Now that the debate over leaving the European Union is well under way it is becoming more interesting to respond to the arguments being put forward by the Stay-In Brigade rather than go over yet again the well-worn reasons for leaving.
Last Thursday’s episode of Question Time gave a perfect opportunity to do this. It came from Slough and the panel comprised Piers Morgan, Hannah Bardell from the SNP, Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con), Emily Thornberry (Lab), and Mark Reckless. It was also encouraging to see how sympathetic the QT audience now are to the Leave point of view, and even David Dimbleby showed a much more open-minded position than perhaps has always been the case in the past.
The first point that arose was from Hannah Bardell who claimed that Brexit would mean that Scotland would lose all the funding she currently receives from the EU. This of course is complete rubbish as Westminster would be in a position to replace that funding £ for £, if not better, due to the saving of £11 billion or so that Brexit would generate. I have heard the same argument from a number of institutions, including Universities who ought to know better. To emphasis the point the Leave/UKIP campaign should perhaps guarantee that for the first two years after Brexit all funding currently received by UK institutions from the EU will be replaced £ for £. After that ongoing review could alter matters in either direction.
The next point came from Emily Thornberry who picked up on Sir John Major’s recent comments about Britain opting for ‘splendid isolation’ in international affairs which he thought would leave us powerless to promote or protect our essential interests. But have they not noticed how powerless we already are? What could be more debilitating than belonging to an organisation, the EU, that insists on sole representation of our interests internationally but then pays absolutely no attention to our point of view? The fact is we are already in splendid isolation, and Brexit will re-establish our ability to reach out and engage in the world around us. We will be able to do so through all sorts of alternative relationships as and when the need arises. Britain is one of the most talented nations on earth and will thrive once let free.
Another point that Labour and LibDem politicians often raise, though not on this occasion, is a fear than they may lose employment protection and other laws which have originated from the EU and are now on our statute book. Again this is scaremongering, because the day after Brexit those laws will still be there. By regaining our sovereignty we can chose, one by one, whether we wish to keep them or ditch them. It’s a red herring.
And then came the whole issue of trade. I have argued elsewhere why I think the Single Market is destabilising and counter-productive, and how leaving the EU without a new trade treaty could be just what the doctor ordered. The question came in the light of recent research by Lord Rose, who we are told is leading the Stay campaign, that Brexit would cost around £11bn in increased trade tariffs raised by the EU on our exports to them if we had to revert to trading under WTO rules.
Now I have no argument with that figure, as I have not been able to check it, so let’s accept it for the purpose of the argument. The point he has completely overlooked is that the same will apply to their exports to us. And because we import far more from the continent than we export to it, the result would be a net benefit! I accept that both imports and exports would be lower, and that there would be a period of adjustment during the transition as companies orientated towards exports would struggle and those aimed at the domestic market would expand, but it is ultimately the balance between them that matters.
I do normally advocate free trade, but such a position does assume we pursue policies which keep our trade in balance. We have not done that, and have ended up now with a deficit in excess of £5bn. A trade deficit exports jobs and undermines employment, so anything that reduces a trade deficit is a good thing, even if that means lower volumes. Employment within the UK can then be adjusted by stimulating or moderating consumer demand through fiscal and monetary policies, and of course the ability to control our borders will mean the focus transfers to a shortage of labour rather than remaining on a shortage of jobs.
This means that if the EU were to throw a tantrum after Brexit, always possible, and refuse to negotiate a new trade deal, despite that being in their own best interests, we can always just walk away at no loss to the UK. Whichever way it goes, we can handle it. So please, do not lose any sleep over trade.
Finally, and this is another point that did not in fact arise on this occasion, there is the whole question of why big business and leading UK institutions such as our universities are so uniformly in favour of staying in. The answer is that they can afford to spend a lot of time and money lobbying politicians both in Brussels and at Westminster. This gives them an advantage over smaller businesses that cannot afford to do this. So the question is, does the nation as a whole benefit from it? Almost certainly not, as most of our employment creation and economic growth comes from all of those small and medium-sized businesses put together. Restricting access to politicians would reduce corruption and create a more level playing field to the benefit of the nation as a whole. So let’s take the EU out of the equation once and for all.