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The Case for Membership of the European Union – Dr Ed Gouge

What is the problem here? Britain has been a member of the European Union for 42 years without anything terrible happening as a result of our membership.

We have had a respectable rate of economic growth, better environmental protection and a few extra social rights and that is the most of it.

Any problems with the British economy have been home made and result from the lack of an industrial policy, which the Treasury has at last realised, and dependence on house price booms, which the Bank of England has at last realised.

We need to think back where we were before we joined in 1972 when Britain politicians were just trying to manage decline. We had sluggish and spasmodic economic growth and a declining role in the world, abandoning influence in the Mediterranean, then East of Suez, finding little agreement within the Commonwealth and depending on the US for stocking our ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent. As Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State said, “Great Britain has lost an Empire and not yet found a role”.

We’re in a free trade group that benefits Britain

Joining the EU hasn’t exactly transformed things but we are now in a free trade group with countries that control 20% of the world’s imports and exports.

The anti-EU view puts faith in Britain being able to negotiate free trade agreements all over the place. There are not good precedents. Iceland got an agreement with China not because the latter was interested in trade but because it gave her influence with the Arctic Circle group of countries, given the opening up of a sea route, through global warming, across an area rich in minerals. Australia, a much bigger country with a dynamic economy ended with a very bad and unbalanced deal with the US. With broader international free trade agreements stalled at the World Trade Organisation, only a block as big as the EU can negotiate a reasonable agreement with the superpowers.

More influence on foreign and defence policy

What sort of foreign and defence policy would we run on our own when our conventional forces are desperately stretched and we may never have the money to renew Trident? Influence in the world now depends as much on ‘soft ’power and small rapid response forces, which are exactly what the EU is capable of.

Do we want to control hard drugs coming from Columbia, then Spain is able to use its long-standing influence in Latin America. Did we want to help British workers at risk in the Algerian hostage crisis, then France has military knowledge of the region. We can help other countries because of our relationship with India. Our main world allies, the US and Japan, are quite clear about us staying in the EU.

There are important detailed arguments about EU membership which have been obscured by all the nonsense in the tabloids which present the EU as a foreign power that has somehow got control over Britain and which the British political elite have failed to deal with. There are three issues, sovereignty, EU regulations and the cost of the EU.

We’ve not let our sovereignty go we’ve pooled it

We have not lost our sovereignty as a result of EU membership but pooled some of it so that we take some decisions collectively with other countries. This should have been argued out with the public from the beginning and certainly during the referendum campaign and Edward Heath was actually the only major politician that did. Maybe we should pool less and maybe we should pool more but it is inevitable and even Canada has pooled some sovereignty with the US and Mexico as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But where is it pooled to? Reforms to the EU mean that the Commission now has limited power and the Council that our Ministers sit in and the European Parliament that we elect, or at least some of us do, take the decisions. No doubt national Parliaments should carry out more checks but there is a romanticism about our own Parliament which scrutinises Government legislation very badly and is whipped in line by a Government that can be elected by 25%of the voters.

Regulation where it’s beneficial

If there is a single market then there has to be a level playing field so that some countries cannot compete because they can reduce costs by allowing firms to pollute rivers or not bother with rights for part-time workers. Pretty much all the regulations follow from this. If the EU started to regulate the rules of cricket or development in the Green Belt there would be a threat to our way of life but of course it never will.

Understanding costs

We pay the EU £13bn a year and get back £11bn mostly for British farming and local economic development. The other figures quoted by the EU camp are their estimate of the cost of regulation to business and government. We could save all this money outside the EU but we would also end agricultural subsidy and regional policy for the first time since 1947, end food safety regulations, air pollution control, maternity and paternity pay, improvements to lorry safety, protection of wildlife habitats and so on and not be able to sell to EU countries because we wouldn’t meet their commercial regulations. The British people needs to know this as well.

Want to read the other side of the argument
take a look at Scott’s Blog ‘We’re better off out’