Monday, 20 June 2016

EU: Why We Must Remain

This was the speech given by Charlotte Phillips in favour of remaining within the EU during today's EU referendum debate at PGS.

EU membership allow us to be an open, forward-thinking, outward-looking nation, which can collaborate with other countries and have international influence. Our place in the world stage is solidified, strengthened and enhanced by being a member of the European Union. The benefits are too many to list in just four minutes, but I will outline some of my key arguments:

1. Economics

Around three million jobs are linked to the free trade agreement we have by being a member of the EU. These jobs will be uncertain if we leave. The UK actually pays the least of all the EU countries as a share of GNI; we get so much back in funding, grants, subsidies and of course access to the single market. This single market allows us to trade with 500 million consumers free of tariffs, charges and restrictions. Our membership stimulates competition and trade, improves efficiency, raises quality and cuts prices. 

If we leave the EU, we will not be given full access to the single market. In any deal that provides single market access, the EU would demand the UK accept free movement of people and EU common regulations. We would not have any say in how these rules are written. We would not be given a favourable deal - that would encourage other states to leave. 

2. Science and universities

One of the less-discussed issues is that of science and universities. Eighteen leading UK universities face half of their funding being axed if we Brexit. Across all higher education, the subjects of education, law and legal studies, philosophy, ethics and religion, environmental studies, information and computer sciences are more than a third dependent on EU funding. How are we meant to produce top lawyers and educators and lead the way in science and research without this crucial funding and collaboration? In fact, it is not just about funding but about the quality of research which is enhanced by a continent-wide pool of knowledge leading to a permeability of ideas and people, an openness to exchange and collaboration and an environment that pools intelligence and minimises barriers.

Brexiters will argue that we can have this outside the EU, but we really cannot - Switzerland has an association agreement with the EU for research activities, but to do so it pays a price into the EU budget and has no part in discussions about what sort of research gets funding. And if this is not enough: every single UK minister for universities and science during the past 25 years has said UK science would be damaged by our leaving the EU.

3. Democracy

The EU is far more democratic than its opponents claim with their stories of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. The EU may not be perfect and it is not entirely democratic: however, it is not remotely true that our laws are simply the product of 28 bureaucrats on the European commission. 

There are actually three main bodies that propose and pass laws in the EU: the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament. The Commission is composed of 28 people, including one commissioner from each country; it is headed by the president, nominated by the leaders of the member states. The president allocates jobs to the commissioners who are, in turn, nominated by the governments of their own countries. The commission is then approved by a majority vote in the European parliament.

The commission can only propose laws; it cannot make them or pass them. The Commission's proposals must be passed by a majority through the European Council, made up of government ministers from each state. The proposal is then debated, amended and passed or rejected by the European Parliament. We vote for the members of the parliament (they are our MEPs).

I am not claiming that this system is perfect, but it is a blatant lie to say all of our laws are made by 28 unelected commissioners. We are much better off remaining within the EU and reforming it to improve its level of democracy than leaving and letting our laws be created by the British Parliament alone, which, I would point out, includes the House of Lords, one of the most undemocratic institutions in the developed world, not to mention an undemocratic first-past-the-post system for the Commons that disenfranchises the majority of the population.

4. Scaremongering

Both sides of the debate have been rightly criticised for scaremongering. However, I am not afraid to admit that actually the prospect of leaving the EU does scare me. Some aspects actually border on terrifying. The vast majority of economic and social analysis points towards Brexit as a very negative move for the economy and for our position as a global superpower. I believe it would be a foolish move to ignore the consensus of academics, politicians, economists, scientists and educators of not just our country but countries all over the globe. Let us be part of an outward-looking collaboration and exercise our power and influence in a positive way over the world. 

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