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Leave Argument: Britain as a leader in the world: do we need EU membership?


The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU raises questions about the role the UK can play at an international level. Those arguing to leave the EU claim that the UK could better represent its citizens and take the lead in global decision making if it was independent of the EU.  However, those arguing for Britain to remain in the EU claim that if the UK wants to be a leader in the world and influence international decisions it needs to remain part of the EU, rather than ‘’sitting on the  sidelines, powerless’’.

The arguments of both sides focus on two main areas, the role of Britain in influencing global decisions and the strength of the British representation and leadership on the international stage.

Global Leadership

The UK is a member of several international organisations. These include the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the G7 and the European Union. These organisations have developed in an increasingly international world in which the UK, independent of the EU, has played very active roles.

The United Nations is a global organisation set up to promote peace and security following the Second World War, and has 193 member states. In the UN, the UK plays a leading role as one of only five permanent members of the Security Council, able to veto UN decisions.

As a member of the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF the UK, the world’s fifth largest economy, plays a major part in forming international approaches to achieving global economic and social progress. It is also a member of the G7, the world’s seven major advanced economies, which meet to discuss the future direction of the global economy. The UK used its presidency of the G8 (now the G7) to push for global tax reform. This drive led to proposals being made by the OECD and G20 to reform tax rules. This example reflects the strength of the UK’s global leadership on the economy, and shows that it is possible to be a global leader through organisations outside the EU. The European Commission recently put forward its own proposal based on those published by the OECD, suggesting that co-operation in other organisations will allow the UK to work with and influence the EU even after a vote to leave.

The UK also has strong political and cultural ties with the Commonwealth of 53 nations. Britain is an important member of NATO, a military alliance of 28 countries.

Further still, as one of the Europe’s largest economies, with common membership of a number of international organisations, the UK would retain close diplomatic relationships and a significant level of influence as close allies and trading partners with the EU, particularly with Germany and France.

Representing Britain

Increasingly EU member states are represented by the EU at international organisations. As members of the EU single market the UK is represented by the European Commission at almost all meetings at the WTO, an organisation that implements and regulates trade agreements. Since 2011, the EU has had enhanced observer status at the UN, giving it the right to act on behalf of EU states, speaking at debates and putting forward amendments and proposals for consideration by the UN. In these roles the EU does not necessarily represent the views of member states individually, rather a view agreed on by the majority of the EU.

The arguments made by those claiming that leaving the EU would mean sitting on the sidelines do not take account of the UK’s international presence outside of the EU and its representation in several organisations as one of the world’s largest economies. In fact, were to UK to leave the EU it would regain representation at the WTO and it would be able to continue its role as a global economic power without having to be represented as part of a bloc of 28 nation states.

Argument by Justin Protts