Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The EU Referendum

As part of the Conservative party’s manifesto, a referendum on the topic of EU membership of the UK will be held before the end of 2017. David Cameron is now suggesting that this could occur later this year. There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument and the opinion polls show that Britain is very evenly divided, so the outcome of this referendum remains unclear. But what would leaving the EU mean for the UK and why is a referendum even taking place?

When it was announced by the Conservatives that a referendum would take place, David Cameron promised that changes within the EU for the benefit of the UK would first be sought. These changes were suggested to target what Britons were worried about with the EU and which led to demands for a referendum in the first place. So, at the EU summit in December, David Cameron asked the other member states for reforms in four areas. These were: that immigrants to the UK from the EU would not be given benefits until they had lived here for four years (this has proved to be problematic, as it requires a treaty change); that individual parliaments of the member states should be given greater control enabling them to block EU legislation; recognition that currencies other than the Euro exist within the EU and that the UK would be allowed to opt out of closer union of the European people. Cameron hopes that a deal will be decided upon in February, but so soon seems unlikely. For one, many of the Eastern European countries did not like that their workers would be paid less for their work than a British citizen and believe that this would be discriminatory.

In the latest opinion polls, it seems that Britons narrowly favour leaving the EU. 40% questioned said that they supported leaving, 38% supported remaining a member, 16% are undecided and 6% said that they would not vote. But why do people want to leave? What are the benefits? Many people believe that the billions of pounds of membership fees for the EU is not worth it and gives us few benefits. Also, groups such as Ukip want the UK to have greater control about the number of migrants coming here to work. One benefit of leaving would be that the rules and regulations decided by the EU regarding trade, agriculture and industry would no longer restrict the UK and more relevant ones for the UK could be put in place. This has been seen previously in Norway and they now have greater freedom in this matter.

However, there are many risks involved with an EU exit, which has been dubbed a ‘Brexit’. It is estimated that this could lead to a 2.2% decline in GDP, as Britain would no longer be able to benefit from free trade in Europe. Therefore, trading overseas could become both more difficult and more expensive. Additionally, a reduce in immigration would reduce the number of workers that employers have to choose from, most of whom are keen and help to fuel economic growth. Nick Clegg argues that 3 million jobs depend on Britain’s involvement in the EU. Others believe that a ‘Brexit’ would lessen Britain’s military influence and general status in both Europe and the world.

I believe, however, that the greatest risk in leaving the EU is that there is no clear plan of what would happen if this occurs. It is all fine to say what is bad about the EU, but Britons are not able to evaluate the alternative, as there isn’t really one yet. We have been a part of the EU since 1973, and we shall have to wait for the outcome of the referendum, to see if we will be for much longer.