Going Global: EU referendum

Britain to hold EU referendum

Kat Nekuryashchikh / The Runner

As a holder of a British passport, imagine my immediate anxiety upon hearing that a date had been set for a referendum on European Union membership. Being someone who hopes to go to Scandinavia or German-speaking Europe upon completion of my degree, an exit from the EU could make finding a job in one of these places much more difficult.

On Feb. 20, British prime minister David Cameron spoke to reporters outside of 10 Downing Street to announce June 23 as the date for a national referendum on EU membership.

Cameron said in the press conference that he was personally in favour of staying inside of a “reformed” European Union, and will campaign in favour of it, but would ultimately allow the British people to decide. Cameron will be joined by several members of his Conservative party, along with the majority of UK parliament, including Labour and the Lib Dems. Cameron will be opposed by a few Conservative MPs, UKIP and London Mayor Boris Johnson, whose haircut is just as confusing as Donald Trump’s.

The EU has been a political football match ever since its inception. It seems that whenever anything goes a little bit wrong for Europe, there will always be several politicians of whatever stripe to jump on the sceptic wagon.

In fact, Britain wasn’t a big fan of the whole EU idea in the first place, but was ultimately won over by the economic prospects—a free trade area and unified rules on how to conduct business with each other. This also had the benefit of making it easier for other countries to sell their products in Europe, having to only go through one set of rules instead of dealing with one for every country.

In an interview with Andrew Marr on BBC, Cameron stressed the importance of British businesses needing the EU, saying that staying inside of the EU would prevent “discrimination” against British business. By this he means that they would be hurt by EU tariffs and would suffer without EU rules, which keep the playing field more or less level.
Of course there are some exceptions. Not everyone became part of the Schengen area—the Europe-wide treaty that removes border controls—nor got on board with unified currency. Britain, for instance, retained the pound sterling. Cameron is using these points to argue that the UK is already picking and choosing what they like about the EU, and that, in addition to re-negotiating benefits, is all the reason to stay in.

As for reasons to leave, many Eurosceptics like Nigel Farage will cite immigration and democracy as key concerns. In regards to democracy, Farrage believes that “Eurocrats” are trying to create a “United States of Europe,” in the sense that the EU has a degree of power over signatory states. Immigration is a particularly spicy topic as well, given the massive numbers of refugees entering the area, along with numerous amounts of economic migration from other parts of the world. Britons are increasingly concerned that the free movement of people allows those from poorer European nations to come to the UK to take their jobs and benefits.

However, unemployment in the UK was at a low 5.2 per cent in November, and part of Cameron’s EU renegotiation was to make it more difficult for new immigrants to claim benefits.

In an interview with The Economist last week, Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, said that a “Brexit” would be bad for Britain in the sense that they have more weight to throw around when they’re tied to the rest of Europe. The EU as a trading block is competitive with the United States and China, and were Britain to remove itself it would marginalize itself as a “second tier power,” according to Bremmer. In fact, the U.S. often sees Germany as the “key power” in the EU, instead of Britain.

Furthermore, Britain isn’t the power that they used to be. At one point, the sun never set on Her Majesty’s Empire, but Britain constantly asking for concessions and opt-outs from Brussels demonstrates a lack of ambition from the country that used to own half the world.