The May 2013 local elections saw a severe upheaval of political normality with the UK Independence Party winning 25 per cent of the country’s vote. Many blamed this increased support for Nigel Farage’s party on a growing sense of Eurospecticism amongst the British people fuelled by the rejection of pan European citizenship and the discontent with the government’s lack of ability to stand up for British sovereignty and individualism. The election result has shocked the Conservatives, the only main party with anti-EU sentiments, into taking action and has evoked their proposal that if they win the general election, an in/out referendum will be held in 2017 to allow the population to share their opinion on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Those wanting Britain out of the EU argue that there are a number of key economic opportunities for the nation if it terminates its membership. Opposition feel that Britain is constrained by EU laws and regulations on trade and therefore if it leaves, its industry could thrive and we could see an employment boom, something which would be greatly beneficial in times of austerity. It is also hoped that Britain would be able to maintain trade links with EU countries but if this was not possible, the nation could recover its losses by creating new bilateral trade agreements with fast-developing countries, such as China and Russia. Moreover, Eurospectics believe Britain could also save billions a year by leaving the EU – UKIP MEP Gerard Batten estimates that £65.7bn of the UK budget is spent on EU membership annually – and hence this money could be spent in other areas of the economy, for example improving the NHS or aiding British businesses. EU opposition also quells anxiety over the effects on international influence by reiterating Britain’s involvement in NATO and the UN Security Council and thus its global power would be maintained despite ending its involvement in Europe. Furthermore, Eurospectics sight the restoration of British sovereignty as a key reason to leave the EU – that faith would be reinserted into the nation’s democracy and parliament would become reconnected with its voters if Britain was to rid itself of European federal control.
Many, however, do not corroborate the idea that leaving the EU would be positive for the country and hence support its membership within the international organisation. There is a strong fear that Britain would be viewed negatively by EU countries and thus this optimistic view of maintaining trade links renders highly unrealistic, a fact which would be damaging for the economy as the EU accounts for 52 per cent of Britain’s total trade. Thus Britain would find itself economically isolated and unstable. Moreover, EU supporters are intensely concerned about the impact of leaving the EU on Britain’s status on the world stage as they feel Britain’s role is the link between the US and Europe, therefore it was to lose this, it may be increasingly ignored by Washington and the ‘special relationship’ with America could be in jeopardy. Furthermore, many believe the key issue of the in/out debate is the uncertainty which will arise for the 711 151 Britons living and working in EU countries and too for those from EU countries in the UK. What new restrictions will be implemented? What will be the effect on taxes? Will entitlement to benefits end? These are questions which would have to be discussed if Britain was to leave the EU but inevitably there is a worrying ambiguity over the future for both people from the UK and people from abroad living in the UK.
It is obvious that there is a complex and deep-rooted debate surrounding the issue of Britain’s membership of the EU. Both sides have put forward convincing and thought-provoking points in support of their argument and thus one can see that it is not a simple question. It must be remembered, however, that we are living in a democracy and hence a referendum appears to be the most appropriate way of establishing true public opinion on the matter. And it is public opinion, not political opinion, which is the primary factor in the debate as, in order to avoid history repeating itself, the government must listen to and act upon the British people’s beliefs on Europe in order to maintain stability in Westminster.