Many of you will have seen, and hopefully shared, the Stronger In campaign film video, which depicts the contradictory and confused messages of the ‘Out’ campaign.
It clearly shows the lack of an alternative the Out campaign has for our country. Do we want to have nothing to do with the EU, have a free trade agreement, be part of the European Economic Area, be part of the European Free Trade Association, renegotiate terms? If we wish to do all of this, what is the point of voting to leave?
Here are some things to consider if we were, indeed to leave:
‘Leave’ supporters say look at Norway. We say do we want EU rules to apply to us when we have no say in them? Will TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) really not affect us in the internal market? Of course it is better that we remain and have our say on issues as diverse as the refugee crisis, international trade deals, climate change agreements, labour and industrial relations as well as data protection rules.
Should we try to renegotiate on an agreement by agreement basis?
‘Look at Switzerland’ we are told. The Swiss model isn’t viable for the UK. No services agreement with the EU exists, a challenge for the UK as so much of our economy is based on the trade in services, so the EU could simply operate as a protectionist bloc. We also have to take into account the political aspects of such a relationship.
The EU has been trying to avoid ‘special’ relationships, instead working to deepen its own internal market, and is therefore unlikely to view a British move towards the Swiss situation with much favour. In fact, since Switzerland’s referendum vote to limit immigration, the EU has rejected many of its terms, surely the cornerstone of the ‘Out’ campaign, and also blocked its students from participating in the highly regarded and competitive European student exchange programme, ERASMUS. So in this case we would not be free to restrict free movement, and our students would not be able to benefit from study abroad.
Should we then attempt a mixture of these things?
Any ‘mix’ would have to be recognised by the Treaties, as well as opening up the problems above. We also wouldn’t necessarily have automatic access to free trade deals made by the EU, and so would neither be able to trade with those countries nor indeed have the backing of the EU in concluding agreements.
As Jean-Claude Piris, former chief legal advisor at the Council of Ministers, has pointed out: “in exchange for access to the EU single market, the UK would have to apply corresponding EU rules”.
So we have to ask again, what is the point of voting to leave the EU, claiming we will regain our sovereignty, only to be forced to apply exactly the same rules as before? Can we really expect, as Mr Farage is fond of claiming, that we can make all the trade deals that suit the UK? Isn’t it far more likely that the USA, China, Brazil, India and the rest of the world, will impose terms on us? Why negotiate from a position of weakness, not having access to the Single Market, when we can do so from strength with 27 other countries forming the largest economy in the world behind us?
Nobody is saying the European Union is perfect, but so much work can continue to be done from inside the European project, not least to improve the rights of women, ensure more transparency in our international dealings, guarantee more security at home and abroad for our citizens, make starting a business easier, encourage and support our young people in education and as they enter the job market.
However, we all recognise the need to be part of that change and to drive it forward. That is where the UK belongs.