A hefty chunk of voters will perceive this June’s referendum question as one concerning how compatible they believe their British identity to be with an increasingly integrated continental union. One of Vote Leave’s first campaign videos made the patriotic case for Brexit by listing a handful of history’s most epic of Brits: Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Emily Pankhurst, and Winston Churchill and Aneurin Bevan. That’s all very well, but what’s not pretty neat about being part of an even larger community that includes all of Britain’s greats, as well as the likes of Einstein and Galileo, Beethoven and Mozart, and Socrates and Descartes?
Most voters will only vote to ‘remain’ if they believe EU membership to be having an overall positive impact on the day-to-day lives of this country’s own citizens. Economically, there is no doubt that Britain is better off within the EU’s Single Market. The European Single Market absorbs 45% of our exports, supporting 4.2 million British jobs. Many of the imported European goods and services that we enjoy cannot be produced domestically at the same quality and price-level, if at all. The Confederation of British Industry found that eight times as many of its firms want to stay in the EU as to quit, with six times as many adding that Brexit would result in them cutting investment and laying off employees. So it is no surprise that even the Bank of England’s Mark Carney and the IMF’s Christine Lagarde have both ditched political neutrality to stress the risk that Brexit poses to this country’s financial stability.
Brexiters protest that outside of the EU, Britain would be more free and able to establish new trade agreements with America, fast-growing economies such as China and India, and much of the Commonwealth. This argument ignores the geographic reality that trade with the world’s far corners cannot replace Britain’s ties to its next-door neighbours. Furthermore, Britain is more likely to achieve trade deals with larger economies through its EU membership. Britain may be the world’s fifth largest economy, but how can it expect to go it alone and match the allure and bargaining power of a trading block that forms the world’s largest economy?
The most precious right granted to EU citizens is the right to move freely around the continent. Whether it’s to work, study, or retire, approximately 2 million Brits are currently exercising this right by living in other EU countries, and those who have come to live in Britain from other EU countries have made positive cultural and economic contributions to this country, with most arrivals being young, skilled and entrepreneurial.
The EU also prevents races-to-the-bottom among European governments when it comes to the provision of workers’ rights. Rights currently guaranteed by the EU include maternity leave, holiday pay and freedom from discrimination at work.
Outside of the EU, Britain may reclaim its former reputation as ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Upon entry into the EU in 1973, Britain had the highest sulphur dioxide emissions in the union and its seas functioned as open sewers thanks to a ‘dilute and disperse’ approach to pollution control. Since 1973, EU laws have forced Britain to change its approach to sewage treatment and the emission of nitrates and sulphur dioxide. The consequent better quality beaches and cleaner bathing waters have benefited us all. It is also clear that the challenge of climate change can only be tackled through cooperation between states.
The evident positive impact that the EU has had on Britain may not sway those who are troubled by what they have perceived as a loss of national sovereignty. However, Britain hasn’t simply given away its sovereignty, rather it has pooled a portion of it along with fellow EU countries pooling a portion of theirs. In an increasingly globalised and interdependent world, pooling sovereignty allows Britain and the rest of Europe to share economic prosperity and combat borderless challenges more effectively. Although a democratic deficit within the EU does exist, no European Commissioner can be appointed and virtually no law can come into force without a vote of approval from the directly elected members of the European Parliament.
In a continent where war between powers has become unthinkable for the first time in millennia, and in a world where globalisation continues to make its advance, Britain must firmly remain within the EU if it is to truly flourish. In light of all that the EU has achieved for Britain’s economy, workers, culture and environment, continued EU membership should be seen as the far more exciting choice.