In just over three months, Britain will take part in a referendum to decide whether or not it stays a member of the European Union. The official campaigns for each position are still being contended. For the campaigners who want independence from the Union, the most prominent groups are ‘Vote Leave’ and ‘Grassroots Out’. Representing those who see a united future is ‘Britain Strong In Europe’. This is a political issue which crosses party boundaries: the Conservatives in particular are split almost cleanly in half, despite Cameron being part of the ‘Remain’ campaign. Meanwhile the vast majority of Labour MPs are following their party’s official ‘Remain’ campaign, despite some claims that Corbyn is more ‘naturally’ a Eurosceptic. The Greens are also ‘Remain’, as are the Liberal Democrats. UKIP, unsurprisingly, are campaigning to leave Europe, hoping to make June 23rd Britain’s ‘Independence Day’. It is an important decision, one that will affect the economy, trade, welfare and immigration, amongst a host of other issues. At this point in time, the ‘Remain’ campaign seems to be winning – albeit only by a margin of 3% – although polls at this stage are likely to be highly inaccurate.
The Brexit camp, even at this stage, has been accused of using dishonest techniques to propagate inaccurate or improbable outcomes following a vote for ‘Leave’. Newspapers including the Mail, Sun, Star, Express and Telegraph were described by more left-leaning commentators as having “totally given up on trying to inform their readers or to debate issues, and instead promote the anti-EU views of their owners, regardless of the facts”. However, accurate or not, campaigners do cite a number of reasons why exit from the EU is a necessity. One of the key arguments is that in remaining a part of Europe, Britain is bound by policies dictated by Brussels that it may not feel are in its best interests, and Eurosceptics see the Union as inflexible. If one examines the issues that David Cameron focussed on during his renegotiation talks with the EU, one might be able to deduce that issues that Brexit advocates are concerned about include: the UK financial sector’s independence, control over EU lawmaking, welfare for immigrants, ‘red-tape’, conversion to the Euro and terrorism. Furthermore, the ‘Leave’ campaigns do specifically state that a new, comparable, deal with the EU would be a possibility, keeping access to the mutually beneficial single market and saving Britain its £13bn annual membership. The ‘Vote Leave’ campaign argues that this would lead to a ‘friendlier relationship’ between Britain and Europe.
Part of the ‘Remain’ campaign, as well as raising positive points of their own, is to point out the discrepancies in the arguments of the ‘Leave’ advocates. The biggest of these pertains to one of ‘Leave’s key points – that it would be possible for the UK to obtain a more beneficial deal with the EU without paying the membership. This is as unlikely as it sounds – MPs across the political spectrum have observed that no country, for instance, is able to avoid membership payments, ignore EU legislation including free movement, and stay in the single market. Alternatives include everything from a slightly reduced cost with no vote on EU legislation, to a complete break that would incur tariffs on trading.
However, the ‘Remain’ campaign is not the risk-averse ‘Project Fear’ that it is branded by its opponents. The ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ website cites a number of benefits that the EU provides: the creation of jobs and investment, the £3000 that membership is worth annually to each family in Britain, the protection of workers’ and women’s rights, and the potential it provides in terms of exportation and business expansion. The effective £3000 benefit per household, for instance, is due to the investment, jobs and lower prices afforded by EU membership. The CBI note that this is equivalent to a benefit for the UK economy of 4-5% of GDP. In terms of protecting women’s rights, the EU acknowledges the pay gap and outlines how it plans to “contribute towards eliminating unequal pay”, among other initiatives. More generally in terms of workers rights, workers are entitled to certain levels of health and safety, non-discrimination and protection regarding working hours and specific contracts. Crucially, member states must uphold these rights in their laws.
On the evidence outlined here, the ‘Remain’ campaign presents the greatest amount of positive arguments for its desired outcome, particularly in terms of rights and trade and the economy. However, that’s not to say that the Brexit campaigners are entirely wrong. Certainly, their points on a lack of flexibility within the Union could be of some merit. Of course, there is no way to know, yet, what the country will vote on the 23rd of June: and be it to remain or leave, the important issue is that voters have been properly informed of the positives and negatives of the European Union, and that the facts that they are given by campaigners are, to those campaigners’ best knowledge, true.