Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
On June 23rd, the referendum on British membership of the European Union will be held.
The European Union (EU) is an institution that arisen through a succession of treaties signed by European governments, coalescing the European Economic Community, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. Following many institutional reforms, the European Union now comprises 28 member states, including Britain, France and Germany. In the established protocols following the Lisbon Treaty, government leaders from the member states form the European Council, who decide the strategic direction of the EU.
This direction is followed by the European Commission, which are appointed by national governments and initiate legislation. Under normal circumstances, this legislation is then subject to acceptance, amendments and rejection by a co-decision of the Council of the EU — national government ministers from the relevant policy area — and the European Parliament — who are elected by universal suffrage every five years . The Court of Justice of the EU then ensures that laws are applied consistently across its jurisdiction.
Of the many reforms contained within the Lisbon Treaty, ratified in 2009 and sometimes called the Reform Treaty, member states were given the explicit legal right to leave the European Union. For completeness, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty states :
1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.
A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.
If Britain chooses to leave the European Union through the referendum, a countdown begins. Britain’s economic status does not immediately change, but as an exiting country, it is excluded from any discussions that concern its secession.
Britain must then negotiate its new relationship with the European Union within two years, unless this limit is extended through an unanimous voice of remaining members. If no agreement has been reached after two years, and a single dissenting voice refuses to extend this deadline, then Britain is excised from the EU Treaties. That means Britain is no longer part of the European single market, and in the absence of a replacing trade agreement, and its businesses can only access the remaining EU countries through rules established by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Tariffs would be applied.
There is no second renegotiation of our EU membership. There would only be a negotiation on the terms of our exit. If Britain wished to rejoin, then it would have to follow the normal accession procedure into the EU.
The question then turns to the ‘Brexit’ model that is being proposed, and whether these alternative proposals answer the concerns expressed in the referendum itself.
Sovereignty is a perennial feature of the British debate on the EU and its antecedents. In a lecture on the 1975 referendum on British membership of the European Community and the Common Market, Professor Bodganor of Gresham College recounts :
One of the critics of Europe, Enoch Powell, accepted that the referendum had been about sovereignty. He said this: “I am convinced that, in this referendum, the vast majority of those voting had no notion that they were saying yes or no to Britain continuing as a nation at all.” But then he said: “The fault did not lie with many of the advocates of British membership, who declared continually that the nation state was obsolete and that Britain therefore must become a province in a new European state and cease to be a self-governing nation.” Now, the exaggerates the case made by the pros, but he did accept that the debate had been about sovereignty and that the antis had lost that debate.
The claim is that Britain’s membership of the European Union is a restriction of Parliamentary sovereignty, meaning that the British parliament has unlimited capacity to legislate and it is the supreme body for laws. This is known as the Dicey doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty. Laws made by the European Union only have the effect they do in this country due to the European Communities Act 1972, which states :
All such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions from time to time created or arising by or under the Treaties, and all such remedies and procedures from time to time provided for by or under the Treaties, as in accordance with the Treaties are without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the United Kingdom shall be recognised and available in law, and be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly; and the expression “enforceable EU right” and similar expressions shall be read as referring to one to which this subsection applies.
British membership of the EU and the effect of EU laws in Britain is not the diminishment of Parliamentary sovereignty: it is the realisation. What is confused in this debate is whether government power should be consulted, negotiated and joined at the level of the EU, with notions of Parliamentary sovereignty. This confusion is further propagated by phrases such as the ‘pooling of sovereignty’.
The broad models for British withdrawal of the EU are membership of the European Economic Area, bilateral agreements or falling back upon WTO rules . The European single market is defined by the pursuit of four freedoms: of movement, of capital, of goods, of services.
Immigration remains an issue of high salience in Britain. Norway, which is a member of the EEA, has to accept the free movement of people by virtue of that membership.
Switzerland, which has land borders with EU countries, has to accept free movement of people in order to gain its partial access to the European single market. All four countries in the European Free Trade Association — Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland — are signatories to the Schengen agreement, meaning they have a common visa policy and no internal border checks.
Given that people need to be able to freely move around a single market in order to deliver services, it is nonsensical to suggest full access to the European single market will be provided without accepting the principle of free movement.
Moreover, members of the EEA have to accept rules relating to the European single market, without formal influence over those rules. According to the think-tank Open Europe , of the 100 costliest EU-derived rules currently in force in Britain, “93 of them would apply if the UK joined the EEA”.
Both Norway and Switzerland contribute to the EU budget. A 2013 House of Commons Library paper found , for 2011, Britain had a net contribution of £128 per capita, compared to Norway’s payment of £106 per capita, and Switzerland paying £53 per head.
The EU’s exclusive capacity to negotiate the lowering of tariffs and other barriers to trade is occasionally cited. Whilst the EU has not successfully negotiated free trade agreements with Brazil, India or China, it has negotiated — or is currently negotiating — such agreements with 45 of the 50 non-EU Commonwealth nations .
Britain’s membership of the EU has associated costs and benefits. Given the various effects of EU-derived regulations and directives on British businesses, access to the largest single market in the world, the common agricultural and fisheries policies, common trade policy, immigration, fiscal consequences of Britain’s membership fee and the influence on foreign direct investment, it is not possible to arrive at a definitive conclusion about the overall economic effect of EU membership.
Economic modelling of Brexit possibilities conducted in the Open Europe report found, from 2015 to 2030, the effects on the British economy are between -0.8% and 0.6% for politically plausible scenarios.
It is commonly suggested that the current trade balance would mean that Britain would enter into its exiting negotiations from a strong position. Firstly, this British trade deficit with the EU hides a UK surplus in services. Using this reasoning, the EU will not seek a liberal approach to services, including financial products.
Secondly, “the EU accounts for around 45% of British exports, whereas the UK accounts for 17% of EU exports”, according to the Office for National Statistics Pink Book 2014. Thirdly, this reasoning ignores why free trade agreements take so long to negotiate. The mutual reduction of tariffs on goods must mean that the magnitude of this reduction and the choice of goods is negotiated. It must be discussed what services, if any, are to be subjected to international competition. In relation to the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the EU, healthcare and audio-visual services have been areas of public concern.
Whilst declaring unilateral free trade with the rest of the world is a possibility, that itself may be politically contentious.
(Video: Al-Jazeera English)
The EU has more dimensions than merely trade and economics.
The European Arrest Warrant acts as a multilateral extradition treaty between the EU member states. There have been criticisms of this warrant system, since there is no requirement for dual criminality and the way it has been implemented. Fair Trials International suggested in 2009 that the warrant was used for the “most minor cases”, and had led to people serving “a prison sentence resulting from an unfair trial”, or warrants have been issued “when the charges are based on evidence obtained from police brutality” .
The EU also acts in diplomacy. In 2013, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, then Baroness Ashton, became a key intermediary between the American and Iranian representatives over the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran .
The Erasmus scheme is a European Union programme “for education, training, youth and sport”, offering opportunities across the continent . The EU implements an emissions trading system, as part of its policies on climate change .
There are so many aspects to the European Union — as a supranational entity maintained by 28 signatory nation states — that a few months is a rather short time to discuss it all. Mervyn King, the former Governor of the Bank of England, said on BBC Radio 4 that neither side in this debate was giving “plausible descriptions of what will happen” .
The debate been primarily centred on slogans, rather than sound argumentation. For instance, a commentator said on BBC’s Question Time that:
Isn’t it amazing that only four of the G20 countries are members of the EU, and yet somehow they manage to survive?
This rather ignores the fact that the G20 is not an organisation of 20 countries, but of 19 countries and the European Union .
There are also claims that pro-EU campaigners, including the government, are engaging in ‘Project Fear’. This phrase, popularised during the referendum on Scottish secession from the UK, means highlighting supposedly disastrous consequences of leaving the EU. This claim would seem to be rather counter-productive, since those opposing Britain’s membership of the EU are simply reminding the public of various suggestions at what would happen if Britain left.
Also, it demonstrates an asymmetry in language. It is not fearful to discuss potential effects of leaving an organisation like the EU. Choices have consequences. Indeed, the consequences of remaining a member and seceding from the EU should be part of the rational discussion.
Nor is the debate around what the Leave campaign actually proposes to happen in the event of their own campaign succeeding part of some ridiculous, “Euro-fanatic” intellectual standard. If you desire a change, you should describe what that change will look like. It is called the mechanism.
I have also observed grimaces at the prospect of sharing sides with disliked politicians, and the dismissal of the Prime Minister’s negotiations of the EU.
As former PM John Major highlighted, certain aspects of the proposed negotiation were previously considered to be high prizes for Eurosceptics, such as the exclusion from Britain from “ever-closer union”.
The referendum is not a matter of judging the Prime Minister’s efforts, nor of surveying each side for which politicians you have the most affinity. It is the binary choice between Britain remaining a member of the European Union and leaving that entity. That selection of two choices elides the differences of partisanship. It is an issue beyond typical political affiliations: it is a matter of the nation’s future.
There are also complaints, typically expressed on social media, against MPs for declaring their intention on the EU referendum that is opposite to the view of that constituent. Normally, this involves the constituent suggesting they will never vote for that MP again. Whilst any member of the public can decide to vote for or against any candidate for any reason, this is a particularly strange cause. The policy — which these constituents likely agree with — was to offer a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. That policy has been enacted. A referendum means that the weight of the vote of every constituent is exactly the same as their MP. I believe it is incumbent on MPs to offer their guidance and reasoning on referenda, but the debate is for public.
Britain’s membership of the European Union has both benefits and costs to the country. The full access to the European single market must be balanced against the harmonisation of rules across that market. Our ease of travel to other EU nations must be balanced against concerns over immigration to Britain.
On balance, I believe our membership of the European Union should continue, and I will vote and campaign to remain in the EU. This is finely balanced, and I do not deny that — based on their own preferences and visions — other people will come to differing conclusions.
Regardless of the result, Britain will be a great nation. Whether we are inside or outside the EU, we must meet the numerous difficult challenges and opportunities facing our economy, our country and our continent.
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 Lisbon Treaty, 2013. Article 50. Available from: http://www.lisbon-treaty.org/wcm/the-lisbon-treaty/treaty-on-european-union-and-comments/title-6-final-provisions/137-article-50.html [Accessed: 9th March 2016]
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