The EU is trying to reconcile the differing social and political aspirations of its diverse 28 member states. The UK has a long, proud and independent history in these areas. It created the model for modern democracy. It initiated and developed common law that protects all and is a model for the rest of the world. It has bravely fought for social justice including establishing trial by jury, abolishing slavery and fighting the Nazis. It is rightly suspicious of delegating these responsibilities to largely unelected and unrepresentative European bureaucracies that do not share its cultural and social heritage.
The UK joined the Common Market when it was primarily a free trade zone. This was for predominantly economic reasons and at a time when it was “the sick man of Europe”. Undemocratic militant unions, the troubles in Northern Ireland and run-away profligate socialism were devastating its economy. These problems have since been solved and it is Europe that is in an economic malaise. The UK’s recovery from the last great recession has been hampered by the poor economic performance of its European partners.
It is right that the people of the UK should be given a choice on whether to continue membership in a referendum. Since it joined the Common Market in 1973 it has morphed from a trading zone to the EU super state, with ambition to dictate social, political, economic and foreign policy. A new democratic mandate is required for this massive change of circumstance.
Few in the debate believe that Britain cannot manage its political, social and foreign policy at least as well as the EU. Sovereignty of its own Parliament can ensure it can tailor these issues to better match the specific will and needs of its electorate, without interference from unrepresentative politicians from other independent states.
It is the UK’s economic future that is driving many to consider staying in the EU. However the UK is still a large economy and one with which many countries would want to trade. As a newly Independent state the UK could set up a new free trading zones and agreements with its more affluent northern European partners – Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Ireland – and any other countries who were competitive enough to join.
The Common Market was set up in an age when geographical proximity was essential for the trading of goods and services. In the modern, online, connected world physical borders and geographical proximity are irrelevant for much of the world’s trade. The UK’s free trading agreements could therefore be extended to include countries with which the UK has strong language and cultural links but no geographical proximity: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and and India. It could further cement its “special relationship” with the world’s biggest market – the USA.
Many of the services in which the UK excels (financial and legal services for example) can be done largely online. Meetings can be held by videoconference. Ideas can be shared online with collaborative software. As can scientific and industrial research. So we can also add digital technologies into the mix: telecommunications, media; advertising; marketing and market research. The UK has unique world-class skills in the production of films, television programmes and computer games. Professional sport is a very affluent and growing industry. Cultural and language links will allow particular benefits in the free trading of all these industries and services – more than could be achieved within the language and culturally diverse European market. The ease with which physical goods are currently circulating between these countries would naturally ensure they were also included in these free trade agreements.
The UK would be further benefited by not being tied to countries creating an economic drag on the EU and consequently the UK: Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Their expensive social policies and the strait jacket of the Euro will ensure their economic woes will not be quickly or easily be remedied. Without the EU the UK would be free to open up better opportunities with more diverse economies such as China and Japan.
These new trading blocks and agreements would be based solely on economic free trade. This would eliminate most of the social and political tensions and the subsequent market distortions and bureaucracy created by the EU super state structure and ambition.
Leaving the EU would be a short-term economic risk but with time and ambition the lost economic benefits could be mitigated and then massively exceeded. Over-and-above the long-term economic benefits the UK would also regain the freedom to follow its own unique democratic, political, cultural and social destiny.