The rapidly approaching EU Referendum is a highly discussed topic in the UK, currently dividing our public. On 8th June the WCIA held an event in the old library to aid the understanding of what it would mean for Britain both if we choose to leave or remain in the European Union. The insightful event featured three panels which consisted of three speakers. Although I came to the event with the view that we should remain in the EU, it was overall, a well-informed debate that will prove helpful for those whose minds are still undecided.
The first panel of the evening discussed society and law. Dr Jo Hunt established the framework for EU laws, expressing that they could be seen as both a straitjacket in terms of the restrictions put in place, but also that there is value in these laws such as the communication that we have with other countries. She then established that EU law is made by EU treaties which set out the scope for those institutions that have been given competence to act. The member states work together to make the legislation. In my opinion, surely this legislation is fair to the EU member states if they all participate in the creation of these laws. The European Commission proposes the legislation and it must gain approval from elected members of European Parliament. There is also increased involvement of our national parliament which has been strengthened slightly by February agreements. In terms of how this affects Wales, Dr Hunt stated that the Welsh Assembly have some say in relation to these laws and can be involved in the enactment of indirect legislation if it is relevant to the devolved nation. EU law is supreme, so national laws must not run contrary to EU law. For Wales, Hunt expressed that EU law could be seen as holding restrictions, however the framework provides for expansion.
Dr Hywel Ceri Jones put forward the case to remain in the European Union. He stated that the UK is safer and more through membership, particularly with the threats of terrorism currently plaguing society. He highlighted the importance of standing together to increase peace and reconciliation. Although our membership in the EU means that our sovereignty is to be sacrificed, Jones emphasised that this sacrifice was for the greater good. Those, like Jones, who want to remain in the EU, have an interest in being a full and active member in a strategic security membership. This a sound view, to be part of a group greater than just the United Kingdom will ensure higher levels of security, as we are part of a collective that are able to fight threats to our safety together by sharing strategy. Jones also discussed the unprecedented challenges to security, stating that the EU is a huge institution and it would be foolish to throw our membership away as we are not strong enough without it; British power has an added weight because of our membership in the EU. I completely agree with the statements made, as although the UK wields a lot of power, to stand alone would be detrimental, when we do not have enough influence to stand alone. Jones emphasised the point above by providing examples of how the EU affects Wales. Firstly, in terms of climate change, the global agreement last year was strongly led by the European Union and we need to be in the EU to implement these policies. This is a very strong example due to the increase in concern we have collectively as a society to the horror of climate change. Secondly, the EU provides protection for people of disabilities. To leave the EU, as Jones highlighted, will lead to higher debts and higher cuts in public spending. The leave vision was expressed as a “go it alone” vision, which may potentially ‘do away’ with the European Convention on Human Rights. This may create a Britain that would regard issues and rights for disabled people as unimportant. For example, the 2000 EU directive provides protection for disabled people in terms of employment. Jones concluded by stating that we are safer and more secure in the European Union, as we have a stronger voice and are better equipped to tackle global problems. In my opinion this is one of the most important reasons why we should stay in the EU.
David Rowlands for the leave campaign established that we have had basic rights and freedoms before our membership in the EU, most notably because of the frameworks laid by the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. In terms of our justice system, Rowlands stated that in the past thirty years there have been far-reaching changes. The Supreme Court is not its namesake at all, also European arrest warrants are not observed in all EU countries. Jones also emphasised that EU law sacrifices the supremacy of UK law, further reducing British sovereignty. As the EU is a higher power, surely this is an appropriate measure as it seeks to bring all member states in line with one another. Rowlands went on to express that Britain protects human rights and not the EU, so if we were to leave, there would be no question as to the preservation of our human rights. Rowlands concluded by stating that if our presence in the European Union means that we are losing sovereignty, to swap national law for EU law, simply put, would be foolish.
Within the Q&A session, Dr Jones questioned Rowlands regarding his stance on the Paris climate change deal. Rowlands responded by stating that he thought that climate change is cyclical and that the world was not warming. This of course shocked the audience and also the other leave campaigners on the other two panels as climate change ought not to be lightly dismissed.
The next panel looked at internal and international relationships. Dr Rachel Minto put forward the neutral argument in terms of the referendum. Firstly, she established that there are many different internal relationships that will be affected by the referendum. Additionally, she expressed that it may have an effect on the internal dynamics of the UK. Northern Ireland and Scotland are pro EU whereas Wales is split, so the nations may not vote in the same way, offering an uncertain narrative to the future of the UK. Minto elaborated on this uncertain narrative, stating that if Scotland is pulled out of the EU against their will then this could constitute a second independence referendum. This could lead to Wales becoming the junior partner in the UK. Secondly, Dr Minto established that internationally there is both public and political discussion surrounding security and global issues in which Wales is under the “UK umbrella.” She concluded by saying that the referendum brings two big constitutional debates in which the EU and devolution are intertwined.
Baroness Julie Smith introduced her remain argument by stating that those who want to leave are under the illusion that the EU is undemocratic and that Westminster is the model we should look too. Understandably if we are to stay in the EU then there is room for improvement, it would be wrong to see Westminster as the ideal. Smith continued. saying that internal relations would be affected in the medium to long-term and that we should not exaggerate an immediate Scottish referendum. However, an immediate effect of Brexit would be a hard EU border for Northern Ireland, so free movement across the UK would likely end. Smith also highlighted that the potential for a second Scottish referendum could result in Wales also initiating an independence referendum. Although this is not guaranteed, I agree that it ought not to be lightly dismissed as it could drastically alter the continuation of the UK as we now know it. Baroness Smith expressed that it is better to be a part of the UK with the European Union. Internationally, Smith emphasised that the EU give the UK major influence, with issues concerning our importance if we are to leave. Smith noted Obama and Clinton have claimed that British influence in the world will diminish if we are to leave the EU and that we would have to re-establish relations for trading and for our place in the world. This is a very important reason as to why we should stay in the EU as losing our international influence will result in spending a lot of time and resources in order to regain our power in which we already have as a member of the EU. Could such time and resources not be better spent in initiating further reform within the EU itself?
Alex Moscovici provided the audience with what he described as a “less conventional” leave argument; the EU pushes an austerity agenda. Although he believes that there are some benefits to stay in the EU, he feels that the benefits of leaving are greater. One of his main points was about accountability; if we leave the EU, we will be able to hold our politicians to account without them trying to blame the EU. In terms of the continuation of the UK, Moscovici expressed that the UK will never survive out of fear of what the Scottish believe, yet the SNP are losing influence so could this help the UK to thrive. In terms of the UK and Ireland, he thinks that we do not need the EU to stop the violence, but we may need them for the borders. In my opinion this a fair point of view as we do not need a great institution to stop violence if we are a collective within UK, but the issues of borders will increase if we leave. He concluded by stating that the EU should be about making our own laws while still being amicable with our neighbours and that to say that either result is perfect would be silly. Moscovi’s argument is the most convincing of the leave arguments, perhaps because it is not one that is regularly put forward, so is more insightful.
In the Q&A session, a member of the audience asked whether the result of the referendum will be damaging to relations between the UK and other countries. Dr Minto stated that the G7 summit established that relations will be something that Britain will need to look into. Moscovici expressed the view that relations have already been damaged due to dishonest information, also in terms of the comments of the USA. Smith appeared to be in agreement by highlighting that the referendum has been unenlightening in that there is insufficient trust and respect. She also expressed that if we are to remain then we need to work on these relations. I agree with the statement that the referendum has been damaging on an international scale, but I also think on an internal scale in terms of the public and politicians due to dishonest information being published. How is the public expected to be properly educated on the referendum if we do not have enough information to guide us?
The final panel reviewed the effect on jobs and the economy. Ed Poole provided the audience with a neutral context, stating that the 2014-2020 EU budget saw a reduction for the first time in its history. The UK have always contributed to the EU, with our contribution being the second largest, yet our share is one of the smallest, with the UK making £9.8 billion in 2014 in the EU. Poole stated that the position of Wales is divergent. Wales receives a net beneficiary of £245 million per year, but Brexit will have a significant impact on Welsh policy.
Lord Dafydd Wigley started off his remain argument by stating that if we pull down the building blocks of the EU then it will be detrimental. He supported his statement with the example that companies from the USA and Japan are in the UK to export to the EU and the benefits of this type of business would decrease if we leave. In terms of agriculture, 90% of our exports will go to the EU and if we leave the EU we would face a tariff barrier between 40% and 70%. According to Brexit, European funding will be made up by Westminster, but Wigley was told that was going to keep the money instead, so we cannot trust Westminster with these funds. Economically, some things have to be done on a European level, in which we should play a positive part according to Lord Wigley. Lord Wigley provides a sound and well-informed argument, particularly looking at how leaving will affect Wales. So I think to remain, will be healthier for our economy, particularly in terms of trade.
Berwyn Davies provided us with the leave argument. He started off by stating that there is no such thing as European money and that it is simply the taxpayer’s money. This is a fair statement to make, but we have to make some sort of contribution to be a part of such a large institution; however, that should mean that we get more back from the EU if we contribute so much. He went on to say that the EU takes a large proportion of our exports and that this trade will not go away if we leave as we will go via the world trade rules where there is no critical difference in rate. Davies highlighted a key issue that the EU and UK do not want the same things. Personally I find this hard to swallow as if we did not share common goals then why would we have joined the EU? Davies continued by stating that the UK has created more jobs than the rest of the EU combined over the years of its membership. This is a fair point however, as we could use this to help other countries as we provide an example of a prosperous European country, and if we help other countries to improve then this will no longer be an issue. Davies concluded that it is better to take control of ourselves.
Within the Q&A session, a member of the audience questioned the uncertainty that either result will bring. Davies expressed the view that there will be a risk of increasing strangulation of the economy and that if we want a free trade agreement then we should not be under the weight of European regulations. However, Lord Wigley rebutted these points by stating that the term ‘strangulation of regulations’ is false as some regulations ensure that unscrupulous employers do not undercut employees and that these regulations are creating the emergence of a social Europe. These regulations are improving other countries more than the UK in some cases, but we should not be so quick to criticise the fact that we live in a society with fair employment law. Another member of the audience questioned how remaining will benefit entrepreneurs. Lord Wigley stated that entrepreneurs already have the opportunity to export to other countries and that the frustration due to the regulations is understandable. He stated that he is aware of the challenges but it is better to trade in a level playing field provided by the EU. Poole shared agreement with Wigley and stated that there is a reason for a level playing field so that trading can compete, but also expressed that it is burdensome. Davies stated that he thought that leaving the EU will provide entrepreneurs with the opportunity to pay the living wage as well as being able to trade freely.
The debates were, overall well-informed throughout the event, however, it is the belief of the author that we should remain in the EU for safety within society and in order to uphold our international influence. Although the EU is not all rainbows and sunshine, the referendum should push the UK into becoming an active player in its reform. To leave the EU would be foolish when it provides us with a level playing field in terms of trade. Regardless of my opinion, I urge you to vote. The referendum on Brexit is likely to be a once in a generation opportunity. Take control. Let your voice be heard. On Thursday June 23rd, vote.