Who’s afraid of Martin Wolf’s view of the EU?

Yesterday I was invited to a short debate with Martin Wolf of the FT about whether the UK will be better off or worse off out of the EU.

Martin Wolf is an intelligent and well informed commentator on the UK’s senior business newspaper, so I was expecting a polished and detailed analysis of the UK economy in or out of the EU. Instead he resorted to the usual tactics of the Better Stay in Europe campaign. His case was negative. It entirely centred around the proposition that if we left the EU the rest of the EU would in some way retaliate against their trade with us, in unspecified ways which would cost us and not them.

He did not say they will be throwing our exported goods into the harbour, nor did he suggest Germany would no longer wish to sell us BMWs and Mercedes, though he might as well have said that. He implied we would have to carry on sending contributions to the EU after we had left it so they still buy some of our goods, and implied they could find ways round WTO rules to impose new barriers on our exports. He concentrated on goods, not services in all his figures, so presumably he is expecting physical barriers and tariffs on trade in goods.

I told him I had met senior representatives of the German government before Christmas who has assured me Germany sought no new tariffs or barriers on trade if we leave. I asked him if he thought the German government had been lying? He seemed surprised, and claimed that other unspecified EU countries might be able to stop this sensible German approach to Brexit. I pointed out that as they sell us more than we sell them they have an interest in sensible trading arrangements. I reminded him that over 160 countries around the world trade successfully with the EU but are not members and pay no contributions. Mexico and Canada have free trade agreements with the EU, and the EU now says it wants more of these agreements with bigger trading partners. Surely that would also apply to us.

He had no positive thing to say about our membership of the EU. He did not seem to want us to join the Euro or Schengen, the main features of the modern EU. He just wants us to stay in a club with some countries he thinks will behave badly if we leave. Is this the best stay in supporters can do?

We need to keep asking them

Why don’t they want us to join the Euro and Schengen, as these are central to the project?

How do they think the UK can avoid having to pay some of the bills and provide some of the support for the ailing Euro area?

Why hasn’t the EU in 43 years negotiated free trade agreements with the USA, China or India?

How can the UK be kept apart form the increasing rules and taxes needed within the financial services and banking union?


    February 12, 2016

    Off Topic:
    It might be an idea if the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee members were to repay the taxpayer for any salaries, expenses, food and beverages and costs they have or will receive for their recent meetings with Google executives.
    Also any expenses incurred by the Google executives in attending the meetings including correspondence and administration costs. In addition, make a negotiated settlement to Google for any commercial damage it may have incurred as a result of the meetings and statements made to the Press .
    It should not be necessary for a company such as Google to have to remind MPs that it is they , unless they blame the EU, for taxation law. Any loopholes, as the Committee terms them, that is, bad inefficient work by MPs in regard to taxation law, is their responsibility and their responsibility alone. Whether those particular MPs and not all MPs should be fined for loss of the taxes they maintain they should have legislated for is a matter perhaps for an independent body to determine.
    “What is your salary?” is not an appropriate question to ask a Google executive at such a meeting. The Chairman of the meeting, if it is necessary to know, should already know.
    As a matter of commercial fact and procedure, it is common for a company including many British ones and, foreign ones deliberately to make themselves taxable in the UK or in another jurisdiction. The UK is in itself a tax haven.

    February 12, 2016

    One should be more outward looking and positive. A whole world, far larger than the EU market has many issues with EU countries regarding tariffs and trade in general. Our leaving the EU will open the floodgates to their investment in us and our investments with them.
    It would not be cricket if it were our intention, but as a by-product as it were of our leaving the EU, there are great trading pacts and countries in the world who would trade with us to a large extent hopeful that in so doing our resultant prosperity would encourage the further breakup of the EU. It must be understood the EU has created rather lopsided unequal relations with many countries outside its economic block.
    On leaving the EU it would not be in its interests to cross us… or threaten to. They won’t.

  3. The Active Citizen
    February 12, 2016

    Wolf was simply following the corporate FT line on the EU so you shouldn’t be surprised. Even worse in the financial world are Bloomberg, who are about as pro-EU as you can get.

    I wrote a second comment on your EU army article yesterday which (for some reason I can’t guess) you decided not to publish. I pointed out that the Secretary General of NATO is the former Labour Party Prime Minister of Norway and an ardent Europhile, and therefore likely to favour increasing EU/NATO collaboration to the possible detriment of the balance of power within NATO. Fortunately for Norway, 80% of Norwegians disagreed with their former PM’s policy of joining the EU.

    One of the issues I was trying to raise yesterday is that of “EU-think” – a mindset of so many powerful and influential people. Your readers often ask the question how the PM and many others can possibly believe in what they say when the facts contradict them.

    This is a question which needs addressing, as it’s vital in winning the Referendum. If political and leaders and media commentators such as Mr Wolf have this convinced mindset, voters will inevitably be influenced, thinking “How can they be wrong?”

    I have some answers to that, but unlike Mr Wolf I now have to get back to work making money and creating more jobs for people.

    Reply I am very mbusy, with many requests to speak and give interviews, so I will not always be able to moderate longer pieces quickly or pieces which refer to named individuals.

    1. The Active Citizen
      February 12, 2016

      Reply to reply : Fair point. We sometimes forget what you get through each day.

  4. stred
    February 12, 2016

    Matin Wolf. European descent escaping the Nazis. Bilderburger. Labour. Likes public ownership. Probably why the FT is so boring and unbusinesslike and pro EU.

  5. Anonymous
    February 12, 2016

    Project Fear is working though.

    It needs to be put across that remaining within the EU is terrifying but we’re not hearing this.

    There is also the matter that your party was successfully elected on a last minute “Forget UKIP. Ours is the only party which can deliver you a referendum on Europe.”

    So the difference between the polling forecast and the actual outcome of the 2015 election can be accounted for by this promise.

    So why the gagging of Europhiles in the the Tory party ?

    And why are they willing to be gagged ?

  6. Duyfken
    February 12, 2016

    If the countries within the EU were to be as vindictive as Wolf has apparently expressed or implied, this demonstrates their character. Who would want to be in a Club with people such as these?

    1. Denis Cooper
      February 12, 2016

      It does seem that some of the people who want to keep us in the EU actually have a lower opinion of our European neighbours than some of the people who don’t think the EU treaties are the right treaties for us and get accused of xenophobia.

      1. forthurst
        February 12, 2016

        Actually, Denis, the problem that these people face is that whereas they desperately want to remain in the EU, they dare give their real reasons; in fact they suffer from terminal xenophobia themselves and see the EU as a grand project to destroy nations, nationalities, cultural identities by both political and geostrategic means i.e. importing millions of unassimilables from the third world. Hence they are left with spurious reasons which can easily be bested by the likes of the English champion, JR, in open combat.

        1. Denis Cooper
          February 13, 2016

          There’s a lot in that.

  7. Mike Stallard
    February 12, 2016

    The debate is moving on now.
    Everyone agrees that it is going to take years to disentangle ourselves from the EU. Nothing can be done swiftly and without careful negotiations.
    Everyone is beginning to see that the EU is headed towards total integration into the eurozone and nobody wants that for this country in the long run.
    In the coming referendum the idea that we shall suddenly end our relationship with Europe immediately after our victory is not on. The referendum is about applying Article 50/138 and then joining EFTA and remaining in the EEA temporarily while we arrange our future over the next years after that.
    Once that is all fixed up, we are on the road to independence.

    1. l'Esprit
      February 12, 2016

      Not the EEA! The EEA is the EU’s Green Room, it’s ante-chamber. Hence Norway has a bad deal because, even though the electorate rejected EU membership by a huge majority, the quisling pro-EU leaders shunted the country into a quasi-EU associate membership.

      Once you are in the EEA, you never free yourself of it.

      No, we would have to have an entirely discrete UK-EU Treaty.

    2. Timaction
      February 12, 2016

      I agree it will take a couple of years to arrange a trade and friendship only arrangement but Mr Cameron and other Europhiles will have to go. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas and we can see from his pathetic renegotiation he is not capable of representing us on the EU after we vote to leave!
      Was it just me or did Mr Farage whoop all comers on the BBC Question Time panel last night?

    3. forthurst
      February 12, 2016

      If we go down the Article 50 route, we would be negotiating from within the EU which could quite easily dump two million more low skilled workers and others of uncalibrated provenance on us whilst arguing over every last dot and comma: no, let’s get out first!

  8. Lifelogic
    February 12, 2016

    Indeed but this is the line nearly all the pro EU lot (Cameron and nearly all at the BBC) take. They have to as they lack any ration arguments. Who would want to be in a club for the sole reason that if you came out all the other members would gang up on you?

    They do this ganging up far more effectively when they have the treaties and the courts in Luxembourg to help them anyway.

    I see Wolf is yet other Oxford PPE (after initially starting classics).

    Though it does say on wiki that:- Seeing the results of misjudged intervention by global authorities and also influenced from the early 1970s by various works critical of government intervention, such as Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, Wolf shifted his views towards the right and the free market.

    Clearly he did shift them very far and became infected with state sector think that ever more bloated government, regulation, multi layer government, a top down command economy and endless taxes was just great.

    Perhaps (like Gordon Brown and Adam Smith) he just did not understand Hayek?

    1. Richard1
      February 12, 2016

      Martin Wolf is certainly an intelligent and well informed commentator, but he does tend to adopt the de haut en bas tone common to ‘keynesian’ economists. We should recall he was an advocate of euro membership and made confident predictions of doom due to the governments supposed ‘austerity’ programme in the last parliament, which have proved very wide of the mark.

      1. Lifelogic
        February 12, 2016

        Can one be well informed and intelligent yet come to such daft conclusions?

        Can you be well informed and intelligent and yet their best argument for staying in is that the other members will bully us if we leave?

        I can come up with far better reasons to say in that that.

    2. bluedog
      February 12, 2016

      One can forgive Adam Smith for not understanding Hayek.

      1. Lifelogic
        February 12, 2016

        It was Gordon (pension robber) Brown that did not understand Adam Smith. Mind you Osborne is giving us more of the same pension robbing and tax increases and tax complexity insanities at every turn.

        Osborne seems to think everyone should work as tax consultants, bureaucrats or lawyers. But some people do have to have useful and productive jobs. Feeding, entertaining and housing them or getting them from A to B. They cannot all advise each other on tax complexities and avoidance.

    3. Lifelogic
      February 12, 2016

      The FT has of course been proved consistently wrong on the ERM, the EU, the size of government, the over regulation of everything and the EURO over the years.

      Rather like most of the remain side. They are the voice of the big government, the establishment, much of academia and big industry. Nearly always they are against small business, freedom, small governments and the real interests of the majority of voters and the population at large.

      1. Lifelogic
        February 12, 2016

        Also against any real democracy of course – they know best or rather they think they do.

  9. Antisthenes
    February 12, 2016

    It used to be that for information and knowledgeable analysis that could be found in newspapers, on the radio and television the better ones at least The Times, Telegraph, FT, BBC etc but that no longer is the case. Like everything else the progressives have taken over and so now everything is dumbed down especially the journalists and presenters. They do not seem to bother any more with properly researched and factual information. They happily write down or spout any old rubbish as long as it toes the progressives ideological line or a particular vested interests agenda and of course it must be salacious, lurid and sensationalist.

    These days if you wish to be properly informed and learn the truth it is necessary to turn to the internet. It is also necessary to be discerning though as the internet contains a lot of nonsense. The internet is proving to be a social game changer. It is changing our thinking, actions and is empowering the population as they have never been before. In politics every policy, law, pronouncement and the like can be more widely scrutinised, analysed and debated by a much large portion of the population. The MSM and the politicians need to be fearful as what they once were able to get away with is become evermore difficult. The internet will democratise the world whereas other ways have failed or has had limited success. People power will grow because of it.

    Martin Wolf is obviously just one amongst many who work for the main stream media who just churn out biased rubbish only interested in filling in their column inches as quickly and as effortlessly as possible. Bias can be expected except of course from the BBC whose charter forbids it but does not stop them but poorly researched and little understood information and analysis should not be.

  10. Ian Wragg
    February 12, 2016

    Financial Times
    Pro EU and wanted to join the Euro. I don’t think the people are as stupid as politicians think. All this negativity from the remain camp can only help us

    If you have nothing positive to about a club it’s a poor club to be in.

  11. Ian Wragg
    February 12, 2016

    I’ve just been reading how Daves concessions are already being watered down
    Ever closer union is a must and the City cannot escape regulation from Germany.
    He asked for nowt. Got nowt and now it’s less than nowt.

  12. Horatio McSherry
    February 12, 2016

    I’ve never understood why Europhiles use the argument that EU countries will severely punish us on every front if we leave the EU.

    If EU countries hate the UK so much and can’t wait for an opportunity to savage the UK, then why on earth do Europhiles want to shackle themselves into a union with them? They can’t all have a guilt-ridden masochist gene, surely?

    1. Timaction
      February 12, 2016

      Ask Gideon. He would probably know.

      1. forthurst
        February 12, 2016

        Oh dear, has he suffered a whiplash injury at some point?

  13. agricola
    February 12, 2016

    More people are into social media than read Martin Wolf. Ridiculing such nonsense in those parts of the media who are on board for Brexit, publishing a paper for national distribution setting out the case for Brexit, and social media are the way to go.

    Every morning I open up my computer I get at least half a dozen request for contact to buy objects or services. Use the same route to get the Brexit message out and the ridiculing of the stay in argument, such as it is. If someone flogging pills from Canada or their body from Barcelona can afford to do this then I see no great financial burden in the Brexit campaign doing it. Learn to fight with a piece of iron in your gloves.

    Reply THis is a recorded debate between me and him to get the Brexit message out!

    1. agricola
      February 12, 2016

      Reply to Reply

      Knowing where one could access this recorded debate could be helpful.

  14. Brian Tomkinson
    February 12, 2016

    Those wanting us to remain in the EU regularly use the argument that those same wonderful neighbours and partners in the EU with whom they believe we should continue to be entwined would immediately become vindictive and hostile towards us should we choose to return to being an independent self-governing country. Not only do they ignore the self-interest of EU countries exporting to us, they fail to see the contradiction in their argument.

  15. Leslie Singleton
    February 12, 2016

    Dear John–I am very sure that what you have said is the plain unvarnished truth but presumably this Wolf chappie wouldn’t put it quite the way you have–Did you send him a copy of what you have just written?–I am having trouble understanding how he, or perhaps the FT (should I buy a copy today?–it is indeed boring), allows himself to be thus traduced, presumably without comment, especially the emphasis on no positive reasons to Remain.

  16. Roy Grainger
    February 12, 2016

    If we vote Remain I suspect then we’ll see how vindictive the EU is.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 12, 2016

      Indeed we will then see vindictive writ large.

      Even those who wish to remain should vote leave and they will be offered a better deal later.

      They should reject that too.

  17. oldtimer
    February 12, 2016

    He reflects the Establishment view. Overturning that well entrenched view will require a voter revolt against the Establishment along the lines currently seen in the initial US primaries. The odds are with the Establishment, because they control so much of the airwaves. They can spout rubbish and deny a voice to contrary opinions which is why you and others with similar opinions get so little air time. But the Establishment view is not impregnable.

  18. Bert Young
    February 12, 2016

    A few days ago I spent some time consulting the Independent , the Guardian , The Times , The Telegraph , the Express , The Daily Mail and the Financial Times . My interest followed Cameron’s gaff ” to follow your hearts etc”. All except the Financial Times were critical of Cameron’s advice except the Financial Times . I was surprised because in the past I had always found the columns of the FT to be a valuable background to the business I ran .

    This observation I made to my friend in Sonning – who was not surprised ; he – like another friend of mine , a long time member of the Conservative Party , thought the Press were right in their criticism and the FT were out of balance . So , today , I am not surprised in John’s summation of his debate with Martin Wolf . As a member of OXONIA I have attended previous addresses by Martin Wolf and always thought them full of insight and good analysis ; the blog today highlights that presentations on one day don’t always meet the quality of presentation an another . Unlike Lifelogic I am not critical of Oxford PPE ; the quality of intelligence and debate that one experiences at Oxford are of the highest order ; it does not mean that the views expressed accord with one’s own . The views expand the area of discussion and often lead to a wider judgement .

  19. eeyore
    February 12, 2016

    The Stay camp remind one more and more of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time in the Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze. The curious incident, of course, was that the dog did nothing.

    Ed Balls appeared on the radio this morning as an eminent Stayist. His position was that the EU was admittedly as complete a dog’s breakfast as might well be imagined, that change was vital, but “let’s stay in and win the argument. We can only make these changes from the inside.”

    In other words, the good ship EU is leaking at every seam and sinking fast, so let’s all lock ourselves in the cabin and talk about what to do.

    Compare that popgun (in his honour it could be called the Argumentum Ballsi) to the awesome firepower Mr Redwood has deployed over the past few weeks!

    If that’s the best the Stayists can do, the Leavists have little to fear.

  20. JimS
    February 12, 2016

    I find it worrying that the ‘Remain’ people can’t put up a decent argument for the EU. It is as if they have been brainwashed or have lost any ability to think for themselves.

    This conditioning exists among the electorate too, “We won’t be able to holiday in Europe”, level of argument is all too common.

    Has ‘everyone’ turned into un-thinking Euro-sheep? One can engage with someone who can form a rational argument but not with a Euro-religionist.

  21. agricola
    February 12, 2016

    It would appear that the latest CMD wheeze to keep us in the EU is to suggest that the principal beneficiary from our exit would be Vladamir Putin. This pre-supposes that a united omnidirectional EU is a barrier to Russian territorial ambitions.

    As the EU is already disunited, and doesn’t know it’s arse from it’s elbow, a free thinking and acting UK is not necessarily to Putin’s advantage. In a security sense NATO is the only name in the game, the EU is irrelevant.

    One awaits with great anticipation to see what our failed PM and PR guru can come up with next. An updated “Yes Minister” is long overdue.

  22. oldtimer
    February 12, 2016

    Ruth Lea, in CityAM today, points out that the UK is a critical market for EU exporters. £89bn of the total £125bn goods deficit for 2015 was with the EU, £31.6bn with Germany alone. For every £3 the UK exports to the EU, Britain imported £5 from the EU. She concludes, like you, that it is inconceivable that any German car exporter or French wine exporter would wish to see any impediments to their trade with Britain. So it is not just Germany that runs a trade surplus with us, the rest of the EU apparently runs a surplus of £89bn less Germany`s £31.6bn = £57.4bn!

    Absent an agreement the default trade position would be under WTO rules. The most significant would be a 10% tariff on cars – but that would be reciprocal and certainly of no advantage to Germany or France or Italy to name but three. JLR sells premium priced products and has already announced its plan to build a plant in Slovakia. The prospect of a UK free trade agreement with NAFTA would no doubt rapidly focus the attention of EU negotiators.

    1. Denis Cooper
      February 12, 2016

      I was a bit surprised to read this statistic for 2013 on page 1 here:


      “the balance of trade for vehicles is £70 million net export”.

      Only £70 million; “the automotive industry accounts for 4% of GDP (£60.5
      billion) and currently provides employment for more than 700,000 people in the UK”, “The UK is now the second largest vehicle market and fourth largest vehicle manufacturer in the EU.”; “77% of vehicles produced in 2013 were exported”; but the net contribution to our balance of payments was a mere £70 million.

  23. NickW
    February 12, 2016

    What the Referendum Act does NOT do is to bind the Government to take ANY action if the Referendum result is in favour of leaving.

    Cameron will ignore it, just as he has instructed his MPs to ignore the views of their constituents and local parties,(i.e. The electorate).

    Could a Parliamentary majority be formed to compel the Government to be bound by the result, given the Labour party’s surrender to EU interests and the presence of large numbers of Europhile Conservatives?

    The reason why Cameron and the EU leaders are so relaxed about this referendum and are offering derisory concessions is that they have no intention whatever of doing anything to honour the result if it goes against them; they have form on this.

    The Conservative party needs to hold Cameron’s feet to the fire to find out what his and the EU’s intentions are in the event of a vote in favour of leaving.

    The Act can be read here;


    Reply. Of course we will require that an out bite means we leave!

  24. graham1946
    February 12, 2016

    ‘Putin wants us to leave’ – CMD. This is desperate stuff from the man who said there were 70,000 troops in Syria just waiting in the wings for us to do some bombing and rid the world of IS. . How’s that going? Anyone seen anything of this number which is far greater than the IS total.

    I’d rather deal with a thief than a liar – at least you know what you are getting.

  25. Denis Cooper
    February 12, 2016

    I was also suprised to hear Carwyn Jones saying on Question Time that other countries were getting around the EU’s public procurement rules for projects by specifying grades of steel which can only be produced by steelworks in their own country. I’m not a metallurgist but this sounds rather unlikely to me and I wonder a) whether it’s true, and b) whether the EU Commission will catch up with them some time in the future.

  26. getahead
    February 12, 2016

    Martin Wolf, if the EU doesn’t want to trade with us after we leave, I don’t care.
    It’s not about trade.

    1. Denis Cooper
      February 13, 2016

      We are their very good customers.

      OK, so a company may well survive and may not even suffer too much if it alienates part of its customer base, but in general it’s not a good idea.

  27. Margaret
    February 12, 2016

    It isn’t so much a threat of retaliation as a suggestion of blackmail. I find this deplorable. I am not sure whether you meant that he resorted to his usual tactics and if this is the case I wondered why you expected a polished debate, or you meant that many other ‘stay in’s’ resort to these tactics.

    Another point which is really directed at the commenters and not yourself, as I have never detected any academic snobbery in you whatsoever A persons preferred direction of education is not the sole education anyone acquires in their life and if others think that a few years learning a particular subject underlines a whole lifes’ learning then they themselves are the fools.

  28. Tad Davison
    February 12, 2016

    I have a similar problem with a friend who has written the odd guest editorial for the FT. (Joe DiVanna, but you might wish to edit his name). He is besotted with the EU which might indicate how much propaganda he takes in from that particular publication.

    He usually makes sense, yet when he talks of the European Union and our part in it, his arguments don’t stack up. I asked him if he’d care to put his opinions down in this forum for wider scrutiny, but he didn’t want to do that. He likes to write for money (personally, I’ll write for nothing so long as it’s for a worthy cause, and fighting the EU is certainly in that league!).

    So more generally, I wonder what it is that otherwise educated people see in the EU when they cannot adequately defend it. When it poses a clear and present danger to the very concept of democracy. It really is like watching eaters of the Lotus fruit, or maybe the Eloi from HG Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’ who hear the sirens, are transfixed into a kind of blind stupor, and walk towards their doom without question.

    You cannot defeat an illogical opinion with a logical argument, for no matter how powerful it is. I tried that with Huppert. These people will go their own way and their minds will not be changed. Must be something in the water!

    Tad Davison


  29. Maureen Turner
    February 12, 2016

    Mr. Wolf’s view is a bit of pick and mix in that he wants it all ways. The fear he has, if any, is fear in his own judgement so best hang on to nurse ………

    I appreciate JR you have written much on how our departure from the Club would benefit us economically but those of us in favour of voting Out are always sold the negatives on every aspect of leaving and not just re how dangerous this would be re trade but only two days ago Mr. Barroso popped up again to advise leaving would not reduce the numbers of migrants coming to the UK. All else failing there is always the old ploy – brainwashing.

    If we are completely inadequate why are we being so strongly courted? Is it the £ 50 million each day or is our PM seen as an easy push over with no worthwhile concessions having to be conceded? Probably both.

    I’ve a sense things may be turning in favour of Leave and when the bullying tactic of gagging is lifted let us hope the Cabinet ministers of our persuasion go for it full tilt.

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