The EU Referendum: A Debate.

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The EU Referendum: A Debate.

With the election of David Cameron’s Conservative party in May, the Prime Minister is fulfilling his manifesto promise of a referendum on Britain’s place in the Europe Union, pencilled in to take place in 2017. For decades Britain has had an uneasy relationship with Britain (sticking doggedly to the Sterling Zone, for example) and come 2017, this referendum it is hoped will address the relationship and the political pressure which comes with it.

Historically the European Union has its roots in the Coal and Steel Community of 1952. It was established by the Treaty of Paris, between France, Germany and the Netherlands and was supported by French foreign minister Robert Schuman and the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as a way of making war in Europe ‘unthinkable and materially impossible’. The community was later expanded to other European countries through various treaties.

The European Economic Community was formed under the Treaty of Rome of 1957, the six original countries of the ECSC (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany) being lead signatories. However, in 1960, enlargement negotiations began to take place, with Britain, Denmark, Ireland and Norway applying. Charles De Gaulle famously vetoed Britain’s application. That said, under Pompidou, the vetoed was lifted and Britain could join in 1975. The community, as the name suggests, carried the aim of furthering economic integration through the framework of a common market and customs union.

Under the Maastricht treaty of 1991, the European Community was renamed as the European Union and began the formation of a Euro currency. Britain opted out of the Euro currency.

In 2015, we are now in a situation where Britain’s relationship with Europe can be defined through the means of a referendum. With this in mind, Model Westminster will use this article to gather the opinions of the two sides in the debate on the European Union.

Supporting the notion that Britain should remain in the EU is Jack Welch and arguing that Britain should leave is James Cain.

The EU: A Force for Good:

When it comes to the European Union (EU), Britain has quite a reputation for not being the easiest of partners for smooth cooperation. Even the single word ‘no’ has attributed itself a place in the history books as a result of this fractious relationship – from De Gaulle’s famous ‘Non’ in 1963 to our first membership application to Margaret Thatcher’s famous triad of rejection in what turned out as her final weeks as Prime Minister in 1990. The UK was one state which had to fight hard to have a foothold in the Common Market, as the EU was once known, in the face of a lost empire and relative decline in the shadow of superpowers, the USA and USSR; yet since our accession in 1973, successive governments have played a weak hand in truly influencing the dimension of its politics and undermining the UK as an effective force on the international stage. By economics or the EU’s own role in our lives, the facts become obvious.

In the current climate, the economy still plays the most decisive factor in most debates by commentators. What is commonly emphasised by Eurosceptic parties like UKIP, the UK pays up to £55 million a day and a total of £20 billion a year. However, according to Full Fact, with rebates and other factors taken into consideration, it equates to no more than £8.6 billion per year. The EU overall remains the world’s largest economy, factoring for at least over 17% of the world’s GDP and more than that, 52% of goods exported in the UK are to the EU. The Union’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which has attracted much controversy on other issues, as a formal agreement with the United States, it is said to already bring the UK at least £10 billion in investment. Rattling many statistics like these can run for pages on end. Being in the Union protects the UK from expensive trading costs and far from preventing the country’s access to other markets, we stand as an asset as a result of being part of it. The US President has already spoken of their preference for the UK to stay in, besides the Asian market also being cautious over the potential risk of an exit. While a few are confident over the UK’s status of being the sixth largest economy in the world and higher employment rates to much of Europe, surely it would be a in our better interests to support other nations in the membership, rather taking voluntary isolation? The CBI, which alone represents 7 million of private sector employees, warns enough of dangers in taking a step into the unknown. That growth we have now may rapidly turn sour in the event of a ‘Brexit’.

One of the great problems that cannot be ignored now is the rise in concern in immigration and UKIP’s steady popularity, which gained over 4 million votes in this year’s General Election and currently the largest proportion of UK MEPs in the European Parliament indicate an air of disenchantment with red or blue politics in the country. But is it all about a desire to leave the EU? It is important to bear in mind the disastrous electoral results for both Labour and the Conservatives themselves when arguing against the EU membership. Examples of the 1983 election defeat under Michael Foot, or the embarrassing efforts of the Conservative obsession to ‘keep the pound’ between 2001 and 2005 demonstrate just how unattractive a ‘little Englander’ stance is to the wider electorate amongst bigger concerns. Immigration, according to a survey by British Future, stands as one of those greatest worries according to one in three of people who took part. Yet in 2012, it was also found that the UK too had the second highest level of emigration in the Union according to the ONS and was one of the top three countries to benefit from net migration. Freedom of movement, which is normally exercised as reason to protest the amount of housing taken by migrants and cost to the NHS, commonly referred to as ‘health tourism’, citizens here make just as much of having restriction-free travel across the continent and to settle in member states without fear of a transient work permit. I am yet to see real convincing evidence of unjustified welfare usage by immigrants, besides the angry rhetoric from Eurosceptic press and politicians. UKIP, and the previous worrying spike of support for the BNP, exploited on many of these fears well. For those people who demand an immediate exit from the EU, will there be reasons beyond ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ or ‘foreigners’ which are frequently used as front pages for newspapers? A lack of real, objective information about our membership springs to mind for such instant prejudices.

The UK, and indeed Europe as a whole, has made many strides over the decades. No war, besides those in ex-Communist states, has been recorded in a long period of peace since 1945. As Churchill himself once remarked in the midst of war ‘I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible.’ Although the federal picture is unlikely, and to my mind not desirable, the destiny of the UK is not one of isolation and suspicion. Our power as a nation now comes as a collective and not by national superiority. Many polls now show the younger generation are in favour of our membership and more tolerant of other cultures and nationalities compared to those previous and why 16/17 year olds deserve a say on their future in the upcoming referendum. With programmes like Erasmus’s potential yet to be fully utilised in this country, there are far greater advantages in education and personal development for young people here and abroad to study. It is a wiser and sensible choice that the UK can reform the EU’s deficits from the inside and recognise that many of the people here now have the European sensibilities to maintain our relationship, rather than rashly reject that out of hand by the few voices who demand an exit.

Too High a Cost:

£33Million- The daily net cost of the UK’s EU membership. Is this staggering amount of money being well spent? It doesn’t take a genius to see that the EU wastes so much of this money on ridiculous subsidy schemes and inefficient day-to-day running of the institution.

For example the European Parliament currently operates out of two sites: Brussels and Strasbourg. The UK taxpayer is effectively funding the costs to move staff and MEP’s between these two sites. It would be far cheaper to remain on the one site, preventing our money being wasted on trivial traditions that don’t bring any benefit to member states.

Another problem with EU funding is the amount of money being spent to subsidise farmers through the Common Agricultural Policy, which aims to make EU produce more competitive in the global market whilst also protecting biodiversity in member states. However all it has done is promote a culture of waste. Thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy, which we are paying for, there is massive overproduction in European agricultural industries. This has led to mountains of food being wasted and has driven down prices to such an extent that farmers in the UK are now struggling to make ends meet due to competition from other EU countries. Surely it would strengthen our

Yet a further reason for leaving the EU is to empower our own citizens. The average UK citizen has no idea how decision making in the EU works, or how to influence that process. This is a massive problem. It means that decisions are being made without the same level of scrutiny and criticism with which we hold our national government to account. The structure of the EU also means that when MEP’s vote for new laws and directives, the UK loses some of its power. German and French MEP’s can pretty much dictate what is going to happen and the UK will be obliged to follow whatever rules they vote in. Leaving the EU will give the average UK citizen more freedom and more powers.

Living conditions will improve for everyone if we leave the EU. Currently people realise that £6.50ph is not enough to live on. We need a higher minimum wage, a living wage. However companies will not pay workers more due to the abundance of EU migrant workers willing to work for £6.50ph. If we left the EU, British workers would automatically have a stronger voice and be able to demand better working conditions and better pay.

Arguments against leaving the EU centre around the potential risks to UK business and the fact that people may lose their jobs if we pull out of the EU. This is all simple scaremongering. There is no proof that leaving the EU will harm our economy. Sure, some companies may move their operations abroad after we leave but for many an independent United Kingdom will offer potential investment opportunities which would never have been possible under EU trade laws. The UK could regulate our own internal market giving businesses more freedom whilst safeguarding the rights of consumers.

The EU makes decisions so inefficiently that it would likely be a whole lot better for our economy if we left. We could respond swiftly to the needs of our economy. Cutting out the days, weeks and months of debating with Polish, Greek and whatever-else have you MEP’s over the needs of our own country would only benefit our citizens. The Greek debt crisis, the Mediterranean migrant crisis, and many more are being dealt with far too slowly by the EU. There is simply too many heads around the table and consequently it takes forever to push through any sort of resolution to an immediate problem.

Human Rights: The EU has long championed them and people fear what pulling out of the EU would mean for the rights of UK citizens. The easy answer: Nothing. The UK has a stellar reputation for human rights unlike many countries within the EU. The UK was the first country to abolish slavery, just recently we’ve seen same-sex marriage become a reality. Without the EU British citizens shall remain just as protected, if not more so, as they are currently. And if not, if people want change, change will be far more attainable without having to battle through 28 member states to get it.

In conclusion £33 Million per day, doesn’t seem value for money at all. For what we get out of the EU, we would be better off using the money to fund the NHS, to improve our Education system and to invest more in British industries.

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