By Craig Bateman
The European Union is a subject that I have been quite quiet about – up until now. My fundamental belief is that Britain should be part of a reformed European Union that whilst encouraging international co-operation, also recognises the sovereignty of its member states. I believe that Cameron’s deal strikes that balance.
This is not to deny that this package for reform is the end of the process, but it is to say that it is an important step towards the EU Referendum; it gives us the clarity needed to promote our respective messages, and to give the British electorate the chance to make a decision that this current generation has simply not had the opportunity to make.
After all, the EU Referendum is not about politics and politicians; it is about the lives and livelihoods of all of us as ordinary British citizens – not only as consumers, investors, and patrons, but also as students, workers, and pensioners.
Now that we know that the EU referendum is going to take place on 23rd June, this is the time for real debate. For me, the underpinning arguments surround three essential themes; trade, immigration, and social security. I will seek to address these below.
Arguably, Britain’s understanding of the concept of the European community at the time of the last referendum in 1975 centred upon that of a European Economic Community – and not that of the European Union as a social organisation that it has developed into today. This is a pertinent issue at the heart of Britain’s involvement in the EU as a whole, and partially puts Britain in a unique position as a member of the EU. Moreover, trade co-operation is a fundamental aspect of the EU project as a whole – and one which we should always seek to protect. Trading with the EU not only affects the economy, but also creates jobs, apprenticeships, and opportunities for training in a vast range of industries and services.
At the same time, the single currency of the EU neglects the particularities of its member nations, and is why it is right that Britain is committed to staying outside of it. This does not, however, equate to the claim that Britain would be better outside of the EU; indeed, the EU and single currency are two quite different concepts – a distinction which is undeniable, and one which Britain can subscribe to.
Moving on to immigration, this is an important issue which dominates much contemporary debate about the EU, and has particular emotive aspects through parties such as UKIP. Whilst much argumentation over immigration centres upon the capacity of our public services to cope with not just a growing population but also an ageing population, it neglects one of the most important features of immigration: economic development. Indeed, the statistic that in 2014, 1 in 7 businesses that were set up in Britain were established by immigrants is one which shows the real net worth that immigration plays in a diverse country such as Britain. This investment is not purely commercial, but also extends into the creative, intellectual, and academic, realms as well.
As the fifth largest economy, Britain should be outward-looking, and one of the true economic centres of the developed world: a proud country that deals with the EU, but also many other organisations, such as the Commonwealth.
If Britain leaves the EU – one of its biggest trading partners – but still wants to trade with it, this will mean that Britain will have to sign up to every part of legislation that it is required to, following the same path as countries such as Norway. There is more to gain as an outward-looking country within the EU, as opposed to one outside of it that has to construct its own trade deals in an uncertain climate.
We should be proud that Britain is a country of opportunity that has helped so many people to climb the ladder of success, at the same time as acknowledging that Britain is not a country susceptible to exploitation. This is why migrants will not have instant access to our welfare system, and why, if not in employment within four years, will be asked to return; Britain should be an open-shop for investment, but not a free-shop for unearned profit.
The Post-War consensus gave rise to the political axiom that the more clubs and associations that one joins, the more secure that individual, and their interests are. This is true of the EU for Britain still today. The great enterprise that projects such as the European Union – and the United Nations – alongside many others embarked on following the devastation caused by the Second World War, was that of promoting diplomacy and liberal democracy between all nations. This includes, but is not limited to, those countries which constitute Europe. Since the beginning of the European project in 1951, no European country has been at war with each other – a track record which needs to be maintained at all costs. It is perhaps this argument that most convinces me that Britain is better off in a reformed EU.
The European Referendum will be a prime time to rediscover our sense of democratic expression and shared ownership over Britain’s future. The EU is not a perfect institution, but it is a project which continues to be reformed and reshaped; our membership can help to secure our economic prospects and social security, and promote our outward-looking philosophy, at the same time as presenting Britain as a proud, successful, and prosperous nation.
Photograph: Sébastien Bertrand, Flickr.