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EU Referendum

The decision to stay in or leave the European Union is about our security in a dangerous world

Michael Lloyd analyses the key issues as the UK prepares to vote in a referendum on our membership of the EU

AP Photo/Geert Vanden WijngaertBritish Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media after an EU summit in Brussels
British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media after an EU summit in Brussels


David Cameron’s four areas on which he is attempting to negotiate a reformed UK relationship with the EU are:

Economic governance: Securing an explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the European Union, to ensure countries outside the eurozone are not disadvantaged. The UK wants safeguards that it will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts

Competitiveness: Setting a target for the reduction of the “burden” of excessive regulation and extending the single market

Immigration: Restricting access to in-work and out-of-work benefits to EU migrants. Specifically, ministers want to stop those coming to the UK from claiming certain benefits until they have been resident for four years.

Sovereignty: Allowing Britain to opt out from further political integration and giving greater powers to national parliaments to block EU legislation.

Whether or not he succeeds in achieving his specific objectives in these four areas – themselves not yet made explicit – it is not clear whether the detail of what is secured will have a major influence on the way most people will vote on the subsequent referendum; now looking to be held in either June or September of this year.

Insofar as the referendum is being held essentially to attempt to placate the 50% to 60% of Conservative MPs, and activists, who do not want the UK to remain in the EU then, and to ‘shoot the UKIP fox’, it is an unnecessary exercise. Moreover, if a vote to stay in –Cameron’s preferred option – is narrow, it is difficult to imagine that the anti-EU Tories are going to change their minds.

The complexities of the issues surrounding UK membership of the EU – now 43 years – are considerable and it means that many people’s decision in the referendum is likely to be made on a broad judgement about whether they feel more secure being inside the EU or outside this grouping of European nations.

This, of course, does not mean that some key issues, including ‘bread and butter ones’, should not be presented and discussed. The lack of any on-going media information on how decisions are taken by the UK within the EU institutions and democratic procedures means that, as in 1975, simple, but not misleading description of how the EU actually works is clearly required.

Indeed, as someone who was very much involved in the campaign in 1975, it was these issues, rather than the trade issues, which dominated. Partly this was because the UK was already in the EFTA Free Trade Area and a move to the European Community Customs Union, though likely to be positive, was difficult to predict after only two years’ membership in 1975.

Now, after 43 years the trade benefits, particularly for the North-East are demonstrably positive. This is accepted by those who want the UK to leave the EU; their argument on the substantial trade benefits is that we can keep these outside the EU.

Suffice to say that, for the North East, the current benefits are considerable. The other broad areas indicated by Cameron need also to be discussed, but there is one major issue, however, that is much broader than trade arguments and analyses and goes to the heart of the debate on UK membership. This is the position of the UK in a globalising world.

Many of us feel insecure in a rapidly changing world in which the faceless forces of financial capitalism; the threat of international terrorism and the many conflicts around the world, and the challenges brought about by technology in many aspects of our lives.

In this situation it is tempting to believe that a nostalgic retreat into the past, simpler world of say the 1950s or 1960s is possible. ‘Stop the world, I want to get off’ is a feeling that all of us have from time to time.

The trouble is that – leaving aside the fact that there were also problems in those decades (e.g. the Cold War and nuclear threats) – the option to retreat is not available. Like it or not we have to go forward. For the UK, the way to face up to the globalising trends is to accept that countries are grouping together all over the world, including countries much larger than the UK. This is true, not only in Europe, but in Asia and in the Americas.

It is sometimes suggested that the UK is the sixth largest economy and we will be OK on our own. This ignores the fact, that the ones above us are either much larger or are, e.g. France and Italy, are part of the much larger EU, even without the UK. In footballing terms we may be top of the Championship, but we are definitely not in the Premier League.

So the decision whether or not to stay in the EU is, for the UK, an issue which is about trade issues, and about bread and butter issues – about how each of us benefits in many ways from the EU – but it is also about the UK’s future, and the future security, in a dangerous world, of our children and grand-children.

Dr Michael Lloyd, Senior Research fellow at the Global Policy institute and a member of Labour Movement for Europe. He lectures on He lectures on Eurozone economic issues for, among others, the University of Newcastle Business School.

http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/news-opinion/decision-stay-leave-european-union-10740861

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