After Brexit: experts warn EU faces disaster

Fenced in: Macedonia erects a second razor wire fence along its border with Greece. © PA

Pro-EU campaigners predict a bleak world of political and economic chaos if Britain votes to leave the EU. Scaremongering? Or a sensible reminder that actions always have consequences?

Imagine that Britain has voted to leave the EU. Other eurosceptic countries, boosted by Britain’s example, have secured their own exits. The union has disintegrated. Meanwhile, people from the troubled Middle East continue travelling to Europe. Struggling countries like Greece and Turkey cannot host them all, so they stop trying. Up go more razor wire fences and support for far-right nationalism. Chaos and fear threaten liberal democracy across Europe. Vladimir Putin is delighted to find it so fragmented.

This is the rather alarming portrait of a post-Brexit Europe painted by The Times columnist David Aaronovitch this month. ‘Project Fear?’ he asks. ‘Well, I am certainly fearful.’

Is that fear well-founded? Europe faces some difficult problems. More than one million migrants arrived in the continent by sea last year, and there is no sign of a permanent solution to the Syrian war which is causing many to flee as refugees. Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has vowed to retake the whole country; this weekend, Amnesty International said Russia had committed ‘egregious’ war crimes in his support.

It is also true that several eastern and central EU countries are turning towards nationalism and erecting fences in response to the crisis. This could threaten the EU’s treasuredSchengen zone, which allows passport-free movement. A ‘vote of no confidence’ from Britain may speed up that process.

Then there are the long-term problems: a fragile economy, changing climate and seemingly ever-present terror threat all demand Europe’s wider attention. Britain has a stake in each, and the pro-EU campaigners are keen to stress that it is better off staying within an alliance which can tackle them head on.

As the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg put it: ‘safety in numbers is a precious thing’.

Please note: this article was updated on Monday 22 February.

Fearing the worst?

This is all wild speculation to scare people into voting to stay, argue anti-EU voters. There is no way of knowing what might happen next in Europe, let alone the effects a Brexit will have. It is perfectly possible that Britain will find it easier to tackle economic and security threats if it no longer has to co-operate with 27 other countries who can’t stop squabbling. We must not make this decision based on fear and ‘what if’ — we must focus on the benefits of independence.

It is foolhardy to make such an important choice without weighing up the risks, respond others. These problems will not disappear from Britain’s door just because it decides to leave the EU — they may even get worse. If it stays inside Europe, Britain can help those 27 countries to stop squabbling and come up with a real plan — and we will all be safer and stronger because of it.

You Decide

  1. Are pro-European campaigners scaremongering to get what they want?
  2. Can Britain handle the world’s most pressing problems if it leaves the EU?

Activities

  1. Choose one of the problems mentioned in the article above and list five ways in which the EU could try to solve it.
  2. In pairs, discuss the two opposing visions of Britain outside the EU: one where its problems are solved, another where they get far worse. Which is more convincing?

Some People Say...

“The worst decisions are always made out of fear.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Are things really so disastrous?
It’s certainly not the easiest period of Europe’s history — but then, you only have to look back 100 years to see that it’s not the worst. Part of the problem is that it would be a lot easier for the EU to respond if it could impose EU-wide policies (such as relocating refugees). But many of its individual countries — like Britain — do not want such plans forced on them.
Will fear convince voters?
It seemed to work in the Scottish referendum: experts put the swing towards staying in the UK down to uncertainty about what an independent Scotland would look like. But fear of uncontrolled migration or another euro crisis may also convince voters that leaving the EU is the safer option for Britain. Currently, the polls are split 50-50.

Word Watch

Liberal democracy
Open and free system of government under the rule of law, with individual rights protected and authorities elected and accountable. For example Britain and the other EU states, and the USA.
Project Fear
Nickname for the political campaigns in the Scottish and EU referendums using fear of risks and unknown consequences to argue voters are better off not rocking the boat.
Schengen
26 European countries (including 4 non-EU) allow their citizens to cross borders without passport checks. Britain and Ireland have opted out; the 4 other EU states have not yet negotiated an agreement.
Fragile economy
Low oil prices and slowing Chinese growth have both caused economists to fear that another world crash may be imminent. There are also concerns that the euro crisis which threatened Greece last year will return.
Changing climate
The EU has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, hoping to tackle climate change.
Terror threat
After the Daesh attacks in Paris last year, analysts say the EU should see the extremist threat as a ‘new normal’.

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