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Time to Cancel the Referendum?

The referendum on the alternative vote system in 2011 cost over £75 million. The EU referendum will cost more. And the cost is not limited to the direct overheads of the referendum itself. 

We are already paying a high price for the political and economic instability that the referendum is creating. Investors from outside of the UK are sitting on the fence and will continue to do so until the outcome is known. 

Most of the world appears to want Britain to stay in the EU. All of the EU countries want Britain to stay in. The vast majority of UK businesses want us to stay in; ditto our scientists and academics. The Economist and the Financial Times - the most intelligent and rigorous of the UK press - are strongly in favour of staying in. In fact, the debate in recent weeks has clearly indicated that the brains of Britain want the UK to stay in the EU. 

A Brexit is not guaranteed to be a disaster but it is certain to result in a long period of political and economic instability - and that we cannot afford. Nor can we afford the very high cost of negotiating trade deals and every other deal that will be necessitated by a Brexit. Nor the cost of reassessing and/or re-making all of the laws that the EU has made for us. 

The main factors that are driving the Brexiteers are fear of immigration and a desire for UK sovereignty. But a Brexit will not reduce immigration - if anything it will make it worse. The rights of refugees are governed by the UN Convention on Refugees and not by the EU, and post-Brexit the UK would not be able to return refugees to the country where they first entered the EU. It seems improbable that any additional sovereignty would result either because trading and all other forms of interaction with other countries will be at least as much on their terms as those of the UK. 

This week the British steel industry has fallen into a perilous state. Tens of thousands of jobs and the entirety of the industry are under threat. The best hope is for an external buyer (or several) to be found. But the chances of that happening seem remote until the matter of the UK's membership of the EU is resolved. And I can't see the steel industry surviving another dozen weeks of uncertainty. 

A referendum would be good. Apart from anything else it would clear the air. But I do not think we can afford either a referendum or the protracted period of uncertainty entailed. And we definitely cannot afford the even longer period of uncertainty that would follow a Brexit. We cannot afford it now and we cannot afford it anytime soon. Right now we need to backtrack, stop squabbling and pull together so that we can work with our neighbours in Europe and with the rest of the world to solve the vast number of problems that are in dire and desperate need of solution.



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