Should we leave the European Union?
With a recent Commons rebellion on the EU membership referendum, this week we publish a correspondence of three writers on the highly contentious issue
Kit Bradshaw versus Matthew Boughton and Ricky Blair
KB: Ever since Britain joined the European Union in 1973 we haven’t exactly had the smoothest of relationships with the supranational organisation.
We (the British) seem to have a natural suspicion of the work of the EU and hostility towards the decisions it makes.
Poll after poll shows us to be a profoundly Eurosceptic nation which is not helped by a right-wing press intent on running story after story about “bendy banana bans” and “meddling European bureaucrats”.
What is rarely discussed are the positive aspects of EU membership. So, if you could put your statistically probable Euroscepticism to one side for a moment, I will attempt to redress the balance.
The EU has produced a truly open market that allows British businesses to trade freely with our European neighbours and allows you and me to travel freely across the continent to study, work and live.
This has had untold benefits for the British economy and has allowed us to remain competitive in the globalised world economy.
It has allowed our service sector to expand and means that migrant labourers from across Europe can come to Britain to fill skills caps in our economy.
Furthermore, and one important point that many in this country have taken far too long to come to terms with, is that Britain is not the colonial world superpower that it was at the turn of the 20th Century.
We are a small, northern European island nation, with a moderately sized population and economy. We have very little influence on the world stage if we are not firmly at the heart of Europe. Britain alone cannot carry the international weight we once could but as part of the European Union we can.
Collectively, the EU represents the largest economy in the world and the single most important trading partner for the US, China and India.
While the EU is by no means a perfect organisation, our future prosperity, security and environmental well-being relies on us being at the heart of Europe.
Our long-standing Euroscepticism is a hang-over from a bygone age and the quicker that our government – and the rest of the population – realises that, the better.
MB/RB: Indeed, Europe has allowed free movement of people within the EU, one of the reasons why Britain is now grossly over-crowded, combined with the Labour government’s wild miss-calculation on the number of migrants who would flock to Britain following the 2004 accession.
Moreover, the movement of such people has hindered the British workforce significantly, enabling companies to employ cheap labour, thus creating a system in which workers are arguably exploited whilst those from Britain are deprived of career enhancement.
This does nothing to help British people, particularly those in low skilled jobs and the unemployed.
This makes obvious the damage that the Free Market is not only doing to the British Economy, but also British Society as we see the rise of an underclass of British Workers, put out of work by the presence of European workers.
With respect to your second argument, you have failed to mention that Britain is by no means the only Eurosceptic country within the EU, and one only has to look to the number of referendums held in other member states in recent years, and the mobilisation of Eurosceptic political movements, with Denmark being a prime example of this.
British Euroscepticism has been more pronounced than in many other member states, but with the inevitable collapse of the Euro, it can be said with much justification that Euroscepticism will be increasingly apparent across many nations in the EU.
With this seemingly so likely, we should not be afraid to lead the way in critique of the disastrous EU project.
KB: Talk of migrants flocking to a ‘grossly over-crowded’ Britain is just one example of a wild generalisation – commonplace in the columns of the Daily Mail – that is not only unhelpful in encouraging better relations with our neighbours but also engenders prejudice and fear amongst the British people.
Such highly charged language is an attempt to emotionalise a fundamentally straight-forward issue.
Furthermore I strongly refute your implication that Britain’s economy has suffered from the free movement of labour.
Our economy is stronger and more versatile because skilled workers from across the EU can come here to fill vital job vacancies in our economy. From the traders in the City of London to the nurses in our NHS, millions of jobs in this country are done by workers from other parts of the EU.
Why? Because they are the best candidates for the job. Greater choice of workers for our businesses and public services leads to a more efficient and productive economy.
So while our heart might, at times, wish we were just little Great Britain once more, able to go it alone in the world; our head will remind us that times have changed.
The times that an island nation with less than 60 million inhabitants could survive without working constructively and positively with their immediate neighbours are over.
Leaving the European Union would be political suicide. We would at a stroke become entirely insignificant. Any authority or status that our flag carries us on the world stage would be lost.
We would be economically isolated from our biggest trading partners, our ‘special relationship’ with the USA as their contact in Europe would be undermined and the opportunities open to future generations of Britons to work and study across Europe would be lost.
I, like many other people in this country, consider myself to be British before I am European. But that does not mean we have to leave the EU which would endanger our future prosperity and ruin half a century of diplomatic progress.
MB/RB: You have clearly resorted to a typical left-wing response, by charging us with simply using rhetoric from the Daily Mail.
Examining the migration issue more closely, it is obvious that this is an extremely serious problem, as can be seen by the severe shortage in housing and an ever-increasingly intense battle for school places. This results in exceptional overcrowding in terms of class sizes, which is particularly evident in many boroughs of inner London as well as many other major cities in the country.
The consequences of this could be disastrous, as many of those areas which are more densely populated are among some of the poorest in the country, meaning that children will be deprived of the individual input which is required in early life to give them the best possible start.
As is widely known, children who are struggling at the age of seven are much less likely to leave school with the literacy and numeracy skills required for the workplace, the result of which will be to hinder further social mobility. This will also have ramifications for British society, not just in that young people will not leave school with the required qualifications, but because it is not improbable that racist attitudes will develop, with many citizens on lower incomes resenting “Those foreigners who come here and take our jobs and homes”, etc.
You argue that those taking certain jobs in Britain are those who are the most suitably qualified, a claim which we will not dispute.
However, a much clearer solution to the issue is to help the most capable British people obtain such qualifications to help plug skill gaps, which would, in turn, help to drive down the costs of social welfare, as unemployment falls. In order for British people to achieve better qualifications it means that we have to address the issue of the presence of European migrants preventing many British people access to Higher Education.
Thus, we have demonstrated why Britain should leave the EU, and wish to draw attention to the extent to which you have merely echoed the sentiments of Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to support their case, two people who barely exercise conviction or credibility within British politics.
KB: To say you have deviated somewhat off topic would be an understatement. I would have rather discussed the big issues at the heart of the EU debate but alas I will attempt to respond to some of the points you have raised.
Bringing up housing shortages and school admission issues in a debate on the rights and wrongs of EU membership is to confuse the modern realities of immigration into Britain. The International Passenger Survey 2010 found that the top countries for immigration into the UK are: India with 11.9%, Pakistan (5.8%), Poland (5.4%), Australia (5.2%) and China (5.2%). So with only one EU nation state in the top five, it’s fair to say that trying to link the problems created by high immigration with our ongoing membership of the EU is misguided and inaccurate.
To do so simply exacerbates people’s fears and encourages prejudice and xenophobia.
Therefore I find it laughable that you have tried to blame the EU for creating racist attitudes in young British people.
Your argument attempts to somehow link the problems of ‘overcrowding’ in our cities with racism in our schools. As I’ve already explained, the EU is not to blame for high immigration and its associated problems. Therefore this argument can be dismissed outright.
Furthermore the EU, by its very nature as a supranational body, promotes diversity and encourages a greater understanding of our neighbours. Sadly I feel that the rhetoric used in your argument is more likely to create racist sentiment than any problems created by the EU.
Resorting to comparing my argument with those of Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg is selective to say the least because neither Margaret
Thatcher nor John Major ever suggested leaving the EU as prime minister. Even Mr. Veto himself – David Cameron – has never, ever suggested exit from the EU as a viable option. So it’s not just the left-wing who advocate remaining in the EU, it is the mainstream of British political opinion.
Indeed every major British political party wants us to remain in the EU. It is only those extremists, on the fringes of British politics, who suggest anything else.
MB/RB: I am afraid that you have totally failed to recognise the horrendous problems Immigration has caused to our schools and houses.
The independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), set up by the last Labour Government, has shown in recent days that Migrants add 8% to the demand for Housing which leads to increased housing costs, particularly in London, Scotland and the South of England.
Furthermore, the report also noted that Migrants cost schools £2,216 every year, 33% more than the £1,662 that non-Migrants cost.
This shows quite clearly the cost of increased Immigration to Britain at a time when every single penny that the Government spends has to be beneficial to the country.
Yet unfortunately we are not going to be able to save this valuable money until Britain regains control over its borders, something which will not happen until we leave the European Union.
Moreover the MAC also noted that every increase of 100 foreign born, working age migrants was linked to 23 Britons losing their jobs between 1995 and 2010.
This just goes to evidence what we have been saying throughout this exchange – that as more Immigrants come to Britain more British people are put out of work.
No wonder that Euroscepticism is rife in Britain and other European Countries that are affected in a similar way. The idea that the EU is a super national power is indeed true, as can be seen by the erosion of parliamentary sovereignty, and the intrusive number of directives and regulations which have been thrust upon Britain and other member states without the consent of the people.
Highlighting Europe is arguably the thorniest issue confronting the EU, in that the entire project is plagued by a democratic deficit.
There is only one elected institution in the shape of the European Parliament, whose powers, though significantly increased by the introduction of the co-decision procedure, still lacks the degree of power to which it should be entitled as the voice of the people of