We live in a connected world. Britain will always be affected by what happens in Europe. More than 40% of our trade goes to the EU. We are geographically close, so we are affected by the same environmental issues, and Europe’s political and economic stability matter to us.
It makes sense for us to collaborate constructively with our neighbours: remaining in the EU, helping its rules to evolve, and strengthening it by being members. Our EU membership was the result of a democratically-approved UK decision to co-operate with the EU on matters of common interest; it gives us influence on trading rules and other matters that would affect us even if there were a ‘Brexit’. The British people have a democratic voice equal to that of the other members and our elected politicians share in EU decision-making.
Britain has tariff-free trading with EU members and it benefits from the EU’s bilateral trade deals with some other countries; otherwise it trades globally under (less advantageous) WTO tariff rules. Other economies in the world are growing more rapidly, but the EU remains an important market. Strong customer relationships have developed over 43 years of membership. Most economists believe that leaving the EU would damage the UK economy. New negotiations would be needed with the EU and all its trading partners. The economy of the EU, our biggest customer, would suffer from a smaller market and the loss of British influence if we were no longer a member.
European citizens are granted rights of free movement between member countries, as part of the single market; over half of Britain’s immigrants now come from Europe. Existing EU law prevents such migrants from burdening their host’s social security system, and Britain’s EU reform deal clarifies how that would work in practice, but immigration is problematic. It has increased the UK population, giving some people cause for concern, but it has brought overall economic benefits.
Politicians should focus on fixing any pressures on housing and public services instead of leaving the EU and closing our borders. Immigration should not be subject to arbitrary national targets. It should be managed regionally, according to the availability of work and accommodation. For example, the BBC reported that Sports Direct was allowed to expand in the Derbyshire town of Shirebrook without upgrading housing and public services; then there were problems when a flood of immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe. The company should have been denied planning permission, or the town’s infrastructure should have been upgraded. The problem in this case was not EU immigration but local political failure – as reported by Chad.
There are many in the EU who want it to develop into a superstate, but the UK can remain separate from that. We have the best of both worlds. We co-operate with the other members on free trade, collaborative policing and joint regulation of the environment, but we avoid the loss of political and financial independence that comes with membership of the Eurozone’s single currency.
EU members are committed to standards of human rights that stretch beyond the EU and are enforced by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). This legal framework protects all Europeans from government malpractice; it helped the Hillsborough families to expose a police cover-up and obtain justice, for example, and it has upheld press freedom, prevented torture etc. The UK and other governments established these rights to prevent the fascist oppression of minorities, such as that which led up to the Second World War. A recent resurgence of far-right politics in Europe indicates that vigilance must continue.
As a collective voice, the EU can wield considerable soft power; it has more diplomatic legitimacy than its separate countries with their colonial pasts. In international affairs, Britain’s most useful role is to support the EU’s collective influence to promote stability. Britain would not contribute to a European army, though, to avoid undermining NATO; as EU members, we would veto it, as the government has stated.
A vote to leave the EU would increase the power of a small group within Britain’s political establishment: the leaders of the Brexit campaign, who are misleading the public. A vote to leave is to choose to bury our heads in the sand, in the vain hope that we can isolate ourselves from Europe; it would lead to political, cultural and economic shrinkage. A vote to remain is to choose to co-operate with our neighbours to build a better future for the whole continent.