On June 23rd, British voters will make arguably one of the most important decisions of our generation: whether or not we wish to remain in the European Union. With the most recent opinion polls suggesting an even split between the two sides of the debate, it is more crucial than ever that each and every one of us with the eligibility to vote in the referendum makes the effort to engage with the debate and to make an informed decision when polling day comes.
While the EU is far from perfect, and should rightfully be criticized on many fronts, the majority of young voters, myself included, believe that staying in the EU is the best option for Britain.
Why should we care?
The 18-34 age group are the most likely to be in favour of remaining in the EU. However, we are also the group least likely to vote in the referendum, with a recent opinion poll finding that only 52% of young people say they will definitely go out and vote. It therefore could not be more apparent that the outcome of the referendum hinges on us making sure our voices are heard.
But why does the EU Referendum matter so much, and why is it important for Britain to vote to remain in the EU?
One of the reasons why the EU Referendum has failed to engage young people is that the debate has essentially been put across as “two groups of old men shouting at each other”. David Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are not exactly the most inspiring political figures at the best of times, and when we see them bickering amongst themselves with convoluted arguments in which even the basic facts – such as how much money Britain even contributes to Brussels per week anyway – are about as difficult to locate as a needle in a haystack, it’s tempting just to switch off and leave them to it.
From a left-wing perspective, it can be hard to override the instinct to do the opposite of whatever Cameron wants. Moreover, there are legitimate reasons for arguing in favour of leaving the EU, such as the lack of democracy and accountability within the European Commission, and their disastrous track record of imposing devastating cuts in Greece.
But there’s more at stake in this referendum than petty in-fighting between one Tory and another, and the same concerns that might cause one to be critical of the EU are also the very reasons why staying in the EU and working to improve it is actually the best option for Britain’s future.
Confused? I know I am. Essentially, there are two central lines of argument for remaining within the EU: the first is that the alternative being offered by the leave campaign is much worse; and the second is the belief that despite the problems with the EU, it is still the best way of protecting the interests of people living in Britain and of offering us a stronger global future.
Saying no to bigotry
The bigotry on the side of the leave campaign is a definite red flag. It’s a campaign primarily concerned not with economic logic or fair governance, but with quelling immigration by cultivating fear and demonising foreigners. The leave campaign have even stooped so low as to release a list of rapes and murders committed by EU citizens living in Britain – an utterly disgusting, fearmongering tactic that speaks volumes about the level of prejudice and bigotry that would be given free rein in Britain in the event of a vote to leave the EU.
Britain is for the most part an inclusive, diverse society, and our economy and culture benefit immensely from an openness to immigration. What will it say about us if we throw these values away, and how much are we set to lose by closing our borders and our minds to the reciprocal freedom of movement and cultural exchange we currently enjoy? If Britain votes to leave the EU, young EU nationals including EU students will lose their automatic right to live and work here, making their future potentially turbulent and difficult to predict. Moreover, a vote to leave is likely to condemn them to live under an atmosphere of increased hostility and open scapegoating; something no-one should have to face.
The sovereignty argument – that we should have total control over our own economic, social and foreign policies – also doesn’t inspire much confidence when you look at the people likely to be running a post-EU Britain: Boris Johnson et al. One of the principle benefits of the EU is that it ensures basic workers’ rights for everyone in its member states: rights such as paid holidays, a maximum number of working hours, and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of disability, gender or religion. The Conservatives have already spoken openly about their desire to “repatriate” powers over employment rights because apparently basic workers’ rights are too costly for employers. Left to its own devices, can we really trust a self-serving Tory government to protect these rights? It doesn’t seem likely.
A stronger future in Europe
Where’s the logic in throwing away our place in the EU Single Market, along with all the jobs it provides, just so we can prove that we’re one of the Big Boys and we’ll do things our own way even if it means that UK GDP will be between 3.8 and 7.5% lower, as the Treasury predicts? Thanks to the Single Market, there are no customs duties and no trading tariffs between borders in the EU: a practical, efficient arrangement that allows the EU to be the biggest free trading zone in the world. It makes sense for Britain to be part of it and to have a voice within it.
One of the most compelling cases for remaining in the EU is that international cooperation and unity are necessary to combat the increasing urgency of global concerns such as climate change and tax justice. It would be nonsensical to believe that we can meet global emissions reduction targets and clamp down on the tax avoidance of the global elites unless countries find an efficient and effective way of working together as one united body. In the age of global capitalism, it is now more important than ever to adopt co-ordinated policies and actions that transcend national borders.
Ultimately, it would be naïve to dismiss the founding principles of the EU out of hand: it was established in the aftermath of WWII because international cooperation was seen as the antidote to international conflict, and that’s a principle that still holds true. Criticism of the EU’s institutions should act as a catalyst for improving the EU and making it more democratic and accountable through grass-roots driven reform. This approach is less cynical and more constructive than arguing that Britain should go it alone just to prove a point.
To avoid a disastrous outcome in the EU Referendum this month, we need to see it for what it is – not a beige, boring and inconsequential argument taking place over our heads, but a monumental decision that will affect us for decades, maybe even centuries, to come. Even if you’ve never voted before, vote now. Even if you never vote again, vote now. This referendum isn’t about the Tories, UKIP, or any single political party; it’s about us, and the kind of future we want for ourselves, for Britain and for Europe. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste – it’s too important.
[Cat Acheson – @cat_acheson]
This is the first in a series of features on the EU Referendum that we’ll be publishing from now until the vote on 23rd June. Keep an eye on our website for more information, opinions and ideas about the referendum, and get in touch with your own thoughts over Twitter.
The deadline for registering to vote is midnight on Tuesday 7th June. Register now at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote