Britain’s place is in the EU and at the very heart of it. With the European Referendum portentously looming over us, it is more important than ever to trumpet the overwhelming benefits of the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU and painful implications of Brexit.
Membership of the EU is of vital national interest to the UK and a vote to leave would have damaging economic ramifications. Leaving the EU is not a step into the unknown, not a daring patriotic adventure. The damage has been calculated, the consequences forecast. Britain’s exit would be more akin to a stumble into the abyss. The facts are there for those who care to look.
The European Union continues to be the UK’s largest export market, comprising 50% of the UK total. A figure three times as high than the UK’s exports to Asia. More significantly economic investment from the emerging markets and the Americas is directly linked to our EU membership. The UK is seen as a gateway to Europe and that’s why 40% of the world’s largest companies have their main or European headquarters in London. The UK’s continued membership of the European single market guarantees the pre-eminence of London as the financial capital of the world. A break from Europe would be catastrophic for the financial sector. HSBC and Deutsche Bank have already publically outlined plans to move all or part of their businesses abroad in the event of a vote to leave the UK. International business is aware that the EU cuts more red tape than it creates and it is important that Britain’s place within the tariff free single market is maintained.
The arguments for remaining in Europe aren’t just beneficial to the UK economy as a whole but to the UK population. Take the much maligned issue of immigration for example. It is a cold hard fact that EU migrants are more highly educated, more likely to be employed and less likely to claim benefits compared to the UK average. Significantly, EU migrants are net contributors to the economy. Between 2001 and 2011, they contributed 34% more in taxes than they took out in benefits and services. A vote to leave Europe would be a hammer blow to UK tax revenues and public services as this valuable source of labour is shown the door. It would be fair to say that a vote for Europe would be a vote for the long term future of the NHS.
And what does Britain’s membership of the EU mean for students? To take a small example, the increasingly integrated university systems across Europe have allowed great cultural and academic exchange. In a nation with a dearth of linguistic talent, programmes such as Erasmus are vital to give British students crucial cultural and linguistic skills to compete with our European cousins in an increasingly international job market. For students and graduates the EU is key to a prosperous future.
The sceptics are right that Britain would be able to retain membership of elements of the European project even if it withdrew at a formal member of the European Union. However, surely such a Norwegian position would be untenable and undesirable in the long term. Better to be at the heart of EU pushing the agenda and reform than languishing idly on the periphery having forfeited any chance of influence.
Quite apart from anything the UK’s exit would almost undoubtedly trigger yet another independence referendum in Scotland and political trouble in Northern Ireland. Brexit will leave a truncated island not just physically but politically adrift in the the cold, unfriendly Atlantic waters.