The UK’s membership in the European Union (EU) has been a politically controversial topic ever since Britain joined the then-called European Community in 1973, under the Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath. A referendum on Britain’s membership was called in 1975, yet 41 years later and there still seems to be an aura of public discontent about Britain’s membership in the EU.
After the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, attended the EU summit in Brussels last week, he claimed to have successfully secured a deal, which has resulted in his backing for Britain’s continued membership in the EU.
there still seems to be an aura of public discontent about Britain’s membership in the EU
Following a cabinet meeting on the morning of Saturday 20th February, the government decided that a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU would take place on the 23rd June. The importance of this referendum is highlighted by the fact that a cabinet meeting has not been called on a Saturday since the Falklands War.
The government’s official backing of Britain’s membership of the EU was justified by a hope of reforming the union. Furthermore, aside from Cameron’s deal, the PM cited national security from terrorism, freedom of movement, employability prospects, trade, and overall economic prosperity as concrete benefits from being a member of the EU.
David Cameron’s EU deal focuses on three main areas of concern:
Migrants and welfare benefits
The UK will be entitled to an ’emergency brake’ (with a seven year limit), which entails a limit to in-work benefits for EU migrants, which can be applied for their first four years in the UK. Similarly, the sending of child benefits from migrant workers to families overseas has been restricted.
Cameron has established an explicit agreement that, in any future EU treaty, the UK is under no obligation to be part of a ‘ever closer union’ with other EU countries. Therefore, Britain has legitimate grounds to opt out of further political integration with the 28 member states.
Cameron has safeguarded the value of the British pound by getting a formal agreement that countries outside the Eurozone will not be discriminated against. This simultaneously protects the financial state of the City of London, as countries outside the Eurozone are not required to fund euro bailouts.
The Conservative party has a longstanding history of inner-party division over the EU, which will only be further perpetuated in the run up for the referendum. Cameron’s decision to campaign for Britain to remain in the 28-nation bloc with his “heart and soul” has set him apart from euro-scepticism within his party. Ministers are, however, being given the right to back the ‘leave’ campaign, with Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, and Iain Duncan Smith being amongst the ones opposing the Government’s official stance.
Opinions from other political leaders have been flooding in ever since the recent announcements. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, considers Cameron’s negotiation in Brussels to have lead to a “truly pathetic deal” as he continues to advocate independence from the EU. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party regarded the negotiated amendments as “irrelevant to the problems most British people face”. However, he concluded that Labour would similarly back the ‘in’ vote for reasons such as investments, worker protection rights, and job prosperities.