The EU Debate
'Alone, we cannot expect the current benefits that come from trade to continue.'
Megan Evans | 21 January 2016

It has been confirmed that we will be having a referendum on Europe; this means a wave of propaganda is on the way to “educate” the electorate into making the right decision. Those wanting to leave the EU will talk of the guaranteed prosperity and freedom from doing so, however, the implications on trade, migration of people and the UK’s influence are too great to risk on the Eurosceptic pipe dream of an independent UK free of the restrictions of the EU.

If the UK were to leave the EU it would be detrimental to trade. The EU is the largest single market, which gives British businesses access to the entire EU with its 500 million consumers. The EU is the UK's main trading partner, with more than £400bn a year of trade between them; it is seriously worth considering the implications in terms of trade alone if the UK left the EU. The UK would experience a major decline in investment from TNCs if it were to leave the EU. This is underpinned in a statement from a KPMG report on the car industry last year: "the attractiveness of the UK as a place to invest and do automotive business is clearly underpinned by the UK's influential membership of the EU.”

Free movement of people within the EU is a core principle, enshrined in the EU treaties. More than 14 million EU citizens are resident in another member state. What do those wanting to leave the EU propose happens to these citizens? The European Commission says it is the right most closely associated with EU citizenship. Free movement of labour is fundamental to a functioning single market. It is a misconceived and over-exaggerated idea that immigrants are a drain on our economy - in fact European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn to UK public finances between 2000 and 2011. A study from UCL also reveals that more than 60% of new migrants from Western and Southern Europe are now university graduates. How can an influx into the UK of educated workers that contribute to public finances be considered detrimental to our country?

Another major factor to consider is the influence that the UK may lose if it were to leave the EU. The UK now accounts for less than 1% of the world's population and less than 3% of GDP. Each year that goes by, these numbers shrink a little. We will find it increasingly hard to get our voice heard on topics that affect our prosperity and well-being if we go it alone. At the moment, when we negotiate with America, China or Japan, we are doing so as part of the world's largest trade bloc, which accounts for nearly 20% of world GDP. Washington, Beijing and Tokyo simply have to take Brussels seriously as a trade partner. If we were on our own, the balance of power would be quite different. The US economy is seven times as big as ours, the Chinese is five times as big, and Japan's is twice our size. Alone, we cannot expect the current benefits that come from trade to continue.

It is telling what a Chinese government-controlled newspaper, the Global Times, said about the UK when David Cameron visited the country in 2013: "the Cameron administration should acknowledge that the UK is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese. It is just an old European country apt for travel and study." If we leave the EU, we are left isolated with very little influence.

The idea that the UK can have an amicable break from the EU is unrealistic. It is clear that France, Germany and Italy would not allow the UK to pick and choose which EU trade bloc rules it abides by. If the UK went for a completely clean break with the EU, its exports would be subject to tariffs and would still have to meet EU production standards, harming the competitiveness of British business. How can it be considered beneficial for the UK to leave the EU but still have to abide by trade restrictions that it had no say in creating or implementing? Breaking from the EU also poses the risk of fragmenting the years of peace that the UK has enjoyed with the other 27 member states. Is it worth risking our access to the world's largest single market, threatening Europe’s sustained peace and destroying the UK’s presence on the world stage? All of the Eurosceptics arguments are hypothetical; yes it is possible that without the EU the UK could negotiate different trade deals with the US and yes the UK would have complete control of its borders. But is it worth risking the current proven benefits that the UK enjoys as being a part of the EU?


Image used under Creative Commons license

James Routledge 2016