Will history repeat itself in referendum?
The Government has renegotiated the terms of our membership of the European Union and is to give the British people the right to decide whether we stay or go.
Feelings are running high, the cabinet is divided and the Government issues a pamphlet urging us to remain.
Sound familiar? It will be for those who remember 1975 when the outcome of that referendum was a vote to remain. Is history about to repeat itself?
I don’t know. The circumstances are different today.
Britain was the poor neighbour in 1975 and the EU was surging ahead.
Today, we are growing whilst the EU is stagnating, but there is a big downside to that growth.
The deficit may be reducing – the annual difference between how much we borrow – but our national debt, the amount the government owes the private sector, has climbed to an eye watering £1.5trillion.
Could we still borrow at favourable rates if we left?
So what are we voting for this time?
What exactly did David Cameron renegotiate?
Well, he got a commitment to exempt Britain from closer union.
New immigrants will have to wait four years to claim benefits, and he got a guarantee that we would not fund any future Euro bailouts.
In an echo of Harold Wilson and 1975, the Government has again sent a pamphlet urging us to remain because, according to it, we can keep the pound, we will control our own borders, we will not be part of any further integration, there will be new restrictions on welfare, and we will have continued access to the largest market in the world.
Also, according to President Obama, if we do leave we will be “last in the queue” for a deal with the US. Crikey!
The ‘Brexiteers’ want to leave because they want to regain our sovereignty and they believe that the EU project will ultimately fail.
They already see the collapse of the Schengen Agreement as waves of refugees, economic migrants, and possibly members of Islamic State, flood into Europe.
They see increased pressure on the Euro, with a possible Greek debt default in June and negative indicators from other South European economies.
They want decisions made by an accountable parliament and not unelected EU administrators.
They want British courts to have the final say, and they want us to decide who we allow into Britain.
They believe the money we pay the EU could be used instead to fund the NHS and other UK projects.
According to ‘Vote Leave’ we send £18billion to the EU every year (£350million a week) and receive back only £4.5billion, but these figures are disputed and everyone is arguing about the actual net cost/benefits.
The big question that cannot be answered by anyone, no matter what they claim, is what sort of trade deal can we get if we leave?
Will three million people lose their jobs? There has been talk of different models, but the simple truth is that we don’t know – there is no precedent.
‘Bremainers’ believe we cannot secure a deal without accepting the free movement of people, but ‘Brexiteers’ believe we are now strong enough to negotiate a free trade deal.
The UK imports £5billion more goods every month from the EU compared to what it exports back.
What to do in these uncharted waters?
Do you fall back on gut instinct? Do you feel British or European?
Do you remain sceptical, but live with your misgivings and hope it will all come right in the end?
Or do you see this as an opportunity to change things?
Whatever happens, prepare yourself for some turbulence once the votes have been counted.
• Tony Willis, who lives in Beadnell, has published one novel, Dark Flame, and is writing a second, Dead Reckoning.
He is also writing his memoirs, which include his time working as a police detective in Yorkshire and living in Rhodesia and South Africa during a turbulent era.