Stewart Owadally says our economic prospects would be crippled if we were to leave the EU.
With the Welsh elections completed, attention in Wales now turns to the historic choice facing voters on June 23rd: do we Remain in the European Union, or Leave?
The issues that are encompassed within the subject of our EU membership are myriad. Inevitably, with a relatively short campaign, people will therefore want to know the details in as concise a way as possible.
Leading up to the referendum on June 23rd, we’ll be publishing some key figures’ arguments for and against remaining in the EU.
People obviously take an interest in a lot of the issues, from climate change to our global influence. But, principally, they want to know what Europe means for our economy and our security.
And they want answers about what would happen if we were to leave.
Economically, it is clear the country is better off in Europe. Being in Europe means being in the single market – a tariff-free zone of 500 million consumers across the continent. The benefits of that to the businesses that will build our economic future are obvious. That’s why we have seen countless businesses – small, medium and large – all come out to back a vote to Remain. They include crucial Welsh employers such as Airbus, as well as small and medium businesses across the country. Wine merchants, lorry part suppliers, tea merchants, production companies, farmers, distillers, chocolatiers – the diversity of businesses that have publicly declared that their business is stronger in Europe is remarkable.
If we were to leave that single market, as Vote Leave’s Michael Gove has now advocated, our future economic prospects would be crippled. The future of hundreds of businesses would be thrown into doubt.
Why would big global companies put their next rounds of investment into Wales if we had cut ourselves off from 500 million consumers? Why would a young entrepreneur take the leap to start a business knowing that trading with our nearest neighbours had become more expensive overnight? What would happen to the 97% of Welsh lamb exports that go into Europe if farmers had to overcome new trade barriers and tariffs?
These are risks that we must legitimately highlight as part of this campaign. Questions that the leave campaign must answer if they expect voters to give them a full hearing.
To give them their dues, leave campaigners have started giving some clues about their thoughts on what would happen if we left. Michael Gove’s aforementioned commitment to leaving the single market came only last week; a major change of position, after leave campaigners had spent months telling voters they wanted to try to negotiate access back into the market if we left. When the Chancellor estimated the cost of leaving to each person would be an average of £4,300, Arron Banks, the millionaire bankrolling a leave campaign, called it a “bargain”. And Patrick Minford, an economist from Cardiff University campaigning to leave Europe, has said that leaving the EU would “mostly eliminate manufacturing”.
It will be down to voters to decide whether these are prices worth paying.
On security, the choice is possibly even more stark. Europe as a continent has historically been ravaged by war. The project for European unity was forged after the Second World War to try and curb that continuous conflict. Spearheaded from Britain by Winston Churchill, it went on to get a distinct Welsh stamp on its development. Monmouthshire’s Roy Jenkins was President of the European Commission. Cardiff South and Penarth MP, and former Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan served as President of the European Council. Over that time, against all the odds, the project worked. There has been unprecedented peace between European nations thanks to the relationships we have forged with our neighbours in the EU. I, like many others in this country and across Europe, have had no direct experience of war. It is easy to take that for granted. However, we are, in that sense, a freakish generation. Only 70 years ago, the ease with which we now associate with our European neighbours would be unfathomable. Whether or not we send shockwaves through those relationships by leaving Europe is surely a no-brainer.
And if it is hard to relate to the wars of Europe’s past, we can see how our security is enhanced in the EU when we consider more modern forms of conflict. The rise of mobile, global terrorism has meant that information sharing is crucial. That’s why security chiefs past and present have queued up to declare that they think we will be safer if we stay in Europe.
The choice that people face next month will define our future in a way that few decisions ever will. In Wales, as across the UK, we need to get the message to voters that our future is enhanced by staying in Europe. It is now crucial that all who believe we are stronger, safer and better off in Europe join the campaign to win a Remain vote on June 23rd.