We are proud to include a series of Guest Blogs by some of our top students at SSEES as part of our Brexit series. This post is by a group of outstanding First and Second-year Undergraduates, who were put forward by Filipa Figueira and Imogen Wade.
The authors of this piece are: Zainab Al-Ansari, Pearl Ahrens, Grace Garry, Anne-Caroline Gauter, Jessica Longley, David Zivkovic
“Europe is my continent, not my country”. These words pronounced by John Redwood, a Conservative Party politician summarises well the ambiguous relationship between Britain and the European Union. This particular link has reached a new point: UK is currently debating over a hypothetical exit. David Cameron promised a referendum on June 23rd 2016, one of his campaign promises, orchestrated to compete with the sudden rise of the UKIP.
The European institutions clearly do not want to see the UK leaving EU and made concessions to keep its “awkward” but powerful “partner” in the union, helping to shape a “Europe à la carte.”
We will focus on three main dimensions of Brexit. The first part will be devoted to the political area. The second part, economical, studying the consequences on commercial exchanges for United Kingdom. The last part approaches a social perspective on the issue, including immigration, and the UK’s identity with regards to the EU.
David – “Leaving the EU would undoubtedly facilitate policy-making in the UK – UK institutions can make policies autonomously, without any foreign institutions being able to annul them. Brexit could also be beneficial for democracy within the UK. If we consider the plummeting voting turnouts, both in the UK and the whole of Europe, we could say that getting rid of some elections and institutions that people do not really care about (such as EU institutions and regulations that hardly anyone seems to understand in their entirety) could inhibit the increase in political apathy, if not even increase popular engagement with national matters.
“David Cameron “fought out” special concessions for the EU. But would such concessions not simply create an even wider gap between the UK and continental Europe? More autonomy means less representation on EU level. If the UK wants to decide on its own on a certain matter, it cannot decide what the other EU members will do, which weakens the relationship between the UK and the EU. So rather than avoiding Brexit, Cameron would appear to be postponing it. Also, other member states could think: “If the UK can do it, why shouldn’t we demand something similar?” Given this, together with a pessimistic attitude towards the EU being a trend – Italian Prime Minister Renzi even referred to the EU as “the orchestra playing on the Titanic” – it might be more beneficial for Britain to take advantage of an emergency boat on this “ship” and opt for Brexit.”
Grace – “However, Brexit could trigger the disintegration of the EU, creating a domino effect resulting in other states leaving.
“The success of Brexit also still relies on the continued existence of the EU for the UK to make deals and agreements with. Thus the disintegration of the EU would mean the end of any sense of unity among the European nations in international affairs, security and trade. With the increasing unification of EU foreign and security policy in order to add power to its voice in the international community, it is clear how Brexit would put the UK at a disadvantage internationally, with significantly less influence pursuing its policies alone.
“This follows the federalist idea of economies of scale which suggests that something is more efficient if done by everyone together rather than separately. Currently the UK has a voice and influence within the EU, which would not be possible with Brexit. The federalist idea of externalities implies that the actions from one group have indirect effects on others. If Brexit occurred the UK’s close proximity to Europe mean it would not be free from the indirect effect of EU policy actions. Thus it may be better to remain within the EU and help form and influence laws than to leave but still be affected by its decisions.”
Jessica – “If the UK does decide to leave the EU, it would not only affect the country’s political power, but also its economy. None of the top 100 leading thinkers in the world consider that the UK would benefit from leaving. One of the main reasons behind this is the belief that Brexit will bring economic uncertainty and adverse shock to the UK. Indeed, the new trade rules are yet to be defined and depends on how exactly the UK will leave the EU.
“Moreover, the EU would have a strong incentive to impose a harsh settlement to discourage other countries from leaving. The UK would find itself still constrained by rules it would have no role in formulating, leaving the UK on the sidelines, as a powerless sovereignty. Some argue this would have a massive impact on UK’s growth as it depends on the EU for more than half of its exports. Leaving the EU would mean that the UK would be losing their access to the biggest economy in the world and their most important trade partner.
On the other hand, others believe that the impacts of Brexit on trade would be relatively small. They expect that a favourable trade agreement would be reached after Brexit as there are advantages for both sides in continuing a close commercial arrangement. Furthermore, they argue that leaving would permit the UK to trade more successfully, stating that the benefits the EU provide are smaller than a few decades ago. Having gained more influence, the UK could get a seat back on big international bodies that the EU took away and create new free trade agreements. Lastly, the UK would not have to pay £10 billion into Brussels for other countries on the continent. This would cut the balance deficit by 1/5 in the first year after leaving, meaning Britain could spend it on its priorities, leading to an economic boost.
Zainab – “Could Brexit harm our jobs? British companies that are dependent on trade with the EU could see their production costs rise after an exit forcing them to let go of workers in order to cut costs and hold on to their profit margins.
“Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is an example of a British company directly affected. RR believes that exit from the European Union could “drive up costs and have an impact on its workforce” as most of the company’s trade is done with the EU. Earlier this month, the luxury motor car company wrote to its employees, warning of the adverse effects of Brexit.
“However, others see that EU laws undermine the flexibility of our nation’s labor market and increase the costs associated with hiring staff. This increases production costs and makes firms less likely to hire too many workers. Indeed, a Brexit under a Conservative government could potentially see the repeal of the maximum 48-hour working week and the removal of working time record keeping requirements, allowing firms to save money in the production process and possibly take on more workers.
“The current free movement of labor affects British workers’ job prospects. British firms are more likely to employ an EU worker than a British one because of their higher rates of productivity. EU workers are able to work greater hours and are more accepting of minimum wage. “Vote Leave” advocate, MP Iain Duncan Smith, says ‘for every 100 migrants employed, 23 UK-born workers would have been displaced’ across industries including education, secretarial and janitorial work. The removal of Britain from the EU would force British firms to employ British workers and therefore improve domestic employment levels.
“However, there is no statistical proof of the impact of EU migrants specifically to substantiate what Iain Duncan Smith claims.”
Pearl – “Immigration and identity are both key considerations in the Brexit topic. Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP, and Leave.EU, agree that although there are a repertoire of reasons to leave the EU, immigration is the strongest. Carswell says, using the persuasive tactic of risk, that “the safest thing we can do is vote to take back control.” The UK currently has 2.48 EU immigrants per 1000 British citizens, therefore a large portion of the Brexit campaign claim it’s necessary that dangerous and rampant immigration is reduced and from a solitary stance Britain can control its own borders. However, there are 3 arguments which the campaign to remain is using to bat back.
“Firstly, leaving the EU doesn’t guarantee fewer immigrants. Switzerland and Norway aren’t in the EU yet they have 11.33 and 7.38 EU immigrants per 1000 citizens respectively. If Brexit occurred it is unclear what relationship the UK would share with its EU neighbours, but it’s possible it would follow the examples set by Switzerland and Norway. There, trade agreements are locked to freedom of movement agreements; the UK wouldn’t be able to have one without the other.
“Secondly, there is still hope of renegotiation of Britain’s position within the EU. Cameron’s negotiations so far have not been promising but there is flexibility in domestic law, for instance EU immigrants currently cannot claim housing benefit (NI Direct, 2014). Cameron’s current proposals include stopping EU immigrants being able to receive benefits for the first four years they are working in the UK. He bills this as a kind of punishment for the immigrants already “putting an excessive pressure on the proper functioning of its public services.” This confounds the argument that it’s only possible to deter immigrants from entering the UK if we leave the EU.
“Thirdly, some campaigners on the left argue that it’s inhumane to keep EU immigrants out of Britain while it remains one of the richest countries in the world. They emphasise the scale of the refugee crisis and the impact this has relating to externalities. They also highlight the UK’s recent history of “hypocritically pressuring Turkey to open its borders whilst fortifying our own.”
“Arguments for the UK to remain come from all over the political spectrum, and a consensus has not been reached on how best to discuss immigration in the context of Brexit.”
Anne – Caroline – “Another social aspect highlighted by the Brexit would be the “European identity”. This identity is a complex question, as it is made of several ones, each from its own country.
“The EU was initially an economic partnership created after WWII to maintain peace and help reconstruction. The main goal was to promote exchanges between the countries and to strengthen the ties between them. Then, politicians tried to extend this partnership with a political and cultural dimension. However, even if the countries share some common historical background- we can refer for instance to the Roman Empire, Hellenistic civilisation, Christianism or the Enlightenment during the 18th century- there is not a strong feeling of belonging to a same community.
“Britain was shaped by a “Eurosceptic culture”. It is rather a global country, as Anthony Eden said in 1952, “her interests lie far beyond the continent of Europe”. The British were also known for their pragmatic policies and did not believe in a European union in the first place; it was seen as contradictory with their sovereignty and against their liberty. Margaret Thatcher strengthened this tradition.
These elements can explain the origin of the current Euroscepticism in UK. In other words, there is a lack of legitimacy concerning the EU. The weak political legitimacy occurring in the EU is due to the incapacity of political structures to solve new issues brought by globalization and European integration.
“A recent survey by Natcen emphasises the fact that British people have never felt to “belong to a European Identity”. In 2014, 15% thought themselves as European, that is 5% more than in 1996. The highest figure was achieved in 1999, with 17%. Therefore, those low cultural links do not really bond British people with the other members of the union: withdrawing from the EU will not make a big difference for them.
“Another social aspect that goes in the sense of leaving the EU would be the feeling of being “in security”. This would be illustrated by closing the borders. According to a survey realized on the 15th and 16th January, 53% of people were in favour of the Brexit. The main reason of this decision was the recent set of attacks that struck the French capital. In addition, we can cite the mass sexual assaults that took place in Cologne on New Years Eve 2015.”
In conclusion, there are many issues to consider relating to Brexit, with convincing arguments on all sides. Some emphasise the loss of trade links if Brexit occurred, while others highlight the policy areas which could be brought back under British control. Polls conducted on the British public still vary wildly from day to day and many remain undecided.
Many people worry about the risks of staying in the EU related to refugees and the Eurozone crisis, whereas the situation for the UK without the EU is equally uncertain.
Note: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of UCL, SSEES, or SSEES Research Blog