- Registration time
- Last login
- Online time
- 976 Hour
- Reading permission
Britain should leave, says Charlie Morris.|
By: Charlie Morris
26 NOV 2015.
We love Europe – the continent, the food, the culture. But the EU is an undemocratic leviathan.
Our membership of the European Union (EU) is a subject that divides Britain. This week, The Independent’s monthly poll on the matter suggested for the first time that more than half (52%) of British voters would opt to leave the EU in the coming referendum, though it’s hard to say how much of this shift is due to the recent terror attacks on Paris.
Yet despite the apparently bitter split between the Ins and the Outs, there is consensus on the EU’s flaws. Both sides agree that the EU suffers a “democratic deficit” – it is unaccountable and distant from voters. They agree that it is reactive rather than proactive – you just need to look at the years of flailing around over Greece, and the chaos of the ongoing refugee crisis, to see that. And In or Out, many question the future of the European project and the EU’s drive for “ever closer union”.
The key difference is that the Ins believe we should try to reform the EU from within, rather than take the risk of leaving. They predict that, if we left, trade would be disrupted, jobs lost and financial services damaged, and that we’d see a second Scottish referendum that could split the UK. The Outs see reform as impossible, and the risks of leaving as overstated – Brexit might cause some disruption, but any problems will soon be overcome and will pale by comparison to the potential benefits.
In short, the status quo won’t do – we need to reach a new deal that gives us more autonomy and a greater say in our own future. If that’s achievable, perhaps there’s hope for the EU yet. But if the EU pushes back – as seems likely – then we shouldn’t be afraid to vote to leave. As an independent sovereign state, Britain will thrive, just as it did for centuries before the EU came along.
Let’s be clear here. We like Europe. Europe, the continent, is fabulous – the food, the culture, the people. That won’t change. The EU, on the other hand, is a bureaucratic, undemocratic and centralised organisation. It has overstepped its mandate and is pulling Europeans in a direction that goes against their best interests. And that’s why we think Britain would be better off out.
The EU and the eurozone
At the heart of the 28-member EU is the eurozone. Of the 19 states who share the common currency, only a few have grown stronger since the 2008 credit crisis. Many have seen their economies shrink. Debt levels have ballooned, and in many nations, youth unemployment is robbing a generation of its future. To repair the damage – which starts by getting rid of the debt – there needs to be growth, inflation or default. Yet, not one of those natural remedies is free to work its way through. Instead, the EU opts for delaying tactics while hoping for further integration.
The Greek debt crisis erupted more than five years ago. If Greece was outside the eurozone, the crisis would already be over. It would have defaulted, devalued, or a mixture of both, and would be well on the way to recovery – indeed, without the reflected credibility of Germany’s credit rating, it likely couldn’t have racked up all that debt in the first place. Yet within the eurozone, it remains paralysed, lurching from crisis to crisis with no resolution.
It’s not just Greece. Much of the north has grown richer while the less affluent south has been bled dry – and this appears structural (a product of the eurozone’s design) rather than cyclical (due to temporarily unfavourable economic conditions). In essence, the problem is that both the “deutschmark” and the “drachma” are significantly mispriced – that is, the euro is overly weak for Germany and the north, artificially boosting its economy, and it’s too strong for Greece, Portugal and the like. But since they share the currency, in order to readjust, the south must undergo a painful internal devaluation. The fundamental problem is that these economies are too divergent to be harnessed together like this, and the attempts to force them to be more similar are just highlighting the “clout” disparity between Germany and Greece, for example.
It’s worth noting on this point that we’re far from alone in questioning our relationship with the EU. Finland’s parliament will debate its membership of the euro next year – since 2008, Finnish GDP has shrunk by 6% whereas Sweden’s has grown by 8%. Many blame the euro for harming Finland’s competitiveness.
Like Britain, Sweden kept its currency. As a result, the krona (like sterling) fell during the credit crisis and stimulated the economy at a time of need. And yet the solution to these problems, as far as the EU is concerned, is deemed to be ever-closer union – a shared banking system, transfers between rich and poor regions, and arguably a more uniform culture, in terms of attitudes to paying taxes and behaving “responsibly”.
The problem is that ever-closer union is exactly what we don’t want. Earlier this month, Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron – best described as a right-wing In voter – wrote to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council (and former Polish prime minister), with four demands. These included legal protection to prevent non-eurozone EU countries from being treated like second-class members of the club; the setting of goals to reduce red tape emanating from Europe; greater autonomy and a stronger voice for national parliaments in the EU; and more say over immigration and welfare. But, in Cameron’s words, “our concerns really boil down to one word: flexibility”. The Outs, of course, wanted much more. But as Mark Field MP put it, the letter represented the “art of the possible”, and Cameron hopes these demands will be enough to keep Britain at the heart of a reformed EU – but he also pointed out that life will go on whether we remain a member or not.
Spot the difference
So if both Ins and Outs agree that the EU is flawed, and that Britain needs more autonomy from Brussels, where do the differences lie?
The Ins, both left and right-wing, see Britain as the bridge between Europe and the English-speaking world. The EU would be weaker without us, and the risks to us of leaving are too high, so why rock the boat? Britain should stay, and improve the EU from within.
The Outs, on the other hand, come at the issue from the opposite ends of the political spectrum. The Outs on the right cite greater global trade, less regulation, and improved controls over immigration as benefits of leaving the EU, but they want to keep the free movement of capital, goods and labour. The Outs on the left see the EU as anti-socialist. They want the ability to nationalise or subsidise industries – for example, EU rules prevent Britain from bailing out its collapsing steel industry. But they like the social chapter and the working directives. But what both types of Out share in common is that they want our laws to be written in Britain, not Brussels.
What might Brexit look like?
Many cite Norway and Switzerland as models to follow. However, in reality, they are both special cases and Britain needs to find its own way. Switzerland is arguably the most democratic country in the world. Power is truly decentralised to the cantons and town halls. It would have been entirely unconstitutional for Switzerland to shift power to Brussels. The Swiss stayed on the fringes to protect their democracy. In this sense, Britain is nothing like Switzerland.
As for Norway – the nation held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community in 1972 and 53.5% of voters said “no”. The Norwegian government dragged them into the European Economic Area regardless in 1994. That gives them 100% of the regulations and 0% of the say – hardly an enviable position.