This is a quick post on the issue of the EU, which has been claimed by the right wing as their noble cause, as popularised by UKIP and Tory MPs like Peter Bone. Today former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson has called for the UK to leave the EU. I suspect his motives for doing so are questionable, but does he have a point?
The prevailing view on the left seems to be strongly in favour of the UK’s EU membership, with the feeling that leaving would be unthinkable. These seem to be the common arguments in favour of staying in, and why I think they are misguided:
1) EU regulations on employment rights, environmental protections etc would be torn up if we left and it’d be like Victorian Britain all over again. This seems a strange sort of argument to me. Of course, there are a lot of people who would love to tear up a lot of these regulations, but we should have more confidence in our ability to win the argument about the importance of retaining these protections whether inside or outside of the EU. We shouldn’t need an external body to protect us from the more extreme elements on the right.
2) Around 3m jobs would be put at risk if we left the EU. I’ve seen this claim a lot, and I’m not sure where it comes from. Obviously, a lot of people work for companies that trade with the EU, but I think people over estimate the impact on trade our leaving the EU would have. The UK is a huge economy. The idea that the remaining EU nations would not want to trade with us on favourable terms seems unlikely to me.
3) British workers wouldn’t be able to go and work in Europe any more and millions of Brits would have to come home. Again, I don’t think this is as big an issue as it is made out to be. It’s likely there would be new restrictions on labour movements, but skilled workers would always be welcome to work in other countries, as we welcome skilled workers from outside the EU today. People that have retired to Spain are not going to be sent home, as their spending power is a great benefit to the Spanish economy.
Here are some other reasons why our EU membership does not benefit us.
- There are a lot of things in the various treaties we are signatories to which tie the hands of our government. Deficit limits and the prohibition of using the full power of the central bank severely limit the ability of government to react economic crises. You can argue (maybe rightly) that in a crisis, these rules are routinely ignored, but moves are afoot to make these rules even more binding on nations.
- State aid rules mean it’s very difficult to implement an active industrial policy, which I would argue is vital for long run growth. Government needs to be able to ‘pick winners’ and nurture their growth. State aid rules don’t allow this.
- Immigration. Most of the evidence on immigration shows it has a strongly positive impact on the UK economy. This post makes that case well. But does this mean we should be banned from imposing any limits on immigration from the EU? I don’t think so. It may be that we decide it’s in our interest to let anyone who wants to come here to work do so, but it should be a decision for the national government to make, and they should be free to impose limits if that’s in the best interests of the nation.
Above then are just a few quick points by way of suggesting that although one’s position on the EU seems to have been reduced to a split between left (pro) and right (anti), it shouldn’t be. There are strong arguments against our membership of the EU, and they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. As ever, feel free to disagree, or suggest things I’ve missed in the above.