Philip Whiteley's Blog

June 16, 2016

The four worst arguments in the Brexit debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:16 am

Partly by chance, my research and writing work on business and economics in Europe, and employee rights, over the past couple of decades, means I’m in a position to critique some of the points made in the EU referendum debate taking place here in the UK. Four of the recurring arguments are infuriating me. I mean, they’re just wildly misleading, so I feel duty-bound to point out some of the more glaring errors and omissions. There are two on each side, so here goes:


“The people warning of the economic impact of Brexit also warned us that not joining the euro would be disastrous, so we can safely ignore them.”

This is a very weak and illogical argument. The single market and the single currency are very different things. The former was well put together, the latter was not. Being in the single market but not the single currency gives access to 500 million customers tariff free, with the instant price flexibility of a different currency. The statement is not even consistently accurate. Gordon Brown and William Hague did more than anyone to keep Britain out of the euro, but they are now warning of the negative economic impact of Brexit.

“Our rules are set by Brussels/We’re run by Brussels.”

This statement is a huge exaggeration, that contradicts another key element in the Brexit argument. The UK has autonomy over spending priorities, economic policy, the regions, criminal law, its own currency. David Cameron’s deal exempted Britain from ever closer union. Also, the statement ironically undermines another part of the Brexit argument, that the UK is a major economic and diplomatic power that can be independent. If we have zero influence even within Europe, how on earth are we to have even greater influence globally, having just given up a place on the Council of Ministers and annoyed all of our strategic allies? Brexit could lead to less influence, autonomy and status, not more.


“A vote to stay in the EU is essential for workers’ rights.”

The UK has a very strong record on workers’ rights. The right to strike, with immunity from litigation for damages, has existed for more than a century, and was maintained during two World Wars. The Equal Pay Act 1970 pre-dates EU membership. Until 1977, in West Germany, a wife needed her husband’s permission to work; until 1958 a married West German woman’s salary was automatically the property of her husband. Two of the most enlightened UK measures were passed by Conservative Governments: elected trade union leaders and the Living Wage. This argument is a double fail by the Remain camp because it buys into the Brexit myth that we’re “run by Brussels”.

“People who want Brexit are xenophobes.”

There’s a nasty edge creeping in to the Remain camp, which is to insult the other side. The EU has serious flaws: lack of accountability, mass unemployment in the Eurozone, and the groupthink in the Brussels elites that equates more institutional integration with more social integration, leading to poor strategic choices. Brexit could trigger a move to a Federation of Europe that is less institutionally integrated, but more accountable and sustainable. It’s unlikely, in my opinion, but this is a respectable opinion to hold.

Whether we vote Remain or Leave next Thursday, we need to have much, much better conversations.


  1. Great blog and commendably even handed.
    If only the entire thing could be laid out this clearly.

    Comment by Robert Daws — June 16, 2016 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Bob! 🙂

    Comment by felipewh — June 16, 2016 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  3. […] Then came Europe, and the referendum. On the morning of 24th June 2016, the pattern of Leave voting was clear; the heaviest votes against staying in the EU were in Labour-voting deprived areas. I was dismayed, but sympathetic. Working class people felt left behind, grievances over immigration and pressure on public services became germane. Instead of responding to these concerns, many Liberal Democrats and Remain-supporting Labour activists became high-octane populists, denouncing any Leave supporter as stupid, racist and wrong. This culminated in the Lib Dems’ policy decision in summer 2019 to ignore the result of the referendum completely. This was on the basis that the Leave campaign had lied, but actually both sides lied, as I reported at the time. […]

    Pingback by The descent of British politics into populism | Philip Whiteley's Blog — December 12, 2019 @ 8:44 am | Reply

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