Thanet Star

What does the EU vote mean for Thanet?

There can be no doubt that the referendum on the EU has a direct and measurable outcome for Thanet but the possible outcome remains undefined.

What is clear is that we have a choice - keep things as they are or role the dice and hope for something better. Make no mistake, the government has no exit plan, so if we leave it will be a gamble. If we vote to gamble and leave, what are we risking and what are the potential gains, if anything?

European Flag

Ramsgate Harbour

Our seaport has, in recent years, become something of a joke. Successive councils seem unable or unwilling to do what is needed to set up a viable ferry service.

Unsurprisingly, UKIP have followed suit and failed to establish any new business at the port. Possibly this is because they are ideologically opposed to working with the EU which, given that is who is on the other side of the sea, we would need to be working with.

Ironically, being part of the EU actually provides an optimal situation for establish a ferry service and other traffic through the port. If the council is currently struggling to get any activity at Port Ramsgate now then, should we leave, they are going to find it even harder.

As a result, vote to leave or vote to stay and Port Ramsgate is unlikely to see any activity until we elect a council that is willing to take action. When that happens, if we are still in the EU then a decent council (yeah, I know, not likely) would have a shot at setting something up. Until then, in or out makes very little difference.

Taxes and the cost of the EU

On the Brexit side of things we have claims that being in the EU costs too much and on the Stay side we have claims that we get back more than we put in. How does that actually work out for us in Thanet?

It would be nice to think that we could vote to save some cash by leaving the EU and pay less tax. We would be fools to think that a government so dedicated to tax cuts for big business would let us see any change at all in the rate of tax we pay. The days, weeks and years after an exit would provide no actual savings to you and me.

The cost, or benefit, of being in the EU is a false debate for us. Regardless of whether the UK pays the EU money or not, we will never see any relief in the surgical extraction of money from our wallets.

The only benefits we will see are in the form of grants, jobs and reduced costs. Or not.

Stay and maybe there are grants and a bit of investment. Leaving the EU is highly unlikely to make any difference to our taxes.

Grants and free EU money

The UK, as a whole, has missed out on a lot of free cash from the EU recently. When we experienced flooding there was a fund of EU money ready and waiting for us. For some reason, the Tory government refused to apply for it.

More locally there is, I am led to understand, a pile of cash somewhere in the millions. Some of this money could be getting Thanet businesses back on their feet, generating jobs and making things generally better. Instead, the referendum has caused those funds to stay put while investors and grant givers wait to see how we will vote.

Thanet is ideally suited to qualify for mind-numbingly large investments from EU businesses that could make a real difference to the levels of unemployment. If we leave, we leave that behind. Of course, until we make up our minds, we don't have a hope in hell of getting our hands on it anyway.

Stay and there are options to improve Thanet. Leave and we are on our own, optimistically this might, mean that, perhaps, there is some money to spend in Thanet (not that we have ever been a priority before so don't get your hopes up).

Jobs and business

It is no secret that Thanet has a massive shortage of jobs. It would be nice if we could blame that on someone or something but the fact is Thanet has always lacked jobs just like it has always lacked a competent council. There might even be a connection there.

Employment is an area where both sides make strong points. On the one hand, leaving the EU is certain to cause unemployment, that is unavoidable. However, there is a general lack of coherent answer as to what leaving would do to create jobs. No one seems to know but the leave groups seem supremely confident that it will magically sort itself out.

That smacks of the same lack of joined up thinking that has plagued Thanet for far too long.

On the other hand, the stay groups admit that the EU is very far from perfect. Something, they say, that can only be fixed if we retain a say in the matter. They might have a point. Are we really going to consider trusting France, Germany and Greece to sort everything out without us? At least, while we remain, we can call them to account.

Of course, outside of the EU, we could also remove worker protections and rights. That would make things cheaper and enable us to demand our employees work longer hours. I am not sure who that is supposed to benefit but I doubt it will make life better for the people working longer hours with fewer safeguards.

Staying in the EU means no particular change to Jobs in Thanet (aside from the potential to grab some solid investment). Leaving means a guaranteed loss of jobs in the short term, but in the longer term, no one really knows. Roll the dice and hope for the best.

Highstreets and shops

Thanet's high streets are hardly flourishing as it is. Years of short-sighted planning and a lack of joined up thinking have left us in a total mess. Yet, by all accounts, 3 out of 4 businesses in the UK benefit from being in the EU; which suggests that the EU could be the only thing keeping our high streets alive.

Should we leave the numbers indicate that three-quarters of the shops could be at risk. The worse case scenario for Thanet would be that, after we leave the EU, we have Westwood Cross as the only place to do our shopping. We don't actually know so, again, do you want to gamble with our high streets? It really depends on whose predictions you believe. Some of the predictions from both sides sound like make-it-up-as-you-go. The leave camps have, so far, failed to show me much by the way of any solid evidence.

Staying means that the high streets continue pretty much as they are (with maybe some EU cash unlocked at last to help). Leaving could mean a loss of up to 3 out of 4 shops or maybe no real change at all and no cash to help out either. Again, no one really knows what would happen if we leave; it is a gamble.


Some of the pro-Brexit groups want the UK to leave the EU over immigration. I rather fancy that this is because they do not understand how immigration works.

Right now, thanks to the EU, our borders extend all the way into France. That's why the refugees have ended up piling up at Calis unable to get any further.

The minute we depart the EU, our borders shrink back to our coast. After that, there is nothing to stop the French putting all 6000 plus refugees on the Eurostar and sending them to Dover. If that happens you can bet your bottom dollar that Thanet will be asked to shoulder a lot of that responsibility.

Now me, I'm a big softy and I find it upsetting to know that there are thousands of people forced to live in such poverty; I would be pleased that they were being housed at all. Your feelings may differ considerably.

On top of that, any post-Brexit trade deal is likely to include a freedom of movement clause meaning that the current levels of migration continue.

Stay in the EU and immigration remains as it is. Leave and it is up to the French if we get an instant influx of refugees. Either way ongoing migration is likely to be unchanged by the referendum.

Benefit Tourism

The leave camp generally acknowledge that after we leave there will be job losses. They claim, although I have yet to be convinced, that this will correct itself after a few years. Meanwhile, where do the unemployed of London go?

The Tories have implemented a number of controversial changes which seemed designed only to force the lower classes out of the Tory heartlands of London. Thanet has been braced for a mass influx of benefits claimants ever since.

After we leave, if job losses are a certainty, then so too are waves of internal migration away from London and down to Margate. Even if employment improves elsewhere, Thanet could have higher unemployment than ever before.

Voting to stay is a stable unexciting option, whereas voting leave has a very real risk of floods of unemployed people looking for somewhere less expensive to live.

Manston as an airport

There are several groups still holding out hope that Manston will be an airport. The current CPO deal has fallen though but that is far from the end of things.

Right now we have the EU to thank for breaking the monopoly of the big airlines and allowing budget airline travel to exist. Britons made 31 million visits to the EU just in 2014. If that dries up, and it could, the bigger airports could find themselves competing for the freight and other trade that would make Manston airport viable.

In terms of Manston as an airport, there is no upside to a leave vote. There might not be a downside but, once more, it is a gamble.

Stay and Manston has a shot at remaining an airport. Leave and Manston's chances decline.

Manston as an houses

Let us imagine that all the attempts to re-open the airport fail and Manston becomes houses how might the EU vote change things?

If we voted to stay then we will only have to deal with the lack of infrastructure, schools and medical services. Pretty much all the shortcomings of the plan as they are now.

If we voted to leave then this is a whole different landscape. First of all, there is every chance that the council will be forced to find homes for two to three thousand people - refugees and London's unemployed. With all those new houses going up the temptation would be huge to lean on housing project to fill that need.

It is possible that what Manston could become, especially if the land undergoes a CPO for housing, is something like a giant council housing estate. Of course, that is the worst case scenario but just because it is unlikely to happen does not mean that it won't happen (or that it will).

Terrorists, paedophiles, people traffickers and cyber-crime

These are four threats that our police have been better able to tackle by working together with other EU police forces. They are complicated issues and the perpetrators are experts at hiding.

It is an open secret that Thanet is often the place that the less reputable come expressly to commit crime. If we give up our connection to the EU how will Thanet's police handle these big issues?

Crime, and particular international crime, is something that worries me. The police in Thanet are hardly the cutting edge of law enforcement as it is and it concerns me greatly that without EU support our police could, to put it bluntly, be up the creek without a paddle.

The leave camp suggest that all we need are tougher laws, more rules and more control. We can pass all the laws we want but without enough police and specialist resources to implement those rules they are simply large boring documents in a desk draw in Whitehall.

Stay and we have the backing of all the police in the EU. Leave and I hope to goodness that someone has workable plan for dealing with the most evasive and damaging of crimes once we are on our own.

Over to you?

All I can say is that leaving the EU looks like a huge risk for Thanet with no upside. Staying in the EU, while far from perfect, could be the best of a bad lot.

Apprently you can tell a lot about a person based on how they might vote. For a pro-EU view you might like to read "What has the European Union ever done for us?" or to get the other side of things The Week's EU referendum overview.

For something a little closer to home Matthew Munson, a local writer, writes about Europe and how he might vote.

How do you feel about the EU and what would be the best outcome for Thanet?

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