Brexit: What’s At Stake for the Causes You Care About?

Brexit– the vote to determine whether or not Britain will exit the European Union –is currently gripping much of the country’s political talk, but how will it impact important causes?

British citizens will head to the polls Thursday, June 23. On the surface the vote seems like a fairly straightforward question: Do the British people, several years on from the last time they were asked this question, feel that they are better staying in the EU or leaving?

However, this question has quickly been co-opted by a Conservative leadership struggle, broader anti-immigration agendas, as well as more neutral questions like whether the EU is truly the best place to advance liberal and social equality while maintaining and advancing economic growth?

The video below does a good job of presenting the basic questions facing the British people as they prepare to cast their votes:

Now we’ll take a closer look at the causes Care2 readers care about and some of the questions Brexit raises. The following is designed to give a snapshot of how far-reaching this EU vote might be — but as it will quickly become clear, at this point there are no concrete answers. For a short summary, scroll down to the bottom for the 6-sentence explainer version.

Politics

A precedent is set. No other country has ever left the EU, even though Greece seriously considered it. It’s unlikely that the UK leaving would have a direct impact on the solidity of the EU in the short term, but the vote to leave may set a course for other countries to consider their own future in the EU.

Scottish and Welsh independence becomes a pressing question. Scotland’s government wants to remain in the EU. If the UK does vote to leave, Scotland will likely call for another independence vote to further separate itself from English rule. If it can achieve that, it could then negotiate an EU relationship of its own.

Welsh ministers have also indicated their desire to remain in the EU. The Welsh government has devolved and so has some autonomy from Westminster. Some Welsh MPs have suggested they would retain ties with Europe, but how much of that relationship could be preserved without further devolution is an open question.

UK leadership contest? The UK’s current Prime Minister, David Cameron, backs the Remain campaign. One of the more sizable personalities in the Tory party is former Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Johnson backs the Leave campaign. Johnson is also highlighted as one of several contenders for the Conservative Party leadership should the UK vote Leave. In that case, it is widely anticipated that Conservative backbenchers would ask for a conservative leadership race, which could mean a change in direction for the Conservative government to a more right-of-center standing.

Economy

A main area of debate is whether the UK pays too much to the EU and whether it gets value for that money.

Both campaigns have been guilty of cherry picking statistics on various things like rebates, overall EU spending, and how it all impacts the UK’s economic forecast. Tied to this is the next question:

The UK economy and Brexit: Growth or recession? We have the Chancellor George Osborne accused of scaremongering over his dire economic predictions if Brexit does happen, while the Leave campaign has been slammed for making a British exit seem like a guaranteed boost to trade and growth.

The fact is, because no other country has ever left the EU, we have no way to know for certain what will happen. All we can do is build projections based on known factors.

Below is a video by respected financial guru Martin Lewis. While Lewis has made no secret of the fact he feels remaining in the EU is, on balance, better for the UK, this video attempts to present consumers with the facts about the possible implications of Brexit and what that might mean for the economy.

Human Rights

The immigration question. Suffice it to say, there has been a lot of xenophobia and flat-out racism underpinning elements of the Leave campaign. However, underneath that there are serious questions like how many migrant*, immigrant, and refugee claimants should the UK accept.

The Leave campaign is suggesting the UK is at capacity and that immigration is too high. It also argues that a vote to leave would “secure” British borders and reduce terrorism threats. These ideas are disputed, certainly where claims have been made about the UK taking more than its fair share of refugees, which is simply not true.

The Leave campaign has hit back that the UK government’s own figures on reducing migration (whether morally right or wrong) cannot be achieved under the current framework.

The Remain campaign highlights that many of the UK’s employment sectors, such as the NHS, rely on people who were born overseas. It is unclear how this kind of talent sourcing would be impacted if the UK left the EU.

Closely linked to this issue is an appetite in the Conservative government to tighten visa restrictions by, among other things, applying a point based immigration system to all migrants, something that would likely be difficult if the UK remains in the EU. Brexit supporters suggest this would ensure that talent would still be able to enter the UK but would keep overall migrant numbers lower.

Restructuring the UK’s human rights laws. Conservative MPs have also been clear they want greater autonomy to deport foreign-born citizens, which would require withdrawing from European human rights frameworks and a wholesale reshuffling of current UK law. Michael Gove of the Leave campaign also wants to replace the current Human Rights Act and replace it with a written Bill of Rights, something of which disability charities and amnesty groups are wary.

Conservatives also want to restrict long-term prisoners’ voting rights, and greater powers to assess government assistance free from European laws.

Leaving the EU wouldn’t achieve those goals directly because the UK would still be answerable to the separate agreement on human rights laws known as the European Convention on Human Rights, but some conservative lawmakers have said they want to withdraw from the ECHR too. So, while a vote for Brexit does not directly affect how the UK will deal with human rights laws, it certainly would represent a significant step to dismantling the current frameworks governing the UK.

Health

Brexit and the NHS. The major question for people concerned about the UK’s health sector is how Brexit will impact the NHS.

The Leave campaign says that, free from EU payments, Brexit will “free up cash” to the tune of billions of pounds for the NHS and revitalize this ailing British institution. This is heavily tied to Britain seeing a boost in its economic growth post Brexit, which the Leave campaign argues will happen due to the potential for wider trade agreements.

The Remain campaign argues the exact opposite. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pointed out that those backing the Leave campaign, for example MP Michael Gove and Conservative Boris Johnson, have previously shown an appetite to privatize and dismantle the NHS. Corbyn says they are gambling on a positive economic forecast that isn’t just uncertain, but one that projections show is very unlikely at least in the short-term.

Leave campaigners have hit back saying that they could protect NHS spending whatever the outcome, meaning that any short-term economic problems would not impact the NHS. How feasible that is cannot be gauged at this time but critics remains skeptical.

Environment

Common fisheries policy and agriculture. A key area of debate is how Europe treats the fishing industry and how leaving would impact current fishing policy.

The EU sets up stringent fishing quotas both to manage fish stocks and to protect marine environments. Some in the fishing industry argue that these quotas impact their livelihood and ultimately are making fishing as a way of life unsustainable. Leave campaigners argue that Brexit would allow the UK to put its fishing industry first and negotiate better deals.

However, and something that is true for all farming and agriculture, it’s undeniable that the UK will still have to deal with the EU. Remain campaigners say that leaving would ultimately mean the UK would not be able to change European policy but would still be subject to many of its restrictions. In addition to that, the UK is afforded by the EU a bigger area of fishing landscape than the waters it actually controls. If Brexit goes ahead the UK would have to renegotiate fishing territories and there’s no guarantee of getting a better deal.

Energy. Brexit supporters say that a vote to Leave could arguably be good for green energy but that’s on the provision that domestic and international investment increases due to the lack of European restrictions.

However, as with the economic forecast, that’s based on a scenario where trade is plentiful and the UK’s economy grows. Those opposed to leaving suggest that it is far more likely that austerity will continue and the government’s current cuts in green energy investment will tighten. They also argue this will lead to quick fixes like more fracking due to fewer EU restrictions.

Environmental Politics. Love it or loath it, the EU has a slow and methodical process for evaluating environmental impact, whether it be from forming policy on endocrine disrupting products to broader energy initiatives. The system is by no means perfect and often results in watered down but usually conservative restrictions that err on the side of caution.

Should Britain leave the EU it would be free to make many of its own environmental policies. On the one hand, if there is an environmentally progressive government in charge that could be good. The UK would be able to move much more quickly to ban substances it feels are harmful to the environment or to boost a project it feels could benefit wildlife, and it would not have to wait the sometimes years it takes for a consensus to emerge in the Union.

However, the current UK government is not such a progressive government. It has rejected science surrounding things like neonicotinoids and how they impact pollinators, has slashed renewable energy and has lobbied hard against wildlife protection policies. A government free of EU restrictions would have broader powers to do more of the same. Ultimately, this question is again about whether a European check on UK powers is working, whether it is democratically fair, and ultimately desirable.

Whatever the vote come the close of polling day on Thursday the UK’s relationship with the EU will have changed. A vote to remain does not necessarily mean more of the same EU regulation. At the same time, a vote to leave does not necessarily mean an end to the EU relationship. What both sides in this debate have stressed however is that this is one of the most important political questions facing UK voters, and one that will have an impact for decades to come. As such, voting is crucial to ensure that the outcome is truly representative of how the UK feels about the EU.

In Summary 

In short, there are many unknowns since this would be an unprecedented move. Many economists suggest it is much riskier to leave the EU than remain. From a human rights perspective, a Brexit could potentially lead to dismantling human rights protections. It would tighten Britain’s borders from migrants and possibly lead to a smaller labor and talent pool available for positions in the NHS and other businesses. Breaking off from the EU could speed up positive initiatives such as green energy, but it could also dismantle regulations and lead the way to more environmentally hazardous activities, such as fracking. If Britain chooses to leave the EU, it is possible that Scotland and Wales could move toward independence from the U.K.

*For clarity the term “migrant” is used because, whether rightly or wrongly, it is employed by the UK government as a separate term from refugee.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

50 comments

Philippa Powers
Philippa Powers2 years ago

Thanks.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Kate R.
Past Member 2 years ago

Now we have to live with the consequences of a pretty evenly split vote... this is the sort of thing that causes civil wars.

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Miss D.
Shari F2 years ago

HI Derek, I was agreeing with your post until I got to the bit about 'this is why most of them want Britain to Remain' - I literally thought you were talking about Boris Johnson et al and putting forward an argument to Remain! Regarding attending events on Remembrance Day, I was reading just now about a gentleman who had fought in WW2 and was saying that Europe and the peace that we have had since the end of WW2 is the best thing that has happened in his lifetime and he'll be voting to Remain for that reason.


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Miss D.
Shari F2 years ago

Hi Wendy - yes I do flag them, just venting as it seems to have increased massively just recently.

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Derek Nash
Derek N2 years ago

Irrespective of the many and varied reasons for leaving the EU, one inescapable fact is always there. Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel effectively control the EU, a fact never disputed by the 'Remain' camp. Britain fought two world wars sacrificing literally millions of lives not just soldiers but innocent women and children, to prevent this German domination of Europe from happening. ANYONE who votes for Britain to stay in the EU has no moral right to attend any memorial service or parade on Remembrance Day. To do so would be hypocritical and a kick in the face to every single life sacrificed (and their families) during those dark years of conflict.

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Derek Nash
Derek N2 years ago

Unlike Winston Churchill, today's politicians do not care about the general welfare of this country, they only care about themselves and what they can get out of the political system in the way of taxpayer-funded rich pensions, perks, extravagant expenses and golden handshakes etc. etc., ultimately becoming multi-millionaires on the political and EU gravy trains similar to the Blairs and Kinnocks. Today's politicians do not care one iota about the general public and average taxpayer and this is why most of them want Britain to remain in the EU - to be able to fleece the system of everything they can.

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Miss D.
Shari F2 years ago

Susie Reynolds: ‘From the point of view of someone who loves animals and abhors cruelty, do I like it that the EU bureaucrats can take my taxes and decide to use the money to subsidise farmers in Spain, for example, who rear bulls for bullfighting?’ Susie, from the point of view of someone who loves animals and abhors cruelty, I am very grateful for all of the European laws that have been enacted to protect animals and reduce cruelty, namely, banning animal experimentation for cosmetics, banning gestation crates, reduction of oceanic noise, the Habitats Directives which protect our wildlife and wild places, laws protecting our beaches and laws to make governments recycle waste and reduce landfill – all of which helps the environment. All of this will have to be fought for over again if Britain leaves the EU and I very much doubt that the British people will get the same animal and environmental protections from a British government, especially a Conservative one, as we have right now in the EU.

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Ricky T.
Ricky T2 years ago

I understand the some cases for 'Lexit', people on the Left case for Britain leaving the European Union...however, they won't account for victory because it's be the Tory Brexiteers & of-course UKIP who will declare this victory their own and for their reasoning!

I believe we should stay in...the EU, eventually convinced me they were deserved of the Nobel prize for peace a few years back. A WW2 veteran recently said: "I saw this continent reduced to rubble...I now see it as the most stable part of the World, thanks to the EU"...

Sure the EU isn't perfect, there is a lot of red tape which frustrates many people. But we rely on EU for trade, workers rights, rights to justice, fighting climate change, consumer laws, business & job security...this is why I voted for us to #Remain.

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william Miller
william Miller2 years ago

they need to brake away and show the world what being strong is all about

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