The EU referendum on June 23rd will undoubtedly be remembered as a seminal date in the history of British politics and the wider world. The UK’s decision over our role in Europe will either signal our intention to collaboratively act to help address increasingly globalised issues or initiate fragmentation, breeding systemic insecurity and global instability. A vote to leave is a statement that we value a culture of acting purely in self-interest as a nation, a decision to become more narrow-minded and to reduce our chances of dealing with the world’s most pressing issues. While the economics of Brexit are vitally important and have thus far been the centrepoint of the referendum debate; they are shrouded in conjecture and scepticism. What is far more certain is that for larger-scale issues, as explored below; remaining in the European Union is essential.
Until the last few weeks the environmental argument for remaining in the EU had been largely ignored. However, it is undoubtedly true that if we are to stand any chance of effectively addressing climate change, it is crucial we remain in the EU. Climate change is a universal, borderless issue and thus, a vote to leave the EU, encouraging the pursuit of self-interested policy decisions would lead to a failure to combat the global increase in carbon emissions.
Over the decades since Britain’s entry into the European Community in 1973, the UK has established itself as an environmental leader within the EU. In particular, successive British governments have championed action tackling climate change and initiatives looking to de-carbonise the global economy. EU membership allows Britain to punch considerably above its weight at global climate summits, allowing us to negotiate alongside the global superpowers of China and the US.
A decision to leave the EU would reduce our ability to work collaboratively on climate policy. A situation where individual countries establish nation-specific climate policy would inevitably lead to a less effective total output and less bargaining power to make a change on a global scale. Paul Ekins OBE, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at UCL, explained at the Crowd Forum in London on 9th May, “The EU has far more clout in a globalised world than that of its individual member states.”
Typically, the Brexit debate has centred rather selfishly on what the EU does for us. Instead, especially in the case of climate change, we should consider what our membership allows us to achieve collaboratively for both Europe and the world. Alone, the UK accounts for a mere 2% of the world’s emissions, the EU in total around 20%. The continuation of the UK as a leading advocate for action on climate change in an ambitious EU represents a major force in tackling a significant proportion of the world’s emissions. Whereas a climate-conscious Britain outside of the EU means almost nothing for our future generations.
Immigration policy and refugees
As a nation part of a wider economic-political union, not only is our ability to effectively address climate change improved, but other cross-border issues concerning how we treat each other are better-addressed. Being a member-state of the EU facilitates a culture of unity which means we appreciate each other’s differences rather than letting them divide us; which ultimately leads to more progressive and successful immigration policy.
From an individual’s perspective, being part of the EU allows us to travel across Europe without requiring a Visa. This privilege is one that means we can freely appreciate other cultures with very few barriers, and breeds an atmosphere of acceptance between different countries. In terms of our own identity as British people, our unity with other European nations certainly increases our affiliation towards them compared to nations further afield that we have fewer ties with.
This affiliation is more than just a feel-good product of greater unity; it also has wider implications for how we address important global issues such as immigration, particularly in the context of the recent refugee crisis. The current migration of refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria, Somalia and Iraq represents a cross-border issue that needs to be addressed by Europe as a collective. If we act as an individual nation, we are much less likely to empathise with these suffering countries and much more likely make self-interested decisions in regard to immigration policy. Britain outside the EU, as demonstrated by those who promote it, is much more likely to act with hostility towards refugees than one within the EU; despite us knowing all too well that if we were in a similar position fleeing from civil war, terror or famine we would want to receive the hospitality and welcome we are currently denying others.
The following cartoon by Simon Kneebone, actually drawn in 2014 in response to migrants trying to reach Australia from Indonesia, accurately highlights what a world of self-interested nations would look like.
International security and terrorism
Our treatment of refugees on our own borders is undeniably reflective of how we treat international security threats abroad. A country that is unwelcoming to people fleeing danger in their own countries is much less likely to make effective decisions towards addressing issues of international security.
A vote to leave the EU would encourage us to only care about protecting ourselves. In the face of international terrorism, if every country resorted to a ‘protect our own people’ policy, the threat would never subside and those nations and individuals most vulnerable would be suffer, or worse, be converted towards radicalism. In the UK, we are in a particularly privileged position to be across the water from Europe, which means we could effectively lock ourselves in with a Donald Trump-esque wall and give little thought to those countries where terrorism is a daily threat such as Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria. However, terrorism won’t just go away if we shut our eyes.
If Britain were to put its fortress on lock-down and refuse to engage with the issue, this would encourage the type of radical politics as seen by the likes of Ted Cruz, who suggest we should ‘carpet bomb’ the Middle East. It is known full-well that such a military strategy would not work, given it is our historic military intervention in the region that caused the international terrorism in the first place. The world we now live in is one where borders are increasingly meaningless, and therefore, if we have any concern for the safety of future generations, we owe it to them to actually engage collectively with international security threats. As part of the EU, Britain can act as part of a greater force for good which holds the ability to make large-scale progress on the world’s most pressing issues. As Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former foreign minister and Prime Minister said, “A fractured EU would unleash untold dangers. And a world without a strong, unified Europe would be poorer and less safe.”
So what would actually happen if we left the EU?
If Britain leaves the EU, we risk important global issues going unaddressed. This is fundamentally due to the structural problem of short-termism in national politics, compared to longer-term commitments fostered by international bodies such as the EU.
Take climate policy, for example. The nature of having four-year terms in government means policy naturally takes on very short-term actions on climate issues, which generally favour economic performance over environmental protection. This owes mostly to the electorate never seeing the benefit of work on climate change, which will become clear in anything from 50-100+ years, and thus, politicians will not receive political credit for the results of their policies. Without the EU, long-term issues like climate change are unlikely to feature high on the political agenda.
To illustrate what Britain’s climate policy might look like outside the EU, take the US as an example and the installation of solar panels on the White House. Jimmy Carter put them on in 1979, Ronald Reagan then removed them in the 1986. Under the Obama administration, the solar panels were then re-installed. However, there is no doubt that Donald Trump, should he become President, would take them down again. The short-termism of national politics breeds nothing but inconsistency in the face of global issues that require a dedicated long-term solution. By making commitments at an EU level, the EU institutions act as the overseer of policies that address such issues to ensure their progress isn’t subject to the electoral whims of a political party.
A duty to remain
The issues addressed above are long-term issues that concern the future of our people and planet; they aren’t going to disappear. That said, we are privileged to be able to make our decision on the basis of them. There are many people who are less concerned with our ability to address climate change because they are struggling to even find enough money for food this evening. A lot of these people will vote for Brexit because they have been swayed by emotional arguments from the ‘Leave’ camp; arguments that promise on the basis of little evidence that there will be more jobs and less poverty outside the EU.
The fundamental reason we should vote to stay in the EU is that we have a duty to improve everyone’s wellbeing, not just our own. A vote to disengage from the EU would come not only at the expense of people suffering abroad, but also all future generations, regardless of whether they live in Britain or not. By going it alone, we risk furthering a move towards a culture of narrow-mindedness and isolationist politics, where we have less regard for our fellow humans, with whom we share this planet.
Voting to stay in the EU is a symbolic commitment to the collective, to realising that when facing global challenges separately we are much weaker than when we are together. Of course, every nation in the EU could leave, and it’s true if they did, the institution itself would hold very little weight. But that’s how a collective works, you all put in to achieve a greater outcome as a group than you would as a total of individual states. As Caroline Lucas MP perfectly summed up in relation to climate change, but which can be applied to a host of global issues, “Going it alone simply isn’t an option for a challenge of this magnitude.”
The vast majority of young people in the UK, who have grown up in a more globalised and open world will vote to remain in the EU. This is because it represents the first step towards addressing global issues as a collective. We must support the choice of the youth of Britain, whose future rests on the decision taken next week. On 23rd June, we have a duty to set a precedent to our fellow nations and future generations; that while the EU isn’t perfect, when it comes to dealing with the challenges that will affect the peace and survival of people on this planet, working collectively makes us stronger. We owe it to them to stay in.
Words by Tom McGivan and Harry Rice