It was disastrous. It shouldn't have happened. Never again.
The dust has settled on Nick vs Nigel and clearly we didn't need the televised debates. All they did was give Farage primetime coverage to spread misleading falsities about the EU while winning support, not for his bombproof arguments, but for his signature style of crowd-pleasing, mischievous oratory. To ascertain if EU membership is really beneficial, all we really needed was 10 minutes, internet access and Google.
Let's be very clear: being part of the EU is good for the UK.
Forget the argument about the EU entrenching peace since the wars shredded Europe. It's true, but there are many more tangible, relatable benefits. The most obvious is the freedom to move between EU countries for travel, work, study or even retirement. EU laws on mutual recognition of qualifications allow citizens to work all across Europe. Over 1.8m Brits now live on the continent; 1 million in Spain alone.
Cross-border telecommunications are cheaper and easier after the EU abolished national monopolies for fixed-line services. The price of phonecalls has plummeted. Since 2000, the cost of a 10-minute call within the EU has fallen by an average of 74%. EU policymakers also negotiated a standard phone-charger design, making life easier for consumers and reducing the 50,000 tonnes of chargers discarded annually. Just last week, Euro Parliamentarians abolished EU roaming charges so we don't receive exorbitant bills when travelling.
Travelling itself has been made easier by the European driving license and the deregulation of air travel, which led to the proliferation of airline routes and low cost carriers. The new laws incorporated measures to prevent unfair practices, such as the 2008 law which banned extra charges being added at payment.
EU laws have also harmonised toy safety standards and ensured that all food ingredients and allergens are labeled appropriately. The EU Health Insurance Card enables citizens to receive emergency healthcare in any EU country and EU law allows pensioners to receive their UK pension in any member state.
The European Arrest Warrant has been pivotal in catching international fugitives and since being introduced, it has reduced extradition delays from one year to 48 days. EU environmental measures have tackled river pollution and benefitted tourism by addressing beach and bathing water pollution. Over 96% of UK beaches now meet the EU's water quality standards.
While education remains a member state competency, over 1.5 million young people have studied abroad thanks to the EU's ERASMUS university exchange. In 2009, over 7,000 British students studied elsewhere and 16,000 EU students came here.
So to reiterate, being part of the EU is good for the UK.
Nobody is saying that the EU is perfect. There are cases where the EU has interfered in issues which would be better left to national parliaments. Then there are eurosceptic arguments, which normally focus on immigration, the UK's contribution to the EU and claims about negative trade imbalances.
Immigration arguments constitute nothing more than thinly-veiled racism and xenophobia, so let's avoid them for now. Any trade-related argument is equally ridiculous. If there is one reason why the UK must remain part of the EU, it is trade.
Estimates suggest that the average individual is already around £1,225 better off every year due to EU membership. This is because EU membership allows participation in the single market; the world's largest economic zone which has 21 million companies and a GDP of £11 trillion - larger than the USA and Japan combined. Launched in 1992, the single market is a primary driver of prosperity for 500 million citizens and 28 member states. By dismantling internal border controls it stimulates competition and trade. Member States are still responsible for taxation and social welfare but they now have common trading rules which prevent business having to comply with 28 different sets of regulations.
Between 1992 and 2006, the single market raised EU GDP by €233 billion. UK GDP increased by around £25 billion. Since the launch of the single market, trade between EU countries has risen from €800bn to over €2,800bn for value of goods exchanged. Around 2.75 million jobs have been created and many trading barriers removed, including the purity of beer regulations which stopped European beer producers exporting their product to Germany, one of Europe's biggest beer markets. The French ban on the import of British beef was also overturned as it was contrary to single market rules.
In the UK, the single market allows businesses to trade with EU partners, who account for 51% of exports of goods and services, worth £200 billion. Since 1992, the UK's bilateral trade with EU member states has more than trebled and trade with Europe accounts for around 11% of the UK workforce. Around 3.5 million UK jobs are linked to trade with other EU countries and companies often locate in the UK purely to be within the single market. Consequently the UK is the fifth largest recipient of foreign direct investment after the US, China, France and Hong Kong.
Even eurosceptics agree, but they argue that the UK could leave the EU and reap the same benefits from the European Economic Area (EEA), which allows non-EU members including Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to participate in the single market. Whilst true, the UK would be bound by single market rules but have no say in the decision-making process. Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are completely at the mercy of Brussels, without actually being in Brussels. With EU membership comes a voice in the rule-making procedure and as an EU leader, the UK has far greater clout in world trade issues than if working as an individual nation.
So if it isn't clear by now, let me remind you; being part of the EU is good for the UK