So, the time has come. In little over a month the British public will vote to either stay or leave the European Union. The latter action is completely unprecedented, as is the subject of the referendum itself. Very rarely are the public in Britain given an opportunity to express their views and vote on such a huge aspect of government policy and decision making. The last time we were given a vote on the EU, or the common market as it was known then, was in 1975 under Harrold Wilson’s Labour government. Here, I’ve just mentioned one of the greatest problems that many people have with the EU; that it’s evolved beyond just an organisation for trade and financial betterment. As it was originally conceived it was just that, a diplomatic arrangement that was meant to prevent another war in Europe and benefit all the nation states that were members.
However, anyone can see that the EU of today is a far cry from the description I’ve just given. Today, it’s more of a political union than anything else, dictating legislation to member states about the environment, human rights, agriculture, fishing and a myriad of other fields of government. A large number of EU countries have even begun proper steps towards serious economic integration, with the introduction of the Euro in countries such as Germany, France and Italy.
Now, I want to get one thing clear from the start, which is that if the main reason you wish to leave the EU is due to greater economic union then stop. I’d never say definitively that the UK will never be in the Euro, but given what happened during and after the 2008 financial crisis and in addition to the issues that Greece is still enduring, I doubt that any government would be able to make the UK join the Euro without a major rebellion. And, whilst it is true that the EU is becoming more bureaucratic and I for one do not like being told which laws we can and cannot pass (the right of prisoners to vote is still a sticking point), there are a good few things that the EU has done for the UK. We’ve got a say in the European Parliament for example, with elections taking place a couple of years ago. Our farmers benefit from farm subsidies, due to French pressure for these in the EU and our fishermen can fish in EU waters, hopefully ensuring that they’ll always have produce to sell. And EU regulations on water cleanliness, air pollution and wildlife have made the country cleaner and continue to ensure that our government can’t give short shrift to these issues, something we’ve already seen in recent times.
The biggest sticking point for most people however, is also the policy which I believe is the biggest benefit to being in the EU, the free movement of peoples between member countries. This, especially for me and many of my friends who speak other languages, is vital for our studies and businesses and trade. In any case, British people who go to live abroad are usually retirees, and put more of a strain on the public services of Spain for example, than the mostly very highly skilled people who come to work in Britain and contribute to the economy here.
In short, there’s so much that the EU has done for us, I’ve not even mentioned the European Court of Human Rights, or the Convention on Human Rights or the fact that a lot of EU legislation stops our government from taking policies too far. I agree that in some places there’s been too much integration in the EU, but these can’t be fixed from complaining on the sidelines. The only way for reformation of the EU to be led by Britain is if we’re inside it, and that’s why I’ll be voting to stay on the 23rd of June.
When Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, it did so under the pretence that it was all about trade and nothing to do with politics. 40 years have passed, and we’ve tutted in condemnation, wagged our fingers, and even waved the proverbial gun. But try as we might, the EU isn’t going to cease its political encroachments, not for the UK – it’s second largest economy, not for anyone else, and it’s safe to say it never will. Its institutions have become so fundamentally resistant to the concept, that no matter how minuscule the demands we make they are continually diluted and rebuffed until they are nothing but meaningless optical alterations.
Since 2013, David Cameron has attempted to regain powers on criminal justice, employment laws, and immigration practices, to name just a few, but in the end he has had nothing to show for it. This is the inherent problem with the EU. It’s not just the fact that we are required to send £350 million each week. Or that 53 per cent of the UK’s laws are enforced by the EU. Or even the growing calls for further political integration. All of these problems, and many more, are underscored by a much larger issue. The EUs insistence on using an outdated blueprint where it views member states through a one-size-fits-all policy. This means that the 28 EU members, all with differing cultures and economic realities, all have to be satisfied by any agreement that is made. This is exemplified by the attempt to establish a single currency for a multitude of states. It has subsequently robbed nations of their ability to control monetary policy and respond to the economic conditions in an organic way. Case in point, the suffering that the Greek people are currently enduring. To make matters worse, these policies are determined by an unelected Brussels elite, whose distance make the most basic forms of accountability exceedingly difficult.
Nobody is advocating that we leave the single market, just the political and legal encroachments that hold us back. The fact of the matter is that our future lies far beyond the EU. We are in an age where it is now cheap and easy to do business in any part of the world. When we originally joined, the EU accounted for 36 per cent of world trade, this figure has now dropped to a mere 15 per cent. On top of that, in the last ten years our exports to the EU have dropped from 55 per cent to 45 per cent. It seems untenable to want to increase political and economic ties with an institution that is in economic decline. The EU isn’t showing signs to alleviate its issues either, their free trade negotiations with major markets such as India, Japan, and the UAE have either ceased or are moving at a snail’s pace. This is what happens when you have to satisfy 28 different nations.
However, some people seem to think that the UK doesn’t account for much and is undesirable. Such arguments are formed from doubt and fear. Naysayers seem to forget that the UK has the 5th largest economy, is a founder of NATO, has a permanent seat on the UN security council, is a member of the G8, has some of the highest ranked universities, and has the fourth highest military budget The UK will be able to stand on these laurels. But, at the moment, Britain is unable to use its unrivalled influence to capitalise upon surging global economies.
The reality is that the nature of the EU limits the UK to just one small voice of 28, and our interests often do not coincide with the rest of the EU. So, to all of those who are on the fence.
The EU is a valuable ally and trading partner, but we do not need them to govern ourselves.