I couldn’t resist this photo of former colleague Bill Newton Dunn. I wrote about him on my blog a couple of days ago, when I compared him to Eeyore the donkey from Winnie the Pooh. Finding him billed as “Europe’s Forgotten Animal” was too good to miss. In fact my blog dealt with an exchange between the two of us last week on BBC Radio Humberside.
In my blog piece I criticised Bill for contributing little to the debate but ad hominem attacks and personal abuse. But right at the end — too late for me to respond — he attempted to make one substantive point. “All you UKIP people do is rant against Europe”, he said. “You offer us no alternative vision”.
He’s put a finger on a concern often mentioned by Eurosceptics. Faced with the unfolding €uro disaster, on top of all the well-documented damage that the EU is doing, it’s all too easy to slip into a relentlessly negative critical mode. I know. I do so myself. And if you’re warning of dangers ahead, it’s difficult to dress them up in positive language.
But soon (I believe) we’ll be facing an In/Out referendum, and the public may be turned off by constant carping. Yes, we need to be honest about the EU, which is making us poorer, and less democratic, and less free. But we also need to talk about the real opportunities which we can anticipate after we’ve got out from under.
Some people, of course, might argue that freedom and independence and democracy were enough in themselves to justify our stance. After all, we applaud (for example) the Eastern European countries who struggled to throw off the dead hand of Moscow, and sceptics can take credit for seeking to throw off the dead hand of Brussels. Some people might ask what Bill’s alternative is, faced with the slow-motion train crash of his European dream. All he can offer is the mantra of “More Europe”. It’s as if the victim of an accidental poisoning were to insist on more cyanide.
But to come to the positive case. Leaving the EU would remove a drag-anchor on the British economy — the £100 billion or so annual cost of EU regulation. OK. Some of it might we might need to replace with domestic legislation, which is not cost-free, but if we could cut the burden by half, that would be a start. Then we could abandon EU climate regulation, and move to a rational energy policy. We could save the estimated £720 billion cost of the Climate Change Act. We could make it possible for energy-intensive industries — and the jobs and investment they support — to stay in the UK. We could also save the £16 billion or so that we contribute annually to Brussels.
But it’s not just the cost savings. Locked into the EU, we’ve lost focus, as an economy, on the rest of the world where the growth is, and especially on the Commonwealth. It’s a good time to remember the Commonwealth, whose GDP is just overtaking that of the Eurozone. Allister Heath insists that if we had retained our Commonwealth trade links in good shape, we’d be a good deal better off today. Locked in the EU’s inward-looking, self-referential straight-jacket, we’ve missed opportunities in the wider world.
The UK was always more globally-oriented than most EU states in trade terms, and therefore we benefitted less from the EU’s internal market than other countries. This is true of trade in goods, and even more so of trade in services. As a world-trader, we were also hit harder by the EU’s “Common External Tariff”. Outside the EU, we should find it easier to re-focus our trade and exports to the BRICS, which are growing, rather than the moribund EU, where growth is flat.
Outside the EU, we could set up free-trade deals with other countries, especially in the Anglosphere, where shared language and traditions — and in some cases, common legal and accounting standards — would work in our favour. It goes without saying that we should also retain free-trade terms with Europe. As a major trading partner and net importer from the EU, we should be in a strong negotiating position to set up free trade on favourable terms. Europhiles talk of the trade benefits of EU membership. But such as they are, we should retain them.
So, lower costs. More trade. More jobs. The end of infuriating intrusion and expensive regulation. The opportunity to set up sensible, affordable energy policies. And above all, freedom, independence and democracy. Is that a positive case, or what?