Expats, Brexit means uncertainty

Kevin Bonavia • It is in the interests of both Britain and Malta that Britain remains in the EU

15 June 2016, 7:43am
Britain and Malta have a special relationship: that is clear from their shared history and a continuing shared bond between their peoples, which is enhanced by both countries’ membership of the Commonwealth and the European Union. With Brexit now a real possibility, how might that special relationship change if it came to pass in the early hours of 24 June?

First, any curtailment of free movement of people between Britain and Malta would have a real impact on many people in both countries who depend on the ability to work in the other given the opportunities for business and employment made easier by a common language. I moved to Britain from Malta as a child, which was easy as I was a dual national, but I also remember friends and family in both countries wanting to study or work in the other before 2004, but were either prevented or put off by the immigration constraints.

Second, the economic convulsion that will hit the UK following Brexit cannot be underestimated. The first cost comes from the uncertainty. The pound is already falling in value every time Brexit rises in the opinion polls. A Brexit win would then start the painful process of an exit from the EU in which the forsaken remaining EU members will have both economic and political reasons for striking a tough trade deal with the UK, which would also have to renegotiate the 55 international trade deals that the EU currently benefits from.

The real cost will come in fewer jobs, less business and less government spending on public services. The effects will impact beyond British shores and affect British investment across the EU, not least in Malta.

Third, there is the issue of “sovereignty” – Brexiteers claim that Britain could take back control of its laws, most of which they say are undemocratically made by Brussels bureaucrats. That is a bit rich, given that only 24% of the UK population voted for the current government, and laws are approved by unelected Lords. In fact, EU laws are made with the agreement of the European Commission (appointed by elected governments), the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers from the 28 states. The UK government has voted through 92% of European laws to date and could get more of its way if it were more willing to persuade others.

There is no real sovereignty in isolation, as you cannot do as much on your own. Ask Switzerland, not a member of the EU, but as part of its trade deal with the EU it has to sign up to laws over which it has no influence and allow free movement of workers. Despite a Swiss referendum in 2014 calling on the Swiss government to place limits on free movement, the EU has refused to agree a change to the trade deal and free movement continues. Some in Malta used to argue that Malta should not join the EU but become the Switzerland in the Med – not so often heard any more.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, is the security and peace that the EU secures. The EU in its original form was founded in order to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the Second World War (suffered by both Britain and Malta in their common endeavour against evil). By willingly pooling their resources, the members of the European Union are effectively prevented from going to war with each other. If Britain turned its back on the rest of the EU, it would encourage destabilisation across Europe the end of which we cannot know.

So, it is in the interests of both Britain and Malta that Britain remains in the EU. At present, the opinion polls show a close result, so I ask that everyone who has a vote – including Maltese living in the UK and British citizens living in Malta – to vote ‘Remain’ in order to secure Britain’s future in Europe and at the same time enhance Britain’s special relationship with Malta.

Kevin Bonavia is a British Labour councillor and cabinet member for resources, London Borough of Lewisham