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?