ConHome’s recent five cases for Brexit were all notable for one theme recurrence: numbers.
In the last three:
- Mark Wallace wanted back the £14 billion per year that could be spent on health and education instead of Brussels.
- Simon Richards wanted 88 per cent of British business to be free of red tape.
- Daniel Hannan said that the 55 per cent of British trade outside of Europe means the 45 per cent of British trade within needs no UK involvement in it.
In response, let’s look at the argument from those Conservatives who might fall into the economic liberal, globalist and unionist camps.
1. For economic liberals, this is a choice between laws or wars. The UK has, since 1845, sought to prise open markets and enable free trade to flourish. Since 1973, the UK has been at the forefront in ensuring that the European continent moves to a competitive, free market model. Considering that only 30 years ago much of Europe was buried in national or regional protectionism, it is remarkable that today’s Commission and Council is following a liberal policy agenda which would have been unthinkable before. Although there have been false dawns, economic reality and UK success persuaded all member states to agree in June last year that the single market needs completion, the free trade deals need signing, that red tape must be reduced. Germany, the northern, central and eastern Europeans want the UK to stay in because they know that Europe could backslide if the world’s first free trade champion quits the game.
So Daniel Hannan’s assertion that the EU is protectionist is utterly incorrect: the EU plays a crucial role in dismantling barriers to trade, promoting fairness and openness in world trade as an active member of the WTO and challenges the protectionist policies of third countries, pursuing cases through the WTO’s dispute system. Further, the EU is committed to the Doha development round, an attempt by the WTO to reach a further global agreement on reducing trade barriers aimed particularly at helping poorer countries. In fact, compared to EU Member States, countries outside of the EU – particularly the emerging economies – have applied the bulk of trade-restrictive measures.
But you have to be in it to win it. Hannan states: “It’s worth stressing that Norway and Switzerland, like every state in Europe except Russia and Belarus, participate fully in the EU market.” This is complete nonsense. Switzerland has 110 bilateral agreements with the EU yet the Swiss services market has only limited access to the Single Market. Adopting a similar model would harm UK trade in services, which grew by over £30 billion in the period 2003-2013. Further, Swiss financial services are actually blocked from the European market.
As to Mark’s view that the UK would save £14 billion per year, remember that if the UK left the EU and joined the EEA, it would still need to make significant contributions to the EU budget assuming it would want access to the EU Single Market. Norway alone provided £1.3 billion to the EU budget from 2009-2014, the 10th highest contributor. This is a significant price considering Norway only has a consultative role in EU Single Market policy, a role which has hampered the ability of Norwegian companies to attract inward investment.
And, if we leave, Europe could descend into protectionist trade wars not through tariffs (illegal under WTO rules) but through the far more deadly non-tariff barriers which impede business and destroy jobs. As it was Margaret Thatcher who sought to break down global trade barriers and whose single market programme got rid of all of them in goods trading in Europe, the UK would abandon an historic national interest when we should be entrenching it in Europe and, with the US, throughout the world. In short, there would likely be more red tape, not less, if we left.
2. For globalists, this is a choice between who makes the global trading rules: regional power blocs or the WTO. With over 500 million people and £11 trillion-worth of business, the Thatcher-inspired Single Market is a power bloc and very appealing to third countries, which gives the EU greater negotiating clout and results in better trade deals than if the UK was negotiating on its own.
For all the talk about being shackled to a corpse, being part of the EU does not inhibit its members from exporting to new and emerging markets. In 2013, the value of UK exports to the emerging BRIC economies (Brazil, China, India and Russia) represented £37.03 billion, or 7.2 per cent of total UK exports. By comparison, German exports to the BRIC economies in 2014 were worth over £90 billion, representing 10.8 per cent of its exports. No-one other than some in the UK seems to think that EU membership is an export destroyer.
Dan Hannan advocates the Commonwealth as a viable alternative to EU membership. While the economies of Commonwealth nations are growing, almost 90 per cent have developing or least developed nation status. As such, the UK has far more in common economically with the advanced economies of the EU Member States than the Commonwealth. Ultimately, a Commonwealth free trade agreement is unviable: UK trade with the Commonwealth has declined by over a third over the last 60 years and there is no political appetite amongst the developed Commonwealth nations to pursue such a project.
Finally, with the biggest of all free trade deals – between the US and Europe – on the cusp of success, globalists should know that the battle in the 21st century is who will make the trading rules of the future. Will it be China or Europe and America? In a regionalising world, size matters. So if you want to be global, you need to be regional as well.
3. For unionists, this is a choice between the United Kingdom or Little England. Quite literally. A country that has liberated Europe with its blood and helped civilise Europe with its values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law is, and has always been, a critical player in the politics of the world’s richest continent. However, if England votes to leave, it is more than conceivable that Scotland will seek a new referendum and, with the momentum behind the SNP, vote to leave Britain. The Welsh first minister is also on record proposing a referendum and Northern Ireland could face the necessity of erecting a border fence with the republic. For certain, we would face a constitutional crisis that could end up with the UK unraveled and England alone. This may be entirely satisfactory for some, but it is not for me. I am a British patriot who wants our country to play a global role. Size matters. Division will cause trouble. With all our allies, including the Commonwealth, urging a strong UK in Europe – the better to play a bigger global role – the UK should embrace a new vision of leading in Europe not least to keep our country united.
So all of these good Conservatives have a point of course as they rail against the iniquities of the EU. But they are failing to see the wood for the trees. All their bile needs to be put into perspective. Ninety-nine out of every £100 of taxpayers’ money is spent here. Nine out of every 10 laws passed by the UK Parliament are wholly our own. MPs and the government could do far more to influence the extra £1 and one law that is spent and made in Brussels but don’t. While you can argue over the margins, the UK is still plainly in control of its money and its democracy. Sceptics will warn that the EU will not be satisfied until most of our tax-raising and law-making powers are subsumed in a superstate but, after 50 years of so-called ever closer union, the fear we have of an organisation that hasn’t yet harmonised the common domestic plug is overblown.
The truth is we don’t have to choose. Nothing is perfect, but today the UK is well placed to increase our power both in Europe and the world. As Carl Bildt, the former Swedish Prime Minister said: “Europe is going Britain’s way.” The French call it “L’Europe Anglais.” The former Polish Foreign Minister calls Europe an “English-speaking power”. The Americans and the Commonwealth want “A strong Britain in a strong Europe.” Are all these people wrong?