This article looks to separate fact from fiction – reality from rhetoric – in some of the most polarising arguments being put forward by ‘Brexiters’ and ‘Bremainers’ in the lead-up to the UK Referendum on EU membership on 23 June.
Peace and security
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the UK “turning its back” on the EU would increase the risk of war in Europe and has warned that ISIL would be “happy” with a Brexit vote.
Yet former London mayor Boris Johnson, one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, has argued that the UK would be better able to safeguard its security if it left the EU, calling Brussels’ “anti-democratic tendencies” a force for “instability and alienation”.
So, is the UK safer in – or safer out?
Euronews put the question to Hans Pung, President of RAND Europe, an international, not-for-profit public policy research organisation that has taken an impartial position on the referendum.
“We will never know because the two will never co-exist, although I think it probably is true that the UK’s defence and security relationships will not be significantly improved or degraded in the event of Brexit,” Pung says.
“The arguments on both sides are excessive.”
“Whatever happens, the UK will remain a strong member of NATO with good bi-lateral defence relationships with key European allies.”
But what of the argument that the EU helps preserve stability and peace within Europe?
Pung says the EU “clearly plays a positive role in maintaining harmonious relationships between European nations”, particularly through its focus on promoting free trade between member states.
He stresses, however, that the EU has “limited responsibility with respect to common defence.”
“It is NATO which provides hard power assurances to protect Europe from external threats.”
The row over the future of the UK’s economy and trading power if Brexit happens are bitterly disputed.
The Remain campaign has a lot of weight behind it on this issue. The UK Treasury, the Bank of England and every major international financial organisation, including the IMF and the OECD, all say the UK economy will do better inside the EU.
However, the Economists for Brexit argue that the UK economy will, in fact, thrive outside the EU and that trade will not suffer in the event of Brexit.
On the thorny question of trade, euronews spoke to European law expert, Professor Sir Alan Dashwood QC.
“Coming out of the EU would mean that we should have to re-negotiate all the 50+ EU trade deals from which we (the UK) currently benefit,” says Sir Alan, who adds that the job of doing this would take “years.”
So, what of the pro-Brexit argument that the UK would be able to negotiate new, better bilateral trade deals on its own?
Sir Alan says the UK cannot realistically “expect any favours” from other countries, even allies, when negotiating trade deals.
“They will be guided by their own interests, which means that they are likely to offer us (the UK) less favourable trading terms than they offer the EU, which is a much larger market.”
There is much debate over the type of relationship the UK would have with the EU if it left the union. Brexiters such as Boris Johnson argue that the UK would retain access to the Single Market without being part of it.
If a post-Brexit UK-EU agreement “is one that gives us access to the Single Market,” Sir Alan warns, “we shall have to comply with EU legislation that we have had no part in making. We should also have to accept the free movement of persons.”
“A simple free trade agreement wouldn’t give us the same degree of access to the market, especially the market for services, which is crucial for our economy.”
Immigration is a highly emotive issue that is important to a lot of British voters.
Brexiters such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) argue that immigration into the UK is out of control, and that free movement within the EU means that the UK can never properly regulate its borders unless it leaves the union.
In the event of Brexit, however, the UK may have to agree to continued freedom of movement in exchange for access to the Single Market.
Dr. Carlos Vargas-Silva of The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, which is impartial on the referendum, told euronews that no-one could predict the potential impact of Brexit on EU migration.
Thus, much of the rhetoric being used in the debate is highly hypothetical.
“It is not possible to know how exactly a vote to leave the EU would affect migration to the UK – both because forecasting migration under any policy regime is difficult, and because the policies that would follow a vote to leave the EU are not known in advance,” Vargas-Silva explains.
We just do not know what a post-Brexit UK-EU relationship would be like.
Varga-Silva says that just as Brexit could, on one hand, potentially lead to tighter border controls – on the other hand, “free movement could also remain largely unaffected if the UK were to become a member of the European Economic Area.”
If the UK votes to stay in the EU, David Cameron’s plan is for an “emergency brake” on in-work benefits for EU migrants.
The Migration Observatory points to the fact much analysis of migration data suggests that welfare is not the major factor driving EU migration to the UK.
“This is because,” according to the Observatory, “there is no direct measure of the role of welfare in individual decision-making; most migrants are not receiving welfare benefits; and, even in the absence of benefits, significant pull factors would remain.”
On the UK’s role in the world there are, again, wildly opposing views on the two sides of the referendum campaign. Brexiters argue that the UK will be stronger on the world stage if it reasserts itself as an independent country, while Bremainers warn that the UK will become sidelined in global affairs if it leaves the union.
Euronews spoke to Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe initiative, which provides non-partisan and impartial reference material on UK-EU relations.
“EU member states have given up elements of national control in the way that EU membership demands. EU law trumps national law and member states can be outvoted when making law,” Menon explains.
“That being said, in foreign policy terms, the EU does not constrain member states, which are free to pursue their own national policies of their own choosing.
In the event of Brexit, the UK’s role in NATO and on the UN Security Council would mean that the country retain a key role on the world stage, according to Menon.
“The UK is a major military power, major aid donor, and a large economy, which makes it an important international player.”
US President Barack Obama and many other world leaders have said that the UK should remain in the EU.
Menon points out that, naturally, “foreign leaders consider what is best for them and their countries when making pronouncements.”
The UK remaining in the EU would be “easier” for the US and other allies around the world, he says.
“Brexit would be another international issue to deal with on an already crowded agenda,” Menon concludes.