image: “EU Scrabble” by Jeff Djevdet
by Angela Munoz Aroca
Within less than two months for the British referendum to take place, an anxious feeling is growing within the European public opinion, having as a result a growing number of articles published regarding this topic. In contrast to the low profile followed by many European institutions, governments, businesses organizations and the media before, we are now bombed with all kind of information and declarations regarding the causes and consequences of the Brexit. Amongst them are those related to economy, possibly the most covered fact, but also those related to immigration, terrorism and the most sensitive issues connected to the ideology or the imagery of the EU. Nevertheless, this debate is not taking place for the first time, but is more accurately a repeated story that already was lived in 1975 and that fortunately ended with the 67% citizen support to the campaign of Thatcher to stay in the EU, or EEC at the time of the referendum. According to the information available in Spain, those are some of the most highlighted points within the Spanish media of how the Brexit will affect this southern country.
In terms of economy, the leave of the UK will immediately affect its relations with Spain as the UK is the 4th economy to which Spanish exportations go and the first country from which tourists arrive. At the same time, Spain is also the 5th potency to which British investments go and their commercial relations are also vital for the Spanish market as the country has presence in crucial British sectors such as banking, infrastructures, telecommunications and energy. At a more general level, the depreciation of the pound that is taking place and that will probably continue if the UK leaves the EU, will decrease the revenue received by European companies and will also make more expensive to British citizens to go abroad. Additionally, the UK will still have to fight for beneficial commercial deals with the continent, to which almost half of its exportations go and that in return, send around 24 million pounds a year. This fact has provoked the reaction of many representatives of international companies with presence in Great Britain, materialized on an open letter sent to David Cameron warning about the risks of the Brexit. Companies such as Vodafone, Ryanair, EasyJet, Marks and Spencer, HSBC or the Spanish Santander and Telefonica, amongst others, have signed the missive. By its part, the Bank of England has also highlighted the financial risk that the Brexit poses to England, as many of these companies could close their filial, nowadays based in the City.
Moreover, contrary to what have been promised by many British politicians, who assures that British citizens would save money if they finally leave the EU, most financial analysis agencies have pointed out, as well as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), that the cut in EU-UK relations would suppose the loss of over a million jobs and a cut down of up to 5% of the British GDP.
Related to the economic facts, much has also been said about the increase of immigrants within the last couple of years and the pressure they are posing to the country, as well as a menace to the current living standards. For instance, and related to Spain, it is believed that over 2 million Spanish people are living in the island while up to 800.000 British live in Spain throughout the year. This fact has been interpreted as a danger for UK economics, as the country feels powerless to defend its own national interest while being tied by EU mandates. Nevertheless, the latest negotiations of Cameron with the rest of EU members may have found a relief to this and other problems. Accordingly, the polemic deal achieved between the 27 and the UK the last February has been to the detriment of the other EU countries, a deal directed to balance the power amongst those members that holds the Euro and those that don’t, buries the idea of a deeper political union amongst its members, that asks for more liberal policies that are harming countries such as Spain, Greece or Portugal and that weakens the status of immigrants, even European ones. A full menu just planned for the British interests that shows the privileged position the UK still enjoys within the EU. Thus, the UK, while not losing any of the benefits it actually enjoys while being part of the 28 club, has been able to impose restrictive rules on its relations with the EU bodies, fact that would be necessarily lost if they finally decide to leave.
Moreover, the immigrants have been blamed as the main cause of the loss of wealth and living standards in the UK, an opportunistic argument that obscures to analyze other factors that may be contributing to this situation, such as the working and liberal policies promoted by the conservative party that are hitting certain sectors of the society.
Having said that, as important as economic arguments are those based on ideologies and personal beliefs. In this sense, the problematic situation the EU is living for the last couple of years, the financial crisis that never seems to be over, the recent refugee crisis and the terrorist fears that are hitting Europe have set the conditions for old nationalistic and ultraconservative ideas to set roots in Europe, and have given the opportunity to populist leaders to fuel the anger of a population that have seen their living standards worsened. This is getting a humoristic side when you hear politicians such as the Justice Minister, Gove, using arguments to leave the EU appealing to the rise of extremist parties all around Europe –that actually defend for their countries similar ideas than the Eurosceptic British ones-. The chaotic situation we are living has permitted people like Boris Johnson to have a say on British politics, and even worse, to be seriously considered as the possible next Prime Minister of the UK.
People like him give speeches that not solely disregard economic reasons to refuse the Brexit, but also show a total disrespect to certain moral values that were accorded by different countries seeking to build a common project to achieve prosperity and peace for the whole continent. While defending those ideals of a Great nation with global influence they just ignore that, differently to ancient times when the UK was certainly an empire, the UK has lost its global influence by itself, as almost every other nation, with just few exceptions. They also ignore that, within a globalized world, it makes little sense to close borders, but sounds more rational to become the promoters and drivers of cooperation as it is easier to shape the reality when you are a significant part of it.
If not perfect, the EU offers the perfect place to achieve a future driving Europe, able to integrate different capacities and share knowledge and prosperity, to make sure it does not lose the first league position in world affairs it nowadays enjoys. The EU also offers the UK a platform to project its own interests globally, as the President Obama has recently highlighted -for the displeasure of many- and, hopefully, this is what the great majority of British population will vote the next 23rd June; a vote to remain and work hard to fix the EU holes, without having to reject its own national particularities. But, if not driven by a common understanding of future, solidarity and European responsibility, at least the voters should pay attention to the still relevant economic reasons not to support the Brexit. Because, contrary of what people like Boris Johnson think, ironically, instead of regaining sovereignty and independency, the UK may have to delegate greater powers towards the Union, in order to keep its market and financial perspectives, but this time without having the opportunity to build an EU closer to its own standards and understandings.