Brexit: A European View

Brexit: A European View

Nicoletta Enria gives her view on Brexit as a European

I remember when I was about 12 years old being told on several occasions by my British peers that immigrants were coming over and stealing our jobs. Now, whilst I understand that this was probably not their own personal convictions at the time and were probably just repeating things they’d overheard, I distinctly recall not understanding how they could have been so blind to the fact that I too was one of those infamous EU migrants. With the passing of time, whilst my friends have definitely stopped making such remarks to me the mainstream anti-immigration discourse that has fuelled attacks to the EU’s free movement of people has anything but diminished. And this is only one of many campaigns dominating the Leave campaign for the upcoming referendum regarding British membership in the European Union – the infamous Brexit. Years of fervent anti-EU attitudes that permeate British media and politics finally culminating in the referendum and here is why I think Britain will lose out hugely if they leave the EU.

Indeed, one of the biggest motivations driving eurosceptics is certainly to grant Britain the ability to have full control of its own borders. Cameron tried to regain control on the overall levels of immigration by constraining social benefits to EU migrants in the UK. His recent compromise with Donald Tusk includes an emergency brake preventing EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits upon arrival and gradually gaining access over four years. This is expected to change incentives to migrate for low paid employment and therefore have fewer EU migrants coming to Britain. The new mechanism introduces a debatable differentiation of treatment for workers on the basis of their nationality, but is certainly a better option than exiting the EU and adopting stricter anti-immigration laws, thus losing a great majority of EU migrants in the UK which play such an active role in the British economy.

The attitude towards immigration has been considerately hardened with the escalation of the refugee crisis. With the scenes of desperation in the “Jungle” of Calais and Britain agreeing to take in a measly 20,000 refugees over the course of five years – the Greek island of Lesbos, with 80,000 inhabitants, agreed to take in the same number of immigrants last year –, it seems to me that Britain has managed to maintain a hardline attitude towards immigration within the EU. Their exit from the EU will not make the refugee crisis vanish, or change the situation in any way.

I have been trying to wrap my head around the motivations of eurosceptics to leave the EU. It is undeniable that a sentiment of belonging to the EU is something that was always lacking in British society, something often blamed on the English Channel separating the UK from mainland Europe and on a history not so intertwined with mainland Europe. Therefore this is seen by many in the Leave campaign camp as an opportunity to restore British traditions and customs – which in their eyes the EU had apparently been fervently attempting to regulate. This attitude is taking ground also outside the UK, as nationalisms start permeating again the Western European political debates. It is the hypernationalistic fuel to this campaign that particularly irks me. With such a degree of nationalism comes a great sense of exclusivity – further amplifying great problems with integration and promoting a Britishness that is not accessible to all.

Most voters seem to think of Brexit as a cost free option that would produce new deals with countries on their own agenda and improve the British economy stimulating more jobs. Hoping to simulate deals with the EU maintaining the same degree of cross-border trade, though, is a naïve expectation. Britain would be breaking off a 40 year old prosperous if difficult relationship with the EU. This hostile act would receive equally hostile behaviour in the creation of new trade relationships. Joining the European Economic Area, as Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, is not a very attractive option, as these countries commit to apply all the rules agreed within the EU without having any influence on their design. Another myth is that Brexit would have no economic repercussions, whilst without free access to the broader single-market, something the UK had actually worked to achieve, many successful business sectors such as finance, pharmaceuticals and higher education will suffer greatly. Most importantly this exclusion from the single market would strip the City of London of its role as European financial hub.

I cannot deny that the EU has its faults and especially in light of recent events, such as their appalling handling of the refugee crisis, I have felt increasingly disillusioned with various aspects of the EU. However I believe that an “in or out” referendum is not starting the debate and conversation to criticize and thus reform the EU to become what we want it to be. There are many aspects of the EU that our generation has become far too accustomed to so we have lost our appreciation. Thanks to freedom of movement, tax free trading, EU employment laws and social protections some of the advantages of the EU have become so engrained in our everyday life they are invisible, and I for one am not keen to find out what life without them would be like. Whilst the opinion polls show roughly equal numbers on either side, the same opinion polls also show that most voters don’t really even care about the EU. This misconception of Brexit needs to be rectified and with the upcoming referendum in June of 2016 time seems to be running out. With a predicted Scottish independence after Brexit, due to Scotland’s pro-European stance, Britain will be left alone lacking a voice in any EU decisions or procedures and isolate itself from the opportunity to join other European countries to overcome the challenges to face the continent in the years to come.

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Nicoletta Enria