It’s no good for the Leave side to dismiss the evidence with a call to be brave.
Amid all of the noise around the EU referendum, what are often missing are facts. Opinions abound but far too few are referenced, explained or backed up by hard stats.
In a debate about the future direction of our country, that cannot be allowed to stand. You get some like Boris Johnson who think this debate can be won by opinion and optimism alone, it can’t. We need facts, figures and thought-out arguments, not blind supposition.
For London, the EU is incredibly important for our economic growth. In 2014 London exported £12.3 billion of goods to the EU (nearly 43 per cent of all London’s exports of goods) in the same year we imported £27.6 billion of products from the EU (40.4 per cent of all the capital’s imported goods). This isn’t a passing relationship, the UK and EU are economically intertwined. Putting up a barrier between us and the biggest free market on the planet could be devastating.
If the Prime Minister has proven anything over the past year, it’s that getting exactly what you want from negotiations with Brussels is incredibly hard, so it’s difficult to understand the optimism of those who say a free trade deal outside the EU is a sure thing. Whilst we would undoubtedly continue to trade with the continent, the loss of the preferential treatment which comes with EU membership would bring a significant cost to UK businesses.
When you look at employment, the situation is equally worrying. According to research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), 542,000 jobs in London were associated with the EU in 2011. Whilst these jobs would not be guaranteed to go post-Brexit, they would be far less secure if our major trading partner was less favourably accessible.
Indeed for London’s financial sector the impact could be significant. HSBC has already said that ‘if Britain were to vote to leave, it could have a meaningful impact.’ The company, which recently announced it would remain head quartered in London for the significant future, said that around 1,000 jobs would head over the Channel in the event of an out vote.
You can tell a lot from the fact that eighty of the UK’s top hundred companies are reportedly already poised to support continued membership of the EU.
It’s clear why businesses feel this way. Membership of the EU provides access to over 500m people who make up the world’s largest single market and largest economy by GDP. In 2014, on both the World Bank’s commonly-used measures of comparing GDP internationally, the EU beat both the US and China in terms of economic output.
An economically strong London means a successful UK with benefits and increased tax receipts being invested across the country. Keeping London part of this economic community, and it thus remaining attractive and competitive is vital.
In 2014, a report from consultancy Deloitte looking at London’s business success found that of the world’s largest 250 companies:
- 40 per cent had their European headquarters in London
- 60 per cent of the top non-European companies with an HQ in Europe chose London.
As a result, they found that London is Europe’s leading centre for high-skill employment. In the City of London financial district the impact is even starker. TheCityUK summed it up in a recent report:
“The links between financial markets in the UK and EU are extensive, and are fundamental to the prosperity of the whole region. London is Europe’s financial centre. In the same way that the US draws strength from having New York at its financial heart, so the Member States across the EU are stronger by having London, one of only a handful of truly global cities, as the hub.”
Of course the EU needs reform and improvement, particularly in terms of its democratic aloofness, but blanket exit isn’t the answer. For all the frustrations of the EU, its benefits, particularly economic, vastly outweigh them.
It’s no good for the other side of dismiss these facts with a call to be brave. Particularly as it’s not those in the political classes arguing about concepts of sovereignty who will lose out if the UK leaves the EU.
However you look at it London, and the rest of the UK, would be diminished by leaving the wider European community.
It’s time for a debate based on facts, not vilification and on the facts, it’s clear to me, the UK is better off in.
Len Duvall AM is Labour’s Leader on the London AssemblyLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.