Better Off Together

For those of you who know me or any of you who read this blog, you’ll probably have come to learn three things from my writings. The first is that I’m a theologian. The second is that I’m a Liberal Democrat. The third is that I’ve been playing the okey-kokey with Britain’s relationship with the European Union. The last piece I wrote explored the ideas I had that saw the case to remain in the European Union as idealism and the case to leave, as realism. Whilst I still maintain some of the things I wrote in that article after further consideration, I have come to the conclusion that to remain in the European Union is in fact the right choice for the UK to make.

What’s Changed?

I by no means accept the EU as it is. It is deeply undemocratic and as it currently stands, infringes somewhat on the power of the UK Parliament. Cameron’s reform deal, whilst derided by many, is a vision for what the EU can become. He is the first European leader to successfully renegotiate the terms of a country’s membership and I am completely convinced that, although his reforms could go much further, it is certainly a step in the right direction. What this has demonstrated is the opportunity and ability for EU leaders to achieve reform.

I’ve also spent a lot of time researching the EU, a topic which by my own admission, I still do not claim to know vasts about. I’m not a politics graduate, I’m a theologian. My interest in politics has up until recently, been as merely an invested spectator keeping an eye on the political world from the comfort of my pyjamas. I do not have the years of knowledge and experience to call upon countless theoretical arguments for why the EU is a good or bad thing, nor am I an economist – if you don’t believe me, check my bank statements! I am not familiar with economic policies nor the ins and outs of complex trade agreements that seem to benefit/hinder Britain’s financial security.

Like many people, I am making my decision on how to vote based on what is easily accessible to those who are not trained in the language of politics. From what I’ve come to learn, it seems clear that the European Union benefits the UK greatly, both financially and culturally. Voting to stay is to me, to most rational option. Here’s why:

1) Our Status and Influence

One of the key arguments from either side of the campaign appears to be centered on the idea of the UK’s power, status and influence on the world stage. The Out campaign claim that Britain’s standing in the world will be greatly improved by leaving the EU, stating that faith in the UK’s historical political clout is something that many in the world still revere. I am extremely proud to be British. My flat and car are adorned with idols featuring the iconic Union Jack. I love being British and I love being English, but let’s be realistic. Imperialism is dead. The UK is no longer the huge powerhouse it was once; there are lots of things to be proud of in our history (and lots to be ashamed of) and it is undeniable that people still look to this small group of islands floating somewhere in the North Atlantic, as a beacon for good standards of living a ‘good’ sense of morality and justice. But this alone cannot solve the world’s political, cultural and social problems.

By remaining a member of the largest trading group of nations in the world, the UK can have a serious role to play in tackling the biggest issues that face our world: the refugee crisis, the environmental crisis, the financial crisis, the threat of Daesh and other extremist groups. Independent politicians with no affiliation to a political party are not likely to right the ills of a nation; an independent nation with no affiliation to a group of some of the world’s most influential countries is not likely to right the ills of the world.

As for our influence in Europe, many people cite the Norwegian model of EU non-membership as a good case for leaving the Union – in fact I used this example in my last article on the EU. What I failed to realise is that any free-trade agreement carries restrictions, most likely those enforced by European trade legislation, which (sorry Nigel) encourage the free movement of people. Norway has access to the free market but is bound by rules and regulations over which it has absolutely no say. It cannot influence how a piece of legislation is decided nor can it decide to vote against it if it works unfavourably for them. Why would Britain want this sort of relationship? As people complain about how undemocratic the EU is, surely the logical step is to ensure that we can have as democratic a relationship with the EU as possible. How is further reducing the democratic relationship the UK has with the Union, the answer? I want to see Britain at the negotiating table, having its say on EU laws and regulations, not being dictated to by a flimsy trade agreement that sees us incapable of having our concerns considered or even listened to at all.

2) British Sovereignty and the Quest for a Liberal World

This is an issue which has been cited by many Brexit campaigners including Boris Johnson, Chris Grayling and Michael Gove. They make claims that our membership of the EU negates the sovereignty of the UK Government by diminishing its law-making powers. Now I’ll admit, when I was considering voting to leave, this was the single biggest issue preventing me from voting to stay. It’s true: the UK Government cannot veto a piece of EU legislation whilst it is a member state. What we will be able to do thanks to Cameron’s reforms, is to flag up concerns when a proposed law is objected to by a large proportion of European governments. Not only does this protect a degree of sovereignty for the UK, but it also is a step in the right direction to ensure the EU becomes more accountable and more democratic.

I want to divert for a second to consider a party-political case for a moment. As a liberal and a Liberal Democrat, I am deeply committed to ensuring that our country is free, open and fair to everyone from every walk of life, no matter what social category they identify with. Liberalism is not an ideal limited to the borders of the UK, it should be a global effort. I want to see not only Britain and the EU, but the whole world sign up to laws, rules and regulations that guarantee everyone’s human rights. By being part of the European Union, we can ensure that every single citizen of EU countries are granted the same rights to work, education and safety regardless of which country they come from or their economic background. The EU has provided us with employment laws that protect our workers, for example, which would not have been possible had it not been for a common consensus agreed upon amongst the EU nations. The EU is a liberal construct through and through and can act as a beacon of hope to those currently living in diabolical conditions, where their civil liberties are infringed upon or in fact, non-existent.

I accept that the world is made up of countless different cultures, races and religions and that they all have their own views on equality etcetera. But surely a group of nations coming together to ensure that everyone living within its jurisdiction has equal rights and opportunities is something that not only Liberal Democrats want to see, but also every liberal person across the world.

3) Immigration

Ah. I’ve finally got to it. The topic that, let’s face it, will decide the outcome of this referendum. I’m not standing on a moral mountain by claiming that immigration has never been an issue for me, it’s the truth. I’ve seen first hand the enormous contribution that EU migrants make to this country. I am proud to live in a nation that is seen by many as the place they wish to come and better their lives. Of course there are issues that mass immigration poses, no one would deny that. I feel that the Prime Minister’s reforms are a step in the right direction to ensuring that levels of uncontrolled immigration and so-called ‘benefit tourism’ are reduced. People have the right to travel to other countries to work, contribute to society and to better their lives. I’m not sure if this is a liberal thing to say, but I believe Cameron is right to assert that people should only be allowed to take out of the system, once they have paid in.

The Brexit campaign appears to neglect the 2.2 million UK citizens who have emigrated to other nations within the EU, either to work or retire. What people appear to forget is that the free movement principle applies not only to those moving to Britain, but also to those moving from Britain. We have the freedom to move to any part of the EU without the need to provide lengthy documents stating our intentions and when we intend to leave the country. This is a liberal principle and one which I hold very dear.

4) Other Positives of Continued Membership

I’ve written at considerable length (and to questionable success/accuracy) at some of the key points as to why I’m voting to stay in the EU. I just want to quickly outline some of the other reasons why I want to stay:

  • The European Arrest Warrant. Close cooperation with EU nations allows us to fight crime across the continent a lot easier than it would be than if we were to leave. Extradition processes are negligible allowing governments and their respective judicial systems to bring criminals to justice quicker, easier and more effectively.
  • Money for the UK. There are numerous figures circulating surrounding the amount of money the UK pays in membership fees to the EU, and it’s true that we pay at least £24 million a day. But what is also true is that we receive money back from the EU. Numerous cultural projects across the country have been funded by EU money; Wales, officially one of the poorest regions within the EU relies heavily on EU money to help its economy. A UK exit would see this money disappear, leaving some areas in the UK poorer than they currently are.
  • A United Kingdom. Let’s face up to the facts. If the UK votes to leave the EU, Scotland will be quite rightly entitled to another independence referendum, which would more than likely result in the United Kingdom breaking apart. I’ve already written on why Scotland should remain in the UK, but the issue of the EU stretches wider than just England. We have to think about the positives the EU provides for all parts of the UK.

Areas that still have room for development

  • The EU will still remain undemocratic at its highest level of authority; the EU council is an unelected body of people who ultimately decide on European laws. We’ve seen that reform is possible, so it would be desirable to see this setup scrapped and replaced with a fully elected, democratically accountable EU system of government.
  • The driving force for many migrants to come and work in the UK is the disparity in the standard of living across the different states within the EU. We should be striving to achieve a common level of pay and living conditions to ensure that everyone across the EU has the same standard of living, regardless of which country they live in.

Conclusion

I hope I have managed to successfully articulate the main reasons why I am voting to remain in the EU. There is a long way to go to making it perfect, but change can only come from within. Nobody ever changed a political system by watching from the sidelines passing judgement on the actions of others. An involved role in what is needed and that is only achieved by our continued membership of the EU.

The EU is also a deeply liberal ideal, one that as long as I am a Liberal Democrat, I will advocate.  This world needs cooperation and it needs the political and social barriers between us to be weakened, to ensure a liberal world full of fairness and opportunity for everyone.

On the 23rd June, I’ll be voting Yes. I sincerely hope you will too.

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