The EU referendum: It’s the little things that matter

Whitehouse has had a lot of opinions on the referendum this week (sorry, we work in politics and not much else is going on right now). While our Chairman Chris Whitehouse focused on the democratic legitimacy of the EU, and our Associate Director Chris Rogers underlined the risks of heading into the great unknown, for me it’s the small details of what the EU does for the UK that mean we should vote to remain.

The EU is a mammoth institution, but its impact is felt on every doorstep of this country, in a manner that I don’t believe is worth sacrificing by leaving. The EU is involved in so many policy areas that the headlines don’t pay attention to, and which would be sorely missed if their “meddling interventions” were abruptly ended.

Cornwall. Corby. Camden. What do these places all have in common? They have benefitted from the European Social Fund (ESF), which would be culled following Brexit. These areas all contain people wanting to work and progress in fulfilling careers, but who haven’t had the start in life enabling them to do that. This could be after encountering difficulties during childhood that stopped them gaining the necessary qualifications at school, or being unable to get the work experience to start them off in the labour market.

The ESF aids disadvantaged people in communities across the EU by providing funding to enable them to enter training and work – assisting 5.59 million people in the UK between 2007 and 2015. The programmes it funds allow people to gain skills crucial to finding a job: whether writing a CV, using job search websites, or attending an interview. Those skills are not innate, and the ESF helps people nurture them. This fund benefitted England alone to the tune of £2.5 billion between 2007 and 2013, and this will be repeated between 2014 and 2020.

How will the Government fulfil its ambition to move the country towards a high wage, low welfare economy if this funding is whisked away? Yes, we would have more money as a nation if we didn’t contribute to the EU, but there is no guarantee it would be directed straight back to where the EU was investing it, and the framework to implement it would not be protected. The EU is working towards the common goal of shared prosperity, and while the people at the helm of this task are perhaps questionable, the means it is employing to meet this aim have the right intentions and an enormous impact.

Also worth considering is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Remember those headlines about the thousands of words MEPs wrote about cabbage regulation? That is part of a policy that has kept UK farmers afloat in a difficult market, and is somehow equally boring and controversial to read about. There are certainly valid arguments for and against the CAP, but statistics on the decline of farming arguably prove its worth. Over the last ten years, agricultural employment has fallen by 25%, and there are 2% fewer farmers in the EU every year. When farmers’ average wages are half the EU average, that isn’t surprising.

Without the CAP or EU membership, our farmers’ produce could be superseded by cheap, plentiful imports from the US, China and elsewhere, despite being needed more than ever. To understand the impact of the CAP and how British agriculture could nosedive without it, just look at the chaos currently affecting Scottish farmers as a result of delayed CAP payments.

This does not even scratch the surface of the full extent of the EU’s intricacies. But it is the tiny, boring details of the EU that matter. How would we cope if we had to rip up so much government policy and start building our own framework from scratch? How would farmers or disadvantaged people suffer in the meantime? I don’t want to find out to be honest. So when you’re debating how to vote on 23 June, maybe take a step away from the headlines and rhetoric and consider what the EU is doing outside your own front door, which would disappear if we decided to leave.