The EU has given us cheap mobile phone roaming charges, cheaper flights and proper compensation when things go wrong. It has helped clean up the environment, improving our rivers and beaches. It has given us unprecedented freedom to travel visa-free across the continent. And I’m voting out.
Why? I know a painter/decorator who has not been able to raise his wages for 15 years. There’s always someone else, he says, willing to work for less. A driver who arrived from Turkey 18 years ago, who says the bus companies used to pay more than £12 an hour, but can now pay £10 or less because they have so many takers (and yes, the irony is noted). A care-home cleaner in a rundown seaside town who reckons her hopes of ever getting more than the minimum wage are zero. Each blames an influx of workers from the EU. Each of them are voting out. Tell them the EU protects workers’ rights and they just laugh.
When companies launch recruitment drives in eastern Europe they blame skills shortages in Britain. Really? If a big business wants to hire, say, drivers on £25 an hour, it will find it can do so easily; what they really mean is that they can’t find people willing to work for £10 an hour or less, with antisocial hours to boot. Meanwhile, workers here rejecting low wages are told they are lazy, chavvy and feckless when they refuse to be part of the so-called “jobs factory of Europe”.
Meanwhile, as wages for people in low-income groups are pegged back, rents rise. Many times I interviewed Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord, Fergus Wilson, and many times he told me how well he was doing from eastern European migrants, who filled nearly all his properties and kept his rental income booming.
Rents in parts of the country are at catastrophic levels, snatching as much as 60% of pay. Migration is only part of the reason why that is happening. But when George Osborne declares house prices will fall by 18% if Britain quits, he’s giving the game away. He is saying membership of the EU keeps prices and rents much higher than they would otherwise be. Young people struggling with ludicrous rents, take note.