By George Nash
The 20th century marked the beginning of the end to Britain’s vast and colonial empire, as the curtains finally closed on a savage age of slavery and extortion. From “the Empire on which the sun never set,“ the country shrank mostly to a humble collection of islands just 21 miles adrift of neighboring France.
Now, Britain’s new role in the world is in question: Should the country remain in the European Union or become an independent trading body?
One of the strongest benefits of EU membership is the fact that it is Britain’s main trading partner, and
the relationship has helped Britain reduce both tariff and non-tariff trade barriers. European trade is critical to the U.K. economy and leaving the EU could put this important aspect of the British economy under threat. The European Union is the world’s biggest trader — it accounts for 20 percent of global imports and exports with free trade among its members, which was one of its key founding principles. It has since been committed to liberalizing world trade for the benefit of rich and poor countries alike.
Another clear benefit of membership for the United Kingdom is the ease at which students can now study abroad. One and half million young people have studied part or the whole of their degree in another member state, largely thanks to the Erasmus program. The possibility of studying abroad has been deemed positive by 84 percent of EU citizens. Higher education being an important industry and source for foreign earnings, and this could easily be compromised by leaving the EU.
However, it is also clear that economically successful countries such as the U.K., France and Germany are paying out enormous bailout loans to bankrupt countries like Greece and Spain. In May 2010, the EU granted £110 billion ($140 billion) in loans to Greece in order to help the government to pay its creditors. It soon became apparent that this was not enough, and a further £130 billion bailout was issued in early 2012. At a time of austerity measures in the U.K., euro-skeptics blame the EU for not only wasting tax payers money, but also for needlessly throwing money to countries destined for bankruptcy. The U.K.’s current national debt, for instance, sits at around $8.5 billion, which is quite hefty but only a fraction of Greece’s $407 billion national debt.
The treasury has stated that the net cost of the EU for the U.K. was £7.6 billion ($11.6 billion), in 2010 and 2011, up from £4.7 billion ($7.2 billion) in 2009-10. Conversely, this is a relatively small percentage of UK government spending compared to Social Security which accounts for £194 billion ($297 billion). EU critics have argued that its spending is highly inefficient and wasteful, with the majority of money spent on agricultural reforms and rich land owners benefiting from EU subsidies.
The mainstream view in the U.K. is that unregulated immigration policies have led to Eastern Europeans misusing the U.K. as a place to profit off of an over generous welfare state. Prime Minister David Cameron said ”it is too easy to be an illegal migrant in Britain” and that Europeans will have to prove they are “genuinely seeking employment.”
This is a fair statement, but further evidence shows that Eastern Europeans are hardly showing a lackluster character in regard to employment. Data from the Institute For Fiscal Studies have shown that from 2004 to 2009, 90.4 percent of male immigrants were in employment compared to 78.3 percent of British males. EU critics may explain this as immigrants taking the jobs that British workers could fulfill; although this may be true, it is still evident that 12.7 percent of male immigrants are paid benefits compared to 24.2 percent of male natives.
No matter the opinion on whether U.K. should remain a member of the EU, it is certain that this debate will come to a head in the next few years. Why not get an early start in the comments below?
George Nash is a Politically Inclined guest blogger from Hereford in the UK. He is currently studying Politics, Economics, Modern History and Biology Hereford Sixth Form College. He intends to go to university, and then enter politics.