How to vote in the EU referendum

It’s the biggest consumer decision any of us will ever make. It affects our economy, foreign policy, immigration policy, security and sovereignty. Our vote on whether the UK should leave the EU will reverberate through our lifetimes, and those of our children and grandchildren.  

If you’ve already made up your mind how to vote, good. I’m not campaigning – I don’t want to change it. If you haven’t, my aim is to help you ignore the spin and sales to weigh up the right decision for you, your community, our nation and the wider world too.

Contents of this blog:

Want to share this blog? The short link is

There are no facts.

My mailbag’s been drowning with questions and concerns. The biggest being: “Please just tell us the facts, what’ll happen if we leave?” I’m sorry, but the most important thing to understand is: there are no facts about what happens next.

Anyone who tells you they KNOW what’ll happen if we leave the EU is a liar. Predicting exact numbers for economic, immigration or house price change is nonsense. What’s proposed is unprecedented. All the studies, models and hypotheses are based on assumptions – that’s guesstimate and hope.

So accept the need to wrestle with uncertainty. The EU referendum is far from a black and white issue; there are more shades of grey than E L James’s bookshelf.

Frustratingly though, most politicians try to come across as doubt-free. Those pro-EU pout that all elements are good, while those against frown at them. Yet like life, it’s a mix, and the debate would be better if both sides admitted that.

  • The Good. There are things many tout as the EU’s strengths. It makes us part of arguably the world’s largest trading block, boosting UK businesses and jobs.

    It strengthens workers’ rights and gives consumers common standards that aid product choice and rights valid everywhere.

    There’s freedom for us to live and work anywhere in the EU, easy travel, and cheap mobile roaming.

    Plus sustained peace among EU nations was one of the reasons for the community’s foundation. Though whether it’s happened due to the EU binding nations or its coincidental membership of NATO is questioned by some.

  • The Bad. Then there are the things many decry. Some of its regulations are unsuited to the UK. I met the Chancellor recently over my concern that the Mortgage Credit Directive, or at least the UK interpretation of it, is stymying people’s ability to get a cheap remortgage deal.

    While we don’t have unattended borders – barring with Ireland – as we’re not part of the European (not just EU) Schengen area, freedom of movement of course means other EU citizens can move here – either an unaffordable crowding out of our schools, NHS and culture, or a boost to the size, wealth and talent of our nation, depending on your view.

    For many – worst of all – the EU organisation is without doubt distant, only vaguely accountable, inefficient, and out of sync with the sentiment of much of Europe’s population. Even many IN voters berate that, but think the gains outweigh it. Yet were it made more democratic, some would still worry as it’d then have a stronger claim to more sovereignty.

    Note, though, that if we leave the EU, it’s the UK’s system that would pick up the slack, and some castigate its democratic deficit too. It’s also managed by civil servants, though here controlled by elected officials. It has an unelected legislature in the shape of the Lords, and only 37% of those who voted picked Conservative, yet they govern.

    And of course being elected doesn’t prevent stupid policies. Whether it’s the Tory ‘bedroom tax’ that penalises council tenants for not moving to often non-existent smaller homes, or Labour’s pledge to ‘cut tuition fees’ to help poorer students, when the maths showed it’d only be rich graduates who saved.

  • The Ugly. Finally there are the misunderstandings. From myths about the EU banning curved bananas to comments such as “I’m out due to interference of the European Convention (or Court) on Human Rights”, even though that’s a separate treaty from the EU, and this vote doesn’t affect it.

So how do you square this and the myriad of other issues, like the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, regional variations, and the risk to the UK union if Scotland votes IN but overall it’s an OUT.

Well, do some reading on useful independent sites that run through the issues, such as The UK in a Changing Europe or BBC Reality Check, but after that for most people this comes down to a risk assessment.

This is all about risk.

A vote for Brexit is unquestionably economically riskier than a vote to remain. Yet don’t automatically read risk as a bad thing. It simply means there’s more uncertainty – a greater variance of possible outcomes. Much of the debate stems around ‘free trade’ issues – which in simple terms mean no tariffs or taxes on imports or exports between countries.

Leaving the EU risks us being left on the sidelines. A shrinking power, spurned after a bitter divorce from our neighbours, who, wanting to discourage other leavers, offer us hideous trading conditions, while the rest of the world sees us as too small to bother with.

Or we could in the long run become a nimble low-tax, low-regulation, tiger economy. Trading unfettered with all nations across the globe, able to create our own rules and speedily reacting as a niche player to a changing world (though whether that’s good or bad depends whether you’re a Brexiteer from the political left or right).

The likely truth is of course somewhere between the two. But most independent analysis suggests Brexit will be detrimental to the economy, and on balance I think a wobble of economic uncertainty is more likely, at least in the short to medium term. Though again, it’s about chance, so it doesn’t mean it’s definite, and of course money isn’t the sole issue.

A vote IN has a level of uncertainty too. The future is always a journey, and the economies and politics of some EU countries are far from stable. But overall less change is likely. So looking only from an economic view, in summary:

If you're thinking you don't want to take the risk the economy could go bad, vote IN. If you're thinking things are so poor already, that you're willing to take the chance it could get worse, in the hope that it could get better, vote OUT.

I’ve focused financially as it’s more my area. But similarly you can do a risk analysis on most issues.

Take those who see EU freedom of movement as a bad thing. Brexit will leave the UK free to create its own immigration policy. Yet anything is possible.

There’s a risk, that, say, French and German leaders could demand freedom of movement as a condition of a future free trade agreement with the single market (a bit like with Norway) which if agreed, would see us in a similar boat as now, but without our seat at the EU top table.

The economy outweighs EU fees.

EU fees have become a hot potato politically, but it’s worth establishing the scale of the debate.

– The size of the UK’s annual economic activity was £1,800 billion in 2015.
– The annual fees to the EU in 2015 were £18bn, but we get a rebate, after that the fees are £13bn, plus there’s the money the EU spends in the UK; so what it actually costs us is £8.5bn.

So while fees for the EU club are huge, they’re dwarfed by the scale of our economy. That doesn’t diminish them as a political issue, but it does mean they can’t be viewed in isolation.

Just a 1% economic change is £18bn a year. The IN campaign’s worst case figure says Brexit could cost 7.5%, so that’s £135bn. Some OUT economists say the gain could be 4%, so £72bn. Regardless of which is right, it shows how you think the nation’s finances will swing should outweigh your view on fees.

Fees are more substantial compared with the Government’s £700bn annual spending. Adding £13bn (what we give the EU after the rebate) to that would have an impact. Though again, it’s still only equivalent to the change in the Government’s income from a roughly 1% move in the economy.

The video uses ballpark figures, the ones here are accurate.

You’ll never know if you made the right decision.

The volume of uncertainty means the only way to make the right decision is based on your political attitude to the EU, your gut instinct, and how risk-averse you are on each area that matters to you. I hope this article has helped at least put it in context.

Two people can both make the right decision but vote differently. And even then a good decision may have a bad outcome. More frustratingly, we’ll never know the right answer, as we can only ever know how one outcome turns out.

Sadly that means the spittle and bitterness over this will rage on long beyond 23 June. And indeed that’s where I should finish this, but…

How am I going to vote?

A couple of weeks ago I was so stunned I dropped my wallet (you can imagine how tightly I cling to that) when a Stronger In Europe leaflet popped through my door with my face and quote at the top. I hadn’t been asked for permission, nor am I campaigning for either side (see the truth about the leaflet blog).

The quote was accurate. It came from ITV’s The Agenda where I was put on the spot with a direct question. I’m not a politician, so I answered, saying: “On balance of probability, it is more likely we’ll have less money in our pockets if we vote to leave”.

On its own, especially as I cautioned it was a finely-balanced probability call, it isn’t a glowing endorsement. However, in the context of the leaflet it seems more.

Indeed ever since a November poll petrifyingly said I’m the UK’s most-trusted person on the EU vote, even some of my minor utterances have been picked up. Including when asked directly how I was likely to vote.

My concern is, having tried to present arguments from both sides, I don’t want anyone to read this and feel later I’d hidden something that is out there.

I’m generally risk-averse, and that pushes me just towards an IN vote for safety, maybe 55% to 45%. Yet just as my dream holiday isn’t necessarily yours, no more is my choice of what’s right a call for you to follow me. Far better is follow the logic above.

Most importantly, ensure you go to a booth, and put an X somewhere. Tomorrow’s the last day to register to vote, so check you’ve got one at

Thank you to Full Fact for helping with the factual parts of this blog.