UK/EU at 40 – Now is the time for us to stop being Little Europeans
In the latest of a series of exclusive articles for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark the 40th anniversary of the UK becoming a member of the European Union, Marc Glendening sets out the challenges facing those who would like to see the UK leave the European Union.
Marc Glendening is Political Director of People’s Pledge.
David Cameron’s recent promise to hold a referendum on our relationship with Brussels in the next parliament saw the pro-EU lobby give us an indication of the type of campaign they will run in the long run-up to the ballot. Their very effective response served as a reminder also that the anti-EU side of the debate has not yet remotely got its act together intellectually or organisationally. We will need to massively up our game if we are to stand any chance of winning.
While those championing the Brussels power machine have powerful and rich allies, and come across as very professional, their very elitism and inherent dullness, is what may yet give us a chance. The mainstream pro-EU lobby, unlike the intellectually more honest, radical end of the Pan-Europeanist movement, as personified by former Tory MEP John Stevens, is still addressing the British people as if the world had not changed since 1975.
The recent launch of the exciting sounding Centre for British Influence in Europe was a case a point. Who were their two cutting-edge headliners that morning? Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson. The tone of this initiative, and its sister campaign, Business for a New Europe, is essentially negative. Britain cannot leave because quitting the single market would result in a loss of foreign inward investment and high unemployment. A self-governing Britain would count for nothing on the world stage. It is impossible to effectively fight international crime and terrorism outside of the Brussels’s umbrella, or so we are told.
This scare-mongering and backward looking offensive, that deliberately ignores the changed realities of trade in the global era, Europe’s accelerating demographic and economic decline, and the huge opportunities for international co-operation that exist for self-governing countries, has, however, been largely unchallenged. This, in part, is because the mainstream EU-sceptical movement is having the political, financial, and organisational life sucked out of it. Everything is being subordinated to the drive to identify policy areas that Cameron could, post 2015, try and get back from Brussels. If and when the referendum does take place two years later, there will, of course, have been no fundamental re-negotiation and the case for leaving the EU will therefore simply not have been put to the British people. Given how difficult it is to get voters to opt for radical change in referenda (as was seen in the AV ballot), the anti-EU side will then face an almost impossible task.
The other problem is that many outists who are not seduced by the soft-focus Cameroonian, re-negotiatist campaign are putting their case in a dated and politically sectarian way. They cross-contaminate the anti-EU message with an obsessive focus on immigration, opposition to gay marriage and so on. This overtly traditional right-wing type of campaign is also doomed to failure.
The priorities for my side of the EU debate, I believe, are three fold. First, to paint a clear picture concerning what being outside of the EU will actually mean. Given that remaining inside the single market and leaving the EU will not be an option (and certainly not one that will have been negotiated by whoever is in government in 2015); we will have to demonstrate how an independent Britain could still have access to the European market. We must draw on the examples of Switzerland, South Korea, and a host of other successful economies that trade with the EU as a consequence of World Trade Organisation rules and additional bilateral free trade agreements. We will have to confront head on the fact that being outside the EU will mean that because of rules of origin and other issues, trade will be more complex and might result in some companies choosing to leave.
Second and closely related, we will have to argue that the EU far from being the wave of the future, as was thought to be the case 40 years ago, is now in serious decline. There are far more risks to remaining politically shackled to Brussels than leaving, especially as the UK now exports increasingly to the growing non-EU world than to the single market. Less than 15 per cent of British GDP is now the product of exports to the EU and yet 100 per cent of Brussels laws are imposed on our economy and society. Britain now has only eight per cent of the votes in the key decision-making bodies and so little chance to influence these regulations in any case.
Now is the time then for us to stop being Little Europeans, to strike the kind of free trade deals Switzerland has just concluded with China, to open up access to our market and to decide what laws make sense for our economy in the global era. In this way, the pro-independence campaign can portray itself as truly internationalist as well as on the right side of history, unlike the Euro-reactionaries.
Last, we need to make the British people realise that staying in the EU as it is currently constituted, will not be an option. The forthcoming treaty designed to save the Euro will mean a further concentration of powers in Brussels. As John Stevens has argued, the real cornerstone of the EU will be the single currency, not the single market. Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and the other non-Euro member states will not be permitted to retain the capacity to competitively lower their exchange rates indefinitely against those in the inner-core of the new EU. At some point, the Eurozone nations will give us an ultimatum. Even before that point is reached, once the new treaty is completed, we will find measures being imposed upon us as the Eurozone members will vote as a single, majority bloc. The current status quo therefore will not be an option in an in-out referendum. The moment of truth will finally have arrived. But will the EU-sceptical movement be ready to meet the challenge?