The following article was written by Madeline Jeffery: a Lower Sixth Form Student at Hutton Grammar School. Madeline successfully entered this article into a regional M.E.P competition where she won first prize to visit the European Parliament.
What is Britain’s place in Europe?
Britain’s place in Europe is changing massively; with the Brexit negotiations underway many people are asking what is Britain’s place in Europe going to be like after we leave? The European Union has arguably opened up a plethora of opportunities for the United Kingdom to grow and develop strong international bonds that have been beneficial to those not just within the UK but for people all throughout Europe. The European Union is a perfect example of how countries with bitter and aggressive pasts can come together with the hopes to build a more secure future for all, not just those within a single country’s border. The European Union was founded in 1957, just 12 years after the end of World War 2, and since then, Europe has become a far more prosperous and peaceful place that is continually leading world economically and socially. However, many British people want change – what this change will be, we have yet to find out.
As a result of the malicious Brexit campaign, in Britain, there is an ever increasing hatred surrounding the concept of immigration. There have been many times when I have heard the sayings ‘they’re stealing our jobs’ or ‘they’re ruining the NHS’ in relation to immigration to Britain from Europe. According to analysis by Professor Christian Dustmann and Dr Tommaso Frattini, between the years 2001-2011, European immigrants have brought ‘more than £20bn to UK public finances’. European immigrants continue to support this country economically and it is undeniable that EU workers have provided a strong and reliable workforce in a variety of different areas such as in agriculture or in the National Health Service.
In the NHS, according to Full Fact, around 5% of NHS staff in England are from elsewhere in the EU. Not only that, Full Fact also state that 10% of registered doctors in the UK are from elsewhere in the EU. Nigel Farage was famously quoted saying that only “people who do not have HIV” should be allowed to migrate to the UK therefore instilling the idea that EU migrants are draining the NHS and even going so far as to suggest that the rest of Europe is plagued by a HIV crisis. As mentioned previously, popular opinion suggests that EU migrants are ruining the NHS; however due to the overwhelming statistics, showing the amount of contribution they provide to the NHS, I would argue that without them, the NHS itself and the health of people within this country would suffer greatly.
Despite the fact that emigration from the UK to other parts of the EU was hardly mentioned during the Brexit referendum debates, the UK greatly benefits from the EU’s freedom of movement policy.
Once again using statistics from Full Fact in 2015, it is estimated that 1.2 million people originally from the UK are living in other parts of the EU. Freedom of movement opens up countless career opportunities for Britons who want to live and work in other parts of the world. As well as career opportunities, students are able to study in other EU countries for cheaper the cost than if we were out of the EU as shown through the Erasmus Programme. This allows students to experience new cultural experiences and learn new life skills that will last a lifetime. The ability to study in other parts of Europe lead to a more culturally diverse society and a greater understanding of other cultures that will benefit Europe’s ability to work with cohesion.
Through collaboration, the EU is working to solve some of the greatest problems currently facing people in and out of the EU, an example of this being the Refugee Crisis. The EU has worked together to try and help those fleeing from persecution or war-torn countries such as Syria. The EU Common European Asylum System completed in 2005 enforces a fair and effective decision-making process when accepting asylum seekers. I would like to say that Britain has followed this fair and effective decision making process laid out by the EU, however that isn’t the case. According to the Refugee Council, in Britain 13,230 asylum seekers were held in detention centres in 2016. The UK has some of the harshest policies in Western Europe regarding the treatment of asylum seekers. This shows the EU’s waning influence over the UK and similarly, the amount of British influence over the EU.
Arguably, Britain has never been fully invested in the European Union; the UK rejected joining the Eurozone, it is increasingly hostile to European immigration and even after joining the EU in 1973, a referendum had to be held in 1975 after renegotiating its entry terms. This could be proof that Britain has always been a Euro-sceptic nation. Britain is geographically distant which could also represent our cultural distance. British Euro-skepticism has been equally matched by a growing distaste of stereotypical British attitudes in mainland Europe (the recent Eurovision results are enough proof of this). In Sweden, a very pro-EU country, 86% of the population speak English as a second language. Britain has taken quite an ignorant attitude towards learning other European languages as only 39% of people are able to speak a second language confidently (myself included in that percentage). As well as Britain’s ignorance towards languages, comments from certain MEP’s representing the UK continue to disgrace Britain’s image in the European Parliament. Nigel Farage is a perfect example as he was quoted saying to the European Parliament “most of you have never done a proper job” and claiming that the EU was “in denial”.
Whether you’re a ‘Remainer’ or a ‘Brexiteer’, the future for Britain seems uncertain – there is no clear direction for the UK and many important factors such as restrictions on immigration, trade and the cost of the ‘divorce bill’ seem to be up in the air. Does anyone honestly know what is going on? As of November 2017, the Brexit divorce bill (according to the Financial Times) will be between €91 billion and €113bn. We all remember the Leave campaign battle bus with ‘We send the EU £350 million a week’ smeared across the side with that £350 million promised to the NHS. However, if we rely so heavily upon immigration for our NHS workforce, without them , what NHS will we have to fund? That £350 million a week goes towards helping some of the most vulnerable people across Europe, building new community projects and supporting industries such as agriculture. The Remainers across the country have been left wondering what that pricey divorce bill will actually do to benefit the UK. The Leave campaign was built upon putting Britain first however I can’t see how this massively expensive bill (or Brexit as a whole) is putting Britain first at all.
Many people are confused and frightened about what the future holds for Britain’s relationship with Europe. The fear that the UK must become a capitalist tax haven for businesses to survive in an ever globalising world is looming over many. Isolation is never the way forward as we have seen throughout all of history; I do not want an iron curtain between us and the rest of Europe. Europe is ever changing and the UK must change with it, not close ourselves of from our closest friends.
However, all we can do is speculate what this new Britain will be; It’s safe to say that until the end of March 2019, Britain’s Place in Europe will remain a mystery. Will the new Britain be open to working with Europe outside of the EU or will Britain become an inward looking capitalist hermit-kingdom? Until we find out, lets just hope for the best and don’t forget, if our relationship with Europe crumbles, the UK can always take President Trump up on his offer of a ‘very big and exciting’ trade deal.