Glasgow-based bathroom retailer Derek Miller explains why the Brexit debate has left him undecided
On the 23rd of June, the nation goes to the polls to decide whether or not the UK should remain a full member of the European Union. At the time of writing, opinion polls suggest that the population is split down the middle with neither side pulling away as a clear front-runner.
It is fair to say that the quality of debate thus far has been embarrassingly poor, with both sides making preposterous claims and counter-claims. This has, undoubtedly, led to confusion on behalf of the populace, with a large percentage of voters still undecided as to which way to vote. As something of a ‘political animal’, I have always marched to the polling booth in no doubt as to where my cross will be placed. As with many others, however, on this occasion even I am struggling to make a final decision.
In terms of the KBB industry, the UK and Europe are intimately intertwined. As I look around the Scope showroom, I see a large number of brands from mainland Europe that trade with us via UK subsidiaries: Laufen, V&B, Hansgrohe, Kaldewei, Vola, Ambiance Bain. The UK kitchen industry is even more dominated by major European brands, so it is surely fair to say that the referendum result will have a significant bearing on our sector. The problem that neither the ‘Remain’ nor ‘Vote Leave’ campaigners have been able to address is that they simply don’t know for sure what the effects of departure will be.
The ‘Remain’ campaign predicts a disaster of epic proportions, should we choose to depart, while the ‘Brexiteers’ insist that nothing will change. Indeed, the UK will prosper in its new-found freedom and lead us to a land of milk and honey. Both of these claims are patently ridiculous. If we decide to leave, there will be major economic turbulence for a period of time, but the UK is probably strong enough, ultimately, to navigate its way out of choppy waters. The problem that the leavers face is that they cannot, or will not, tell us how long the turbulence will last. Like all separatists, they are guilty of oversimplifying the likely outcomes of splitting up an economic group. ‘Vote Leave’ would have us believe that we will retain the same trading terms with the EU that we currently enjoy (we probably won’t); that we can simply open up trading arrangements with other world powers (they may not want to); that a separation will be straightforward to achieve (it will be messy, divisive, and costly), and that we will repeal every act of government that Brussels has forced upon us over the past 40 years (there is absolutely no guarantee that any future British government, Tory or Labour, will revoke any major legislation that has now become the norm in the governance of our country).
The ‘Remain Campaign’, however refuses to acknowledge the negative aspects of EU membership: the costs (£160 to £200 million a week, after rebate and grants); the loss of sovereignty (at what point did a European trading zone become controller of the state and why have the British people not had a say on the EU’s change of direction in past years?), and the restrictions in our ability to do other trade deals with other nations (why shouldn’t the UK have independent arrangements with Commonwealth partners?).
Even the biggest elephant in the room of all – the question of immigration controls – is not a clear-cut issue. There can be no doubt that any country, UK included, should take charge of its population level. The open-border situation in Schengen-Agreement Europe over the past 12 months has been woefully managed by Germany in particular, and is inevitably leading to a rise in reactionary political attitudes across the continent. However, the majority of immigrants arriving in the United Kingdom come here to work hard and better themselves. There are many UK manufacturers, our sector included, that greatly value the hard working ethos of the Polish members of their workforce and who wouldn’t want to cut off their nose to spite their face by placing unnecessary restrictions on freedom of movement.
As these issues show, the European question does not have a clear-cut answer. There are positive and negative elements to both sides of the argument and the British people deserve a mature debate to help decide which is the best choice.
So, come the 23rd of June, which way will I vote? As a Scottish businessman, I look back over the past eight years as a hugely turbulent period. Since 2008, I have endured a banking and economic collapse; a horrendous recession that drove a sword into my core housebuilder market; and a Scottish independence referendum, led by the SNP’s answer to the Krankies, Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon, who made claims even more outlandish than anything coming from the Brexit camp (and who are threatening a re-run of the Scottish independence referendum, should the UK walk away from Europe, against Scotland’s wishes).
While there is much about EU membership that truly maddens the British patriot in me, I am probably suffering from ‘crisis fatigue’ and am not sure I can face yet another period of economic instability – an instability that will definitely arise across the UK and Europe should we vote to leave. To that end, I am more likely to end up in the ‘Reluctant Remain’ camp – a position I will take with little or no pride, or commitment.
However, who knows… I could yet be persuaded to change my mind.