Now that there’s talk of an EU referendum in the wind, we’ve seen the usual crop of €uro-apologists telling us that outside the EU, Britain would be “like Norway or Switzerland”. Indeed I was once engaged in a public debate with a Europhile who declared that “Britain would be like Puerto Rico”.
Just for the record, the UK population is some sixteen times that of Puerto Rico, and our UK GDP is twenty-five times that of Puerto Rico (which, by the way, is “an unincorporated territory of the USA” — don’t ask). The UK is currently the world’s seventh largest economy by GDP. Puerto Rico doesn’t feature independently in the lists, but if it did, it would be about 62nd, along with Morocco and Slovakia. I was able to make these points in the debate, and to pile ridicule (and accusations of a lack of patriotism) on the head of my opponent. That was the point when he lost the audience.
But let’s just look at the “Norway and Switzerland” comparison. We’re told that these countries have to abide by large swathes of EU regulation, and to pay substantial budget contributions, for the privilege of access to the EU’s Single Market, yet — we’re told — they have no say in making those regulations.
It’s not entirely clear that we in the UK have too much say either in making EU regulations, although our voting share is currently around 8%. I’ve seen Labour Ministers from the former government, in Brussels, cap in hand, pleading for Britain to be excused from the Agency Workers Directive, and being dismissed with contempt, and told they had no choice in the matter. The will of elected British Ministers casually over-ridden by the unelected apparatchiks of Brussels.
Nor is it clear that Norway and Switzerland are having such a hard time. They rank internationally at 3rd and 4th in terms of per capita GDP, compared to the UK languishing at 22nd. Each, in fact, has a per capita GDP more than double the UK’s.
But it’s extremely telling that these €uro apologists can see the world only through a €uro-centric prism. They immediately reach for examples that are (in part) client states of the EU. But Britain is a great trading nation, and amongst the world’s top ten economies. If we want to make comparisons with other countries, why not start with the USA, or Japan? Why not look also at South Korea, which has recently concluded a free-trade agreement with the EU? Does anyone imagine that Washington, or Tokyo, or Seoul lives in dread of receiving “new EU legislation by fax”, which we are told is the case with Norway and Switzerland?
The EU either has, or is negotiating, Free Trade Agreements with nearly half the world’s countries. Negotiations with Japan are about to start. Can anyone imagine that an independent UK could not negotiate equally attractive free trade terms with the rump-EU, after we leave? Have we forgotten that we are a major net customer of the EU, one they cannot afford to lose? Does anyone suppose that Mercedes and BMW will refuse to sell us cars, that the French will withhold their wine, that the Greeks and the Spanish will ban us from their beaches?
We should see British independence not primarily in terms of relations with the EU, an economic area in very serious long-term economic decline, but in terms of our new focus on the rest of the world in general, and on the Commonwealth in particular. It is worth noting a key land-mark: the GDP of the Commonwealth is currently overtaking that of the €urozone. We foolishly turned our backs on the Commonwealth in 1973, because Europe was exciting, and modern, and growing. My, how times have changed.
We can look Brussels in the eye and tell them “You were the future, once”. Not any more.