When you sign up for a gym membership, you know there will be some machines that you like, and some that you don’t; you know there will also be people that you get on with and equally some that you don’t. However, you sign up, you pay the money and you go along because you know it’s good for you! Imagine the same scenario for the European Union: we signed up originally because we knew it would be good to strengthen political ties and avoid further wars within Europe; we knew it would be good to allow UK citizens the opportunity to live and work abroad, have the chance to get to know our foreign neighbours and their cultures better; and equally for businesses to be able to sell and buy products and services more easily.
As part of your membership deal at the gym, you get access to machines, you get to use the other facilities such as the sauna, maybe a pool, and you know it’s good for your health to be exercising. However, with this come certain conditions, for example sharing the multi-gym machines with others, wiping them down after use, putting the free weights back, and dressing appropriately in the sauna. Well Europe is the same! As a member, we get access to the Single Market which is good for business and trade; European programmes and funds are available to us (for example Erasmus - university placements or work experience open to students all over the EU); and for those who want, access to EU destinations through unlimited travel and even the possibility to live and retire abroad.
Of course you might have complaints about your membership because there are compromises in place when using a shared space. You might say that we never signed up for extra countries joining the EU, or benefits for economic migrants, just like you never signed up for special branded equipment in the gym. As for you never wanting free weights, or being unhappy that your membership fees are spent on equipment that others can use, Europe would say that the UK doesn’t have to have the euro and any British money spent on bailing out Eurozone nations will be reimbursed. The fact that you see no financial return from your membership fee, because you continually have to buy gym kit with a smaller waistline just goes to show how successful your membership is. Similarly in the EU, the UK may be the third largest contributor (after Germany and France), but the EU in 2014 accounted for 44.6% of UK exports of goods and services, and 53.2% of UK imports of goods and services. The principles of the EU (free movement of goods, services, labour and capital) have remained the same, and as a club member we should respect this.
Another point to consider is what will all the other gym members think of you if want to leave and not have to pay for gym membership any longer, yet still expect to use all your facilities for nothing, or even be allowed in the gym, let alone receive preferential treatment? I’m not sure that the European attitude leans towards sacrificing everything to keep us in the club! Quite the contrary, I think many Europeans consider us to be difficult and demanding, and although they would be happy for us to stay in, I don’t know how welcoming they would be to British travellers and workers in their countries if we vote out and put restrictions on their movements as well.
The United Kingdom is not the sole member of the EU club as it was with its old Empire. In the end it could not force its colonies to obey. The UK held off applying for EU membership because it had an Empire but when it collapsed it wanted to become part of the EU. The UK cannot dictate the rules of the game and in a globalised world global problems need a global solution. David Cameron has already managed to negotiate a deal where the UK chooses elements of what it does and doesn’t want as part of the EU – this looks like the best option for the UK. You cannot expect to still have access to all the facilities if you’re not a member, or if this is what you want, there will certainly still be a fee!