BY Itrat Bashir
The vote on Brexit is just round the corner; on June 23 the Brits will vote either to stay in the European Union or make an exit. Going by the latest poll, the ‘leave’ camp has an edge over the ‘remain’ camp; if we do decide to leave the European Union then it will be months before we will see its impact.
The referendum is one of the most crucial events in the British parliament’s history and Europe in general. The stakes are high for Prime Minister David Cameron who is making strenuous efforts to convince people to stay in Europe. The Brits decision to leave the Union will in itself reflect a defeat for the Prime Minister ‘remain’ campaign, and hence he will have no justification to lead the country. So, the outcome of on June 23 will decide the faith of his premiership.
Exit from the mainland can also trigger another referendum on the independence of Scotland. The ‘remain’ camp sees Brexit as a catalyst to hold the second referendum on Scottish independence. While talking to Reuters, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned that “Britain’s referendum on European Union membership is on a knife edge and if England backs an exit that drags Scots out of the bloc against their will, Scotland may call a new vote on independence”.
Some experts in the ‘remain’ camp believe that the UK exit will be the first step towards the disintegration of the EU itself, which has guaranteed peace in the region since World War II.
Apart from the threat of disintegration, the Prime Minister’s camp sees the economic downfall as an immediate threat to the UK after leaving the EU. The Bank of England has recently warned that Brexit could undermine growth of the British economy, possible leading to ‘recession’, and it will not be able to immediately offset the impact.
Backing up his prime minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has also warned of dire economic consequences if we forgo the European membership. He said that ‘after Brexit, the UK economy could be around 6 percent smaller by 2030, and that would mean a loss of income equivalent to about £4,300 a year for every British household’.
In the event of Brexit, investors’ confidence could be dented by changes in new set of rules and post-exit rearrangements with the European Union, and hence the investors might momentarily shy away from business activities. No one for sure can say how the long the period of uncertainty will last in the post-exit UK.
On the individual level, a Brit could lose out from competitive prices of everyday goods. Well, that what the data from London School of Economics suggest. It says that the shoppers in the UK save £350 a year due to lower prices come from being part of the European Union.
The biggest losers of Brexit, in my opinion, will be students and expats who have settled in the mainland. Free movement of people is one of the major attractions of the EU membership. This has allowed the Brits to settle-down in sunny places of Europe without any impediments with full cover of health and other public services.
Moreover, the British students will lose out from studying in the European universities that are in many of the cases free or charge nominal fees; which otherwise these students cannot afford to pay ridiculously high tuition fees charged by the British universities.
Many are wondering what the United Kingdom will look like if it decides to forgo the EU membership. No one knows for certain, as the UK, or for that matter any of the EU member countries, have never gone through this experience. Hence, all being said in the favour of Brexit is purely based on hypothetical grounds.
One thing for sure, as many pro-Brexit argue, we will regain our sovereignty that we had surrender to the Brussels. All those benefits cited by the leave camp might be very appealing, but it is at the cost of losing our identity and sovereignty. This is what the Brexit camp say in favour of their leave campaign.
They strongly feel that on many issues the British parliament has surrendered its sovereignty to the Brussels bureaucrats, especially on the matter of agriculture, EU membership and immigration.
The Eurosceptics, prominently led by former Mayor of London Boris Johnson and a few senior cabinet members of the Conservative government, completely dismiss the economic arguments put forth by the ‘remainers’. In fact, they believe that economic will become more robust after leaving the EU.
One thing they are right about is that after coming out of the EU trade obligations, the UK would be in a position to negotiate their own trade terms with countries outside the EU. At present, we have to follow the trade terms set by the EU and hence the UK cannot individually negotiate its own terms with a non-EU country. The leavers strongly believe that this liberty will bring economic benefits to the country.
The exit, in their opinion, will save billions of pounds to the national exchequer that we pay to the EU as a contribution to EU budget, and that money could be reinvested in to our public services, especially NHS.
However, the pro-Brexit camp main purpose of leaving the EU is to control immigration from the mainland and thus regain the control of our borders. This issue has been boiling for the last few years and many Brits have shown grave concern over the large influx of people coming to the UK from other European countries.
The Eurosceptics strongly feel that new arrivals from Europe will put more pressure on our overstretched public services and if this is not controlled then public services will collapse.
This is what precisely said by a strong advocate of the leave camp, Justice Secretary Michael Gove in one of his column: “Because we cannot control our borders, public services, such as NHS, will face an unquantifiable strain, as millions of more become EU citizens and have the right to move to the UK.”
Having said all that in my opinion there is more to it than meets the eye. Brexit is just not about economic benefits and migrants; it is about preserving British identity and values. Yes, over the last many years there has been a large influx of migrants to the UK and with them they have brought diverse cultures, work ethic and tolerance. This has changed complexity of our society and one could say redefined our British identity and values.
Brexit, in my opinion, is a movement to salvage the British identity. Will it succeed on June 23 is remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure even if we opt out of Europe, Britain will never be the same and new multicultural identity cannot be undone.