By Peter Sain ley Berry a member of one of the SY2E – Remain in the EU groups
Is it better to be a big fish in a big pond or a small fish in an ocean? It is a question often asked. It is a question that sums up the Brexit debate. Independent but without Influence, or part of the EU club, enjoying the benefits of the £1800 billion Single Market?
Those favouring Brexit point to the money we should save in contribution fees, the freedom that would come from unravelling all that EU red tape, and of course the ability to deny freedom of movement to those with EU passports. Those wanting to Remain believe that the contribution fees at less than half a percent of government expenditure are immaterial beside the immense trading benefits we get from being EU members. They argue that most of those EU regulations would be needed anyway even if we left the EU (are we going to let farmers for instance use any form of pesticide they want?) and that our low productivity service oriented economy demands labour to keep it growing and it is this pull factor that is driving immigration. Closing our borders to EU migrants would not limit the number of people wanting to come here.
But there is a danger that we could end up in a kind of purgatory of some sort of associate relationship, that might be the worse of all worlds.
Most Brexiters acknowledge the importance of the EU’s Single Market but believe (on grounds for which there appears to be no solid evidence other than wishful thinking) that a new trade deal could easily be negotiated to allow us to carry on as before. Other trade deals could be organised, they say, with other countries. Many favour the so-called ‘Norway’ option whereby we continue to have free access to the Single Market from a position outside the EU.
Yet the Norway option would not allow us to get rid of the regulations about which some complain so much. The regulations are there to protect the Single Market; to ensure that the playing field is level for all and to ensure certain protections for those who live within its compass. Moreover, the fee we should have to pay to belong to the Norway club would probably not differ greatly from what we are paying now. We should also have to accept the free movement of people that underpins the Single Market.
So what exactly would we be gaining? We would nominally be independent (whatever that means in today’s highly interconnected world. We are of course ‘independent’ today: if we weren’t we wouldn’t be having this referendum). The answer to that is not very much. But we should be losing a very great deal. We should be losing all the political clout we now have to influence the EU’s strategy and direction. We should become, in the world’s eyes, a very lowly form of pond life.
The EU is not a government – a fact that many people fail to understand. It is no more than a collection of 28 countries that have agreed to abide by a set of common rules in order to promote prosperity and a more civilised way of life. Of those 28 countries some are small and some large. Britain is a large country, the second largest after Germany. Moreover many other countries in the EU admire the British way of doing things and look to Britain for leadership. So we have enormous influence over what the EU does and this we would be throwing away were we ever to leave.
Our international friends and allies cannot understand why we should want to give up the trading advantages that we have now as a member of the EU and forego our influence over how the EU itself develops. They imagine we have gone soft in the head even to think about doing so. We are in the grip of a collective madness.
Let’s hope that sanity returns before June 23rd. Otherwise we may sink below the waters of the pond.