Politics:: articles from 2015 General Election Campaign
Valuing the EU
I believe that full participation in the European Union is overwhelmingly in the national interest, and that those arguing for our withdrawl undermine the British economy and value a fantasy of our past over possibilities for our future.
Surprisingly, the EU has played a relatively minor role in the election (so far). Yet it is profoundly important for British business. Half of our exports go there and 85% of British manufacturers want to stay in the EU. The EU has free trade arrangements with over 50 other countries, and a UK outside the EU would be in a far weaker position seeking to negotiate these than taking part as part of the EU. Talk of a Brexit is worryingly destabilising and, in my view, profoundly irresponsible a far wiser course is to play our part at the heart of Europe.
When the Single Market was created in 1986, its purpose was to make businesses in Europe more competitive on the world stage. I remember television adverts from Alan Sugar of Amstrad explaining that the computers they made had to meet different rules for each country in the EU, but with the advent of the single market he would just need to meet one set of rules for the whole EU. That was a huge reduction in red tape faced by business.
A recent report from the German think tank Bertelsmann Stiftung puts the ongoing damage to the UK economy of leaving the EU in 2018 at up to £224bn by 2030, while a CBI study puts the value of being in the EU to the average UK household at £3000 a year. People express concern about EU migrants, but EU migrants contribute substantially more in taxes than they claim in benefits.
According to the House of Commons Library, 13.2% of UK laws begin at European level, and the crucial thing here is that these are things where co-operation with other EU nations is in our interest. I was also rather surprised to see the chair of the House of Lords Europe Committee speak out recently against the idea of repatriating powers from the EU, having looked at this closely and decided it was bad for the UK.
Most importantly even the uncertainty associated with a referendum on the possibility of leaving the EU undermines British business, creating instability, and raising doubts for multinationals who see the UK as a way into the EU.
The upshot is that leaving the EU would be profoundly damaging to the UK, and that damage begins not if we leave, but if we begin a process that might end in leaving.
Political dimension Scotland
There is another layer to this. Ahead of the referendum on independence, the yes campaign in Scotland were keen to explore the paths for an independent Scotland to join the EU as soon as possible. Moves towards leaving the EU also push Scotland towards leaving the UK.
Political dimension Westminster and Brussels
The EU is a complex organisation. Lots of different pressures are held in balance in its structures. My sense is that some of the EU disagreements have the character of an old married couple who bicker in a stable relationship. But there is surprisingly little bickering, and high degree of pragmatism and compromise. I am not surprised to see Nick Clegg so ably leading the Liberal Democrats into a coalition, because he cut his teeth politically as a member of the European Parliament and was exposed there to a much more co-operative approach to politics. As we head towards what looks like another hung parliament, we have lots to gain from European ways of doing things.