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Keith Williams: 'We should be at the EU party even if we don't like the music'

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Brexit could tip the industry back into recession - and that would be foolish, argues Keith Williams

Keith Williams

Keith Williams

Keith Williams

The EU referendum campaign has been a long one and if you have followed it, it will surely have tried your patience. But it is the most important political decision that we have had to make in several generations, and the opinion polls suggest the vote hangs on a knife edge. So I feel compelled to set out my rationale for why Britain must remain within the EU, and why to do otherwise would have a profoundly negative impact on the practice of architecture and construction in this country.

Amid the maelstrom of claim and counter claim, untruths and distortions being peddled by both sides of the debate, if you boil it down you get to two fundamentals. If your primary concern is immigration and some notion of an isolated, more sovereign Britain, then you are probably going to vote Leave. If, however, if your primary concern is for the economy of this country, jobs, prosperity, well-funded public services and the important cultural, social and political constructs that we have established over centuries with European nations, then surely you are bound to vote to Remain.

Even some Leave campaigners think there will be a recession if we quit the EU

 The economic argument, clearly one of the most important parts of the debate, has largely been won by the Remain campaign with the Leave campaign unable to offer anything other than a vague promise that everything will be alright on the night. Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the CBI, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England and John Nelson, chairman of Lloyds of London all think that leaving the EU would be a bad move.As architects, we might not care what these people think, but we should listen more closely when the Creative Industries Federation comes out solidly behind Remain, or when major clients such as Land Securities state that ’Brexit could be painful for the property industry’.

Since the referendum date was announced in April, investment has been stalling and architectural clients are deferring decisions. Some leading architectural firms are beginning to lay off staff, citing Brexit. They are doing that because their clients fear the uncertainty of a post-Brexit economy. Surely it would be foolish to risk tipping the profession and the construction industry back into recession, which is what many, including even some in the Leave campaign, believe will happen if we quit the EU.

Whether you are part of a large company working internationally, a small regional practice or a one-person firm serving a local clientele, this matters to you. If the UK decides to quit the EU there will surely be a downturn because we will have to renegotiate all our European trade deals, our public services will need to be cut further, private investment will slow, and the quality and quantity of commissions will dwindle - again.

David Chipperfield made the case for remaining in Europe rather well

Leave campaigners suggest that were the UK to exit the EU then we Brits would be free to negotiate whatever trade deals we wished with whomsoever we chose. Well, maybe with non-EU zone countries - we can do that already so the point is largely irrelevant - but all future deals with EU member states will be subject to EU rules governing the conduct of member states and their dealings with countries outside the Union. Why would anyone think that, having resigned from the EU club, the UK would get a deal with all 27 EU states that would be preferential or even equal to the one it has already? The proposition is palpable rubbish.

David Chipperfield made the social, political and cultural case for remaining in Europe rather well (AJ 30.03.16). The cultural impetus behind architecture and the built environment is centuries old, and we have always learned, refined and progressed by a cross-fertilisation of ideas and principles - which can only be enhanced by being able to practice internationally. All this matters where in principle any of us in architecture can work in any EU state. We can bid for and execute European contracts. We can establish offices easily and architects can transfer between workplaces should they wish. This right has been hard won over many decades and should not be surrendered lightly.UK architects are highly regarded internationally and are in demand, particularly in Europe. I do not think that the quality of architecture and our cities will be improved, were we to leave, by having to re-negotiate the right to practice in Europe. If we think matters are bureaucratic now, then try that one.

If there is an important party going on, and the EU is one, then we should attend even if we don’t always like the mood music – we can from time to time try to change it. Otherwise, all we can do is stand outside in the rain and shout about the noise. And I suspect no one will listen.

Keith Williams is director of Keith Williams Architects

Do you think Keith is wrong and that Brexit will be good for the profession? Leave a comment below

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