THE BLOG

Let's Talk About the EU

14/03/2016 14:30 GMT | Updated 15/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Who else wants the facts?

This time last year we were all in the midst of being politically brainwashed; watching the same old parties battle it out for the public's support on TV and chatting up Dimbleby on Question Time. Yes, Ed Miliband became tumblr's favourite subject for animated flower tiaras and twitter's latest in hilarious memes, but this was all propaganda we were happy to oblige in because we had read the facts and had picked our side.

Now we find ourselves on the cusp of a decision that doesn't only dictate the next four years but is a possibly irreversible decision about our future. As students, it's easy to foremost pontificate over the fact those month-long, multiple-country-spanning, inter-rail opportunities will now become immeasurably more difficult, but it's far more affecting than that. After all, in or out, we're the generation of voters whose lives and, gulp, children's lives will be most impacted by the results of the referendum.

So while there may be equal gusto in both the pro-EU headlines and Boris' cheeky grin, many of us are in need of some informing before we go sticking our feet in the mud on either side of the field.

Repetitive sweeping statements spouting 'Britain leaving EU is a shot in the dark' or, conversely, 'Don't be taken in by project fear' aren't much in the way of convincing because they don't explain why this is. Andrew Marr's recent BBC interview with Boris Johnson essentially disintegrated into a snappy debate that saw Marr himself appear as a 'remain campaigner' instead of allowing the interviewee to develop his arguments.

Yet while the politicians continue to bicker, lots of us 'don't really know enough yet' to decide. Of course, it's easy enough to pick a team based on headlines alone; who wants a non-existent trade? Or is it really so easy peasy?

Taxpayers (aka. the non-students of this nation, our parents) might be tempted by Brexit. Headlines claim to cut down 'benefit' migrants, so we assume tax from the people will be spent on benefits and perhaps on the climate budget or NHS funded things instead, like training future nurses. Maybe you're tempted because you vainly hope that less people to support increases the chance of the government giving us a pension before we actually die but hey, we know we're kidding ourselves.

The UK's net contribution to the EU is a staggering £12.9 billion, higher than our climate control budget and putting us in second place for highest contributing country to the EU's budget. Yet we make up just 3.6% of European commission officials, less than 10% of total MEPs and are overruled on 75% of cases. Those who want to leave argue that we cannot vote to stay and expect any change or reform to our influence.

If we did leave, the EU would lose its stance as the forerunning economy to the USA, dropping from 18,530 to 15,580 ($bn). An intriguing fact that came out in Marr's interview of Boris was that in the last 40 years American exports to the EU have increased faster than ours have, all without membership.

Our tiny island would be fourth largest economy, following the USA, EU and China respectively. This surely makes it hard to believe that the rest of the world would refuse to trade with us due to the playground mentality that dictates we must be punished for refusing to play anymore, especially at the expense of their economies.

On the contrary, where's the logic in leaving if, like Norway (the oft-cited alternative to membership), we then lose all trade agreements outside the European Union, still contribute to EU spending and abide by two-thirds of all EU laws despite losing our (admittedly small) voice in deciding these laws.

This also brings us to the incentive at the forefront of many Brexit supporters minds, the ability to control 'benefit' migration and increase numbers of skilled migrants from the EU. Yet, again, if our deal resembled the Norwegian model, we would abide by free movement, which means treating EU citizens as you would a national (i.e. the right to live/work in the country and have access to labour market and welfare) anyway. In fact, Norway has more EU migrants than the UK.

The Norwegian minister said last month that with the UKs 'global ambition, dedication and contributions' he found it 'difficult to imagine us being comfortable with the same arrangement. Yet this has a reverse psychology effect, which makes many question why our small island is so persistently ambitious. Perhaps it's high time we turned to fixing our own economic problems with that pocket change (about £55 million) sent every week to Brussels.

Now, Norway is just one of many economic models discussed to replace our current membership. Switzerland, Turkey, Canada and WTO-only are all considered as possible models for an independent UK.

Read widely and choose wisely because it doesn't look like we're going to hear any spark-note type explanations that dig deeper than the blurb on the back of a novel. Who knows, with such a small say in the EUs decisions, it could even be that remaining gives as much an uncertain future as leaving. Yet how naive we may be to think our economy could cope with a decade of trade agreements and painstaking renegotiating with the 27 member states.

The choice for some may be clean cut, but there's still a whole bunch of us waiting for the full story.

Originally posted on The Tab Birmingham on 13th March 2016.

*Majority of factual information obtained from the first report,'Alternatives to membership: possible models for the United Kingdom outside the European Union' published by the government on the European Union Referendum Act 2015. It's incredibly useful- read it.