For the forty years and more that the UK has been a member of the EU, successive British governments have declined to monitor, analyse and report to the people the impact of the EU on the economy. One can only speculate on the reasons for this reluctance, but its consequences will be known to anyone who has listened to prime ministerial and ministerial speeches over the years about the benefits of EU membership and the Single Market. None include substantial evidence to support their arguments.
None refer to the impartial and authoritative databases, of the OECD, UNCTAD and UN Comtrade, the World Trade Organization or the World Bank, which reflect what has actually happened to the UK economy whilst it has been a member of the EU and the Single Market. Instead, they have preferred to tell us what they think has happened, or hope might yet happen, or what some model predicts could or should happen. And the media have not on the whole pushed them to provide or collect evidence for themselves.
Unfortunately, large British and multinational businesses who might well have measured the benefits of membership for their own sectors, or even for the country as a whole, have behaved in much the same manner. They have declined to publish any convincing evidence about their preference for remaining in the EU, even when expressly invited to do so during the Balance of Competences Review in 2013.
Governments and businesses have behaved as if the authority of their positions entitles them to speak off the tops of their heads, believing that their audiences will assume that because they are, or were once, parties to EU decision-making, they have accumulated convincing evidence of the advantages of EU membership. Evidence which cannot, for some undisclosed reason, be passed on to the rest of us. Perhaps they think we would not understand the details.
Once upon a time, circa 1975, voters might have accepted this. Today, voters are rather more sceptical of official, elite depictions of the EU. This handbook is for them, prepared by one ordinary voter for others who would like the relevant evidence about the costs and benefits of EU membership, to help them decide about the merits of continued EU membership.
Its primary aim is to find, report and comment on this evidence, mainly about trade, but also about other events, institutions and policies that are relevant to the decision of whether to remain in or leave. UK governments have kept the people in the dark, failing to establish the impact of EU membership for the British people. The evidence presented here sometimes has to end with unanswered questions, and occasionally an unasked one.
One of the aims of the government in holding the referendum as soon as possible is to prevent all the relevant evidence from being put before voters in time for them to consider it. Publications of this kind are therefore produced under severe time constraints, so it is possible that despite our best efforts, errors may occur. If so, we want to hear about them. The source of the data or documents used is given in every case so it is possible for any reader to verify the data presented. The occasional basic calculations made before reporting findings are also shown so anyone can correct, supplement, or update them.
This study has been compiled in the spirit of the Prime Minister, who described himself in the House of Commons on 22 February 2016 as
Eurosceptical in the genuine sense: I am sceptical about all organisations and about all engagements. We should always question whether organisations work for us, and we should be doubtful about such things.
One must add, however, that he frequently makes claims about the Single Market that have little or no evidence to support them, while we endeavour to remain rather more consistently sceptical than he has proved to be. As such, what follows are 50 chapters of varying lengths that review, from a sceptical position, the most important issues in the debate on UK membership of the European Union.