The question of whether Britain will survive without the European Union has become a major issue of contention within British politics, culminating in the rise of anti-migrant sentiments in Britain, as well as an international concern for the stability of Europe.
This year’s Queens’ Speech for the opening of Parliament has become a symbol for what is a very tumultuous time in British politics. The issue of tightening immigration laws has become the major point of conflict for the Conservative and Labour Parties and ultimately, an issue that has caused concern amongst EU member states regarding Britain’s restless EU membership. On the 14th of May, Conservative MPs tried to force an EU membership Referendum amendment in Parliament. Whether it succeeds or not, the linking of Britain’s internal struggles with that of the EU must be framed delicately to ensure Britain maintains and increase the flow of foreign investment and stimulus.
Is immigration the context or the problem?
Immigration has always been a topic of contention in Britain and unemployment has also been pinned to the influx of migrant workers. The truth is that migrants from the 2004 labour inflow (mainly from Poland) paid at least 37% more in taxes between 2004 and 2009 in proportion to the government services they receive, as pointed out by Business of New Europe amongst other “realities” regarding migrants in the UK. Essentially, there’s a strong argument for the positive contributions foreign investment has had for Britain and it shows that myths related to migrant workers in Britain, pandered to by certain parties, are used for political ends other than for an immediate solution to mass unemployment.
Under the pretext of fighting abuse of the National Health System and government welfare, and stopping illegal movement and residence of migrant workers, the elusive Referendum regarding Britain’s affiliation with Europe stands as an example of what has become a very radical Conservative agenda. The fact that the Queen’s Speech and David Cameron, for that matter, did not choose to address the Referendum as promised or address economic reform, which worked against Cameron’s formula of pushing for a tempered EU relationship, promotes the image of an indecisive, lacking Party that wants to “have its cake and eat it too” : a sentiment that appears conducive to further instability and that overshadows Britain’s need for macro-growth.
The popular Radical Right
The United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP), considered to be quite radical, right wing and dubbed “anti-migrant” by Cameron,surprised Parliament by gaining 14% of the votes in local elections, while the Conservatives’ popularity drastically dropped, as they secured a mere 30% of the seats. UKIP has caused wide ripples in British politics given that it is a ‘protest party’ and radically right wing. Recent polls and several public endorsements later, UKIP has indeed influenced many Conservative MP votes towards an anti-EU perspective, away from Cameron’s goals of global interconnectedness.
Should there be a Referendum?
Most Conservatives are turning Eurosceptic because they claim that affiliation with Europe is an unnecessary outflow of money that could be used to stimulate the British economy. However, given that Cameron has continued George Osborne’s 2011 plan for growth which includes making the UK a hub of private investment and business start-ups, encourage investment, decrease imports and increase the level of education amongst students and the workforce, remaining Pro-European could be conducive to attaining such stimuli.
Pro-Europeans and Eurosceptics have one thing in common: they are both promoting their stances on immigration based on extreme perceptions of immigration. Eurosceptics (UKIP and Conservative converts) are winning in popularity polls because they are utilizing the appeal of over-simplified solutions, which is helping build their public clout, but not their political validation. By drawing distinct lines from the EU membership directly to the problem of unemployment in the UK, they spread the belief that Britain can survive without the EU – a belief that becomes rooted in short-term reprieves rather than in long-term strategies for growth.
On the other hand, Cameron and other Pro-Europeans are focused on macroeconomic goals, which are not as clearly linked to more practical unemployment issues, and are therefore rejected by the British public. One thing is for sure, the issue clearly has a distinct economic subtext beyond the lack of jobs which is not being conveyed to the public, and whilst David Cameron is one-armedly trying to push his gospel of Pro-European logic, this unclear situation is what opens the door to the rise of radical protest parties like UKIP.
Given that Cameron is having a hard time maintaining solidarity amongst the Conservatives, one wonders how the chips will fall in 5 to 7 years time when the Referendum on EU membership does actually make it to the table. The question that should be addressed within the next decade is if Britain can survive without Europe. For Cameron, it is possible to “reform the EU”; may we dare ask what will happen once the British public realizes that the restrictions on migrant-workers do not ease the burden of 1.1858 trillion pounds net public debt any more than they appease nation-wide unemployment?
Featured photo: The Prime Minister’s Office, Creative Commons, Flickr