Posted by Suzanne O'Connell

The 23rd June might be a little distant from now but it’s likely that we’ll hear nothing else but the referendum until then. We knew it was coming as David Cameron had made it one of his election pledges. However, the early date still came as something of a surprise to many.

It’s an emotive issue, much of which has been fuelled by the media and concerns about immigration and unnecessary bureaucracy. The pro Europe vote, referring to the benefits of a single market, has been lost for many amongst the images of Britain stormed by illegal immigrants and small businesses beleaguered by red tape.

This is a shame. Our position in Europe deserves more than being decided on by media hype and scaremongering. Nor should it be led by key characters taking sides in a bid to sway the population.  

Boris Johnson has really thrown a spanner in the works. His decision to come out in favour of Brexit not only hit the stock market but also Cameron’s long term prospect of staying as PM. Cameron has not pulled the punches on this one either. He has made it clear that he is unhappy with Boris’ decision.

The suspicion is that Boris’ coming out as a Leaver is part of a broader campaign to head the Conservative party. It shouldn’t be underestimated how many hard line Conservatives there are still who are to the right of the party and who have, to some extent, been held back by David Cameron. Boris Johnson speaks for them.

In the meantime, for those of us who either live in another European country or have property there, these are tense times. It is likely that the most extreme headlines, such as those put out recently by David Lidington, are to frighten the electorate into a yes or no vote.

Don’t panic yet. We should remember, that there are millions of foreigners from other parts of the world than the European Community, living happily in Spain and its neighbouring countries. It is not impossible and it is unlikely that we will see a sudden slamming down of the shutters on those who wish to enter the country.

What we are likely to see, however, is a continued turbulent time for sterling and forums filled with speculation when no one really knows at the moment exactly what the implications would be. What’s perhaps missing is a balanced debate of the real pros and cons. This article doesn’t pretend to be that but does aim to highlight some points to consider as well as presenting the author’s own view.

 

For Brexit

People argue that it is a bureaucratic burden that we just don’t need. There are plenty of examples of other countries that are not in the EU who do not seem to suffer as a result. Neither Norway or Switzerland are in the EU but their citizens are still able to travel to other places.

It is argued that trade deals would be easier if they could be organised directly between two countries rather than with the EU and the need to consider the interests of the 28 states. ‘Leavers’ claim that legislation designed to support a producer or manufacturer in one country can be against the interests of producers in another country. Being out of the EU would mean a single focus on the interests of the businesses in the UK rather than capitulating to others.

Being in charge of its own rules and regulations is a key factor in the pro Brexit lobby. In theory, if Britain leaves it will be in a position to rescind the EU laws it doesn’t like and not adopt any more in future. What’s not clear is which of the current laws it would want to shed and who would actually benefit from doing this. The perception of the EU as ‘interfering’ in life rather than adding to it, is a prevalent one in the Brexit camp.

Many people see the EU as being a drain on resources at a time when countries can least afford it. Britain contributes financially and there is concern that it does not receive back as much as it contributes into the pot. The position of Britain as being within the EU but not having adopted the euro is an awkward one and some feel that the needs of sterling tend to be overlooked. 

The EU itself is changing and is perhaps not the force it was once regarded as. Therefore making a decision to leave the keeling, if not sinking, ship will act in British interests. No longer being a member of the EU will open up other trading opportunities that have perhaps been difficult to seal before.

 

Against Brexit

Much media attention has been given to the red tape of the EU. However, what receives less publicity are the number of safeguards that the EU has introduced. It represents another authority that people can appeal to when their rights are ignored in their own country.

Governments, even democratically elected ones, can get carried away with their own policy if they have a clear majority. The EU has taken seriously human rights and the protection of civil liberties and will check ruling political parties where these appear to be undermined.  

We don’t know the fine detail about how our movement will be restricted in and out of other member states or what new entrants to the country will need. There has been lots of discussion about the cost of flights, a reduction in benefits and increasing hurdles to free movement. Whatever changes there are, movement is likely to be more difficult for those living in another member state or who have business interests that straddle the two.

It’s also what a ‘leave’ represents. As much as anything it’s the mood and attitude that it demonstrates that might make life more difficult for those of us with interests in another EU country. If our neighbours had any doubts before about the disinterest that the British have in integration, it is well and truly confirmed now.

This may be unfair, but we will be portrayed as a self-interested country who is unlikely to be invited to many parties now or in the future. Perhaps this is what ‘Leavers’ want? The balance between being independent and able to make your own decisions and being a team player is a fine one.

In Spain we can see the anxiety created by the Catalan bid for independence. In what way is this different to Britain wanting to go it alone from its European neighbours? Might not the same argument be used for an independent Scotland or even Yorkshire? Where we see the boundaries is largely one of perception.

 

Use your vote

As a British person living in Spain this is the only time I intend to use my UK vote. This makes me somewhat disenfranchised. I was unable to vote in the Spanish general election, in spite of being resident and paying all my taxes here.

However, this is one time I will take up the opportunity to vote for the laws in a country I no longer inhabit. I don’t believe that my situation in Spain will be significantly challenged. With all the necessary paper work to make me a resident, both fiscal and civil, I feel quite confident in my place here.

However, I do want to show my true colours in believing that we have more to gain from working together than apart. This is the same decision I would make if I was still a resident in the UK. As an immigrant myself I feel the difficulties and potential for hypocrisy in discussing immigration. I believe that the EU has afforded protection for some of the most vulnerable and on balance this is worth voting for too.

It’s a lonely road that the British public are considering. Short term there will probably be no great revelation of what the medium or long term consequences will be. Being part of the EU has never been an easy ride for Britain but by going it alone it faces uncertainty both in terms of its own arrangements and the reactions of others. Whichever way you vote, it’s important to register your view and be counted in this momentous decision. 

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