Last Thursday morning I debated Brexit with Alastair Darling at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research where we are both Governors (an honorific post).
I wished to get across two main points. No-one I know of a Eurosceptic persuasion wishes to damage our trade with the rest of Europe in any way. We believe we can have a different relationship which does not entail us being part of their political and currency union, whilst maintaining strong trade links on decent terms. The second is that the UK has a large balance of payments deficit with the rest of the EU, which makes it even more likely the other member states will want to do all they can to protect and buttress trade with the UK, as they are the winners from it.
The minority of British people who want to stay in the EU enough to argue it is a good idea to belong, nearly always go on about trade. There are few in the UK who argue for full participation, few who want us to join the Euro, few who believe in a political union, few who want common taxation and welfare policies at the EU level. I would have more respect for advocates of our membership of the EU if they did come out and say they wanted to belong to a United States of Europe, and if they would explain why they thought that was both possible and desirable.
I argued that whoever wishes to help form the government in May 2015 needs to recognise that the EU project is hurtling on to full political union, as they wrestle with the troubles of the Euro. They are out to complete a banking union, they are edging towards a welfare union, and already assert considerable control over budgets and economic policy on Eurozone members. The UK does not want any of that, so it needs to define a new relationship now. That relationship should be based on trade.
The UK is in a strong position to create a new relationship based on trade. We are the customers, as we buy so much from them than they buy from us. To those who say there are dangers if we no longer are round the table when they make up their laws, I reply that we are not round the lawmaking table when the rest of the world makes their laws,. We run a surplus with them!
Many businesses want to be able to export, but do not like all of the controls and regulations that have come from Brussels in recent years. Dear energy is one of the worst features of the EU regime, which hinder many businesses. For the sake of business, we need a relationship based on trade and market access, where we do not have to take all of the high cost and negative parts of the EU policies for our trade at home or with the rest of the world.