Since everyone else is at it, I will give my views on the issue of the UK remaining or leaving the EU.
I have two viewpoints, that of the bookseller and that of the citizen. First, the bookseller:
Around 15 – 20% of our income originates from customers based in the EU with Germany being the biggest share, followed by the Netherlands and Belgium. Almost all of our sales are genre fiction – fantasy, sci-fi and horror. Many of the books we sell have been bought directly from the publisher and are in new condition.
In conversations online with buyers, it is clear that one of the reasons that we are picking up these sales is due to import duty. For example, in Germany, if you buy a new book from an American publisher, the price of the book plus the shipping costs will be subjected to VAT at 7% and the buyer has to travel to a customs office in order to pay and collect the item, whereas if bought from the UK there is no such expense and inconvenience and it will, of course, have been cheaper for us to purchase from the US because the UK and US mutually allow book sales to be duty-free.
Also, there is less administration work involved in EU sales because we do not have to complete a CN22 or CN23 customs declaration (although this is not particularly time-consuming).
Finally, there is free movement. Having in the past worked within the EU whilst also collecting books, I know my way around the bookshops and markets and have purchased many collectable volumes during my travels. Since taking up bookselling on a full-time basis, I still make occasional book-buying trips and the convenience of free movement and the lack of customs hassle are a boon which I would not want to lose.
Those are the justifications to remain. There are no obvious benefits in leaving.
Now the view of citizen Phil:
In my previous life as an IT systems specialist working for multi-national businesses and organisations I have lived and worked in EU countries on multiple occasions. The benefits of the ease of travel between the EU countries cannot be understated. Commuting to Amsterdam or Brussels is not much different from commuting to Manchester or Birmingham (although the train services are typically better). Often the contracts come up on short notice – “we now have budget authorisation, can you start next Monday?” Yes I can, because there is no waiting for paperwork to be approved by some bureaucratic governmental department – I have my EHIC and my passport and I can immediately book my travel and accommodation.
The money that I earned, minus living expenses, was spent back here in the UK and thus contributed in a positive way to the UK economy. Mutual taxation arrangements meant that I would pay any difference between the amount that would be due in the UK and that of the host country. I paid UK NI contributions, again thanks mutual agreements. A win-win situation, in my not-so-humble opinion.
From a life-experience perspective, I can say that without doubt I have gained greatly from my time spent living and working abroad. Being exposed to different cultures and ways of living has made me a more balanced individual and I would recommend anyone and everyone who can do so to seize the opportunity should it come their way.
Of course the EU has it’s faults – I would be amazed if it did not, given the scale of its operations and like any system it would benefit from some improvements. Is the UK perfect? Certainly not, and we could do worse than learn from our neighbours about the benefits of real democracy in respect of our voting system. It is no coincidence that the recent World Happiness Report (http://www.worldhappiness.report/) places nine of our EU neighbours, all of whom have a PR system, in the top 20 (the UK being 23rd).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for me, is peace. Who can deny that free trade and free movement between countries makes war less likely? I cannot help but observe during the debates that in general those who would choose to leave the EU appear to have a more confrontational nature and that is worrying. Like the Swiss, I believe that we should have a strong defensive capability, but be neutral when it comes to international conflicts and I feel that the EU approach matches mine in this respect. The oft-quoted statement by Churchill that “to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war” rings true to me.
The quality of the campaigning on both sides has been poor and is unlikely to change my experience-based opinion that the UK should remain and work from within to improve the institution for the benefit of our children.
Update 24th June 2016:
Bad luck, kids. You have been trumped.
This article by Philip Jones, Editor of The Bookseller is as good a summary as I have seen thus far: http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/keep-calm-and-expect-change-338121