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Do we need a referendum on the EU?

4th July 2012

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David Cameron has refused a referendum over the issue of the EU, because he doesn’t believe an in/out referendum is what we want. Instead, he suggests that the future of the relationship needs to be decided after the instability has been resolved, as only then can we begin to assess future implications. Pressure is mounting from the Tories to promise a referendum after the next general election and public outcry is deafening.

Do we need a referendum? Yes. There’s no need to act hastily – the referendum doesn’t have to be tomorrow. I’m not signing us up to leaving the EU or suggesting separation is best – in fact, I agree with David. It would be rash to make any significant decisions. The time is too unsettled, the Eurozone is too turbulent, and none of us can predict accurately where the EU will be in the next five or ten years, possibly even less. But the relationship does need to be examined.

Obvious as it is to say, the EU isn’t doing so good. The security of the single currency is rocky and more than one member state is in serious debt, leaving those who criticise our membership quietly smug. Since our introduction in 1973 thousands have argued the EU is a drain on our funds and sovereignty. Particularly the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has attracted criticism, forcing us to "go through hoops to get rid of illegal immigrants".

So leaving the EU would be an easy, free ride? Not quite. England does benefit from the production of China, yet more than half of UK imports come from our 26 EU partners. If the currency collapsed and the markets inevitably spiralled down we would feel the effects, although financial experts say it wouldn’t be as significant as the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. We could be forced to pay import tariffs, taxes on UK airlines (say goodbye to cheap clubbing holidays!), raised prices on our usual European goods (Champagne, French cheese and Spanish meats for example) and it is even possible that losing the badge of the EU would impact on us politically.

Let’s forget EU membership, that isn’t the question. We are concerned with whether we should have a referendum. There are dangers; it could cast uncertainty over our trading links, but it is what a large proportion of what the public want. No firm decisions should be made through this time of turbulence, and we should see how the problems develop. But, sooner or later, the relationship needs to be in the spotlight and whilst David attempts to evade this, sooner or later he won’t be able to.

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