EU Referendum – the Channel’s hostile waters

LEAVE: Robin Richards 

For some the election of 24 UKIP MEP’s in the 2014 European Elections represented a chance to enforce a new British nationalist agenda, to fly St George’s Crosses anywhere out of Emily Thornberry’s reach and to begin the resumption of fish and chips as a world conquering cuisine. However, for anyone moderately less purple the more interesting statistic was the paltry 35% turnout. Political apathy is rife within our society. Almost everyone you meet at University looks towards Westminster not as a shining beacon of our democratic process but rather an isolated, piggish hideout of those detached from the life of the citizens of their own country.

We complain about the London-centric aspect of our politics, about the ability of the Cabinet to dictate policy for regions that are so diverse they range from the rough streets of Winchester to the high-rise blocks of Tower Hamlets and the indifference of our politicians to problems in localities. It is therefore with some shock that I learnt that the political consensus, for those only smart enough to follow a trend, seems to be an unfaltering belief in the European Union and therefore in further centralisation. We are willingly giving the power of binding legislation to a group of politicians not only further away but also far, far less accountable. I challenge anyone reading this to name more than a couple of the European Commission, these are the executives of the EU – but we, the populace, have absolutely no say in their appointment. We are sabotaging our own democracy and sovereignty by remaining in the EU. We sacrifice not only the ability for our government to affect change but also our ability to hold that government to ransom over these changes.

The solution to voter dissatisfaction will never be simply passing control to a larger, less personal body. Yet in this referendum we have the very opportunity to say just that, that we no longer accept impersonal, inaccurate and unhelpful legislation being forced upon us by faceless, politicians from Westminster, let alone Brussels.   

STAY: Helena Vesty

We can all admit that the terms of Britain’s membership in the EU definitely aren’t perfect. Whether speaking from a financial point of view, or a foreign policy perspective, people have never been more vocal about those controversial aspects that impact the way the UK operates.

With a so-called ‘Brexit’ apparently on the horizon and several incredible, headline-grabbing apocalyptic theories about Britain’s future should it choose to stay, we should really consider the possibility of what leaving might mean in the face of global changes.

We really cannot predict with any certainty the dangers that might come to the fore in the next 50 years, let alone the next 10. As Russia continues to flex its muscles in Eastern Europe, and the Middle East remains in turmoil, there are multiple significant threats and challenges waiting just around the corner. A likely consequence of leaving the club would be that the UK would never be welcomed back into the fold and such a result could be catastrophic in the event of increased international hostility, or potential war. Left without influence and few friends, as The Economist suggests, Britain would struggle in an intensely political, highly militarised world.

Whilst Eurosceptics say that the UK could rely on a military partnership founded in the ‘special relationship’ with the USA, there is still a significant risk of abandonment should more localised security issues arise. Without our powerful place in the European forum, there is even doubt as to whether the US will continue its association with Britain in the same way.

Acknowledging the growing capabilities of formerly less developed countries such as Iran, or the spiralling extremism of groups including ISIS, future military action could unfortunately be a very real possibility. For the security of the people in our own country and for members of the international community, we should choose to preserve a strong European force, which has some authority in the shaping of world events, rather than destroy it.

LEAVE: Max George 

If you cannot remove the people who make your laws, you do not live in a democratic system. So said Tony Benn, that most revered of democratic socialists. It amazes that so many democratic leftists and liberals seem entirely comfortable with the unaccountable cronyism of the European Union.

The EU is a racket; it is a cartel; it is, in spirit if not in law, corrupt. It serves the interests of big businesses, banks and interest groups who lobby for regulations and tariffs that will help cement their established positions, suffocating competition in the process. This corporatism is emblematic of the modern malaises within capitalism. It is hardly surprising that such cronyists wish Britain to remain in: they get access to cheap labour from the East and the ability to stifle competition from beyond Europe’s borders and from disruptive start-ups. Meanwhile British voters are powerless to effect change. Those who want to see power returned to the people, to small businesses and to communities must end Britain’s detention inside what is the world’s only receding trade bloc.

There is a wider geopolitical reason for unshackling ourselves, too. The EU is on a trajectory to disintegration as the Eurozone’s fatal fault lines and contradictions are exposed and as refugee crises and terror attacks bring down the border-free Schengen zone. Britain can and must show that there is another way. Another way to engender European trade, cooperation and friendship without the undemocratic and ineffectual political structures of Brussels – structures which only foster resentment within the Union.

To those who say Britain would flounder outside the EU, consider this: Britain has the world’s largest 5th largest economy and defence budget; English law and language are the most ubiquitous in the world economy; the UK is a permanent seat-holder at the United Nations Security Council and major power within NATO. Leaving the EU is not about isolationism; it is about opening Britain to the rest of the world. The protectionist instincts of the Eurofederalists are holding us back. Britain can forge a new European order, based on free trade, sovereignty and democracy.

STAY: Emma Bancroft 

Despite there being many legitimate angles to consider in the argument of whether or not Britain should stay in the EU, a great deal of political rhetoric would have us believe that the only thing staying means for our country is immigrants stealing our jobs, filling our school places and taking advantage of our benefits system. Yet how often do we consider what the negative cultural impact would be if Britain left the EU, or how much value immigration actually brings to us as a country? Not often enough.

When considering voting to stay within the EU, we ought to strongly reflect on how we would be affected if we lost the current principle of free movement given to all EU nationals. A passport from a country within the EU is a powerful tool for travelling; this principle of the Schengen Space not only allows us to move freely as tourists and holidaymakers without having to pay high prices for visas, but it also allows us to exchange aspects of culture such as cuisine, music and film. On top of this, students are able to broaden their horizons as part of language exchange programmes such as Erasmus and employees from British business to gain ground on the international stage by travelling abroad. Surely investing in the youth of today alongside increasing the international competitiveness of our businesses is not something to ignore?

Instead of thinking about what the EU takes from us as a nation, let’s contemplate what it brings to us. Remaining in the EU is culturally enriching, immigration shouldn’t be a taboo word and immigrants bring energy and innovation that enhance the country. Belonging to the EU will mean that we can continue to be part of this dynamism in both our own countries and as part of others.

STAY: Tom Shrimplin

I‘ve always believed that being part of the EU has considerably more positives than it does negatives. Leaving it would be a very risky move, especially in these uncertain times. One benefit of being in the EU is what it brings to the economy, allowing us access to a large free market and the largest trading bloc in the world. Without this easy access our economy would surely suffer, with job losses expected to occur.

The likes of Farage tend to forget that we are not an empire anymore but a small player in world politics; a Brexit would diminish our global influence even further. Moreover, while some may complain about the idea of free movement within the EU, without it this would mean that travelling to a European country (e.g. “lads” holidays to Ibiza or romantic trips to Rome) entailed large-scale inconveniences in airports due to stricter border controls and passport checks. That’s not even mentioning the difficulties a Brexit would cause to British people who have emigrated to EU countries, such as retirees in sunny Spain.

Now I am not pretending that the EU is perfect because it isn’t, playing victim as it is to too much interference from a somewhat inflexible and intrusive bureaucracy. Nevertheless, we at least know where we stand within Europe by remaining a member. By staying in the EU, we could change it from the inside, helping not just ourselves but other countries too. If the UK exits the EU, not only would it be one step backwards but also a massive leap into the unknown with forecasts of another global recession looming large. Ultimately I suppose the question is whether it is worth the risk, and for me personally, the answer is no.

STAY: Patrick Kaczmarczyk

Even though I am a strong supporter of the European idea, I think Daniel Hannan has a substantial point. The European Union used to be a term of hope when it was founded in 1993: social security, progress, opportunities, solidarity, peace and democracy were supposed to be the values that characterise a strong community that is “united in diversity” (Motto of the European Union). Who would have thought that in 2016, there would be war in Europe and countries drowning in debt? Or that there would be extreme poverty and high child mortality rates in member states of the EU?

The EU is without a doubt in its deepest crisis since its foundation and has created most of the problems – if not all of them – through a destructive organisation and the negligence of the interests of its people. Alongside this, most of the decisions made in Brussels are influenced by lobbyism to an extent that goes far beyond the original and useful purpose of lobbyism, which was to provide vital information directly from the industry. The powerlessness of the European citizens and the influence of lobbyism are currently evident in regards of the negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (TTIP). The members of the national parliaments have no influence on these negotiations and there is an absolute lack of transparency about everything surrounding the agreement. Is this how democracy should look like? Tony Benn, a long year member of the parliament between 1950 and 2001 asserts that the EU utterly fails to justify a democratic legitimacy. Apart from easing trade, the EU certainly did a good job in representing the interests of particular multinational corporations and banks, and strengthening the position of certain member states that highly benefit from the deep crisis in Southern Europe – such as my home country Germany for example. Coming back to my initial point, Daniel Hannan is definitely right in his complaints about the undemocratic structures in Brussels. But is leaving the EU the right thing to do? In this regards, I think it is not. Leaving the EU means leaving the Single European Market, which is the biggest free trade zone in the world, and Britain will still be highly dependent on trade with EU member states – and therefore be bound to EU regulations anyway. So in these terms Britain’s independence from the EU would not give the country any advantage but only the drawback of not having any influence in shaping these regulations. The importance of the EU as a trading partner and its importance for the British economy is an unquestionable fact. In 2014 the other EU states accounted for 45% of all exports and 53% of imports. The argument that Britain’s trade with the EU has been declining in recent years is flawed, as it does not take into account that the economy in the Eurozone has been shrinking.

Looking on the consequences of a ‘Brexit’ from a global context I think it is utopic to assume that Britain would be in an advantageous position as a single state between the two superpowers of China and the US and in competition with the EU. Furthermore I think that potential tensions with Scotland and its effects on the domestic policy and economy should not be neglected either, when considering to vote for leaving. Interestingly, a large part of the politicians who pressured the Scottish to vote against independence in 2014, now use the same argumentation for leaving the EU that the Scottish had for their independence. Another very often-mentioned point by EU-Opponents is the high amount of bureaucracy that is slowing down growth. In this point I agree with the overall concerns but this is rather a problem that could and should be solved within the European Union – and this leads me to the points of why I think Britain should vote to stay. Unfortunately most European politicians so far rather focused on threatening the British “what would happen if leaving the EU”. I think a more useful strategy would be to focus on what has to change and show future opportunities that the British want to be part of. As indicated above, currently it appears that there are very few reasons apart from trade benefits why a country should remain in the EU. Threatening the British to lose this benefit will only strengthen the minds of the opponents, especially as many think that the costs of a membership outweigh its benefits anyway. The referendum can be a great chance to make the European public aware of the lack of democracy and the high bureaucracy which not only affects British but all European businesses.

Europe has in my opinion an incredible potential. It is hard to find a continent that has such a high density of diverse cultures, rich history and civilisation. We have to find ways to use this diversity to create a European Union for the European people and societies and bring it back on the road to the original European idea. In many ways this would imply to do the opposite of what Brussels has been doing so far. The great Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci once described that the mentality needed to change politics for the better as the “the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will” – meaning critically assessing the existing situation and believing in what we as people can achieve. Naive optimism or complete pessimism are both wrong approaches. Those who say nothing will ever change and therefore it is better to leave the EU, overlook the fact that the ideas that were shaping this world and leading it to where it is now, have always been changing throughout the history. I think everyone with the “pessimism of the intellect” knows that the way the European Union is organised and working is not sustainable and will have to change.

“The optimism of the will” on the other hand can give us the aspirations that, when acting together, the EU and all its members can create a better life for all. The main thing for the near future will have to be to stabilise the national economies. By doing this, many of the problems that exist within the EU that are attached to the discontents and hopelessness of the people will be solved – and most of the problems are mainly caused by these aspects. First tiny steps into the right direction with the new regulations against tax avoidance might have been taken. The EU could use existing institutions such as the European Central Bank to invest into more illiquid forms that would significantly boost the economy. Currently the ECB is buying € 60bn worth of government bonds every month. The European Investment Bank, a fantastic institution whose full potential has not been fully exploited yet, could also support this programme. Instead of large scale bank lending and increasing debts, more direct investment and private equity is needed, so that money will be more attached to the real economy. Otherwise all these liquid investments will remain distant from the reality and financial markets will keep on growing despite an economic downturn.

Another major contemporary problem in the EU, the refugee crisis, is also manageable. According to the latest OECD figures the asylum seekers currently make up 0.3% of the entire European population – an integration of those people whose lives have been torn apart by war and violence is certainly possible and could benefit Europe in the future. Unfortunately, this whole debate is too often overshadowed by emotions of fear and hatred rather than facts and rational actions to improve integration. Creating the right economic structures and promoting sustainable growth from which the majority of the people – not only the elites – will be able to benefit, will help to ease the integration process.

In long term there will be no way around democratising the European Union so that it will become an institution for the European citizens. The EU must be accountable for its actions to the European and respect the sovereignty of each country as long as it complies with basic democratic rights such as the freedom of speech and human rights. These are just a few general ideas that show that there can be ways out of this crisis. The European idea is not entirely dead, but we need to take action and correct past mistakes in order to exploit its full potential.

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Great Britain will remain a part of Europe as it can’t detach itself physically from the continent. However, I hope that the British will vote to stay and try to shape their own and Europe’s future within the European Union. If this referendum happens to be a wakeup call that things cannot go on the way they do (and they certainly will not), then Europe might be thankful to Great Britain in the end.

LEAVE: Jack Bradley

The rise of virulently reactionary anti-EU parties in Europe mirrors dissatisfaction with the culturally inclusive and socially liberal side of the EU amongst disillusioned citizens of the continent. However, the EU holds a deep, dark secret, for which it receives remarkably little flak from the left. Where is the accountability? How can any ordinary citizen have any leverage on Brussel’s grandees?

The European Parliament is toothless as Donald Tusk tries to out-muscle our elected officials’ attempts to re-negotiate Britain’s membership of the EU. The left was founded on the principles of mass democracy, and accountability to powerful interests. The cruelties of Stalinism and Maoism warped that, but at its heart, the left should be defending our right to influence those who have power over us, rather than limply bowing over to the EU due to it’s perceived “liberalism”. Of course, it has made great strides in environmental legislation and defusing nationalism in Europe. But, if in 30 years’ time we are at the mercy of a shady and impenetrable European technocracy, with no say in our lives, will it have been worth it? The EU is a worthy and admirable project, but its laudable principles have been corrupted by a lack of accountability. Leaving would demonstrate that to the “untouchables” in their glass and steel towers.

1 Comment on "EU Referendum – the Channel’s hostile waters"

  1. “How can any ordinary citizen have any leverage on Brussel’s grandees?”

    You vote in the European Parliament elections. Unfortunately, news outlets just report them as in/out debates and we end up voting in Nigel Farage because only the radicals give a toss. The real question is, why do you place so much importance on “accountability” for EU-laws when (a) they are primarily concerned with the likes of sustainable fishing and the environment – usually lobbied by interest groups, and followed through by professionals in said fields? And, (2) the UK lacks the accountability that you seem to desire – do you think David Cameron is any more accountable? Yeah, you can make your lil’ YouGov petitions, but does that really do anything? The EU is important because it deals with areas of law and politics that have international perspectives that cannot fairly be resolved by Davey C. Just look at the EU competition laws for christ sake.

    “It serves the interests of big businesses, banks and interest groups who lobby for regulations and tariffs that will help cement their established positions, suffocating competition in the process.” – what? do you think that if you place these law-making powers in the hands of Davey C he’s going to listen to environmentalists and small business owners? “suffocating competition”? are you nuts? The EU is revered as having one of the strongest anti-cartel/pro-competition legal frameworks in the world.

    “as refugee crises and terror attacks bring down the border-free Schengen ” – the refugees didn’t even fall under the Schengen programme… WOOOTTT? Jesus wept.

    “Yet in this referendum we have the very opportunity to say just that, that we no longer accept impersonal, inaccurate and unhelpful legislation being forced upon us by faceless, politicians from Westminster, let alone Brussels.”

    Yeah, so instead we’re going to give all the power to the Westminster Bubble that we just ranted on about for 400 words – that’ll teach those people in Brussels who develop laws because of lobbying by certain interest groups that we mean business!

    The out debate is just moronic. It is all about ‘sovereignty’, and ‘nationalism’ and ‘British values for British people’. If someone can actually define what it means to be British, I’d be willing to vote OUT. however, the EU has provided, and still provides, much more than the national debate has let out. It’s quite depressing to see how this generation of students cannot see the EUs worth for themselves. The majority of us will be going for grad jobs with some sort of international element, and if they don’t already have that, they soon will. Free movement is our only god damn way out of the dismal gradjob market (and country). Education is cheap and even free in some European countries – and (particularly with Masters programmes) its more often than not taught in English! AARRGGHHHH

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