As the referendum on staying in the EU gets ever closer, it’s now only just over a week away until Britain goes to the polls to decide the fate of their country in Europe. The question of whether or not Britain should leave the European Union is everywhere at the moment. You’d have to have been living under a rock to not have heard anything about it, although saying that I mentioned it to a friend of mine last weekend and she was blissfully unaware of the whole issue. I thought I’d do this post just to get my own opinion in order, and also to provide a pretty basic guide featuring some of the main arguments and a little bit of what’s been going on in the weird world of politics.
The vote itself will be a simple two-option question, something along the lines of whether you think we should remain a member of the EU, or whether we should leave the EU. As a member of the EU as it stands, we benefit from elements of the institution such as free trade and a joint defence policy, but are also susceptible to less positive legislation, such as increased regulation and, as many will know, rules surrounding immigration to Britain. In turn, however, we have been allowed to opt out of pretty major aspects of the EU, such as the single currency and the free movement of the Schengen Area.
Logically, leaving the EU would mean reduced regulation, especially relating to important economic factors like small businesses, although any deal struck with the EU might still necessitate tight regulations. It would also mean that Britain would not have to pay its contribution to the EU every year, which sits at around £8 billion net (~£13bn contribution minus ~£5bn EU spends on UK). Leaving would, of course, also make a difference to immigration, and would allow the UK to, theoretically, set its own rules concerning the migration of peoples into the country.
However, there is much opposition towards leaving the EU, and for legitimate reasons. One of the most powerful arguments is that of uncertainty. Partly due to the fact that those campaigning to Leave are not organised into one clear camp, and partly because there are so many possibilities and variables, there is no one vision for what will happen to the UK if we leave the EU, nor what our relations with the rest of the world will be like. It’s worth noting that a vote to Leave is just that, a Leave vote, and will have no bearings on how the UK will manage that process and what new deals and legislation the government will put in place.
On top of this, the Remain campaign have been busy spreading doom and gloom about the future of the economy. It’s widely agreed that there will be a fall in the price of sterling, and that if we were to Leave there would be a pretty significant ‘settling in’ period, probably spanning a few years or more. However, there will not necessarily be quite the impact they predict, although the figures aren’t exactly unfounded. An independent review by Open Europe suggests that the most likely range of figures for GDP by 2030 would be between 0.8% lower and 0.6% higher. In a worst case scenario, where no Free Trade deal is struck with the EU, GDP could be 2.2% lower, yet in a best case scenario (FTA with EU, ambitious deregulation, open fully to trade with rest of the world) GDP would only grow by a maximum of 1.6%.
The issue of trade is also hotly debated. If Britain were to leave the EU, it would be necessary to pursue deregulation in industry and seek trade deals with countries outside of the EU. An EU free trade agreement would also be pursued (presumably!), although it would never be quite as advantageous as being a part of the single market and the customs union. But in terms of trade with the rest of the world, it is worth considering that, although people view places like China, Indonesia, and India as prime trading markets, it would also mean that British businesses and British workers would suddenly be in competition with extremely low-cost countries, and might struggle to compete effectively.
As mentioned above, leaving the EU would not ensure a lowering of regulations. A trade deal with the EU might mean agreeing to slightly different regulations, but which would still take away from the freedom which many think leaving the EU would give. We also, as a country, give up our voting rights within the institutions of the EU if we leave. Decisions would still be made by the EU as a whole which would affect Britain, however indirectly. Consequently this presents the dilemma of staying and having a say, but being under the power of the EU, or leaving, having some freedoms but having no say on EU legislation that affects the country.
Having really won the economic argument, where is the Remain camp failing? What other issue is prompting people to side with the Brexiteers? That issue is, of course, immigration. Arguably THE primary factor in most people’s decision to back Brexit, the impact of immigration allowed between EU countries has been massive on the UK. Although historically higher, non-EU net migration is now on a par with net migration from the EU, due to the steep rise in EU migrants (see Full Fact for more statistics). Before 2004, net migration from the EU was around 10,000 per year. Ten new member countries joined the EU in 2004, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. The net migration from the EU is now just under the 200,000 per year mark. That’s a big increase.
However, it’s not just the numbers that ordinary people have a problem with. It’s widely accepted that we need people from places like the EU for labour purposes, otherwise our workforce in an ageing population would quickly become inadequate. Yet it’s really services provided by the government which cause problems, in that migrants from the EU are allowed access to them. People complain of not being able to get a doctors appointment, of migrants sending child benefit home to their own country, and of not being able to get their children into schools. These are all legitimate concerns, and border control is enviable. Yet none of those already in the UK will be forced to leave if we exit the EU, and neither will migrants be stopped completely from entering the country. The real issue in my view is the inadequacy of our public services, rather than the number of people. The population of the country is going to continue to increase, and with an ageing population, the most in-demand services, like GP surgeries and hospitals, will continue to be stretched further. It is also worth adding that, were an independent UK to look into still being a part of the single market with all its benefits, free movement of workers would probably still be necessary.
For me personally, this is a difficult decision, because I can emphasise with those who feel our public services are being overcrowded and sometimes misused, and I do understand how EU regulation can have such a negative impact on business. However, some of the other arguments, for instance concerning trade, and arguments about immigration which can come across as quite xenophobic, I can’t say I agree with. I also believe that the benefits of being in the EU, combined with the sheer volume of problems the UK will have to deal with were it to leave, really add up to a clear vote to Remain. I have nothing against those voting to Leave who have an informed perspective, but I worry that too many people are being swayed by what is essentially propaganda (often from both sides of the argument), and that those people don’t fully understand the consequences of Brexit.