Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
On June 23rd 2016 the people of the United Kingdom are tasked with answering the above question. As straightforward as the question may be, the reasons for and against have descended into a sometimes-ugly debate on the very essence of Britishness, its role in the world and what the future IN or OUT of Europe may hold.
Separated by a mere 20 miles from France and the rest of mainland Europe the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, has had a colorful, and at times strained relationship with its continental neighbors.
The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world. It is also one of only nine countries to have nuclear weapons, holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, is a founding member of NATO and is ranked in the top five military’s globally. It is one of the three main global financial hubs and maintains one of the largest and most diverse diplomatic and revered intelligence networks of any nation. It is also BFF’s with the United States.
The European Union was formed by the “inner six” countries of Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and West Germany in 1951. The UK along with Denmark, Ireland and Norway applied for membership in 1960 only to have their application vetoed by then – French President Charles de Gaulle who feared the application was a Trojan Horse of United States influence. With de Gaulle gone the veto was lifted and in 1967 the countries were accepted. Over the next few decades many more countries would join the EU with 28 nations now making up a quasi United States of Europe. In 2002 19 countries adopted the Euro as their single currency. Britain opted out and retained the pound.
As the EU grew overtime so did its bureaucracy and influence. In 1995 the Schengen Convention led to the free and unhindered movement of people and goods across 26 countries representing approximately 400 million people with the abolition of border controls and a common visa policy. Ireland and the UK retained opt outs of the agreement. Over the years the EU has sought to control many areas of policy including the rule of law, immigration, banking, employment, human rights and more. Many have criticized this move towards a European super state managed by unelected bureaucrats based in Brussels and this is one of the key reasons the UK has sought this referendum. Many in the UK feel increasing EU control has eroded their sovereignty and left them with little say in how they govern themselves.
Seeing an opportunity current Prime Minister David Cameron, of the Conservative party promised the British electorate a simple In/Out European referendum as part of his party’s general election manifesto. In the past Cameron has suggested Britain was a strong nation that would be just fine outside of the EU. The Conservatives won that 2015 election and Cameron has now delivered on his referendum promise although interestingly, he himself is one of the key leaders of the Remain campaign and believes Britain should remain in. In a rare show of parliamentary freedom, all members of parliament are free to vote and campaign as they see fit despite official party allegiances making for some unusual political bedfellows.
Polls suggest the country remains divided, neither side having a clear advantage. We examine the main issues and positions below:
Remain (In the EU) – The official position of the government, the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, the Scottish national party, the new Muslim Mayor of London as well as many high profile business leaders such as Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin group. Their belief is “Britain is stronger in Europe” and can only lead and reform the EU by remaining a member of the union. According to the campaigns official website, www.strongerin.co.uk some of their key arguments are:
- Over 3 million UK jobs are linked to trade with the EU: one in every ten jobs
- If Britain leaves the EU experts predict that the economic hit would mean up to 950,000 UK jobs could be lost
- The Trades Union Congress says the average wage would fall by £38 a week
- The UK economy benefits from investment worth £66 million from EU countries
- 9 out of 10 economic experts say the value of the pound would fall
- World leaders including Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Narendra Modi say Britain’s world influence would be diminished
- Britain would lose its say on climate change regulations, trade regulations, the economy and security.
The leave campaign has framed this as an opportunity for Britain to regain its sovereignty and ability to self – govern. Whipping up a sense of nationalism as part of its platform, the campaign has illustrated serious rifts within the ruling conservative party as members who agree on many things now find themselves on different sides of the debate.
Leave – The Leave campaign is spearheaded by American born former mayor of London, Boris Johnson and was recently endorsed by vacuum magnate Sir James Dyson. The leave campaigns main argument is that Britain will be better off leaving the EU and regaining control of its own affairs. The crux of their argument is centered on “taking back control” with their official website, www.takecontrol.org suggesting a vote to leave will:
- Stop handing over £350 million a week to Brussels
- Take back control of our borders and can kick out violent criminals
- Take back the power to kick out the people who make our laws
- Decide what we spend our own money on
- Free our businesses from damaging EU laws and regulations
- Take back the power to make our own trade deals
- Have better relations with our European friends
- Regain our influence in the wider world and become a truly global nation once again
With such an important decision facing the British people, a once in a lifetime vote with regional and global ramifications, we spoke to a few British ex pats currently residing in the Tampa area. Only British citizens having left the UK less than 15 years ago are eligible to vote.
One such voter is Joshua Ashby – Young (24) from London. He recently moved to St Petersburg and is a small business owner. According to many polls the younger millennial voters are leaning towards staying in, but this is not quite accurate according to Ashby – Young:
“Having been over in the UK recently I get the impression that we’ll vote to leave the EU,” Young said. “Just like the general elections I think polling and media opinions don’t represent the actual views of the public. Personally I’m completely behind the leave campaign, I look at the whole EU issue and see how it affects me directly. If we can’t even build enough houses to cope with the current levels of migration how are first time buyers supposed to get on the housing ladder. I believe that on polling day people will vote on what affects them, the fact that traffic is increasing, commute times to work are getting longer, people can’t places in schools or appointments with doctors. If we haven’t got the resources to remedy these issues now than we certainly won’t have them if we remain in the EU and have such a large net migration every year.”
Across the bay at the Mad Dogs and Englishmen pub in South Tampa we find a different view from another London native and godson of famous English author Noel Coward, 47-year-old Hugo Morley. In the UK as recently as last Christmas Morley said, “I noticed very little about it (Brexit) when I was there, I’ve noticed a lot more about since I’ve been back through friends on Facebook. My view is definitely to stay in, but I’m pretty sure anybody that lives abroad would say that. It seems a bit much for us to enjoy the rest of the world but not for them to enjoy us, I mean that’s one part of it, the traveling and that we’re welcomed into other places.”
Another Brit with a similar view is 45 year old Steve Hindle, head of security at Sykes in downtown Tampa for the past three years, “As someone who works in security I believe we are stronger in, sharing intelligence and information across Europe is vital to our safety,” Hindle said. “However, I also recognize that we are an island and that makes us somewhat unique and that fact alone has saved us from invasion at various points in our past, but I believe we have a better chance of reforming the EU if were in. I believe we’re stronger together.”
As the polls suggest Morley believes the country is split “It seems split almost directly down the middle, I think it could go either way. It seems that no one knows what’s going to happen with the result either way. How are they going to do it? How are they going to pull out? It’s going to take years,” he said.
With both sides desperate for a win the rhetoric has slowly been ramping up ahead of the vote itself. The Prime Minister, David Cameron is himself at threat with many believing he will have to step down in the event the country votes to leave. As many other European countries are faced with crippling debts, high unemployment and an immigration problem that shows no signs of abating, all eyes are on the British vote. A vote to leave, some believe, could be the beginning for the end of the entire European project. Neither side really knows the consequences for Britain either In or Out of Europe and as scare mongering emanates from both campaigns, the British people – including a few Tampa Bay expats are the ones who will ultimately decide.