The referendum is looming. A referendum which could perhaps make or break Europe. On June 23rd, the British public will be braced with the opportunity to vote to decide the United Kingdom’s future in the European Union. Its significance eclipses that of a General Election; especially given that the public cannot decide on our membership every five years. Regardless of the decision, it will be set in stone. This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Already, David Cameron has managed to claim some reform, which he had long promised to achieve. This was promoted by the Prime Minister himself as giving Britain “special status” within the EU. Britain is still exempt from joining the single Euro currency, and will not be obliged to bail out other European nations – take Greece, and its past financial woes, for instance. Many are still discontented despite these changes however. The changes which were gained are viewed by most as a complete irrelevancy.
Indeed, many will still be hell-bent on leaving. No matter what concessions are achieved, a great proportion of the public will still have a single-minded focus on Britain’s swift exit from the union. Multiple factors are influencing this. A prevalent concern among the Brexit movement is that the UK’s national sovereignty is being chipped away at, the longer we are in the EU – seeing us as being submerged in an ever increasingly restrictive political union.
Clearly, the more nationalistic folk will tremble with indignation at this. A common view is that a federal bureaucracy is dictating laws to us from outside of our own borders. This is certainly enough to think that Britain is weakening, from its former glory.
While many see this as a tantalising prospect, leaving on a basis of focusing on Britain alone would surely shatter international unity; our bond with the rest of Europe. With this in mind, does it seem like it would be in the best interests of not only Britain, but for the rest of the continent, to leave?
Let’s briefly look back over history – at European nationalism, and the effect it had on the continent, when at its most virulent form. While it was present during centuries of conflict and animosity between European lands, the continent witnessed a tremendous surge of it after the late 18th century. A symptom of colonialism, and a driving force behind imperialism; nationalism became a significant element in the discord and enmity between the ‘great powers’ of Europe that emerged during the 19th century, and the early 20th century.
The self-serving aspirations of the European nations created more isolation between each other than ever; fracturing the continent, and forming much instability. As a result, Europe was dragged into utter turmoil, caused by the avaricious economic desires of the nations within it, during a cataclysmic 20th century. In the aftermath of two devastating World Wars, the urgency required to integrate European nations with one another was evident. Agreements such as the Hague Committee (1948) were instrumental in achieving this. Later, the formation of the European Union solidified such positive relations. Nationalism certainly declined as a result, but for the sake of establishing peace, this was a laudable triumph.
Modest patriotism can do little harm. Appreciating one’s own country and cultural traditions can bring much fulfilment to a person. It if develops to the point that it leads to exclusion and seperation from the rest of the world however, it can cause problems.
Like any political organisation, the EU has flaws. I won’t deny that. However, it would be in Britain’s interests to remain in and fight for further reform, rather than simply leaving to rectify policies we are uncomfortable with. For instance, many worry about adverse effects that mass immigration could bring along with it. Such a fear is another driving force behind Brexit support; believing that EU would be the only way to control our borders. One issue that people must consider is that leaving would risk the return of 2.25 million British expats living elsewhere in Europe. Plus, there are clear economic benefits to consider with immigration. According to the Office of National Statistics, a profit of around £20 billion was accumulated from EU migrants paying in more tax than they took out in state benefits from the period of 2001-2011. Leaving on this basis would additionally have little effect, given that Britain is actually outside of the free-movement ‘Schengen’ zone.
Even with economic issues aside, a dire age of European history revealed that international unity is essential, and it is vital to secure integration with our neighbours. Division, based on a noxious form of nationalism, can have dire repercussions.
As John McDonnell recently pointed out: the more states that are in the EU, the more that peace is consolidated. We should therefore look beyond the borders enclosing Britain. The state of the continent should be of equal concern when voting in the referendum. An influential nation like Britain is needed to maintain the unity cementing the nations together. Internationalism is the clear solution. Leaving the European Union would undoubtedly hamper the efforts made to stabilise positive relations after an era of turmoil.