Brexit arguments have left us baffled: are we better off in or out?

We don’t know enough about the impact on our finances to make a decision to ‘leave’ or ‘remain’

Updated: 
EU referendum

Every day there's a new claim about Europe. The 'leave' camp tells us that we'll be far better off when we stop sending millions to Europe, and that a slight drop on the value of the pound would boost exports. The 'remain' camp, meanwhile, argues that it would make holidays and groceries more expensive, destroy workers' rights, and extend austerity.

It's hardly surprising that so many people feel completely in the dark.

A study by Hitachi Capital UK asked people whether they thought they would be financially better or worse off out of Europe, and by far the most common answer was that they didn't know enough to make a decision - this was given by two fifths of people. Meanwhile just over a quarter thought it would leave them worse off.

This is reflected in official polling data, which shows a broadly even split between 'remain' and leave' of around 41% each, but shows that 13% are still undecided (the rest don't plan to vote).

Why?

The fundamental problem is that there is only one answer to the question of 'what would happen if Britain left Europe?' and that's 'Nobody knows."

In some ways it reflects the decisions we are now being asked to make about our pensions and retirement. Most of us don't feel we know enough to make a sensible decision, and when we try to find the missing information, we discover that it doesn't exist. So just as nobody can tell you how long you are going to live (and need a pension for), nobody can tell you the terms of any theoretical future trade agreements (and whether they will be better or worse than they are now).

Experts, commentators and politicians all have their own views, which they are very happy to share. We know that the TUC is concerned about the threats jobs and rights in the event of Brexit. Likewise the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the International Monetary Fund have financial concerns. Meanwhile, Economists for Brexit are keen for Britain to leave Europe, as is Donald Trump.

We now know what Ian Botham and Michael Caine think on the subject (they both back Brexit), we also know that Emma Thompson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Arsene Wenger think it would be troubling.

What we don't know is who is right.

All we can do is weigh up what different groups are telling us, try to discover whether their view is based on fact or opinion, and bear in mind the group of politicians that are likely to be left in charge if their side wins.

The good news

Fortunately, there's one thing we know will definitely be good for the UK - getting the referendum over and done with. It has wasted an inordinate amount of money and time, spent by politicians who should have bigger things to worry about.

It as also caused jitters in the stockmarket and the currency market. Once the vote is out of the way, there may well be implications depending on the decision reached, but the one thing the experts agree on is that once the dust has settled, the markets will be less volatile without this hanging over them.

One of the most comforting views came from veteran fund manager Neil Woodford, who produced a report with Capital Economics that on balance was marginally in favour of Brexit, but added: "Although the impact of Brexit on the British economy is uncertain, we doubt that Britain's long-term economic outlook hinges on it." It added: "The more extreme claims made about the costs and benefits of Brexit for the British economy are wide of the mark and lacking in evidential bases."

But what do you think? Are you in the leave or remain camp? Do you know enough to make a decision? And are you convinced that any of this really matters? Let us know in the comments.

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