Peter Wilding is the Founder and Director of British Influence
A while ago I asked Nigel Farage what his key objectives were. First, he said, destroy the case for the single market and second destroy the Conservative Party. It is regrettable that some Conservatives seem ready to start playing into his hands. Mark Wallace, in a recent piece on this site, says that a Yougov poll reveals that the costs of the single market outweigh its benefits; and that business wants a referendum, wants out of the EU and is sick of Europe. We Conservatives are invited to draw the conclusion that if business thinks this then what is the point of staying in?
Business for Britain commissioned the poll. Matthew Elliott is an excellent campaigner and a man I admire greatly. But tucked away amidst all these interesting results is a bombshell. On page 16 of the poll is the conclusion that over 50,000 businesses would close if the UK left Europe – putting 1.5 million jobs at high-risk. Those five per cent of small businesses, eight per cent of medium-sized ones and nine per cent of large ones, which said they would close, equates to 1,501,040 jobs – according to figures worked out by British Influence with the help of a professional statistician. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills works this out at around 50,000 small, 2,500 medium and 500 large companies at risk of closure. Worse still, these figures for business closures and job losses could also more than double, since 7 per cent of all businesses surveyed would be “unsure” about their future if Britain left the EU after a referendum.
Now, you can huff and puff at this but the fact is, if you do, your only rebuttal is to say that businesses are lying when they say they will close. On that logic, they are lying when they say the costs of the single market now outweigh the benefits. There is no question that Matthew’s polling is interesting but, on something as important as this, there is no point lauding one highly debatable insight without balancing it with one highly disturbing fact – namely that people we are supposed to support are saying: if we leave, we will close and jobs will go.
But, you may say, if business asserts by 46 per cent to 37 per cent that the costs of the single market are high and leaving will reduce them surely more jobs will be created?
Firstly, some businesses are responding for themselves, not on behalf of UK plc and the British economy. Policy needs to be national in scope. 1.5 million jobs is the key issue for policy makers and the public in any vote.
Secondly, if business is feeling the burden of red tape they should fully support, as do we, the Prime Minister’s single market red tape and liberalisation measures which are endorsed by 18 member states, including Germany – and also recognise the effects of job-destroying Whitehall gold-plating.
Thirdly, leaving will not really reduce costs. Norway pays an annual fee for access to the single market, transposes all EU regulations and has next to no say (or interest) in making the rules.
Fourthly, the 58 per cent of business leaders who thought that the UK should focus on the BRICs rather than the EU were forced to make a false choice. Tim Montgomerie, formerly of this parish, conceived of the ‘and’ theory of politics. Germany exports far more product to the BRICS than the UK does but, when I last looked, was not blaming the EU for nailing its turbocharged economy down to Europe. Like them, we can and should have the best of both worlds.
Finally, not everyone believes that single market costs outweigh benefits. Today the CBI will say that the benefits of the single market to Britain is approximately £70bn each year. BIS says it’s worth £3,000 for each household. Recently both City UK and EEF, the manufacturers association, reported that 88 per cent and 85 per cent respectively of business wanted to stay in.
Also, don’t forget that the economic facts of life have changed in Europe. Desperate to create jobs with no money, European states now realise that new rules and new taxes are not the future. They look at France with horror. They agree that the single market needs to be completed. They have signed up to the liberalisation of services, transport, energy and digital markets. When this is done, the single market will be Britain’s playground as 70 per cent of European trade is currently in semi-restricted services. Imagine the jobs that would result. It would be a crying shame if this generation of Conservatives, far from finishing the job that Margaret Thatcher started, abandoned it.
So for the sake of people’s jobs and not for the sake of ideology, playing politics with the single market and the country’s future needs a lot more discussion and balance if we are going to make the correct decision in the years to come. Otherwise, the only happy man will be Nigel.