The biggest success of the advocates of UK membership of the EU has been to perpetuate the myth that we need to be in the single market to trade with the rest of the EU, when the rest of the world trades quite successfully with the EU without being members. If being in the single market were just a case of accepting consensus or majority views on the regulations affecting goods and services then there might be a case for accepting it all. Instead the EU has used the cover of the so called single market to enact a wide range of measures that are now binding on the UK that have nothing to do with trade. The German view is the single currency is an integral part of the single market, and they think the UK is lucky to enjoy what they hope and expect to be a temporary exclusion of the UK from the Euro. The single market already encompasses freedom of movement of people, health and safety, transport and aspects of criminal justice which makes it so much wider in scope than a normal trade agreement.
The worst the proponents of continued UK membership can do is to take individual features of the single market that they like and ask us how we could possibly manage without them. This way of arguing ignores all the extra costs and baggage that the EU’s wide definition of single market leaves us with. It also ignores the fact that many of the trade features of our EU membership will continue because they are in the mutual interest of both parties. Many are guaranteed by our membership of the World Trade Organisation.
I spent part of Monday afternoon being interviewed by the BBC for a programme they are making on sovereignty. Much of the extended interview – not all to be broadcast I assume – was designed to try to get me to say that for example the EU anti state aid rule was a good one and we should be prepared to sacrifice the right to make some of our own decisions in order to get a common approach to state aids amongst the EU members.
Two things struck me forcefully about this line of questioning. The first was the Remain side have managed to persuade the BBC and others that EU membership is just about the narrow definition of the single market. As far as I am concerned the EU referendum is about getting our £10bn a year net contribution back to end austerity and spend the money at home. It is about making our own laws across the board instead of having to broker deals with 27 other states to make or amend a law. It is about controlling our own borders and granting our own citizenship under rules we approve. The Referendum debate should be more about the big issues than the minutiae of trade rules.
The second thing that impressed me was the idea that having some influence over the conduct of 27 other European countries mattered more than influencing the 160 plus countries that are not in the EU, including the three largest markets of the world, the USA, China and Japan.
The third thing was the misunderstanding about how best to negotiate. If we leave the EU we will get our veto back over all matters governing our relationship with the EU.That gives us more influence. Today we can often be outvoted so we lack influence on many crucial matters.
As always it was important to explain again the confusion some want to create between power and sovereignty. A country is sovereign when its people and Parliament can take any decision they wish without a foreign court and other institutions limiting their rights and choices. It does not make any country, not even the USA, all powerful. Each country has to live within the checks and balance of international politics and finance. I dispute that we are more powerful by being in the EU given our lack of influence over important issues.Of course large countries with more wealth, income and weapons are more powerful than smaller countries, but that does not mean small countries are wrong to wish to be independent. The UK is far from being a small country.