Essentially, both sides of the EU debate are right. The Leave campaign is correct when they talk of the Union’s impact upon Parliament’s sovereignty, as the EU does have the ability to make rules for its twenty-seven member states. Each European law is essentially one part British and twenty-six parts European, and this is a cause of concern for some.
On the other hand, the Remain campaign is correct when they warn of the severe economic and diplomatic consequences that leaving the Union will bring. The IMF, the Bank of England, the CBI, the G20 and almost every Commonwealth country have expressed their concern over Britain’s place in the world, should it leave the EU. Even the Vote Leave campaign calculated that Britain would have higher employment over the next five years if it remained in the EU, as reported last month by the BBC.
The problem remains that each side is essentially talking across one another, and where you stand in the debate will ultimately depend more upon your own values and what you consider to be most important for the future of the United Kingdom.
Bearing this in mind, the EU debate can be divided into three topics: sovereignty, the economy and Britain’s influence in the world.
On sovereignty, the Leave campaign believes that the EU, specifically the European Parliament, represents an infringement upon the sovereign right of Britain to complete autonomy over its own a airs. For example, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy was responsible for a sustainable increase of previously declining fish stocks, yet came at the cost that many British fishermen found that they could not fish in British waters at certain times of the year. Similar cases of sovereignty infringement include when the European Court of Human Rights initially barred the UK’s planned extradition of Abu Qatada to Jordan, until Jordan agreed that evidence gained from the torture of Qatada would not be used against him in a trial.
The Remain campaign’s rebuttal would be that in a globalised world, total sovereignty is an unrealisable fantasy. Given the international nature of many of today’s challenges, international cooperation with our partners in Europe is essential, and for Britain to turn its back upon the continent, is to walk away from our best chance to meet those challenges, and thus leaving the Union would neglect our own national interests.
On external economic matters, the Leave campaign proposes that by cutting ties with the EU, Britain will be free to renegotiate its own trade deals with the rest of the world, whereas currently the EU speaks with one voice on most trade negotiations.
The Remain campaign suggest that this is, in fact, a key advantage of the EU; that speaking with one voice for the 27 member states (a voice made powerful by the strong economies of Germany, France and Britain) can give European countries more leverage in dealing with powerful unitary states like China or the United States.
On internal economic matters within the EU, the key concern is whether Britain gets value for its money. The cost of EU membership is, according to the Leave campaign, around £55 million a day. The Remain campaign counter by explaining that as over 57 per cent of Britain’s international trade is done with Eurozone countries, to leave the EU would put Britain on the wrong side of international tariffs. This would only create additional bureaucracy and exorbitant costs for UK companies, making the UK undesirable as a site for investment.
The Leave campaign argues that if 57 per cent of Britain’s trade is done with the EU, it will be easy to renegotiate a trade deal with the European Union if we vote to leave because the loss of so much trade to continental markets will be too much for European states to stomach, and they will be keen to regain that trade as soon as possible. Britain can then enjoy the economic benefits of the European economy without the bureaucracy of its Parliament’s laws.
Where you stand will depend on what you consider to be most important to the future of the UK
The Remain campaign respond by stating that while 57 per cent of our trade is done with the EU, only 10 per cent of the EU’s internal trade is British. In short, we need them more than they need us. Therefore, at a renegotiation table, time and power will be always be on the side of EU negotiators, who could afford to bide their time until Britain accepts unfavourable terms.
Assuming Britain successfully manages to renegotiate a trade deal with the EU, would it really be free of EU laws in such a case? This may well not be the case, as British goods would still have to conform to EU regulations if sold in the Common Market. The only change would be that, no longer a member of the EU, Britain would have forfeited its ability to help write those rules itself.
The Leave campaign asks, do we really have a say in how these rules are written currently? Technically, yes. Britain has the third largest share of seats in the European Parliament (seats being allocated according to population size), beaten only by France (by one seat) and Germany. However. this influence is squandered, the Remain campaign argue, by UKIP MEPs (most famously Nigel Farage), who pocket their full wage as an MEP and yet rarely attend any European Parliament votes, at all.
In response to this criticism, the Leave campaign is likely to point out that UKIP MEPs were democratically elected by the British public in the European elections and have a mandate to express their disapproval with Brussels direct from the public.
Ultimately Britain’s role in the world is at stake in the coming vote. On the one hand it could work with its European partners and prosper from the stronger voice and stronger economic opportunities gained as a result.
On the other hand, Britain could throw off the shackles of laws co-authored by all Europeans, who presume to tell sovereign states what they can and cannot do. Free from being held back by a misguided European peace project, Britain could renegotiate it’s trade deals with its former partners, sacrifice the past 43 years of European cooperation, give up attempting to reform the EU from the inside, and place it’s entire trust in Westminster.
Whichever side you agree with, this brief overview of the major points raised by either side should provide a helpful guide in deciding your own opinion in time for Thursday 23 June.
In order to register to vote visit www.gov. uk/register-to-vote. For more coverage on the EU Referendum, visit the St Andrews Economist: www.thestandrewseconomist.com.