Never, I think, have I seen two such dramatically contrasting articles on facing pages of a national newspaper. We have a hugely striking example between the clash of old-think and new-think — of inward-looking little-Europeanism versus outward-looking global trade. You’ll find the two pieces on pages 4 and 5 of the Sunday Telegraph Business News for Feb 12th.
In the old-think corner, we have Sir Roger Carr, the man who lost the fight for Cadbury against Kraft. He’s the Chairman of Centrica, and Chairman of the CBI. If that were not enough, he’s also in the Advisory Board of Business for the New Europe, an advocacy group set up by that all-purpose €uro-fanatic Roland Rudd.
I was struck immediately by the sub-head of Sir Roger’s piece: “Banker-bashing and euroscepticism might be vote-winners, but only business can rescue Britain as the economic clouds gather once again”. Take out the egregious “and euroscepticism” (my italics), and I can agree with Sir Roger word for word. But his unsubtle dig at eurosceptics is a giveaway. He expands on the point (but not much) in the body of the text: “Euroscepticism may be a vote-winner, but European trade is critical to everyone”.
Of course European trade is important. No one would argue with that. So are American trade, and trade with other partners. But euroscepticism is not (or should not be) anti-trade. Most sceptics I know (including me) would be perfectly comfortable with a European Free Trade Area. It’s a great idea. We could call it EFTA.
What we are against is an unaccountable, unrepresentative, anti-democratic model of governance imposed by foreign institutions, in fora where the UK has no control and little influence — where if we’re not careful we may eventually be out-voted by Turkey. And we’re also against a grossly expensive and inefficient regulatory régime which arguably costs the UK economy £100 billion a year, and which renders the whole of Europe desperately uncompetitive against the rest of the world. We’re against bureaucratic structures and procedures that vitiate the trade benefits of the Single Market, and according to many anecdotal accounts make trade in the EU more difficult for UK companies than trade outside. Many of us are also against the EU’s extreme and destructive “green” policies which further damage competitiveness, wealth, growth and jobs, and which drive industry and investment offshore and out of the EU altogether.
But before you get too discouraged by Sir Roger’s view, let’s turn to the new-think corner, or at least to page four, where Sunday Telegraph Business Editor Kamal Ahmed has a story with the joyful title “Forget Europe: it’s time to go Commonwealth”. Let me quote: “As we watch the slow-motion car crash of the eurozone economic crisis, Britain has on its doorstep a ready-made relationship with emerging markets such as India, South Africa, Nigeria, and Malaysia” (where I lived and worked, 1987/90).
So if we have a built-in advantage with these markets, how come our Typhoon fighter lost out to the French Rafale in India? Ahmed attributes it to the higher price of the Typhoon, resulting from the extra costs of trying to use a consortium of manufacturers from many countries, as compared to the more focussed approach of a French national project.
One more quote: “It is estimated that shared language, legal and accounting systems (in the Commonwealth) can reduce trading costs by 20% for British businesses”.
Of course Ahmed is right, but it’s not just the Commonwealth (important as that potentially is). It’s the BRICS. It’s the fact that all foreseeable growth in the foreseeable future comes outside Europe. That Europe’s share of global trade and GDP is facing a radical decline over the next forty years, while the USA broadly holds share and the BRICS grow. Why would we focus exclusively or primarily on the one area of the world which is in relative, long-term, secular decline, rather than on the rest of the world, where the growth is? Why back failure when we could back success? And all this was true before the €uro-crisis came along to give the EU’s prospects the coup-de-grâce.
Carr is of course right that trade with Europe remains important. No one suggests that we turn our back on it. But it is clear that our EU membership has meant an excessive focus on a declining area, and a failure to recognise and exploit opportunities elsewhere in the world. It’s time to shake off the euro-blinkers, and to remember that the UK is nothing if not a great global trading nation. Destiny calls, and it’s across the oceans, not in our grubby European back-yard.
This article first appeared on ConservativeHome