As we head wistfully into the end of term, with all the glory of Extrav’s, Result’s Day and heading home for the summer, the EU referendum will take place on Thursday of final week and Britain’s relationship with its neighbours will be called into serious question for the first time in 40 years.
Over the course of this term, SCAN has run a multitude of articles about Brexit; an interview with a former UKIP chairman and MEP who – shock horror – doesn’t state his case on the basis of immigration, Cat Smith MP who forged her position for Remain in relation to environmental concerns, a former Deputy Leader of the House of Commons who makes the socialist case for Leave, and Lancaster’s own students discussing the impact the referendum may have on EU undergraduates and postgraduates alike. Hopefully, these viewpoints rebuke some of the prevailing notions and stereotypes about who-votes-which-way that are so detrimental to open debate.
The final instalment in this series, so to speak, goes to another campaign that bucks the conventional wisdom. We are told time and time again that young people want to Remain. It’s is those pesky older people who don’t know what’s best, they say. Nevertheless, the Vote Leave campaign has got the support of young people, too. Tom Harwood, an undergraduate at Durham University, is in charge of the grassroots Students for Britain campaign, a group in favour of a British departure from the European Union. Jasmin Rafiq, a Leave campaigner at Durham, recently wrote about her experience for LU based blog, Foreword.
Alongside Students for Britain, Students for Europe offer the main voice for student activism on the upcoming referendum. Students for Europe is a subsidiary group of European Movement International, a group directed by European politicians which actively campaigns for a more ‘federal’ Europe.
Whilst campaigning, Harwood told SCAN that Students for Britain have had “a positive response” from students but that “the overwhelming response has been huge apathy. Most students don’t care about the EU but also don’t know just how much it negatively affects their lives. We are trying to change this, and bust the myths put about by the ‘Students4Europe’ campaign.”
Students for Britain opposes the idea of a federal Europe. “We agree with the majority of people in the UK in our opposition to the idea of a country called Europe”, Harwood says. “We love Europe because it is diverse and are opposed to measures which attempt to end this diversity, ending thousands of years of history for many independent European countries.”
Whilst Students for Britain believe that a British exit is for the best, Harwood rejects the argument that leaving the European Union equates to the UK turning its back on the world. Students for Britain is not campaigning for isolationism, or a complete rejection of Europe, but to change Britain’s relationship with the EU and adopt a more global outlook.
One of the largest advantages to European Union membership is access to the single market. The single market allows for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital between member states. However, Harwood insists, “we will continue to trade with the EU when we leave”.
Similarly, on climate change issues, Harwood argues, global co-operation is needed and Britain would remain a very active participant. The EU cannot and does not solve this alone.
On this, Harwood says, “environmental issues are by nature cross border and cross continental. If we are to combat global climate change we have to do so as a world not one small region. The EU has been bad for our domestic environment too with directives that force our farmland to be used inefficiently, and a common fisheries policy that devastates our marine ecosystem.”
There are, of course, things about that European Union that even the most Eurosceptic agree are important. Programmes such as Erasmus are really valuable and popular. What will happen to them if we leave? “These programmes are not EU exclusive” Hardwood says, “for example, non-EU countries such as Iceland and Turkey fully participate in Erasmus. Our membership of them will continue because they are in our national interest.”
David Cameron has said that voting to remain would be a “leap in the dark”, but, Harwood insists, the inverse is true. “The real risk is voting remain. We don’t know what the EU will look like in a generation’s time but we do know that for all of its history it has been moving in one integrationist direction. A vote to remain is a vote to continue losing control, handing more money and power over to the EU. A vote to leave is a vote to take control of our own affairs and decide our own destiny.”
The referendum will be taking place on the 23rd June.