economies in the world. Outside of the EU, Britain, with a population of only 65 million, could be no match for a European trading and political bloc of 508 million in a world population of over 7 billion. Comparisons with Norway and Switzerland show just what renegotiation of trade conditions would mean. Switzerland had to revise its banking laws and both countries still have to “pay without a say” and even join Schengen as part of their trading treaties with the EU.

Whatever the referendum outcome, the UK will still have to follow most EU regulations and norms concerning goods and services and even obey new ones imposed on trade and finance. Losing Britain’s seat at the table will remove the possibility of having a further say in those rules and means that, within a few years, Britain would have less influence in Europe than Japan, America or even Brazil. Where’s the sense in that?

David Cameron has compared leaving the EU to a difficult divorce, calling it a “leap in the dark”. While compiling these pages we studied hundreds of documents, many of them long and boring but also edifying. The more we learnt about the facts and probabilities, the more we became convinced that the Prime Minister is right.

And those with the opposite view? We’re not impressed by their lack of specifics or even credible likelihoods. Most Brexit theories are devoid of logic but facts are stubborn things when it comes to evaluating probabilities. Brexiteers invariably base their loudly proclaimed position on distortions and inaccuracies spread by political opportunists such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and IDS, or gutter press titles like the Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Mail. In short, sweeping generalities that don’t propose a credible alternative project for what Britain’s future would be outside the EU.

Many of the Outer arguments use easily debunked myths, fallacies and inaccuracies to sway those who prefer sound bites to hard logic. The EU is “undemocratic” they say. Yet the 750-member European parliament is fully elected (how else could Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen have become MEPs?). Westminster is more undemocratic with its 816-member House of Lords, only 88 of which are elected. Brussels is overstaffed? There are fewer public servants (Outers like to call them “Eurocrats”) employed by Brussels than by Whitehall. The EU budget has “never” been signed off by auditors according to the Outers. In fact, it has indeed been signed off by the Audit Commission every year since 2007. The EU gives ridiculous “human rights” to convicts? No it doesn’t. It’s not the 28-member EU that does that. It’s a separate and unrelated organisation – The European Convention of Human Rights – signed by 47 nations and upheld by the independent European Court of Human Rights. Other human rights obligations are down to the United Nations. Leaving the EU wouldn’t change most human rights legislation one bit, but Brexiteers aren’t campaigning to leave the UN or the ECHR. Why not?

The EU does impose some workers’ rights on member states but they’re anything but excessive. The European Union’s Working Time Directive states that a work week cannot be more than 48 hours “on the average” but stipulates several exceptions and opt-outs. The average working day of 8 hours and the minimum daily rest period of 11 hours in 24 barely give time to leave work, have dinner, sleep and return to work. A short break every 6 hours enhances worker safety and it’s hardly unwarranted to grant a minimum weekly rest period of 24 uninterrupted hours for each 7-day period. That’s only one full day off a week.

The Leavers are right to say that the European Union is far from perfect and needs reform as Clive Bates makes very clear, but this eurosceptic businessman makes a compelling case for continuing to have a seat at the table in order to push for that change.

Few in the business community disagree. Only 5% of the 800 CBI members are for leaving – 80% were in the Remain camp and 15% were undecided in a March poll. However, “Vote Leave” campaigners say that “employment and the economy would continue to grow following an exit”, adding that the CBI is focused on “skewed scenarios” in an attempt to discredit CBI director Carolyn Fairbairn, who says that a UK exit from the EU would be “a real blow for living standards, jobs and growth” and that “Brexit could blow a £100bn hole in the UK economy and cost up to 950,000 jobs”. Why would Britain’s leading business minds claim that if they don’t have reason to believe it?

Airline executives, including easyJet CEO Dame Carolyn McCall and British Airways’s Willie Walsh are adamant Remainers. The Open Skies Treaty and the Nine Air Freedoms that offer remarkable flexibility to EU based airlines and competitive fares to passengers explain why even Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary is a fervent Remainer.

In our full report, continuing as further articles published here over the next few days, we give you some facts and reasoned opinions, correct some common untruths and misunderstandings, and outline what we think are the real probabilities of what a post-EU Britain would look like for expats. The argument to remain is called “Project Fear” with good reason. We are justifiably fearful of what could easily happen to Britain and to British expats if the UK does indeed vote to leave the European Union.

For space reasons many articles in this report have been shortened or summarised. Brexit and the June 23 EU referendum: The issues gives links to the complete originals of articles and blog posts by those that contributed to this report – Clive Bates of “The Counterfactual”, Brian Cave of the Votes for Expats movement, Graham Trott, Professor of law Steve Peers, George Peretz QC of Monckton Chambers London, and many others. There are also links on our Facebook group to facts about the EU, the ECHR and other organisations.

Have no illusions – it will probably be a close race. Brexit is as much a possibility as “Bremain”. At least until 24 June 2016, the only certainty is uncertainty.

Scroll down this page to “See Also”, below the comments area, for the full report and more articles on Brexit and the UK EU Referendum.