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Ruh LeaRuth Lea is an economist and is a former Director of the Centre for
Policy Studies.

There is no
question that the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech in January, promising the
British people an in-out referendum on membership of the EU, was of the utmost
significance. The speech was a game-changer despite the caveats attached to the
promised referendum. Mr Cameron’s proposed timing was after the next General
Election, by the end of 2017, which would require a Conservative victory in
2015. And he would allow the referendum after renegotiating the repatriation of
certain powers from the EU, which many regard as something of a smokescreen.
But, no matter, a firing pistol of sorts has been fired.

The
referendum debate is gathering momentum. James Wharton MP’s European Union
(Referendum) Bill was overwhelmingly supported (304-0) on second reading on 5
July, though it is likely to fall at future hurdles in the legislative process.
And the pressures on Ed Miliband to provide a referendum can only increase. He
will not want to be seen as the party leader who denies the electorate a
democratic choice on Europe even though there are clear dangers for him. If he
is the Prime Minister after the 2015 election, an “out” result in an EU
referendum could be highly problematic, though it would, obviously, depend how
he handled it.


The
intensification of the referendum debate is, of course, inextricably associated
with the sense of growing impatience with the EU in the country. UKIP’s
successes in the local elections were highly significant in this respect, and
I’m perfectly aware that many of those who voted UKIP were not primarily
motivated by the desire to leave the EU. The fact is that they voted for UKIP,
presumably without embarrassment. Brexit sentiment was, moreover, boosted when
a succession of eminent politicians, including Lord Lawson, supported the leaving
option. And I was struck by the very existence of a recent debate held by the
Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI). The topic was the impact
of Brexit on the financial services. Such a debate would have been almost
unthinkable two years ago. And, even though the outcome of the debate was
somewhat inconclusive, there was much support for some serious and detailed thinking
about the economic implications of a Brexit.

There has,
of course, already been extensive research into alternative options for the UK.
Lord Blackwell and I co-founded Global
Vision
back in 2007 in order to explore the alternatives in the context of
rapidly changing global economy and, specifically, a relatively declining EU. We
concluded
that a Swiss-style option of free trade and mutually beneficial bilateral
arrangements outside the EU’s political structures was the way forward. The
relevance of the work we did then has become all the sharper with the enfolding
and on-going crisis in the Eurozone. Whilst this is not the place to analyse
the disaster of the Eurozone in any detail, it is worth reflecting that the
EU’s politicians collectively seem quite incapable of resolving the currency
bloc’s existential problems. And, under these circumstances, the Eurozone can
only continue to decline.

But what has
been missing has been a serious and comprehensive analysis of the process of
withdrawal and its economic and political consequences in the round. And this is
why I’m delighted to support the IEA’s Brexit
Prize
which is being launched today. I feel honoured to be on the panel of
judges, with the chairman Lord Lawson. The IEA competition, with a first prize
of €100,000, is “designed to examine the
process of withdrawal and, more importantly, how the UK might fit into the
fresh geo-political and economic landscape that would follow”.

The competition
starts from that premise that a referendum has resulted in an “out” vote and
Her Majesty’s Government has triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It is
against this background, that competitors are invited to compose a Blueprint
for Britain outside the EU. The Blueprint should cover, firstly, “the legal and
constitutional process necessary for the UK to leave the EU and set up, if
desired, alternative international relationships”. And, secondly, it should
cover “the negotiation of the UK’s post-EU-exit position to settle the UK’s
relationships with the remaining EU and other interested parties and,
crucially, with the rest of the world”. Submissions are invited from
individuals, groups of individuals, academia and corporate bodies such as
consultancy firms, law firms, accounting firms, think-tanks and investment
banks. Further details are available on the IEA’s Brexit website.

I urge you to
support the IEA competition. It couldn’t be more timely or necessary. The time
for dreaming about freedom from the shackles of the EU is over – it’s now time
for some serious hard work. Quite simply, the IEA competition couldn’t be more
important for the future of this country.

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