In its November 9th edition, the Economist carries a leader on the EU question. It’s entitled “Little England or Great Britain? The country faces a choice between comfortable isolation and bracing openness. Go for openness”. The Economist, it seems, is addicted to the language of the Lib-Dems.
And of course, their idea of “Great Britain” is an offshore province in a country called Europe. And “comfortable isolation” means independence, democracy, self-government. It means having a free trade deal with our European neighbours. It means resuming our seat in the WTO. It means being part of innumerable international organisations including the UN Security Council, NATO, the Commonwealth, the WTO, the World Bank and dozens more. It means resuming our natural rôle as a global trading nation. It’s a strange use for the word “isolation”.
It means freeing ourselves from the burden of EU regulation, which is costing this country tens of billions of pounds a year. And from the burden of EU climate and energy policy, which is costing us tens of billions more, and driving up energy prices, forcing households into fuel poverty, undermining industrial competitiveness, and forcing industries off-shore, taking their jobs and their investment with them. With the huge savings on direct budget contributions, and the progressive elimination of excessive regulation, we will be in a position to move to lower taxes. Outside the EU, we can have a rational energy policy and lower energy prices. Lower taxes, lower energy costs, less damaging regulation — leading to faster growth, more jobs, more prosperity. What’s not to like?
The Economist needs to explain why we should link ourselves, primarily or preferentially, to the one major economic area in the world which is in long-term relative (and perhaps absolute) decline. It needs to explain why we should not rather turn towards the Rest of the World, where the growth is. Bizarrely, it suggests that we could be “surer of our place in Europe, and more outward looking”. No chaps. That’s an either/or, not an “and”.
They trot out again the old saw that “50% of our exports go to the EU”. They’re way behind the times. The true figure is well below 50%, and declining. Factor in the Rotterdam effect, and it’s nearer 40%. Credible estimates from Global Britain (an excellent think-tank which produces invaluable analyses of trade figures) show that by 2032, the EU may account for only 22% of UK exports. While Nissan is stressing the importance of EU membership for the auto industry, Ford is closing its van operations in the EU and moving them outside the EU – to Turkey – confident that it can service its EU markets just as well – and perhaps better – from a non-EU country. Nissan, please take note.
There is, of course, the issue of the various trade deals that the EU has struck, and in which we participate as members. When we leave, will be still have a free trade deal with, say, Korea? What about the Transatlantic free-trade deal with the USA, currently in the early stages of negotiation? But we can credibly argue that outside the EU we might have had a free trade deal with the States twenty years ago – and on terms that would not be biased to account for French protectionism. It will be in everyone’s interests to grandfather current FTAs to a newly independent Britain. And we will then have the option of negotiating to tweak them in areas specific to UK interests.
The EU is under the double hammer of demographics and a wholly dysfunctional monetary system. (I may add that the €uro is doing exactly what we euro-sceptics forecast more than a decade ago). It suffers from a wholly unjustified sense of entitlement, and the burden of unaffordable welfare systems. And in several member-states, youth unemployment is close to 60%, and poverty reminiscent of the 1930s.
Back in the seventies, when we joined the Common Market, it was possible to see Europe as exciting, modern, growing – a land of opportunity, from which we could not afford to be excluded. And the Commonwealth could be seen as old, fuddy-duddy, and in decline. Today the tables are turned. It is Europe in decline, while all the growth is elsewhere, and a surprising amount of it in the Commonwealth, as well as the other BRICS. I am not, of course, proposing any formal economic union in the Commonwealth. But I do say that it deserves a great deal more attention than it gets today.
On the EU issue, as on other issues (think Climate Change) the Economist is locked into an irredeemably last-century mind-set, and seems unable to engage with current realities. It presents a false choice. It is not a question of Little England (as an independent nation) or Great Britain (as a European province). It’s a choice between a dying Europe and a vibrant, growing world. It’s a choice between staying buried in the bureaucratic nightmare of Brussels, or resuming our proper place in the Rest of the World.