1 June, 2016

EU Referendum: Stay or Leave?

On the 23rd of June the British electorate will have to make a decision that will reverberate for many generations; whether or not to leave to European Union.

The UK has already been given ‘special status‘ within the EU, following the decision on the 20th February. The renegotiated terms to the UK’s membership now means:

  • Child benefit to migrants living in the UK with families back home can now be cut to the same level that they would receive in their home state. This applies to all new arrivals and will affect existing claimants from 2020
  • The UK can apply an “emergency brake” to migrant’s in-work benefit anytime in the next 7 years when there are exceptional levels of immigration
  • The EU’s principle to seek an ever-closer union does “not apply to the United Kingdom”
  • The UK can operate “an emergency safeguard” to protect its businesses and the City of London

(Full list of changes)

The final deal that was agreed was a negotiation that saw a partial implementation of Cameron’s initial proposals. Almost immediately after the decision on Britain’s place in Europe was finalised, the date for the EU referendum was also announced, which is set to take place on the 23rd June.

Battle lines have already been drawn with Conservative MPs split down the middle. David Cameron, believing that London and Brussels had reached a positive compromise is fully supporting the UK to remain in the EU. George Osborne, Theresa May and backing and a majority of his most significant party members have pledged their support to stay in the EU.

On the Brexit side, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Minister of State for Employment Priti Patel and Justice Secretary Michael Gove have all vowed to campaign for Britain to leave the EU. Conservative MP and Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, plastered the front pages just 48 hours after the referendum date was announced, backing the UK to leave.

So what would be the consequences were we to leave?

The biggest advantage of the EU is free trade. This benefits consumers with inexpensive imports and also allows industries to compete in Europe with cheaper exports. This is the reason why a majority of the UK’s largest companies as well as a number of prominent European organisations have publically pledged their backing to Mr Cameron and towards staying in the European Union.

It is argued that Britain could renegotiate its position to one similar to Norway or Switzerland. It will also allow the UK to establish trade deals with other nations such as the USA, China or Russia. But if Britain leaves the EU it does not mean that Europe will be gone too. By sitting directly next to a larger and more influential trading bloc, the UK will still be subject to EU economics but without the seat to change the politics.

Immigration is one of the hottest topics of the EU debate. Brexit campaigners want Britain to have greater control over its own borders. However on the other side, campaigners for the UK to stay argue that our membership helps attract the best talents and employers benefit through a larger selection of applicants.

The issue of investment is another concern with the referendum. The uncertainty of Britain’s future will discourage investors until the results are in. If Britain does leave the EU it is suspected that foreign investors would prefer to move their operations into the Europe. Also London’s position as a financial powerhouse could also be put under threat as many foreign banks use the city as an opening into Europe.

EU law and regulations have been named as another reason to leave the EU. Currently the UK parliament has to uphold legislation that is passed by the EU. By leaving the EU, Britain can determine its own policy rather than have it demanded from outside authority. However, going back to a previous point, Britain will still be heavily influenced by the European Union, economically as well as politically. It can be argued also that Britain will lose some influence on the world stage by leaving the European Union; the United Sates would no longer consider us as a valuable ally from within the EU.

Head or Heart?

Current polls suggest that support for the ‘leave campaign’ holds a 3 point lead over the ‘stay campaign’ with 9% of voters still undecided. With less than 2 months to go its hard to predict what will happen next.

The vote echoes the Scottish Independence Referendum back in September 2014, when it seemed that the head prevailed over the heart. Similarly, influences of voting one way or another and the consequences of the decision resonate in the EU referendum. This vote also has parallel connotations, as we must make up our minds to judge if the economic impact is going to be worth the greater liberty our nation will have when it comes to deciding our own laws.

What many people do not take into account is that the EU is not idolized everywhere except for the UK. The EU does have its flaws, plain to see for all. Many other nations have also questioned the benefit of the EU, such as the Netherlands who would also support a referendum vote with polls even closer than the UK. If Britain leaves the EU, it will almost certainly influence other nations following suit with a vote; potentially destroying the EU which has brought 60 years of peace, prosperity and free trade to Europe. Perhaps instead it is Britain’s role to reform the EU from inside, not only for itself but also for the concerns of other member states other than Germany and France.

In the next few months we will all witness the campaigns of both sides intensify as the 23rd of June draws closer and the biggest decision a generation will ever face will fall on the British public.

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