Terrorism

Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union?: Challenging Eurosceptics on the British economy

On 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom will vote to decide whether the country is to remain or leave the European Union. For the first time in a generation, the general public will have the opportunity to formally declare their position on the U.K.’s membership in the EU, a declaration that could potentially transform not only the country’s political, social and economic landscape, but the landscape of its European and international neighbours. In the lead up to the EU referendum, the main political parties have announced their allegiances to the opposing campaigns, which have either defended the U.K.’s commitment to the EU, or have argued for the country’s abandonment of the European politico-economic project. Within the Conservative Party, the EU referendum has reignited the historic divisions concerning the U.K.’s membership, creating a schism among the Tory leadership.

It is true that both the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaign groups have displayed instances of unsavoury scaremongering to encourage support for their respective causes. However, the fear-inciting tactics used in the defence of Brexit are in my view particularly concerning. Proponents of the Leave campaign, such as Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, have used the EU referendum to propagate misconceptions regarding the ailing state of the British economy, and promote an aura of hate towards immigrants across the country. The vile effect of the claims made by the ‘Out’ campaign have been exemplified by the brutal murder of Jo Cox MP by far-right activist Thomas Mair, who had previously links to neo-Nazi and pro-Aparthied organisations. But are ‘Brexiters’ correct in suggesting that the U.K. will be able to  improve the economy and control immigration if the country leaves the EU?

One of the central arguments advanced by the ‘Out’ campaign is that a Brexit would allow the U.K. to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries independent of existing EU trade agreements. There are currently no tariff barriers to trade for countries within the EU, creating a single market of goods and services (though non-tariff barriers such as product standards produce limitations on trade). However, EU member states (including the U.K.) are also subject to the trade agreements made with non-EU countries by the European Commission.

The EU trade agreements prevent the U.K. from negotiating separate trade deals with the rest of the world – which may appear suffocating given the rise in economic growth in the developing world, and the ever-increasing U.K. trade surplus with non-EU countries. In comparison, the U.K. has a trade deficit of £61 billion with the EU, with domestic consumer demand outweighing the value of our exports to the continent. In fact, U.K. exports have made a gradual shift from the EU to non-EU countries, with a decline in the EU share of total exports from 54.8 percent to 44.6 percent from 1999 to 2014. For Brexit campaigners, this illustrates the potential of the U.K.’s economic growth in the rest of the world, which could be maximised as a result of leaving the EU.

While it may be advantageous for the ‘Out’ campaign to postulate positive economic outcomes if the U.K. was to abandon the EU, we are simply unable to predict what kind of trading relationship the U.K. will be able to negotiate with the EU, or with the rest of the world. Eurosceptics have argued that the U.K. could negotiate a trade deal with the EU similar to that of Norway and Switzerland. Both countries are not members of the EU, but have access to the single market and can negotiate trade deals with non-EU countries independently. However, Norway and Switzerland are subject to EU rules and policies with limited or no influence, and make budget contributions to the union. Moreover, both countries must abide to the free movement of good, services and most importantly peoples.

On the other hand, Canada has also negotiated tariff free access to the EU, without making any budgetary contributions or the free movement of peoples. Though, the trade agreement took an incredible five years to complete, and is difficult to compare to a potential U.K. model as the EU’s share of Canada’s total exports was less than 10% – significantly less than the U.K’s. In the worst case scenario where the U.K. is unable to make any sort of trade agreement with the EU, the country would be subject to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. This would prevent access to the free trade agreements for goods or services with the EU, and the U.K. could face EU and non-EU external tariffs and no access to the single market. This uncertainty over what kind of trade deal can be arranged would heavily impact on the productivity of the U.K.’s economy in the interim, as the EU is the country’s main trading partner, evidently making Brexit a risky, uncalculated gamble.

Another important argument put forward by Eurosceptics regarding the economy is the view that the U.K. could save an estimated “£350 million a week” by leaving the EU – as quoted by Boris johnson in a recent television debate, as the country would no longer have to make a financial contribution to the union. It has been suggested that the £18 billion saved could instead be invested into public services, such as education or health care. However, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted, the figure of “£350 million a week” is absurd as it ignores the rebate the U.K. receives from the European Union. If the rebate is included the figure actually stands at £14.4 billion or 0.8% of GDP in 2014 (around £275 million a week).

The EU also spends £4.5 billion on the U.K. in areas such as agriculture and research, thus the U.K. only provides approximately £8 billion a year to the EU budget. Moreover, though the U.K. receive per-capita the lowest spend from the EU of any member state, EU spending is only 1 per cent of our GDP – lower than the EU average, and is a relatively small amount in comparison to the £169 billion spent on health and education alone by the government. It is also important to note that the membership fee also brings with it increased trade, investment and jobs, which the U.K. would lose if it is unable to negotiate a trade deal with the EU. In fact, many economists have revealed that lower economic growth as a result of leaving the EU will negate any savings made from EU contributions anyway.

Arguably the most distinguishable argument of the ‘Out’ campaign is the impact of EU immigration on the U.K. economy. UKIP leader Nigel Farage in particular has been defiant in his attempts to reduce immigration from the EU into the U.K., most demonstrable by the party’s  recent “breaking point” campaign poster. Nigel-Farage-UKIP-436573However there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that EU immigrants cause a strain on the British economy, with most studies suggesting that their impact is relatively small, costing or contributing less than 1% of  the U.K.’s GDP. Rather, a recent UCL report stated that since 2000, immigrants have made a more positive fiscal contribution than longer-established migrants – £5 billion from immigrants who entered the U.K. from countries that joined the EU in 2004. There is also evidence to suggest that EU immigrants pay more in tax than they gain in welfare or public services, and they have a higher net fiscal impact than non-EU migrants.

In any case, leaving the EU may not lead to a significant reduction in immigration. As alluded to above, the kind of trade deal the U.K. is able to negotiate with the EU after “Brexit” is pivotal to controlling immigration, as access to the EU single market is also likely to allow for the free movement of people. Therefore, it may require the U.K to leave the single market altogether in order to effectively control immigration, which could neverthless have a negative impact on the economy. In my view, the argument relating to the impact of immigrants is largely cultural; as Nigel Farage proclaimed “the country has become unrecognisable.” However, while the cultural impact of EU immigration is questionable, there is enough evidence to suggest that the economic value of EU immigration is likely to be beneficial to the U.K., counterpoising any superficial arguments that a Brexit will conclusively have a positive impact on the U.K. economy.

Finally, let us not forget the overwhelming consensus of economic institutions and researchers and businesses (according to the British Chambers of Commerce) that argue that the U.K. must remain in the EU in order to preserve economic stability and continued growth. There is one notable exception to this trend – the suitably named Economists for Brexit.  Supported by Patrick Minford and Roger Bootle, Economists for Brexit have predicted a net benefit to the U.K. economy. However, even the most comprehensive analysis on Brexit by independent think tank Open Europe has predicted that even if the U.K. is able to negotiate a trade deal GDP  could increase by 1.6% by 2030. However, if a trade deal is not negotiated GDP could be lower than 2.2% in the same period.

The argument against Eurosceptics is clear. I plead with the people of this great land, do not put our country at economic risk.

The Île-de-France attacks and the proliferation of Western ‘Islamophobia’

Before I begin, I must stress that I in no way, shape or form condone the actions of the gunmen who shot dead twelve people after storming the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, or the subsequent acts of terror that took place in the Île-de-France region thereafter. Moreover, I do not sympathise with the aims and objectives of al-Quaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram, or any other group associated with Islamic radicalism. However, I have certainly struggled to comprehend the growing antipathy towards muslim communities – and against the integrity of Islam, as a result of the fatal shootings in the French capital. In the last few weeks ‘Islamophobia’ has heightened across the Western world, perpetuated by the reactions of politicians, various media outlets, and other commentators, leading to a profusion of verbal and physical attacks against Muslims, most notably epitomised by the Chapel Hill shootings.

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On 7 January 2015, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi would initiate a chain of attacks that would stun the world, generating immidiate attention worldwide and causing shockwaves across social media. In total, 17 people were killed with many others wounded, in what was the deadliest act of terrorism since the Vitry-Le-François bombings of 1961. The events would receive widespread condemnation from across the world, most evidently from Britain, the United States, and Israel who voiced their detestation and reinforced their aims to tackle Islamic radicalism. The French people would also rally against the actions of the terrorists, with the rest of the Western world quickly following suit under the banner of “Je Suis Charlie.”

However, despite the public knowledge that the terror attacks had been motivated by Charlie Hebdo’s controversial lampooning of the Prophet Muhammad in the newspaper’s previous publications, the West comprehensively defended Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the ‘founding father of Islam’ in support of the liberal concept of ‘Freedom of Speech.’ This directly challenged a key Islamic principle that forbids images of Muhammad and in turn, was an demonstration of the West’s attempt to sow a dissension between Islam and Western ideology after the Île-de-France attacks. This was exemplified further by Barack Obama’s and David Cameron’s statement that they would “continue to stand together against those who threatened their (the West) values and their way of life” and along with France, they made it clear to those “who think they can muzzle freedom of speech and expression with violence that their voices will only grow louder.” There was a defiance to remove all accountability from the publications of Charlie Hebdo, and an unwavering ignorance by the West of the undeniable disrespect shown by the newspaper against a faith followed by millions of people across the world.

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Not only did the Western world largely disregard the argument that the portrayals of Muhammad were a suitable catalyst for the Île-de-France attacks, but Charlie Hebdo would also receive unprecedented support for their first edition immediately after the events in Paris – that once again depicted the Prophet Muhammad satirically. The edition of 14 January 2015 sold over seven million copies in contrast to the standard nominal amount of 30,000. This exposed the scale of the support for ‘Freedom of Speech’ and the extent of the West’s insolence towards Islam and negligence to what the religion’s believers considered as blasphemy. The wide-scale publication of the edition also served to disillusion a large number of Muslims across Europe and the United States and was yet another example of the West’s naivety in relation to the impact the publication’s success could have in fuelling Islamic radicalism further.

‘Islamophobia’ was not only confined to the events surrounding Paris but manifested itself into a number of other ways; a week after the Île-de-France attacks, 128 ‘anti-Muslim’ incidences were registered with the French Police in comparison to a mere 133 in the whole of 2014. In fact, many of the incidents included shootings, attacks against mosques and threats or insults, many of which received minimal or no media attention. This illustrates the considerable disregard for the welfare of Muslims in France and is evidence of the contrasting approach to acts of terror when Muslim communities are on the receiving end. Furthermore, there were many reports of Islamophobia in Germany, United States and other parts of the Western world.

As predicted, the Île-de-France attacks invigorated the far-right movement, with the likes of Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders using the events to rationalise their anti-muslim agendas. There were also other high-profile episodes of ‘Islamophobia’ on social media; for example, Rupert Murdorch’s comments on Twitter that suggested that Muslims must be held responsible for the acts of terror. This is unsurprising given the racist nature of some of Mr Murdorch’s statements in the past, and the fact that Twitter and Facebook has been used as a fitting avenue for the flourishing of ‘Islamophobia’ as per an investigation by the Independent. The views of terrorism ‘expert’ Steven Emerson, who falsely claimed that Birmingham was a completely ‘Muslim city’ and that in areas of London (and I quote) “there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire,” only reiterates my argument that Western ‘Islamophobia’ is on the rise.

Arguably the most identifiable instance of ‘islamophobia’ was carried out on the 10 February 2015, commonly known as the Chapel Hill shootings. Merely a month after the Île-de-France attacks, three innocent Muslims were shot dead by Craig Hicks in another incident of terror. In what has largely been reduced to an ‘isolated dispute over parking,’ there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the murders conducted by Craig Hicks were motivated by hate and his aversion towards the religion of his victims. Again, unlike the Île-de-France attacks, the Chapel Hill shooting was also given minimal attention from Western media, and received a deafening silence by the very politicians who argued so valiantly against the atrocities in France. An American news company even went as far as interviewing Craig Hick’s wife, during which she was given the opportunity to defend her husband’s actions, and proclaim his efforts in ‘championing the rights of others’ despite considerable reports of his ‘gun happy’ and extreme atheist tendencies. Undoubtedly, it would be hard to imagine Western media ever interviewing the wife of an Islamic man after orchestrating a potential hate crime, particularly in a world where Islam is often feared and repudiated.

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As demonstrated, there has been a dramatic rise in ‘Islamophobia’ in recent weeks since the Île-de-France attacks that have once again served to stigmatise and vilify Islam and its worshippers. A concept that has solidified in Western culture after the events of September 11, ‘Islamophobia’ has resurfaced to target muslim communities and reinforce the historical divisions between the Islamic and Western Judeo-Christian civilisations. Can we foresee an end to the cultural persecution of Islam? Maybe, however if if remains the West’s objective to antagonise an entire religion for the actions of an isolated few, the world may not see a cessation of ‘Islamophobia’ for a considerable time yet.

 

Is the world still concerned that over 200 schoolgirls remain missing in Nigeria?…

Once Michelle Obama joined the worldwide calls for the restoration of the missing schoolgirls in Nigeria – mercilessly kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, it appeared that the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign had successfully galvanised the world’s leaders into actioning the swift return of the young children. However despite a growing international concern and the various measures implemented by the Nigerian government in rectifying the predicament, as of yet the schoolgirls remain in captivity. Thus, compounded by the fact that nearly four months have passed since the baneful kidnappings, are we to conclude that the world no longer cares that 200 schoolgirls linger within the hands of an organisation identified as a ‘terrorist’ group and a global threat?

Bring-Back-Our-Girls-Michelle-ObamaWhat is for the certain is that we are aware of where the abducted schoolgirls are located – at least theoretically. On 26 May 2014, a Nigerian military official confirmed that they had ‘found’ the missing girls, yet for security reasons they could not disclose their whereabouts nor could they use force to rescue them due to the possibility of ‘collateral damage.’

However, it appears that this was a disguise for the evident ineffectiveness of the Nigerian government, who have not only failed to curb and address the actions of Boko Haram in the past (let alone in this instance) but have also allowed the Islamic group to commit over a dozen other crimes throughout the country since the abduction, including the assassination of a Muslim leader in Borno state and the seizure of the vice-prime minister’s wife. As a matter of fact, the Chibok schoolgirl kidnappings is just another episode within a catalogue of atrocities instigated by the radicals and in conjunction, is another example of the incompetence of Goodluck Jonathan and his regime in quelling Boko Haram’s growing influence in Nigeria. The conclusion of the Nigerian inquest into the kidnapping at the end of June epitomised the toothlessness of the Nigerian government, with their findings simply acknowledging the number of girls still under confinement.

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If the lacklustre attempts of the Nigerian government raises questions over whether the return of the kidnapped schoolgirls remains a priority, the actions of the world’s leaders only adds salt to the assumption that the world has turned its back on the students. Undeniably, the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign led to widespread media coverage and raised attention of the kidnapping on an unprecedented scale, however since the world’s celebrities erected their photographs online displaying their banners of protest, the international emphathy has dramatically dwindled. In the short-term, many nations – including the United States and United Kingdom, offered support in the form of intelligence experts to aid the Nigerian’s in their search for the young children. Though, in the long-term the missing schoolgirls have largely dissapeared from the subconscious of the international political and social arenas and have become a distant memory in response to the advent of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Ebola outbreak and ultimately other pressing internal and external issues. Similarities can be made between the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ and ‘Kony 2012’ campaigns, both of which became worldwide phenomena overnight but fundamentally depreciated due to a lack of perpetual support for the respective causes in the long haul.

So, is the world still concerned that over 200 schoolgirls remain missing in Nigeria? seemingly not, however it is important that we continue to raise awareness of the abducted students and not confine the crimes of Boko Haram into the abyss of unsolved mysteries. Importantly, although we live in the world where news is constantly changing, we should grow to become more vigilant in sustaining our campaigns against the atrocities we witness – wherever it may be in the world, as people power (as in this case) has proved in past to be an affective lobbying tool in determining the actions of politicians. However, we must refrain from our Western-centric perceptions and apprehend that the plight of anyone in world is parallel to our own understanding of how people should be treated, particularly when it concerns children. Ultimately though, we can only begin to imagine what the reaction would be if over 200 girls went missing at the hands of ‘terrorists’ in the Western world...