It seems likely now that we’ll be getting a referendum in summer 2016, if not slightly later, regarding membership of the European Union. Should we leave or should we stay? How you vote is always up to you and though some voters have already decided which way to vote, others have not. Here, we summarise the most important arguments from both sides to help you decide.
Arguments for Leaving
Our economy: The various bodies and organisations that want the UK to leave the EU point to our economic strength. We presently have the fourth strongest economy in the world and though it can be argued that this is partly a result of the trade links tied to EU membership, it is believed by the “Out” campaign that our economy will not be disrupted. We will be free to strengthen trade ties with everyone including the EU, unencumbered by its regulation.
Business view: The “In” campaign has already championed a number of prominent business leaders who feel that jobs and business will be harmed if we leave. However, not all are in agreement; some high profile business leaders have been vocal about their desire to leave, including owners of Next, Phones4U, Superdrug and several former M&S executives. They strongly feel that for many businesses, leaving the EU will make us stronger.
Trade deficit: The EU is the UK’s biggest trading partner, but what most do not realise is that we import more than we export and this has the potential to affect jobs should it drop off. Critics say we should focus less on EU trade and look towards growing markets such as Brazil, India and China, and the English-speaking countries with which we have a trade surplus (US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia).
Immigration: This is the major battleground with arguments made on both sides. As far as the “Out” campaign is concerned, the EU has too much say over free movement across the EU and not just over the Schengen Area (the borderless zone on the continent). Leaving the EU would allow the UK to set its own entry standards and requirements, and turn away those attempting to enter the country who will not add to the economy.
Arguments for Staying
Immigration: While most UK citizens feel we should control our own borders and keep British jobs for British people, there are several critical areas where the country has a critical skills shortage. These include science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and also in some areas of construction. We rely on highly skilled immigrants from the EU to fill those jobs, as we cannot produce enough graduates to fill the jobs every year. Outside the EU, we are likely to be a much less attractive place for those with such highly desirable skills and this will affect what is already a precarious situation.
Trade benefits: The EU is our biggest trading partner and the largest single consumer block of trade goods in the world. Though acknowledging above that we have a trade deficit, nearly half of our trade is with our EU partners. Even those who are enthusiastic about trade with the Anglophone world and emerging markets understand that these countries presently make up just a small amount of our trade: around 3.3% for India and China and approximately 7.5% with the English speaking countries.
Influence: While we are in the EU, we can influence its decision-making on such things as trade, movement of people, common policy and so on. While critics point to Norway enjoying the benefits of EU membership without being a member, it is important to note that Norway has little to no say on the policies by which it is expected to abide to enjoy these benefits. In the past, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher successfully re-negotiated policies; they could not have done that if we followed the same route Norway has taken.
Travel (holiday, work and living abroad): Since membership of what is now the EU, a large number of British nationals have retired abroad, particularly to Spain and the south of France. For the last few decades, we have enjoyed cheap holidays and hassle-free entry to European countries. Anybody from Britain can work unencumbered in Germany, Spain, France or anywhere else in the EU. Leaving the EU could mean repatriation for British people living and working in Europe, and for the large number of retirees. There will be passport checks for holidays, a potential reintroduction of visas for entry; foreign holidays will become more expensive too.