Last year, I was in Canterbury, Kent doing studies for a year. In my Politics class, my lecturer usually talked about the UK and its relationship with the European Union(EU). It was an issue that I had to deal with in my law assignment. Now there is a debate on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. Something that I experienced during a seminar which dealt with this. Now, last year was an election year in Britain and it was talked about vigorously on the campaign trail. The UK Independent Party (UKIP) was one of the major parties during the 2015 UK Elections which has a strong anti immigration policy as reflected in the party’s election manifesto focusing on Brexit. After the Conservatives won the majority in the elections, UK Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a referendum on Britain leaving the European Union, a campaign promise he kept by passing the EU Referendum Act in the British Parliament last year. The Referendum takes place on June 23 which is less than a month away. This referendum could decide the future of the UK and its relationship with the EU as one of its most powerful members could leave the Union. So what is Brexit and why is it so important?
Firstly, here is an explanation about the European Union and its history. The European Union is an economic and political union of 28 countries located on the European continent. What makes the European Union unique in how it operates is its hybrid system of supranational and intergovernmental decision making. It is also an internal single market through which laws created by the organization are applied to all member countries. The organization has a number of institutions like the European Council, the European Parliament, European Central Bank, European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union etc. Its economic policies involve free movement of people, goods, services and capital. It also involves enacting legislation and maintaining common policies. Nineteen of the 28 member countries share the same currency known as the Euro which has been used since 2002. Another unique feature of the EU is the free movement of people. Within Europe, there is an area called the Schengen Area. It is an area that includes 26 countries that have abolished passports and any form of border control. Hence, if your country is a member of the EU, you are officially an EU citizen.
The history of the EU goes far back to the 1940s. After World War II, with the devastation Europe faced, European integration was seen as an idea to revitalize continent. The first treaty that started this idea was the Treaty of Rome in 1957 as the participation of six countries like France, West Germany and Belgium which formed the European Economic Community. After the treaty, countries began to join like Ireland, the UK, Portugal, Spain, etc. The modern form of the European Union was created in 1993 with the Maastricht Treaty. Countries that were part of the Soviet Empire began to join from Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, and Romania. The model of the European Union has become so popular that other continental organizations have tried the same idea as well and brought questions if supranational government could be possible.
Britain’s history with the EU has been very complex. Britain were not part in the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The country tried to join in 1963 and 1967 but was vetoed twice by former France president, Charles de Gaulle. The UK was successful for the third time asking and became an official member in 1973. However, in 1975, there was a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EEC or leave. All major parties in the UK and the mainstream press supported staying in the EEC and the electorate supported staying as well with 67% of voters voting yes to stay. As a result, the UK stayed in the EEC.
This year’s referendum is important for Britain, the European Union, and the global economy. A lot of things have happened over the years that have made people lose confidence in the EU. From the 2008 financial recession that hit the EU, countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland being in bad economic shape, and the Refugee Crisis which has seen the highest number of Refugees in Europe since World War II. There are various issues that will affect Britain from the number of jobs that could be gained or lost, immigration, and the possibility of Scotland wanting another referendum if Britain decides to leave. Those who support leaving say that it will allow Britain to control immigration better, allow Britain to make its own trade deals and reduce pressure on public services, saving billions on EU membership fees. Those who support staying say that it will part the UK’s prosperity at risk, diminishing its influence in worldwide affairs and jeopardize national security. The British people are divided with Brexit. A recent poll by the BBC on the 24th of May found that 44% of Brits want to stay in the EU while 38% want to leave. Younger people and university graduates support staying in the EU while older people support leaving. Political parties like Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party (SNP) all support staying the EU while the UK Independent Party (UKIP) support leaving the EU. The Conservatives, the ruling party are Pro- staying but this has been undercut by high ranking members like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson dissenting using it as a bid to wrest power from the Cameron- Osborne axis.
A number of businessmen and international politicians have voiced their opinions about Brexit. The likes of Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Lord Alan Sugar, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates all support Britain staying. Prime Minister David Cameron supports Britain staying and has been vocal about it. Political leaders outside the UK who support Britain staying include Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Donald Tusk, Christine Lagarde, Justin Trudeau, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, John Kerry and President Barack Obama. In April, while on a state visit President Obama voiced his support for Britain to stay which brought controversy from the Brexit gang as led by the colourful erstwhile Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
On the other hand, the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Sir James Dyson, John Mills all support Brexit. Other UK personalities that support Brexit include Sol Campbell, Katie Hopkins and Noel Gallagher. Marine Le Pen, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Rand Paul, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee are the international politicians who support Brexit.
Whether Britain stays in the EU or not, the referendum would bring questions about the future of the European Union. Other countries in the EU have suggested holding their own referendum if Britain leaves. With the Refugee crisis and the Paris Attacks in November last year, the free movement of people could end as well. Britain is one the most important and powerful countries in the European Union and would they still have that power if they leave? This has also voiced the concept of globalization and a global government with the EU as a powerful international organization that has won praise over the years and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for creating peace and economic prosperity for Europe. However, in recent years, the EU has been hit with an economic recession, a failing currency, member countries in austerity measures and a refugee crisis. From the debate I attended last year in Britain about this topic, one question that I can remember leaves the notion of this issue, can the UK still be European without the EU?