Hello readers and fellow bloggers! It’s been a while (six months to be exact) since i last posted – apologies for the absence. I know a lot of you have been wondering where i’ve been but as i’m sure you’ll understand, i’ve been very busy with uni life and personal responsibilities. But with all that aside, Britain has also been busy in the world of politics, and yes, i am talking about the upcoming EU referendum. Now a lot of people have asked for my input on the matter or to explain to them what the referendum is actually about. This blog post will (hopefully) answer all your questions about the referendum, and as ever if there is something i have not addressed, feel free to comment.
So, what is this whole referendum about you ask? Well, arguably, it boils down to debates around immigration and the anti-immigration stance proposed by the ever growing popular UKIP party. The argument is that Britain should stay true to its power and sovereignty and should (in the words of the Vote Leave campaign) take back control not only of its borders but also of its economic management.
During the 2015 General Election, David Cameron had promised to offer the electorate a referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union if he won the election. But why now? Last time the electorate had a say on our membership in the EU was in 1975 under the premiership of Labour leader Harold Wilson. Of course since then, a lot has changed and many on the Leave side, including Nigel Farage have argued the EU has gained too much power in controlling people’s lives. Hence Cameron calling for a referendum as a means for the British public to make a decision and settle the ‘European question’ – should we stay or should we go.
As you can imagine, there are several debates on both sides as to why we should remain and why we should leave, but first of all, let’s establish what exactly is the European Union and why this debate is so important…
The European Union (EU) was established after the second World War in order to create an economic and political union to prevent further international conflict. At the time of its creation, it was believed that countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other. It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, as if the member states were one country. It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries (Britain uses the pound), its own parliament (we elect MEPs who sit in the European Parliament) and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things like mobile phone charges. The video below explains a bit more about the workings of the EU:
Why are we being asked to remain or leave the European Union? Well, it is partly democratic – as mentioned before, Britain has not had a say on our membership of the EU since 1975. It is thus very important, particularly for the young generation to participate in the debate and ultimately vote. The referendum question being asked this Thursday, 23rd June is as follows: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”.
The last few months, it’s been very difficult to establish the key arguments – with too much focus on immigration and not enough on the actual democratic make up of the European Union, it’s been hard to distinguish the advantages and disadvantages which would occur if Britain were to leave. Here are a few pointers to help you make an informed decision on referendum day:
The argument to remain
- The official campaign – ‘Britain Stronger in Europe‘. There are other campaign groups supporting remain, including ‘Labour In‘ and ‘Another Europe is Possible‘
- Led and supported by senior politicians across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon.
- US president Barack Obama also wants Britain to remain in the EU, as do other EU nations such as France and Germany.
- Those campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU we get a big boost from membership, making it easier to import and export goods to other EU countries.
- The flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, fuels economic growth and helps pay for public services.
- Britain’s status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that we are more secure as part of the 28 nation club, rather than going it alone.
The argument to leave
- The official campaign – ‘Vote Leave‘. Of course, there are other campaign groups supporting leave, including ‘Leave.EU‘ and ‘Grassroots Out (GO!)‘.
- Led and supported by some senior politicians across the political spectrum including Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith.
- Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU argue we are being held back by the EU, which they say imposes too many rules on business and charges billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return.
- They want Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of migrants coming here to live and/or work. One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement”, which means you don’t need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. The argument made by leave campaigners is that the influx of migrants puts a strain on our public services, notably the NHS.
- Leave campaigners object to the idea of an ‘ever closer union’, arguing if we remain in the EU, it would lead to a United States of Europe.
As the EU debate has mainly centred around the issue of immigration, it has led some to argue whether this is referendum is really about conflicts arising out of the right-wing political parties such as the Conservatives and UKIP rather than what would be in the best interest of the British people and the future generation. The EU debate not only affects the ‘everyday’ electorate, but also those who own big and small businesses. Here’s what some entrepreneurs have said…
[there are] “no credible alternatives” to staying in the EU” – BT chairman Sir Mike Rake
“an EU exit would allow the UK to negotiate trade deals as our country “rather than being one of 28 nations” – Lord Bamford, chairman of JCB
Although it is uncertain what Britain would look like if it left the EU, it is important to note the negotiations Cameron made way back at the start of the year. This was done to silence the growing number of MPs from his party who he feared would defect from his party to UKIP (as was the case with Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell). But, the reforms made were also proof that Cameron was serious about addressing the immigration rhetoric which had been floating in the air for so long. The deal made will take effect from when (or should i say if) Britain votes to remain in the EU, but in summary they are:
- Child Benefit – Migrant workers will still be able to send child benefit payments back to their home country but the payments will be set at a level reflecting the cost of living in their home country rather than the full UK rate.
- Migrant welfare payments – New arrivals will not be able to claim tax credits and other welfare payments straight away but will gradually gain the right to more benefits the longer they stay, at a rate yet to be decided.
- Pound v. Euro – Cameron has said Britain will never join the euro. He secured assurances that the eurozone countries will not discriminate against Britain for having a different currency. Any British money spent on bailing out eurozone nations that get into trouble will also be reimbursed.
- Sovereignty – For the first time, there will be a clear commitment that Britain is not part of a move towards “ever closer union” with other EU member states – one of the core principles of the EU. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change. Mr Cameron also secured a “red card” system for national parliaments making it easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it will be rethought.
- Economic Security – Safeguards for Britain’s large financial services industry to prevent eurozone regulations being imposed on it.
Ultimately the decision as to whether Britain should remain or leave the EU comes down to YOU, the electorate. What do you think would be better for Britain? Should we remain in our role as key influential players, or leave, uncertain of Britain’s future outside a union we’ve been a member of since 1975? It’s a tough choice but it is one that has to be made.
The last few days has been tough, with the passing of Jo Cox MP and the recent divisive, racist propaganda published by UKIP. Let’s try to educate ourselves rather than scaremongering people into voting a specific way. Britain’s public services are not put under strain by 15% of migrants who seek residence here for a better life, it’s the 1% who fail to pay their fair share of taxes but think it’s right to scrounge off the system because they hold a red passport. It’s our elected politicians who fail to invest in the services that truly matter and instead invest in unnecessary wars. It is a shame that this referendum has not covered the democratic functions and practices of the EU as a body but hopefully this blog post has done its part by showcasing what the EU is and the different debates that have emerged.
On a final note, in the words of the late Jo Cox MP:
“We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”
For a more detailed overview of how the EU works – http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zgjwtyc
To leave or not to leave? – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32793642