This article was originally written ahead of the referendum in 2016, but the points it makes are still valid today as we approach leave negotiations.
We’re all turning out to vote to remain or leave the EU on 23 June, aren’t we? There are arguments backwards and forwards about the economic benefits and the importance of trade deals and treaties. But what about mountain biking? We asked half-British, half-German Beate Kubitz to look at some of the potential impact of a ‘Leave’ vote.
1 – Visiting Europe
OK, it’s unlikely that we’re all going to have to get visas to go mountain biking in the Alps, Pyrenees or Tatras. But we all take EHICs (European Health Insurance Cards) with us, don’t we? And our insurance is valid across the EU as part of EU law.
What is going to happen to our reciprocal rights in the event of leaving the EU? That will be part of a post-Brexit negotiation (leaving the EU is a two-year process laid out in Article 50 of the Treaty on Europe).
Well, the answer to that is ‘who knows?’. Insurance and the EHIC are reciprocal arrangements so if we vote to leave what happens it depends on whether we all get along swimmingly if we have to sit down to the Brexit negotiation on 24 June. Put Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel in the same room and retire to a safe distance. I’m sure it will be fine. But get some decent travel insurance just in case.
2 – Forget that guiding job in Europe
You want to work in Europe as a guide? Set up a business in the Dolomites? Run tours in the Carpathians? At the moment your qualifications have equal weight across the EU. And not only that, member states have to allow you to work and carry out your business on an equal footing with their own nationals. EU laws are even forcing France to (grudgingly) accept British Cycling Mountain Bike Leadership training as a legitimate qualification. And we’re on the verge of a unified European guiding standard to make it all simpler.
What could happen?
The leave lobby really wants to limit immigration and if they win, your dream team negotiators will be Nigel Farage and Michael Gove. I’m not sure how the Germans or the French are going to respond to their ‘limited immigration’ agenda. The EU is pretty all or nothing. No free movement = no free trade (see the Swiss and Norwegian models where both have had to accept this trade off, however much they dislike it). If my French and German relatives are anything to go by, we can expect a Gallic shrug and a firm German ‘Nein’. Prepare for a rocky ride if your dream job is guiding in Tuscany.
In case you’re wondering, this pretty much applies to anyone who wants to work anywhere in Europe. If you take up an IT job in France so you can be closer to the mountains, your right to work there is likely to be one of the things that will be a political football.
3 – More expensive rubber
Everyone knows that the good Contis are the ones made in Germany. If we end up with the EU slapping trade tariffs on us, the price of things made in the EU will go up. Oh, and step away from the rosebikes.de site, that stuff will only get held at customs and you’ll have to pay import duty (as with packages from the US).
4 – More expensive everything
Bike companies manufacture in the far East and pay for production in US dollars or Taiwanese dollars. The money markets are predicting a weak pound if we leave. A weak pound will buy less – so bike prices will go up. We can still buy British made bikes? Well yes. Brexit could be good for Orange Fives but imported raw materials will be more expensive and how about the imported suspension forks, gears, tyres, wheels and grips that go onto it? It’s not necessarily that straight forward.
In the fullness of time, the Leave camp are aiming to be more like Switzerland. Which went through a period of recession before negotiating trade deals with the EU, but now has a very strong currency. Swiss exports are very expensive – bad for manufacturing and their exports, but luckily for them, their economy is built around financial services. If this scenario plays out (and we don’t have any more financial scandals…) this would mean that the cheap bikes will be back eventually – but made in Britain bikes and components will find export more challenging.
5 – Smog
Opinions may vary about the relevance of air quality regulations to mountain bikers, but we all breathe. Having moved out of London to somewhere I don’t choke on fumes outside my front door, if Europe can do the same job it did on air quality as it did in cleaning up beaches, it’s a jolly good thing.
What would happen if we leave the EU? The government remains accountable to the electorate but with a single vote it’s hard to work out how to vote for giving technical improvements to our environment a priority in the current system of right and left wing politics.
6 – Bike Park Wales and the 7 Stanes
EU regeneration funding targets areas in need of economic development – where traditional industries have failed, for instance.
The pay off for mountain biking has been match funding for Bike Park Wales and other trail centres including the 7Stanes Glyncorrwg and Coed Y Brenin. The wider impact has been better auxiliary services (accommodation and shops) making trips more enjoyable as the economies of these areas have improved. If you’ve been visiting these areas over time the positive impact is clear – and the benefits have been quantified. Cycling related tourism in Scotland (for instance) was worth over £300 million last year.
If we leave the EU, it will be up to the UK government to work out priorities for regeneration, tourism and cycling related funding. Views on our government’s eagerness to do this may vary – perhaps have a word with your local rights of way officers. Assuming they’re still employed.
7 – Regulations
Europe likes its standards. From stopping helmets being made from cheese to forcing countries to clean up their air, beaches and land. We’ve adopted European standards for bikes (http://www.cyclinguk.org/cyclists-library/regulations/standards) and it’s actually illegal to sell an unsafe bike. Who can argue with that? The standards are unlikely to be taken off the statute book if we leave – however, they might not move forward at the same rate as Europe in future.
However, if we want to export any of our fine products to Europe, they’ll have to comply with European standards. So what’s the point of lagging behind?
And the good news?
Well, Aldi might be faced with trade tariffs which stop it doing special offers that tempt you into buying inexpensive but oddly coloured gear.
Seriously, leaving the EU would give us two years of uncertainty, hoping that our leaders negotiate something workable with our nearest neighbours. A vote out is unlikely to endear us to continental Europe and it’s unlikely that any group is going to get everything they want.
And given the enthusiastic support for EU membership in Scotland, a ‘leave’ vote also be likely to trigger another Scottish referendum. Which could mean we’d be seeing passport control and customs at Gretna Green, bringing the practicalities of international car hire, cross border insurance and health care a little closer to home.
What do you think?
One last time. Has your view changed? EU..
- Remain (78%, 572 Votes)
- Leave (15%, 112 Votes)
- Don't Know (7%, 51 Votes)
Total Voters: 735