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Should Britain leave the EU: Pros and Cons

Should Britain leave the EU: Pros and Cons

Photo by Theophilos Papadopoulos | Flickr

James Gregory explores some of the main arguments surrounding the in-out EU referendum.

David Cameron’s victory in the general election last May meant different things to a lot of people, yet it meant one thing for all: the promise of an in-out European referendum by the end of 2017.

The IN and OUT campaigns have since started. What are the main arguments for staying in and opting out?


OUT: If Britain leaves the EU, a new trading relationship will be attempted to be negotiated with the potential 27 member organisation. This would primarily allow British firms to sell goods and services to EU countries without excessive tariffs and restrictions that could appear were we to leave. Britain could follow in the footsteps of one of three countries if a deal like this would come into place. The potential scenarios are:

  • The Norwegian Model: Britain would leave the EU but remain in the European Economic Area (EEA). This would give the UK access to the single market, with some exceptions, but freeing it from EU rules on agriculture, fisheries, justice and home affairs, providing more flexibility for the UK to have a larger influence on national policy making.
  • The Swiss Model: Britain would negotiate trade treaties on a sector-by-sector basis.
  • The Turkish Model: A customs union with the EU would allow access to the free market in manufactured goods but not financial services.

Other potential models include:

  • The UK could seek to negotiate a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU, similar to the Swiss model as highlighted above but with better access for financial services and more say over how rules and policies are implemented.
  • Britain could sever ties with the EU completely, favouring its position as a member of the World Trade Organisation as a basis for trade and economic prosperity. They would potentially look towards Middle Eastern and Far Eastern markets.

IN: The possibility of securing a deal with Europe after divorcing itself from it would be unrealistic, and could take years to secure, if at all, say the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign. The whole premise of the EU is the universality of its rules and policies, and therefore a ‘pick and mix’ policy that Britain would look to choose would not be preferable for the bloc. To add to this, Norway and Switzerland have to abide by many EU rules despite having no influence over how they are formed and have to pay to access the single market. A clean break from the EU would mean expensive tariffs and would still have to meet production standards, potentially harming British exports.


One of the biggest subjects of debate in the run-up to the election is the debate over whether an EU exit would signal a loss or gain of jobs is central to both pro-EU campaigners and Eurosceptics. Any speculation is, by its very nature, unpredictable.

OUT: Britain’s exit could spell a jobs boom as firms are freed from EU regulations. Small and medium-sized businesses that do not trade with the EU would benefit most from this. Eurosceptics argue that Britain would change and adapt quickly to a changing relationship with the EU. In a recent paper, the EU Jobs Myth, Eurosceptics argue that jobs are associated with trade, not political unity, and therefore if a deal were to be established, jobs would not be affected negatively, yet would more likely benefit from this.

IN: Global manufacturers could move to lower-cost EU countries at the detriment of millions of jobs. Britain’s large, foreign-owned car industry would be particularly at risk. Some argue that the UK’s attractiveness as a place to invest for the automobile industry is based largely on its influential position in the EU.

What would the impact be for workers, both for British citizens working in Europe and EU citizens working in Britain?

OUT: Similarly to the impact on jobs, it would become more difficult for EU citizens to move to the UK to work, though those already living in here are unlikely to be removed. Movement in and out of the country would be regulated solely by British law with no quotas enforced from Brussels.

IN: It would be hard for Britons to move abroad. UK citizens may have to apply for visas and those already living in other EU countries may face immigration rules, such as proving they could speak the language, in order to gain long-term residency.

What are the arguments surrounding immigration?

OUT: Anti-EU campaigners say that Britain would regain full control of its borders. UKIP have postulated the idea of a work-permit system, so that EU nationals would face the same visa restrictions as those from outside the EU. Population growth would be reduced from 298,000 a year to about 50,000, according to Nigel Farage. This would help ease pressure on the public sector, such as schools and hospitals, among others.

IN: Again, a special agreement between the EU and Britain would be hard to come by, and Britain might have to allow the free movement of EU migrants as a price of being allowed access to the free market. Immigration, pro-EU campaigners argue, has been beneficial for Britain’s economy and suggests the problem highlighted by groups like UKIP has been overstated. The economy, as it stands, relies on migrant labour and taxes paid by immigrants to fund public services.

How would the law-making process change?

OUT: Freedom from Brussels, claim the OUT campaigns. Westminster would reconnect with voters, and this would be good for British democracy.

IN: The benefits of EU laws far outweigh the drawbacks. British citizens benefit from social protection laws that the EU enforces, and therefore staying in is of paramount importance, according to the IN campaigns.


Britain’s position in the world post-referendum in 2017 could change dramatically. Should we leave, Britain’s transatlantic relationship would become increasingly strained according to pro-Europeans, and the USA as well as other allies want the UK to remain in the EU. On the flip side, Eurosceptics claim the UK would remain a key part of NATO and the UN whilst becoming a solitary, powerful global voice in its own right, rather than a “puppet” of Brussels.

The outcome of this referendum is potentially the most important decision the UK will have to make in recent times. The ensuing debate looks to capture public imagination. This will affect every corner of society and we, the people, have to decide what we want our country to look like in the future: examine the arguments and don’t make your decision lightly!

“The cross-party In campaign appeared less organised in its launch than the Out campaigns, and its leading figure Stuart Rose does not seem to fit the shoes of a charismatic individual required for a campaign of this scale.”

Check out Otto Ilveskero’s comment piece ‘Hokey Cokey here come the EU referendum campaigns’ here.

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