This started out as an email to my family, who are debating furiously on email about the EU referendum, immigration … and the Armageddon which will happen tomorrow if the wrong side wins.

My big question to all you Brexiteers is this: imagine you are in court and the judge says “ignore all the press coverage”. Now tell me what is your problem with the EU? How has it affected YOU? How has immigration or the European Commission rules affected you personally? Let’s talk from a strictly personal perspective — and PLEASE add your comment below the article.

This is my experience of the EU:

  • I lived in Romania for many years with no hassle from the visa authorities because of free movement of peoples in the EU. I also set up two businesses there, ran projects and bought properties. Less hassle than in UK due to EU-encouraged reforms which often result in less bureaucracy.
  • I have worked on several EU funded projects for the Romanian Government and also in former Yugoslavia. I met lots of EU officials, all of whom seem well educated, open and keen to do the right thing. No sign of corruption. My proudest moment was playing a bit part in the EU’s role in reforming Romania’s child welfare system, resulting in a complete stop in babies being institutionalised. Their orphanage problem is now history (but they still have a host of other social problems to deal with).
  • I helped the Romanian government negotiate their entry into the EU, on the Justice and Home Affairs chapter, which is why I was sceptical about the ease by which Scottish nationalists assumed they could breeze back into the club having declared independence. I’m not sure if the EU has been good for Romania: the economy has improved, and freedom of movement is great for people but the influx of big business is terrible for the ancient village life and the forests, which are more under threat than ever. The EU is both good and bad, like all governments.
  • In Liverpool, where I now live, the NHS Addictions Unit is run by a psychiatrist from Pakistan. I went to a seminar with GPs and about 80% of them were from the subcontinent. When I go to the doctors most of the staff are immigrants. What would the NHS do without them?
  • I currently live in a street in Toxteth that is filled with immigrants from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. My house was derelict before my housing association did it up, along with 12,000 other properties. Liverpool has over 40,000 empty houses and (like Scotland) needs immigrants to fill houses, jobs and schools. The economy is booming. Immigrants are bringing this city back to life and the only problem is that there’s not enough of them; the city is still empty as it was losing population between 1970 and 2010. They come because our economy is growing and we need them for their skills. Welfare benefits which are really hard to get for East Europeans. Do you know anyone who is claiming benefits? Funnily enough yesterday, in Little Venice, I ran into the only Romanian-in-Britain I know who has claimed benefits, and she was jailed for running a scam. You can see the BBC report here. I also met a bunch of homeless Romanians in Liverpool who have neither homes nor jobs but none of them mentioned benefits, all asked me about how they can get jobs. They all knew they can’t claim benefits.
  • I work the health sector. At Castle Craig Hospital, which has 120 beds and 80 staff, they are always searching for therapists and other staff. They have a Romanian cleaner, driver, PA to the director, nurse and doctor. Over 15 Romanian addicts have come there for rehab (at a cost of about £20k each). Many of their staff are immigrants and they say “if only we could recruit therapists from the USA where there is a surplus, but the visa requirements are too much hassle.” I once worked with a lady from Silicon Valley who told me the IT sector’s message to Washington DC was simply “give us more Indians”; they are desperate for more highly trained immigrants and every growing economy needs them.

And here are some more of my opinions/observations:

I agree with some of the Brexit criticism of the EU. I really don’t like it as an institution and I know it better than most; I’ve been to the Commission and the European Parliament many times. It needs to be reformed, slimmed down, streamlined, made more democratic and accountable. And it can be done. Remember this story from 1999, when the entire European Commission resigned en masse after a devastating report by an independent committee of inquiry which found that they had “lost control of the administration”.

Yesterday on Radio 4 was a veteran BBC correspondent who had been in Brussels 16 years, She said: “finally the European Commission have woken up to the fact that there is a problem” and she believes (as I do) that the commission can be radically reformed. Actually, what will happen is that the 28 sovereign governments which totally control the EU will insist on it. Those who believe in “ever closer union” are a rapidly shrinking minority who will soon be marginalised.

And this is in fact the main point: the European Commission is nothing but an administrative structure that operates under the control of 28 nations. It has a bureaucracy, it may well be corrupt, it is run by an old fool (Juncker) who doesn’t like change. They key point is that all laws, and all decisions about the structure/funding of the commission, have to be made by the European Council which is made up of 28 elected heads of governments. If those Prime Ministers decide to send Juncker back into retirement, and radically reform the whole institution, it could happen tomorrow. We may be reaching that point where these governments are ready to do that. The commission, like any civil service, will whine and scream and threaten armaggedon but they can be fired and a new lot brought in to change it.

Without the full support of the 28 member states, the European Commission would fade away.

A final point: whatever the outcome of today’s referendum Britain will be okay. If we leave the UK, the EU may well collapse (it’s a lot less powerful than people assume) but something good could replace it, and Britain may well be at the centre of it. If we remain, there will be unstoppable pressure from all over Europe to reform the EU — not just tinker and fiddle and promise and obfuscate — but strip it down and rebuild it.

To all my family: please add a comment under this article; share your wisdom with the rest of the world and don’t just send an email.

Photo credit: Ageing Provocateur