Opinion: We should resist temptation to leave the EU club

I did enjoy the election night coverage on the BBC – not least the way the uncanny accuracy of the early exit polls, that so confounded all earlier predictions, played out in glorious slow-motion to the obvious chagrin of David Dimbleby and his smug coterie of political pundits.

Labour’s relative success in London against the wider run of results, not least its total annihilation at the hands of the SNP, perhaps explains why the BBC got it so wrong.

The corporation’s capital-centric current affairs focus has become increasingly out of touch with the rest of the country in recent years, despite a token and largely cosmetic move to Manchester in 2011. This highlights where the corporation needs to up its game considerably going forward.

While UKIP’s meagre return from our “first past the post” electoral system might be a tad unfair, their growing support within an electorate increasingly disillusioned with traditional politics has yielded the very real prospect of an In/Out referendum on EU membership in the next couple of years.

This subject will fill many column inches both within Farmers Weekly and others in the coming months. It is one whose ultimate outcome could prove even harder to call than that of the election.

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As uneasy Europeans, we Britons have rightly had a healthy scepticism of a club with a somewhat chequered history of political probity and fiscal rectitude.

Membership of a seemingly unaccountable organisation that wields such power over our daily lives and yet whose accounts have not been given the all-clear for almost two decades, and where the European Court of Auditors found in 2013 that £109bn out of a total of £117bn spent by the EU was affected by “material error”, rather goes against the grain for many.

At the very least, it deserves long and hard consideration as to whether we should continue both to fund and submit to its burgeoning dictats.

However, as a nation generally and an industry in particular, how well might our interests be served outside the EU?

To me, it seems churlish to think that the very real and cogent arguments for Scotland’s continuing membership of the union do not apply in at least equal measure to the UK’s continuing membership of the EU.

However different we may think we are, however strong our economy may appear be, relative to the rest of Europe, the fact remains that we are far stronger within the world’s largest economic bloc than without.

While trade with the rest of the EU would certainly not cease if we were to exit, we would still be bound by many – if not all – of its regulations if we wished to continue, while losing much of our attractiveness to outside investment. Nissan and Toyota, for example, didn’t build car plants in the UK because of our wonderful climate.

And for agriculture, the idea that unhitching ourselves from the European yoke might reduce the burden of red tape and bureaucracy is naïve and shortsighted.

Farming will continue to be an essential, but diminishing, sector of the UK economy and the relative weakness of our domestic agricultural lobby would almost certainly make an independent Britain’s farmers far more vulnerable to the whims of an increasingly urban domestic political focus. QED two decades of political vacillation over how to deal with bovine TB.

Strength in numbers within the EU is worth more to us than we might care to admit. For all its faults, this is one club I’d be reluctant to leave in a hurry.

David Alvis

David is managing director of Yorkshire Dairy Goats, based in the East Riding. He is a Nuffield Scholar and formerly co-managed the Technology Strategy Board’s sustainable agriculture and food innovation platform

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