Recently I was dining in London with a group that included a very prominent and well-known political and economic pundit – I shall not mention his name (he may also wish to write about the exchange we had). But let’s call him Fred.
Fred suddenly offered a striking aperçu. “I don’t know why you guys (UKIP) work so hard to leave the EU. You just have to wait, and it will break up by itself”. “All very well, Fred” I replied, “But I’d like to see us out in five years, not fifty years”. (I could have added that I hope to be a free citizen of an independent country in my lifetime). Then after a brief pause, a question struck me. “So what’s your view, Fred? How long before the collapse comes?”.
Fred’s reply was fascinating. He pointed out that we’d just been through a very severe recession, and were now enjoying a modest recovery. But (he added) economies are cyclical. Give it three or four years, and in the normal course of events there’ll be a cyclical downturn. Countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy will go into that recession with historically high unemployment, and burdened by massive debt. The €uro crisis will become a catastrophe.
Fred reminded us that anti-austerity, anti-€uro parties are proliferating.. It’s not just Syriza in Greece. There’s Podemos in Spain, the NF in France. I could add UKIP in the UK, although our solution to austerity is growth and prosperity, unlike the aforementioned parties who want to rely on borrowing, spending and debt. And UKIP is certainly anti-€uro.
So in Fred’s view, it’s nearer five years than fifty. Mind you I don’t for a moment suggest that we should sit back and wait for the EU’s dissolution. I am becoming much more hopeful regarding the outcome of the UK referendum. A few weeks back, I thought the odds were we should lose. But since then, there have been encouraging developments.
Cameron’s poverty of ambition has been exposed. The concessions he’s seeking from his renegotiation would not be sufficient to stay in, even if he achieved all of them – and that’s unlikely. Various groups, notably Business for Britain and Conservatives for Britain, have set out negotiating demands that would absolutely require Treaty change, and will clearly not be met. I foresee Cameron coming back with derisory concessions, which will turn the tide of public opinion against membership.
I’m encouraged that business groups are emerging on the OUT side. I’m encouraged at the apparent willingness of most on the OUT side to work together, without sniping at each other over precedence. The signs are good.
A majority of the public today say that they’d vote “to stay in a reformed EU”, even though we know that material reform is off the table. But this view contains an implicit assumption that somewhere under the EU’s absurd bureaucracy and regulation and interference, there’s a bed-rock of benefit. So, what benefit?
If the EU were simply a Free Trade Area, I’d be all for it. But it’s not even a free trade area. It’s an old-fashioned Customs Union, overlaid with massive, excessive and vastly expensive regulation. There’s no bed-rock of benefit to save. Outside the EU, we’d still be free to trade with Europe. We’d still be a hugely attractive destination for inward investment – indeed more attractive, with lower energy prices, more realistic regulation and, eventually, lower taxes. We would still be free to negotiate and cooperate with our friends in Europe – but from a position of independence and strength, no longer subject to the dictates of anti-democratic, unrepresentative and technocratic institutions.
There’s all to play for. For my part, this has been the primary objective of my political career. Let’s go for it.