Former UK cabinet minister Owen Paterson has just delivered the most intelligent case for the UK leaving the European Union that I have ever heard. His basic point is that the EU is not the ‘status quo’ but something that is rapidly moving to destinations that are uncertain and dangerous, particularly for the UK; and that being outside is the safer, more stable option.
Take the eurozone. It is rapidly becoming one country, says Paterson. In order to deal with the imbalances that the fixed currency has only exacerbated, it needs to centralise decision making on budgets and bailouts. Plans for this are well advanced, eurozone sovereignty is being pooled, members’ discretion over their own budgets is being curbed and the eurozone will in effect be its own political union by 2025 – just nine years away. That is a very different kind of EU that is being envisaged, and not one that strikes a chord in the UK.
The UK government says that the UK will have ‘special status’ outside this and the other centralising tendencies. But how? There is no binding agreement that grants the UK any special status: the only sort of special status around seems to be a Norway-style outer circle. Not in the euro, not at the core, out on the fringes – it is clear that the UK’s influence could only diminish. The UK would still be outvoted, still overruled by the ECJ, still expected to chip in to eurozone bail-outs (as it was with Greece), but even less able to do anything about it.
Then there are security issues, with five new countries, 87m new potential EU citizens, waiting to join. Such as Turkey, with its leaky 700-mile border abutting a war zone. Once migrants make it to Germany or the other countries that are supposed to share them out, before long they become EU citizens and able to travel and work in their destination of choice – the UK. And we have no say in it. Migration, as ASI has shown, is generally beneficial: but far more so if it happens at a manageable rate.
Paterson’s vision for a UK outside these uncertainties is one of a self-governing, free-trading nation, a true part of the global family, its international trade and participation no longer absorbed into the EU. And as for trade deals, the EU is far weaker than the UK would be alone, each member having its own interests to throw into the horse-dealing, and proceeding only as fast as the slowest and most intransigent. The UK could do deals with China, India – and indeed the US, far quicker. It would also have greater representation on trade and other international bodies such as the WTO, where currently it is represented by the EU.
Leaving the EU is not an instant commitment, but a process. There would – and certainly should – be a long process of discussion before the formal commitment to withdraw (and the two-year i-dotting period that follows it) is given. In the meantime, the UK would continue to trade with the EU – something that 5m EU jobs, and EU supply chains, depend on. But meanwhile, we could be opening up better relations with the rest of the world.
There is no status quo. If the UK remains in the EU, it will be a second-class citizen, and the EU’s political centralization will continue, dragging the UK along with it. The eurozone, politically integrated by 2025, will dominate the rest. Outside, the UK could at least control its borders, its budget, its national debt, its public services, its international trade. What’s not to like?