As the big day looms, support for Britain leaving the EU is starting to gain traction. Despite the best efforts of Downing Street and the Remain campaign, polls are showing that more and more people are wanting to leave Brussels.
The most notorious Eurosceptic of recent times is Mayor of London Boris Johnson. His decision to back the Brexit has been met with scepticism from both the press and fellow politicians, mainly because of the speed with which he seems to have changed his mind about the benefits of remaining within the European Union.
Johnson’s assertions now put him at odds with David Cameron, whose leadership has been compromised by the EU debate and his decision to support the Remain campaign. If Britain leaves the EU, and Cameron resigns, BoJo is now his most likely successor. Johnson has a history of political opportunism, or more accurately, lying for self-advancement; as a journalist, his tenure as Brussels correspondent for the Telegraph was infamous for pandering to its readers’ conservative prejudices by writing alleged stories about crazy EU bureaucrats, and was fired from the Times for making up quotes. Now he is positioning himself as the next prime minister by suddenly completely changing his mind about the EU. As late as February, Johnson was claiming that a Brexit would implicate “the government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country”.
But the real poster boy for British independence has long been Nigel Farage, the leader of right-wing populist party UKIP, known for his aggressive anti-immigration policies. Channel 4 News claimed to have obtained a letter from 1981 expressing concern about Nigel Farage being made prefect at his school, due to his fascist views, and that he is alleged to have “marched through a quiet Sussex village late at night shouting Hitler youth songs.” Farage denies the allegations, although his claims that Brussels is lawless and “the Jihadi capital of Europe” were transparently for political advantage.
Countless other UKIP MPs have also caused controversy through racist, sexist and homophobic remarks. It’s worth mentioning that UKIP became a haven for supporters of the British National Party, an extremist right-wing party with links to the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Semitic groups, after the BNP’s dissolution. It’s clear that arguments for a Brexit are inextricably linked with jingoism and xenophobia, and it is through this lens that these arguments must be evaluated.
An important factor in the increasing desire for independence is the UK’s rising net contributions to the EU. From £3.3 billion in 2008, the sum climbed all the way to £10.5 billion in 2013. The 2015 estimate is around £8.5 billion. This is expensive to be sure; this leaves the UK as the third highest contributor behind Italy and France, and is roughly 12.5% of the budget, to which most member states contribute 1-2%. However, abandoning the EU does not guarantee lower costs.
Norway is not a member state of the EU, but through its membership with the European Economic Area, Norway is the 5th most important trade partner of the EU. Despite being outside of the EU, Norway contributes almost as much per head as the UK does.
Another argument is that Britain’s economy is constricted by EU regulations. If this is true, the effect is negligible because the British economy has been performing well, with its GDP rising by 2-3% each of the past few years. In any case, any country that trades with the EU must comply with its regulations, whether or not it is a member of the EU. The EU is our biggest trading partner, and the access to the EU market that we currently have is worth the cost of remaining in the EU. Being a member of the EU makes the UK a more attractive target for foreign investment – 50% of Foreign Direct Investment is related to the EU. Nevertheless, the Out campaign claims that ties with the EU prevent the UK from making more deals with Asian economies, which only counts for about 5% of British exports. This ignores that Germany sells roughly twice as much to India and China than the UK does.
For a lot of people, the discussion of the potential benefits of independence from the EU is a front for what many people are truly worried about; immigrants. The EU provides a free movement of labour within Europe. Fear of migrants has been exacerbated by UKIP and the right-wing media in the UK by claims that they ‘steal jobs’ and scrounge off benefits. What they don’t mention is that European migrants in Britain are usually young workers who overall pay more in tax than they take in benefits. There are roughly 1.8 million EU migrants in the UK, but there are a similar number of expatriates living in other EU countries. These emigrants are more likely to be older and retired, who otherwise would be putting more strain on the healthcare system whilst paying less in taxes than a migrant worker. In this respect, being a part of the EU provides the UK with a net profit of both currency and labour.
The EU provides the UK with access to one of the world’s largest markets, which makes up 25% of global GDP. Remaining in the EU allows the UK to have a say in the regulations that would be imposed on it anyway, and provides the benefits of the free flow of labour. A Brexit logically appears to be an unwise decision on all fronts, but the jingoism of right-wing politicians and newspapers are obscuring the British public from making an informed decision by pedalling fear and hatred.