The last month has not been a particularly positive one for those of us who hoped this referendum campaign would lead to a national debate about the future direction of Britain in the world. Given the extent to which the European Union has changed from the European Economic Community those people aged 59 and over had the opportunity to vote on in 1975 I strongly supported a referendum on our continued membership.
I have no love of the European Union and there is a lot not to like about it, for example its lack of responsiveness to the concerns of ordinary people, its inertia amidst the economic crisis and the belief of many in Brussels that the answer to most problems is ‘more Europe’. Giving the Brussels elite a bloody nose is temptation enough for most of us to vote leave, but a moment’s satisfaction could have many lifetimes of consequences.
The sovereignty argument made by many on the Leave side is appealing, but as a historian by background I worry about turning our backs on a thousand years of British foreign policy, which has always been to prevent one single power dominating the continent of Europe. If the UK leaves the EU one of two options will probably happen, either others leave also and a break-up begins, or the brake is off integration and a form of super state emerges on the continent, containing most of the Eurozone members. Both events have undesirable consequences, but leaving Britain isolated on the edge of a single European power bloc goes against all we have learnt in the history of our islands.
Those who argue that we will inevitably be sucked into a super state if we remain underestimate our power as a country within the EU, with a number of smaller allies we have been able to negotiate an emerging multi-speed Europe, and the legal opt-out from ever-closer Union the Prime Minister secured in February does matter, whatever critics of the overall package argue. However, the Prime Minister’s renegotiation should only be the start of a wider battle for reform, I want to see whatever doesn’t need to be done at a European level returned to national governments and
Ultimately, why I’m voting remain comes down to the economy. As a classical liberal I can see an argument for leaving the EU centred around a deregulation free trade agenda, but that is not the vision of Britain the Leave campaign are putting forward, instead focusing on a big government approach seeking to micromanage labour requirements. There is no room for complacency, but the UK economy has recovered well from the financial crash of 2008, over the last few years growth has been good and unemployment has dropped. Access to the single market has contributed significantly to that success. Why risk it?
The Leave campaign have not properly answered the big questions on the economy, if they had I might have been tempted to join them. They cannot even decide whether they want to maintain access to the single market or leave it and negotiate a free trade deal. There is no realistic possibility of retaining access to the single market without accepting free movement and paying into it whilst accepting all its rules with no say on them, so we can probably assume that in the end we would exit the single market.
Then comes the question of what sort of free trade deal we would negotiate with the rest of Europe, the UK is a services superpower and no modern free trade deal has included a comprehensive services agreement so again on the balance of probability we would not achieve a deal that would help the UK’s service-focused economy. The same rationale goes for any other deals we would seek to negotiate, I don’t believe we’d be at the back of the queue for a trade deal with the US, but in a world increasingly made up of regional trade blocs I don’t believe we’d be able to negotiate as good a deal with America as we would be able to as part of the EU.
The US and EU together have the power to set global product and trade standards, that is the potential of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. If we were outside the EU when a TTIP deal was concluded the strong likelihood is we would need to abide with all of its provisions to access those two enormous markets whilst having had no say on the content of the deal. That just doesn’t make sense. It would not be ‘taking back control’, quite the opposite in fact.
I could go on, but the referendum campaign has bored enough people already. The EU undoubtedly needs further reform but it is moving in our direction and in another couple of decades we’re projected to be the largest economy in the block, with even more power to shape its future. It is working for us economically and why risk that for an uncertain decade of difficult trade negotiations and a geopolitical gamble out of character with our history. Whatever happens on June 23rd we will still live in a beautiful and blessed country, but I’m voting remain for a more certain future.