Why those in favor of ‘Brexit’ believe it will benefit the United Kingdom
On Thursday, Britain voted to leave the EU – an option dubbed "Brexit."
Although the "leave" campaign has often focused on emotional arguments about immigration, there are in fact many reasons those in favor of leaving believe it will benefit the U.K. Here are some of the most significant.
Argument 1: The EU threatens British sovereignty
This is probably the most common argument among intellectual-minded people on the British right, expressed by Conservative politicians such as former London Mayor Boris Johnson and Justice Minister Michael Gove.
Over the past few decades, a series of EU treaties have shifted a growing amount of power from individual member states to the central EU bureaucracy in Brussels. On subjects where the EU has been granted authority — like competition policy, agriculture, and copyright and patent law — EU rules override national laws.
Euroskeptics emphasize that the EU’s executive branch, called the European Commission, isn’t directly accountable to voters in Britain or anyone else. British leaders have some influence on the selection of the European Commission’s members every five years. But once the body has been chosen, none of its members are accountable to the British government or to Britons’ elected representatives in the European Parliament.
Argument 2: The EU is strangling the U.K. in burdensome regulations
Critics say the EU’s regulations have become increasingly onerous:
Sometimes these EU rules sound simply ludicrous, like the rule that you can’t recycle a teabag, or that children under eight cannot blow up balloons, or the limits on the power of vacuum cleaners. Sometimes they can be truly infuriating – like the time I discovered, in 2013, that there was nothing we could do to bring in better-designed cab windows for trucks, to stop cyclists being crushed. It had to be done at a European level.
Many British conservatives look at the European bureaucracy in Brussels the same way American conservatives view the Washington bureaucracy. People have that EU regulations cost the British economy "£600 million every week" ($880 million).
Argument 3: The EU was a good idea, but the euro is a disaster
The United Kingdom has had a significant faction of euroskeptics ever since it joined the EU in 1973. But until recently, this was a minority position.
"There are nearly 130 Conservative MPs who have declared for leaving the EU. If you went back 10 years, you would have struggled to find more than 20 who even in private would have supported leaving the EU."
So what changed their minds? The global recession that began in 2008 was bad around the world, but it was much worse in countries that had adopted Europe’s common currency, the euro. The unemployment rate shot up above 20 percent in countries like Greece and Spain, triggering a massive debt crisis. Seven years after the recession began, Spain and Greece are still suffering from unemployment rates above 20 percent, and many economists believe the euro was the primary culprit.
Luckily, the U.K. chose not to join the common currency, so there’s little danger of the euro directly cratering the British economy. But the euro’s dismal performance still provides extra ammunition to Brexit supporters.
Argument 4: The EU allows too many immigrants
British people have increasingly felt the impact of this rule since the 2008 financial crisis.
The U.K. absorbed 333,000 new people, on net, in 2015. That’s a significant number for a country Britain’s size, though according to the CIA the U.K. still received slightly fewer net migrants, relative to population, than the United States in 2015.
Immigration has become a highly politicized issue in Britain, as it has in the United States and many other places over the past few years. Anti-immigration campaigners like Nigel Farage, the leader of the far-right U.K. Independence Party, have argued that the flood of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe has depressed the wages of native-born British workers. Some voters are also concerned about immigrants using scarce public services.
Argument 5: The U.K. could keep the money it currently sends to the EU
The EU doesn’t have the power to directly collect taxes, but it requires member states to make an annual contribution to the central EU budget. Currently, the U.K.’s contribution is worth about £13 billion ($19 billion) per year, which is about $300 per person in the U.K. ("Leave" supporters have been citing a larger figure, but that figure ignores a rebate that’s automatically subtracted from the U.K.’s contribution.)
While much of this money is spent on services in the U.K., Brexit supporters still argue that it would be better for the U.K. to simply keep the money and have Parliament decide how to spend it.