With a few days left before the European Referendum, many students on our PPE degree felt conflicted by the various issues and arguments that were circulating. They decided to debate the issues amongst themselves, and produced this summary of their discussion.


The media distortion of the EU referendum made us feel it was impossible to do effective, forward thinking research to make an informed decision. The “Rupert Murdoch Referendum” depicts a polarising argument which focuses on xenophobia and big business’ needs within the EU, while the left had no voice within the ‘leave’ campaign. So we set up our own discussion focusing both the cultural and economic elements of the EU. We asked people to come with questions and no agenda.

The extent to which the EU is a democratic organisation was the most controversial topic of the discussion. In particular, the legitimacy of the European Commission was disputed due to the fact that members are selected by national governments rather than democratically elected, and thus are not accountable to the electorate.

On the one hand, some saw this technocratic approach as beneficial in that it disrupts the ‘personality competition’ often evident in politics. In addition, the Commission could be considered democratic to the extent that members are accountable to the elected body that appointed them. However, others saw a fundamental contradiction between living in a democracy while simultaneously trusting people with the sovereignty to choose who governs them. It was argued that this lack of democracy in the EU would be obstructive if the left were to attempt to make more radical or progressive policy. It was questioned, for example, whether the EU would have supported movements like the NHS as it is detrimental to private doctors.

We also discussed the classic argument that the EU offers economic stability, due it being a far larger economy than the UK ever could be individually. In response to this, it was noted that the trade agreements within the EU are inefficient and time consuming due to the scale of the organisation, thus the UK could make personalised and effective trade agreements as an independent economy. Moreover, some believed that prices were kept artificially high through EU import tariffs and these trade agreements were actually detrimental to the individual.

However, if we left the EU there may be a resulting scramble for trade agreements, giving other countries an advantageous position. In the short term the economy would suffer, and in this case it is those who are the most socioeconomically deprived who are likely to have to endure the most. This argument is strongly supported by the fact that every time Brexit goes up in the polls the pound falls.

Humanitarian elements of the EU such as the Human Rights Charter were considered a strong reason to vote ‘remain’ as people felt this offered protection from extremism. It was questioned whether the EU are always willing to help in cases of human rights crises. For example, they did not protect Greece during the financial crash, and it was felt that they have not effectively responded to the refugee crisis. However, after Manchester was bombed in 1996 the UK government pledged £450,000 whereas the EU gave £21.5 million. These issues are global and interconnected, so some believed that due to globalisation it would be regressive to close ourselves off from other countries, when all of these issues need collaboration to be resolved.

Finally, we discussed immigration. The media was criticised for making migration a racist debate. Some believed it was an economic debate: if we didn’t want to give up our monetary policy to the EU why would we want to give up out immigration policy? We decided to shift the conversation away from the polarising ‘pro or anti’ immigration debate and considered the type of migration the EU allows. The question was raised about why those from EU countries should be allowed precedence in migrating to the UK over those from outside of it. There is no reason, for example, why we would rather allow a Polish worker into the country rather than a Kenyan worker.

We next discussed the cultural aspect of immigration, which we agreed was the main source of anxiety for people in terms of the immigration debate. We concluded that this was largely due to fear of losing a national identity. Another source of anxiety identified was the decline in public services which is seen by many to be a result of increased migration. However, correlation does not imply causation, and the decline in public service spending has had a far greater influence on public services than immigration and it is possible to have a multicultural identity. It was agreed that the backlash over immigrants taking low paid, low skilled jobs reveals the issues of a growing number of working class people struggling at the bottom of society. With so many struggling at the bottom, immigrants are the easiest scapegoat for problems of unemployment and working public services