I was cheered when the Sun newspaper came out for “Out”. Until this happened, I thought the “Inners” would win, but now I rate it 50/50. The Sun very rarely finds itself on the wrong side of these moments; I see that paper as more of a weather vane than a signpost (by which I mean it agrees with things its readers are thinking rather than telling them what to think), and if the Sun is saying “Out”, then the size of their readership means there’s a good chance they are right in the broader national picture, too.
I hope they are, because it seems to me that the EU is headed for a crisis of epic proportions, one which I can easily see leading to it falling apart. The efforts to homogenise the entire continent’s economies have failed—look at Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain, and the economic disaster which appears to be unfolding slowly in France—and the possibility of this situation improving seems remote. But it can definitely get worse, and probably will. I would like this country to be as far away as possible when the whole edifice crumbles.
My fundamental, instinctive objection to our membership of the EU is based on my dislike for the idea that we as a nation are gradually losing control over our own laws. For one example, the EU-directed increase in VAT has cost Silvertail and other publishers a great deal of money since it came in, and it will continue to do so. Every time a publisher sells an e-book, it receives a smaller proportion of the price paid than it used to, and over time these pennies will mount up and up and up. This is a potentially significant amount of revenue. This is a small example, but it’s one of many, from vacuum cleaners to flood defences to fishing quotas and so on and so on. Too many, in my opinion, and if we vote “in”, this number will only grow.
I am also concerned about corporation tax. In the UK, our rate is low and getting lower. This is a good thing: it strengthens small business like mine because our tax bills shrink, and it strengthens big businesses, too, because it frees up capital for them to expand—investing in R&D, or hiring people and so on—all good news for the economy. It also brings more businesses here—head offices of international organisations are attracted by the low taxes and the fact we’re a safe, uncorrupt country with history, prestige, great cities, good airport links and so on. This in turn means more jobs, more people spending money, more economic activity all round. The EU is committed to harmonising corporation tax rates, and elsewhere on the continent these rates are much higher than here, so there is only one direction the EU wants ours to go. Be in no doubt that a single step in this direction would do enormous harm to the British economy.
I read with great interest Peirene Press’ letter setting out the cultural case for staying in the EU. I applaud all the sentiments behind it, and agree it makes a compelling case. The loss of EU funding for cultural institutions and interests would be painful, but I don’t think that is enough motivation to stay in. The price we pay in other ways is too high, financially as well as in other ways. And what would we actually lose in terms of culture? The exchange of thoughts and ideas is not facilitated by governments, or supra-governmental organisations like the EU. It is done by people telling each other about things they’ve discovered, by publishers who spot a book in another country—in another tongue—which they think might work in their own land (books still need to be translated within the EU, and will do so whether we leave or not). Publishers and agents from one country will still talk to and do business with agents and publishers from another if we leave the EU, just as we do now with countries outside the EU—email, Facebook and Twitter will still exist, after all. The human instinct for enterprise (which is, of course, part of our instinct for survival) will still be there. It was in us before the EU, and will be in us long after it.
One more thing: my father’s family were German Jews who came to this country in the 1930s. This obviously pre-dated the EU. Would we refuse to take in such people if we were to leave the EU? Of course not. If I thought families like mine would be turned away, I would be an “Inner” immediately. But I just don’t think that would happen. We would not turn our backs on people like my family. This country is built on immigration, just not uncontrolled immigration.
The fear of economic disaster if we leave the EU is a real and understandable one, and the truth is no one from either side knows how things will turn out. Personally, I’m convinced the EU is heading for a disaster and that whatever difficulties we might face after leaving will be tiny compared to what we would suffer if we stayed. I’m also convinced we, as a nation, should always try to keep as much control over our own affairs as possible. And, if we do this, I believe we will be fine. We will not build Utopia. Nor will we end up the greatest power in the world. But our destiny will be in our own hands. We will have direct democratic control over our leaders. This country—this small island which produces an astonishing number of literary superstars, of successful musicians, singers, actors and so on—should have the confidence to take control of its destiny. This is a rare chance to do so, and I hope we take it.
Humfrey Hunter is publisher of independent Silvertail Books.
The Bookseller spoke to senior book trade figures about the EU referendum. See what their thoughts are here.