By Graham Allen
It has been just over a year since Scotland held a referendum about whether to stay a part of the U.K., which almost ended our nation as we know it. Despite some people, mainly from the Scottish National Party, still talking about it, most of the country’s attention has now turned to another upcoming referendum, this time about the U.K.’s membership of the EU.
Those on the right wing of the Conservative Party have successfully pressured David Cameron into promising the referendum in the light of the recent rise of U.K. Independence Party (UKIP). When Cameron gets around to announcing the date, the electorate will be asked the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?” I believe we should continue in our membership, however, to convince the majority of the electorate that “remain” is the correct answer, we must ask ourselves a slightly different question: why should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?
The campaign for British exit (Brexit) wants us to leave the EU at whatever cost. They believe that the EU is to blame for a majority, in some cases all, of our problems. This is very much the viewpoint of UKIP. They say that the EU drags our economy down, increases the level of immigration, and only costs us billions of pounds every year despite getting very little in return. According to them, our problems would almost magically disappear as soon as we pull out of the EU. I am afraid, however, that if we leave the EU not only the problems will not disappear they will become bigger.
Countries from all around the world look at the EU with great interest as they recognize the benefits of being a member of a regional trade block in the times of ever so growing globalization. Hence the establishment of organization such as NAFTA, African Union, Mercosur, etc. However, we often hear from the Brexit camp that we would be better on our own and could be another nation like Norway or Switzerland, who are not members of the EU yet are still involved in the European community. They tell us that we could keep the benefits connected with being a member of the EU but without any of obligations.
It does not take much to realize that such thing does not add up. While it is true that Norway and Switzerland have a full access to the single market but in return they have to apply all of the regulation, they have no say at all in them and as a result they have so called ‘fax democracy;’ they get the regulation from Brussels ‘faxed’ to them and they have little choice but to implement them. Secondly, Norway and Switzerland still contribute large sums of money, Norwegian a per capita net contribution was only €39 ($42.22) less than the U.K. one.
Thirdly, we often hear that the EU is a dying club on its last leg which stops us from trading with countries from outside of the EU like for example India. First of all, the EU has five out of 8 most competitive economies in the world, that does hardly sound like a dying club. Secondly, Belgium, a country which is six times smaller than the U.K., exports more to India than the U.K., while Germany exports 10 times more. Therefore, clearly, it is not the EU which stops the U.K. from trading with non-EU countries.
Furthermore, it is ironic that just a year ago the Conservative Party campaigned in Scotland with a slogan Better Together. David Cameron made an emotional plea during which he said that “no” in the Scottish referendum would, amongst other things, separate families, lower pensions, and establish more alienating borders. He compared the separation to building a home and then walking out the door and throwing away the keys. I believe that pulling out of the EU would be exactly the same. Therefore, instead of walking out the door and abandoning our European partners and throwing out all benefits connected with being a member of the EU, we have to work together to reform it and thus address any growing concerns.
The EU does need reform so it is more efficient, accountable, transparent, and so it does more to promote jobs and growth. I also believe there needs to greater fairness on what happens when people move here from another EU country, with longer transitional arrangements for countries joining the EU and reforms to rules allowing EU migrants in the U.K. to claim child benefit or child tax credit when their children live abroad. It should also be made easier to deport people who have recently moved from another EU country into the U.K. if they commit crime and the reform agenda must address the concern that the EU is intent on a drive to an ever closer union. Lastly, I do not want to see any further powers go from Britain to the EU. However, we cannot do any of those things if we pull out of the EU or even if we are going to stand by the door with our hand on the door knob and threaten others that we will walk out any second.
Lastly, the SNP are clear that potential Brexit would trigger another Scottish referendum which is likely to be a win for the nationalist side which would like to see Scotland becoming an independent country. Therefore, the EU referendum will become not only the undoing of our ties with Europe but could also see Scotland leave the U.K., something which I personal feel would be a disaster to our nation.
Graham Allen is a U.K. Member of Parliament representing Nottingham North.
[Photo courtesy of Jisc]