In 1958, the European Economic Community was created - consisting initially of 6 countries, but since then it has become a vast single market force comprising 28 nations, all part of a unique economic and political partnership that rivals any empire seen in history. The EEC began as a purely economic force to ease trade restrictions and bring Europe back up to speed after the Second World War. But it has now evolved into a political union with many common laws - the name change in 1993 to the “European Union” reflecting this development.
The single, internal market allows easy trade between EU member states, encouraging economic growth. The EU is also a world leader in human rights - though the European Convention on Human Rights is not one of the institutions that makes up the EU, it does bind them, and applies to national governments in certain cases where they have implemented EU law. It was signed by the newly formed Council of Europe in 1950 and still has huge relevance today.
The EU is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do believe membership of the union is beneficial to the United Kingdom, for several reasons.
First, no country has ever left the EU before. We have been in the EEC/EU since 1973 and we have been heavily involved for the entirety of our membership. There are arguments that countries outside the EU like Switzerland and Norway still reap the benefits of access to the single market, but they were not as heavily involved as Britain was to start with. There is no guarantee at all that if Britain chooses to leave we will be any better off than we are currently, in fact there is a strong case that can be made that we would be worse off. A study by the think-tank Open Europe, which wants to see the EU radically reformed, found that if a "Brexit" scenario occurred the UK economy could lose up to 2.2% of its total GDP by 2030.
Advocates for a leave vote sometimes argue that we should emulate Norway, who are outside the EU but still belong to EFTA (the European Free Trade Association). They say that Norway still has access to the single market, is not part of the EU and pays lower contributions to the EU than it would if it was a member. Pro-Brexit campaigners argue this would be a feasible option for the UK, however, Norway still has to implement more or less all EU laws to be able to have access to the single market. Yet, unlike the UK they have no say over which laws are written, even though they still contribute a large amount of money and have to abide by the laws.
Britain would also lose influence in the world. President Obama has already said that the UK would be better able to maintain its global standing inside the EU, and just a few months ago, top UK military officials came out in support of remaining in the EU due to us being more able to defend ourselves and maintain national security.
But would that mean if we opted for a Brexit we would be reduced to a tiny island with no voice? Our opinions on events happening on our doorstep would probably be shrugged off, as we would no longer be sending representatives to Brussels to negotiate on our behalf. The Economist went as far as to say “Britain would find itself as a scratchy outsider with somewhat limited access to the single market, almost no influence and few friends… and it would be all but impossible to get back in again." Which raises the question: why would we want to risk all this for what many perceive as an attempt by David Cameron to hush up his backbenchers? They see Cameron’s promise of a referendum a few years ago as nothing more than the PM losing his nerve when UKIP began to gain popularity. Judging by the General Election result he needn’t have worried about UKIP – but even so, I find it disappointing that he would prioritise short-term electoral gain over our long-term national interest.
As I said earlier the EU is nowhere near perfect. Although there are many benefits of remaining, many want thorough reform and it is unfortunate Cameron has again pandered to potential UKIP voters with promises to reduce immigration from the rest of the EU, delays to in-work benefits for EU citizens and indexing the level of child benefit payments to the level of wages in an EU citizen’s country of origin. In the UK, child benefit is £20.70 per week for the first child, whereas, if the new rules are implemented, parents from Romania living and working in the UK could expect to get around £3.50 per week, due to the low wages back home.
What Cameron should have tried to tackle is the crisis of democracy in the EU. Parties across the spectrum in many countries wish for a more democratic Europe, including the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who has called for a People’s European Union run by and for the people. Cameron and other EU heads-of-government should be looking into making the EU more transparent, so citizens can watch meetings live and enjoy access to discussions that affect their lives.
When all the arguments are laid out it is hard to see why we should be voting to leave the EU. Scaremongering by the Leave Campaign and UKIP about migrants, or comparisons of EU membership with a hostage situation are false. The risks of crashing out of the EU are too great to even contemplate. Already, the mere possibility of Brexit is causing businesses to worry about the possibility of trade reduction and the loss of free movement.
The public want a strong, influential United Kingdom and the EU allows us to be those things. What the public now need is for politicians to lay out the pros and cons of our membership in layman’s terms, so regular people can understand them and reach an informed decision. The scaremongering and exaggeration by Brexit campaigners must stop to allow the public to choose what really is best for them and for the UK.