It’s the great political hokey cokey, the EU. In, out, in out? You know how it goes.

The EU flag

So in order to calm continuing unrest over the EU question, David Cameron recently promised that if the Tories win the next general election, we’ll get a referendum on a “re-negotiated settlement” in 2017. This basically means he’s going to try and convince the rest of Europe that the UK deserves special treatment on certain aspects of its relationship with the union, and then we’ll get to vote on whether we like the deal. But for many, this is seemingly not enough.

In the past three weeks, we’ve seen Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party win one in every four votes in local council elections across England. This was followed up by former chancellor and Conservative heavyweight Lord Lawson writing in The Times that he would vote to leave the EU in a 2017 referendum. He described the union as a “bureaucratic monstrosity”, before adding that the economic gains of an exit would outweigh any potential costs. And then last week, Cameron and his Conservatives upped the stakes again by publishing a draft bill setting out how they would deliver a 2017 referendum. 

I read all this stuff and I know there’s a huge debate going on, but I don’t always appreciate the two sides of the argument. In the words of The Clash (and later, rather brilliantly, Gavin and Stacey’s Nessa) should we stay or should we go now? To b-EU or not to b-EU? So here I present to you, an idiot’s guide to the EU Hokey Cokey Debate…

In: Why we should stay

1. Being part of the 27-member-state EU (a United States of Europe, as some refer to it) gives us real clout on the world political stage. We are stronger together, or so the argument goes, and leaving the union would risk reducing our influence and isolating ourselves from the rest the world on global issues like climate change and trade. Leaving would also mean we had no influence over legislation which could still impact on us.

2. One of the most hotly contested aspects of the in-or-out debate is the cost of the EU. Those who advocate us sticking with the union point out that the UK put around £8.9 billion into the EU last year – just 1% of our GDP, and a small price to pay when compared with the benefits of being in the single market. Plus, since 1973 we’ve got back more than half the money we’ve put in.

3. There have been warnings that millions of jobs could be lost if we left the European Union, as businesses look to move to cheaper countries elsewhere. 3.5 million UK jobs depend on exports to the EU, and many are concerned that an exit could place these in jeopardy.

4. We need to stay to protect our financial services industries, or so say the pro-European-ers. Companies dealing with the Eurozone could desert the City, taking their money and tax revenues with them.

5. Being part of the EU allows us to benefit from protections such as European employment law, and some argue that the influence of union legislation is vastly exaggerated, with as few as 15% of our laws coming from the EU. When it comes to immigration, again there are accusations of scaremongering. EU passport holders account for less than 2% of our welfare bill, and perhaps more importantly people who come here from the EU to work make a huge contribution to our economy, bringing important skills and paying taxes.

Out: Why we should go

1. At a time of punishing financial austerity, being a member of the EU is a huge financial burden, say Eurosceptics. Our net contribution the the EU – or “membership fee” – is around £8 billion a year and leaving could save £32 million a day.

2. On top of this, one of the main themes in Lord Lawson’s argument last week was that leaving the EU was essential to ensure the health of our financial services industry. He argued that while events of the last few years undoubtedly exposed a “cultural decadence” that needs to be reigned in, regulation from the EU risks stifling a vital sector in our economy in a dangerous manner. Add to this the UK’s continuing isolation from the troubled Eurozone bloc and the case for exit is clear, or so says Lord Lawson.

3. Those who think we should exit the EU also argue that its political importance is vastly overestimated. The world has changed since the EU was formed, they say, and the outlook should now be far more global. Plus, the UK would still be part of the UN Security Council and NATO, giving us important platforms of influence.

4. The global outlook argument has also been used to dismiss fears about the negative effect exiting the EU could have on jobs and trade. The greatest export opportunities today are in the developing world, Eurosceptics say, and SMEs (small and medium sized businesses) would be freed from restrictive European legislation. Far from jobs being lost, millions could be created.

5. When it comes to soveriegnity, leaving the EU would once again give us control over our own legislation, although we would still be bound by the European Court of Human Rights. There is also the highly contentious issue of immigration – leaving the EU would allow the UK to regain control of its borders, and many say reduce the added burden on our welfare bill.

So, made up your mind? Nope, me neither. But the next five years will be crucial in this debate, and you’ve got to start somewhere. Watch this space.

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