Globalisation is a reality, but its economic advance has not been matched by political structures to offset its worst effects. The European Union represents a new type of political structure which offers the potential to provide some measure of effective regulation. The point was well made by Rupert Murdoch. Asked why he was so opposed to the European Union, he said “That’s easy. When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”
The Bank of England, the OECD, the IMF and the vast majority of economists say that the UK would be worse off if it left the European Union. Brexiters argue that we could easily negotiate a free trade deal with the EU that would give us access to the single market without having to abide by his rules. Perhaps they forget that while exports to Europe account for 12 per cent of our GDP, exports to the UK account for only three per cent on average for the other member states.
The remaining member states are not going to want to do us any favours for derailing the European project, nor are they going to want to offer a deal that will encourage other member states to exit.
Brexiters talk of the savings that would result from exit, working from a gross rather than a net figure and overlooking any decline in tax revenues resulting from a fall in growth or the fee that would have to be paid for access to the single market. It has been promised that this money could be spent on the NHS, on removing VAT from electricity and gas and maintaining subsidies. I have even heard a pro-Brexit MP say that it could be used for mending potholes, keeping libraries open and restoring bus services.
The European Union has played a leading role in developing environmental policy, not least in relation to climate change. Environmental standards in the UK are higher than they would have been in the absence of EU membership. Pollution is no respecter of national boundaries. It is far better dealt with by the EU than through a series of ad hoc agreements.
The study group I chaired for the Yorkshire Agricultural Society concluded that exit would not be beneficial either for UK agriculture or for the food processing industry which is one of our largest industries. Some farmers expect a bonfire of controls, but regulations are there for a reason: for example, we regulate pesticides because they are toxic substances. Relatively few regulations would disappear after Brexit.
We would face great complexities in renegotiating international trade deals after Brexit. The EU negotiates as a bloc that gives it considerable leverage in international trade negotiations. We do not have any trade diplomats experienced in this complex task.
The EU is far from perfect, but we need to continue to press for reform from inside. A UK outside the EU would be diminished in economic, political and cultural terms.