I’m a Europhile, and have been for years. Like all institutions, I think the European Union has flaws, and I certainly don’t agree with everything it does. But on balance I believe it has been a force for good across Europe.
I think investment in infrastructure for poorer member states is a good idea, and we’ve all benefited from trading and free movement reforms. The EU has played a key role in preserving an unprecedented period of peace between the frequently-warring historical regions of England, France, Spain and Germany.
But despite all that, I am seriously thinking about voting for the UK to leave the EU.
Not because I think membership disadvantages the UK. But because I think that British political discourse will benefit from having the issue settled once and for all.
I first realised I felt this way early on under the coalition. When Cameron used the UK’s veto in 2011 to dodge a bail-out package the rest of the continent wanted, instead of feeling embarrassed about our lack of manners, I actually felt relief.
This is it, I thought. No more pretending from the sidelines. Cameron has taken his first step to pulling us out. And the thought of not having to debate the future of the UK within or without the European Union filled me with joy.
All of my life the issue has gnawed away at British political life. For some people, every single political issue facing us is viewed through the prism of Europe. And that’s been toxic.
It’s also essentially been an argument that the “remain” campaign can never win. They are fighting against a theoretical ideal future proposed by those who want us to leave.
Even a resounding victory for the “Remain” campaign will not silence opponents of the EU – I suspect it would only fuel claims that the EU is a conspiracy that has enslaved our media, our political elite, and ultimately our people.
But what happens if Eurosceptics get their wish and we leave?
Well, I’d actually quite like to see them face up to their hypothesis being tested.
If you read Suzanne Evans’ book Why Vote for Ukip? it contained loads of policy suggestions that you could hardly disagree with. Re-introduce free eye tests, better pensions, more GPs, smaller and better schools. Free tea and scones for everybody on Tuesdays.
OK, maybe not the scones, but it promised a massive transformation of life in the UK, all paid for by a cash windfall Eurosceptics believe instantly arrives if we stop contributing to the EU budget.
If we could just get rid of the EU, they argue, we’ll all be better off, and we’ll be able to strike favourable new trade deals with China and the rest of the world. There’s no evidence that is true, of course. It is uncharted waters. I happen to think it is unlikely, within the global trade framework, that the UK could strike more favourable terms in isolation than as part of Europe.
And to continue trading with our former partners in the EU, British businesses would clearly have to continue complying with EU regulations that we no longer had a hand in writing.
So I picture someone like Farage, in twenty-five years’ time, slumped in an under-funded nursing home, having realised his life’s ambition to get Britain out of the EU, only to find that the promised nirvana didn’t materialise.
Because being outside of the EU wouldn’t have saved us from being caught up in the VW emissions fraud scandal. It wouldn’t have insulated the UK from the fall-out of the US banking system collapses. It wouldn’t suddenly make dealing with the strategic threats posed by Vladimir Putin and Isis simple.
In short, leaving the EU won’t stop the UK existing in a globalised economy. And that’s what drives how well our economy is performing much more than EU membership.
But in the meantime, our politics would have be transformed. No more Tory leaders having to pander to their Eurosceptic wing. No more zany scare stories about the EU in our media. No more claims that living standards have been depressed by EU migrants rather than by bosses not wanting to pay the living wage.
I’ve always scoffed at people who say “don’t know” when asked how they will vote at an election or in a referendum. How can you not know? Surely you know what believe in?
And yet at the moment I honestly don’t know whether I would vote to remain in or leave the EU.
I believe the EU is generally a force for good, and that the UK is probably better off in it.
But I also believe that British politics would benefit from an end to the incessant EU debate, and by facing up to the realities of globalised capitalism. And only a vote in one direction will bring that about.
Martin Belam is a journalist and designer, who runs digital consultancy Emblem. Having worked at the Guardian, Sony and the BBC, he recently helped newspaper group Trinity Mirror develop UsVsTh3m, Ampp3d and Row Zed. He is on Twitter as @MartinBelam.