The big Brexit question: a glance at the key points
The EU, and our membership of it – there are few conversation-points out there which draw a more powerful reaction from people than a 5-minute chat about this subject. The Brexit debate has been the cue for ranting and raving in pubs and over dinner tables across the land for decades, and has triggered its fair share of screaming hysterical news headlines too.
And finally, after years of the subject bubbling under the surface of British politics, we’ll get to settle the question once and for all on June 23rd when we take to the ballot box for the EU referendum.
The Brexit question has eaten away at and torn apart Conservative governments again and again in recent decades. Politically, economically and socially, the topic is one which will have huge consequences for the future of our country, both whether we vote for or against it on June 23rd. And 100 days from now, British voters will finally settle the question once and for all at the ballot box.
Politics is full of spin and hot air, false promises and nonsense. This being as it is, it would be easy to either shrug off the entire Brexit debate and referendum, or listen only to what our favourite newspapers are telling us and vote accordingly – this would be unwise. The decision to either remain a key member of the EU or turn our backs on Brussels is not only one of the most important political issues of the day – it’s one of the most important decisions that this country will make in the lifetimes of ourselves and our children.
Here’s a quick look at some of the key talking points surrounding the Brexit question.
Immigration – pulling up Britain’s drawbridge
This is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally charged issues in Britain today, and is one of the reasons why so many in Britain are desperate to leave the EU – millions of voters feel it’s time to pull up the drawbridge and close the borders.
At present, Britain is bound to the EU’s founding principles, one of which requires all member states to allow EU citizens to pass freely across their borders, and live and work wherever they wish. Many are concerned that UK workers are losing out on job opportunities to EU migrants, and that this immigration is suppressing wages. The far-reaching fear and dislike of immigration in Britain isn’t just related to economic factors, such as employment and wages, however. Many native Brits resent immigration out of the fear that the hundreds of thousands of migrants entering Britain each year are a threat to British culture and our way of doing things.
Many who favour Brexit believe that if Britain were to leave the EU, in theory it would be possible to introduce a points-based immigration policy, much like Australia has, which would bring migration down to manageable levels. If implemented, this could mean that low-skilled EU migrants who are presently living and working in Britain might have to leave their jobs behind and return to Europe, which could lead to a large surge in the number of available vacancies for factory workers, labourers, retail staff, and agricultural workers.
Now on the surface this is an undoubted win for the embattled unemployed, but as always the devil is in the detail. Many experts believe that the EU immigrants who take such jobs are merely taking the jobs that native Brits showed no interest in taking – what’s to say that things would be any different in the event of a Brexit?
Our immigration policy would be the same outside the EU as it is in the EU
Many might be surprised to find that should Britain vote to leave Europe on the 23rd, life in post-Brexit wouldn’t be all that different to how things are now, as far as immigration policy goes, and the reason for this is simple: if we want to do business with the EU on anything resembling favourable terms, Britain will be expected to follow many of the same rules that we do now.
Norway’s dealings with the EU are often held up by Brexiteers as a model that the UK should follow, but the truth is that for Norway to do business with the EU and enjoy the benefits it does, it still has to follow EU rules. In other words, it is bound to the same EU founding principles and policies that we are in Britain, only unlike us, as an outsider Norway has no say in the decision making process, no voice in Brussels and no ability to shape EU policy.
As a country which is far richer and larger than Norway, some believe that Britain would be able to negotiate better terms than Norway – this would rely on a divorce from the EU on good terms, rather than a messy break-up. And it is fairly unlikely that in the event of a Brexit such an amicable parting of ways between Britain and Europe would be possible.
The cost of EU membership
Britain’s £8.5 billion annual contribution to the EU budget is widely considered to be another strong argument for us to wave goodbye to the EU. And that’s without taking into account the additional ‘hidden tariff’ paid by UK taxpayers, caused by red tape and regulation, waste and fraud, when we export to the EU – a figure which is said to run into the tens of billions of pounds.
Now this is a huge, huge sum of money, which would build a huge number of schools, hospitals, and houses – all things that we could use more of. In a time of cutbacks and belt-tightening, such as we are enduring now, every penny counts. Such a large sum of money could be used towards servicing the titanic debt mountain that Britain has built up – the largest debt built up in peacetime in the UK’s history.
However there are two sides to every story. Nobody can deny that £8.5 billion is a huge sum of money but, equally, it can’t be denied that the UK enjoys great financial benefits because of its EU membership. Our £8.5 billion EU membership contribution comes from a public spending budget of well over £700 billion – a mere drop in the ocean when compared to what we get back, and also an amount which is less than we spend on our railways and unemployment benefits budgets.
Britain’s global standing
On the surface this is a bit of a no-brainer, the ‘Great’ in Great Britain is a giveaway of our current standing in the world. We are the world’s fifth richest economy, and arguably the world’s leading soft power and exporter of culture. We have the fourth or fifth strongest military in the world, in terms of military spending, and are a nuclear-powered permanent member of the UN Security Council.
In short, we already have an undisputed seat at the world’s top table – a seat which Britain has held since long before it joined Europe. Surely the EU need Britain and its global influence, strength, and knack for innovation more than we need the EU?
Well yes and no. There is no doubt that the EU benefits greatly from the UK’s diplomatic, economic, and military clout, and that we bring a fresh outlook on doing business to the economic table. However, whilst today Britain remains a leading global power in its own right, the question is will we still have such strength and influence as a solo act 10, 20, 30, or 50 years from now?
Other rising powers, such as India, Brazil and Russia, among others, with far larger populations and greater resources will eventually surpass Britain, certainly economically and probably militarily – surely it’s only a matter of time before some of the world’s rising powers catch us up?
We’re a leading member of the world’s second-tier powers, presently, and our voice on the world stage is amplified as a member of the EU. There are fears that upon leaving the EU, Britain would be stripped of the combined European might of Brussels, Paris, and Berlin, and find itself increasingly side-lined and out in the cold when it comes to any major international debates on issues such as global security, the environment, and trade. Certainly the US sees a Britain which is part of the EU as a stronger key ally than a maverick Britain which is isolated and on its own.
The direct economic benefits – trade & investment in the UK
There’s an old saying that goes money is power. If this is so, than the economic factor is a factor we must strongly consider because the key benefits for Britain remaining in the EU are primarily economic. There is no doubt that Britain does very well financially from being an EU member – even the most dyed-in-the-wool Brexiteer would struggle to deny this.
The Single Market has a total GDP of $16.6 trillion, which accounts for 25% of global GDP, and a population of over 500 million. The EU is absolutely huge – it’s bigger than the US and China, economically – and Britain does around £400 billion worth of trade with the EU all in all. Over 45% of our exports are to the EU, whilst 50% of our imports come from EU member states, and importantly this is all without fees and tariff barriers.
Also, as a member of the EU, Britain has secured lucrative trade deals with major global players, like the US, China, and India, which the Remain camp believe would not be possible if we went it alone. Admittedly a number of household name British companies have gone out of business since we joined Europe in 1973, but the companies which remain are undoubtedly more competitive, and better equipped to compete with all competitors from across the world.
And then there’s the matter of foreign investment – as a key access point to the EU, many of the worlds biggest and best companies choose to set-up shop in the UK to do business in Europe, which means jobs for British workers and a boost to the wider British economy.
Whichever way the Brexit referendum goes, life in Britain will go on.
Whilst there will undoubtedly be consequences for Britain, whether or not we vote for Brexit, it’s important to remember one thing: when we wake on the morning of the 24th June, the day after the referendum, the sun will still be shining and life will go on.
The EU referendum is a big deal and it’ll be great to settle the dispute once and for all, but let’s face it – we’ll be more concerned about whatever BBQ we’re planning on attending that weekend.
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