My homeland of Great Britain has a curious cultural mentality. At any one time we believe ourselves to be of utmost importance to the rest of the world, yet also view the rest of the world as isolated from the decisions which take place on our small island.
The national debate about Britain’s membership of the European Union ahead of our referendum is a perfect example of this paradox in action, particularly shown across our media today with the arrival of President Obama on our shores.
Obama, writing in The Telegraph, reiterated his strong position that what America wants is what’s best for Britain – and what’s clearly best for Britain is remaining an integral part of the EU. Not only for our security and prosperity, but for the rights and the opportunities Brits gain, and the magnified influence we as a country have as a member.
Now, disagreeing with Obama’s assessment of the strength our membership of the EU brings to Britain is not news. As you can see from the polls, it is a tight race between those of us who will vote to stay in, and those who think we should leave. What Obama’s comments do reveal is the shock of some Leave campaigners in those outside Britain daring to have their say on our debate. Most of the outrage simply cries hypocrisy from Obama (after all, the US, a country built on the cooperation of proudly distinct and near-independent states, would never be involved in anything remotely like the EU), but have gone as far as linking a suggestion that Obama has an ‘ancestral dislike’ of Britain due to his part-Kenyan heritage (lol), so presumably wants to sabotage the country’s future by seeing us remain shackled to the EU.
Obviously remarks like that are pretty poor on a number of levels, but they also forget that actually, in our ever more globalised world, decisions and actions taken in our country will affect those in many many others – and bring with them their own hypocrisy. One of the key messages of Leave campaigns is that by leaving the EU we can then be free to negotiate free trade deals with countries like America on our own terms. For sure it’s a great narrative about taking control, until the countries in question actually point out that may not be the case, since they would much rather trade and negotiate with a Britain in Europe. Awkward. Obviously it is quite difficult to find your own arguments being crushed by those you are making them about, so it’s not surprising that a move to swiftly discredit Obama and the leaders of these other nations is then made.
Brexiter: we’ll strike new deals with the US & the world.
US & the world: don’t do it, bro.
Brexiter: shut up! What’s it got to do with you? – @RupertMyers
Yet it’s not just trade deals. International influence and the erosion of international integration which will affect those in other nations negatively if we leave the EU. Which of us in IFLRY doesn’t have friends, family, or business colleagues who are British, have dated a Brit, have lived, worked, studied or done business with Britain – or aspire to do any of these things in the future? Yet Britain’s exit from the EU threatens to harm these opportunities for everyone, and just because it is only Brits who have a vote shouldn’t mean that others must not speak up about what you believe too.
My friends living and working here who are from other EU nations face an extremely uncertain future when it comes to their continued freedom to be here if we left, and exited the freedom of movement agreement. Just as my British friends scattered around the rest of Europe face the same fate. Those here from non-EU nations may face an even bigger backlash if the anti-immigrant feeling in this country is validated in a national vote to Leave – as migrant fear has driven much of the opinion-forming presently.
Already people like my friend Chris, who was born in Canada, grew up in Hong Kong but went to school, university and now has a job in the UK, are forced to earn far above the national average and pay ridiculous visa fees in order to stay. Not only would a Leave vote legitimise the barriers placed on people like Chris, who aren’t EU citizens yet chose to move and work in this country, it seems likely that this is a situation which would then be imposed upon EU migrants too, if we left, with those who form the backbone of our low-wage service and manual labour economy not being able to afford to stay in their new home.
So let’s make no mistake – whether you’re British or you’re not, how we vote has the potential to affect you. And if you’re not happy about an angry electorate of one nation being able to pull away those opportunities from yourself, your friends and your family, then I support your right to speak up about it.
Liberal Youth is working hard on a plan to get our sister parties joining our campaign here – but there are things you can do every day so that we all win this June. Make sure your British friends (or your friends who are now our citizens), living in your country or ours, are registered to vote, and then if they’re not sure about whether they’ll bother or if they will vote to stay in, chat with them about how important it is for all of us.
Young people will be hit the hardest if we leave the EU, yet we are also the least likely to go and vote. Between us we can play our part in making sure our future freedoms aren’t voted away from us.
Ab Brightman is a newly elected Vice-President of IFLRY, and has been International Officer of Liberal Youth in the UK for three years. Next month she will graduate with a degree in philosophy & politics, and is looking forward to the free time her inevitable unemployment will bring her.