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Why British expats shouldn't worry if the UK leaves the EU

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Why British expats shouldn't worry if the UK leaves the EU
Britain will hold its referendum on the EU on June 23rd. Photo: Emanuel Dunand/AFP
09:55 CET+01:00
British expats in Italy, and elsewhere in the EU, need not worry about the UK leaving the bloc, argues Tim Hedges.

It is now 25 years since we launched the Eurosceptic movement, under the name The Antifederalist League.

Britain was about to sign the Maastricht Treaty, which created a new country called the European Union, with a flag and an anthem, and plans for a currency and an army. If you didn’t want to be part of this there was no one you could vote for, no one you could call. It seemed to be a fait accompli.

People thought we were mad, and openly referred to us as such. In the 1992 general election I got 42 votes.

Then Britain was thrown out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism and the disaster the Europhiles predicted didn’t happen. On the back of the devalued currency Britain got steadily stronger relative to other European countries. The AFL became UKip and support for an independent Britain began to burgeon. Now we have a vote on whether to stay in.

Let me say from the start that I am not anti-Europe: I live in Italy and speak three European languages other than English. I am well versed in the culture and literature of much of the continent and have many friends in several countries. What I am against is the expensive, undemocratic nightmare that is the European Union.

Brussels spends a huge amount of European taxpayers’ money on publicity and has created a number of myths around itself which we have been steadily exploding.

An example is the myth that the EU, and previously the EEC, have brought peace to Europe. It is of course Nato which has kept the peace. America and Japan have been at peace since the war by the simple expedient of not fighting each other. They don’t have to have a supranational body imposing regulations on everything from the length of vegetables to the power of kettles.

You will often hear Europhiles say we can’t ‘go it alone’ outside the EU, carefully not explaining in any detail what they mean. There are 196 countries in the world, of which 168 do not belong to the European Union, happily ‘going it alone’. For myself I’m fed up with the ‘in at any price’ brigade running down Britain, trying to persuade us that we can’t survive as an independent country without hooking up to Luxembourg and Bulgaria.

Other myths concern the Single Market. Ever wondered why it isn’t called the European Free Market? It’s because it isn’t one. It is a nightmare of regulation and tariffs which large companies can cope with but which small companies find a strangling bureaucracy. The myriad regulations apply even when you are trading outside Europe.

Unhelpfully it is ‘incomplete’, applying to goods but not to most services, which are a large part of British exports. The economist Patrick Minford calculates that 70 percent of our trade isn’t covered by the Single Market, but the part that is costs Britain four percent of its GDP. It is certainly not a reason to stay in the EU.

Now the myth making has spread to us expats. We are told that British students abroad will lose their rights. Nonsense, I’m afraid. If you are accepted into a German university that has nothing to do with the EU. Universities have students from all over the world. As well as British students in Germany there are American students at Oxford, Chinese at the Sorbonne and Russians at Perugia. Even the Erasmus programme is available to non-EU students.

And we are told that a British woman who has retired to France should worry about her rights to stay, or ownership of her house or her healthcare. No. Pure scaremongering. Her rights are protected by the Vienna Convention of 1969 which states that all the rights she enjoyed under the previous status quo are continued.

Some people want to proceed with ever closer union. I don’t myself, believing it has already failed. The EU’s main pillars are all collapsing: the single market is a bureaucrat committee’s answer to free movement of goods and the Germans won’t allow it to extend to services.

The euro won’t survive another crisis, which could come this year. And Schengen has all but collapsed due to the refugee crisis.

In my view the game’s up. The supranational empire of bureaucrats dreamed of by Jean Monnet and Jacques Delors has been found out. But countries which do want to continue on this route will be pleased when Britain leaves because it is a hindrance. It will never accept more integration.

When it comes down to it, if you are British you want what is best for Britain, and that means leaving a grouping which may suit others but certainly doesn’t suit us. It is safe and sensible to vote Leave.

By Tim Hedges

Tim Hedges lives in Italy and writes about Europe, Italian politics and the Vatican. Email:

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