LONDON, UK — On June 23, 2016, citizens of the United Kingdom will be voting on “Brexit”, a referendum to determine whether Great Britain will remain as a member of the European Union. The U.K.’s departure from the E.U. would affect not only Europe but the entire world. Specifically, Brexit could drastically reduce Great Britain’s ability to combat global poverty rates.
The Guardian published a letter on Feb. 25, 2016, warning that the U.K.’s withdrawal from the E.U. would reduce Britain’s world influence and hamper British efforts to expand international development and to fight climate change.
This anti-Brexit letter bears the signatures of prominent British figures in global development, including Frank Judd, the former director of Oxfam and VSO, as well as Owen Barder, the Director of the Center for Global Development in Europe. Simon Maxwell, the former director of the Overseas Development Institute, helped organize the letter.
In an article published by The Guardian, Maxwell states: “The signatories to this letter represent the U.K.’s global leadership in international development. As practitioners and advocates in international development, our strongly held view is that the E.U. needs U.K. heft and engagement to achieve its global goals – and that the U.K. multiplies its impact when it works with and through the European Union.”
The letter provides strong support for coordinated action between the U.K. and E.U. in tackling global poverty, asserting in the first paragraph that “E.U. membership is a practical way to extend [the U.K.’s]reach and multiply [its]influence.” This claim is backed up by powerful evidence, such as the fact that “every pound of aid that U.K. spends through E.U. institutions is matched by £6 from other member states.”
Furthermore, the letter also notes that the E.U. allows Britain to “tackle problems in areas where the U.K. has no large presence, for example in the Sahel and parts of West Africa. E.U. aid complements activities that other aid agencies cannot undertake, like police and security missions in fragile hotspots.”
British membership in the E.U. has also helped coordinate action to achieve significant results. The letter points to the climate talks in Paris as an example, and argues that the E.U. “provides a platform for further work on trade, financial flows, corruption and human rights. In all these areas, the E.U. demonstrates the value of collective action on a global scale.”
While the letter concedes that “of course, there are things we want to change in the way the E.U. works,” it suggests that “British engagement raises standards and improves performance.” The essential argument is that the U.K. plays a critical role in guiding the E.U. towards a better, more effective path of global development.
In the letter’s conclusion, the authors cite recent progress in international development efforts. The United Nation’s sustainable development goals: 193 U.N. member countries have united under these goals. They have combined their resources joining together in a global fight for “peace, prosperity, justice and sustainability.” The U.K. is one of the signatories to these goals.
Brexit poses a threat to coordinated international development efforts since a lack of British cooperation with the E.U. could hamper a powerful, joint campaign to end global poverty. The letter drives this point home in its last line, claiming that “withdrawing from the E.U. would diminish the U.K.’s role in the world and set back [Britain’s] efforts to end global poverty.”