Seven Misconceptions About Europe

Myths and deceptions abound concerning the EU and Britain's place within it or outside it.  Oliver Lewis in the Spectator has done a workmanlike and admirably brief summary of what he calls "Ten myths about Brexit," identifying scare stories.  There are also 7 common errors about Europe that will almost certainly feature in the debate.  Some are misconceptions and self-deceptions, but all are untrue.

1.  The first is the misidentification of Europe with the EU.  "Britain must stay in Europe."  "Our future belongs in Europe."  Although the term "Europe" is often used in Britain to refer to "the Continent," Britain is part of Europe.  The land link that connects England, Wales & Scotland to mainland Europe is under the Channel, but islands of European countries are included in the term.  The European Union, by contrast, is a political and economic association of some European countries.  It does not include such European countries as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.  If the UK leaves the EU, it will remain part of Europe, sharing the cultural heritage and the links forged by history.

2.  It is not true that if the UK chooses to leave the EU, we will be like Norway, having to accept EU rules, but having no further say in the framing of them.  Countries outside the EU have to meet EU rules for goods they export there, but do not have to meet EU rules for their domestic goods or for ones they export to world markets.  The UK might seek a relationship with the EU similar to that between the EU and the USA, or between the EU and China, or it might opt for a closer one such as that enjoyed by Switzerland.  There are several options.

3.  We are told that the UK has not lost sovereignty to the EU; it has pooled sovereignty with other nations.  This might have some truth in a technical sense, but little in a practical sense.  The UK can exercise a say in EU deliberations, but it is routinely outvoted by nations with a totally different conception of law and of the role of the state.  The UK has a tradition of Common Law, and of looser reins of state direction than most of its EU counterparts.  Other EU nations often combine to pass laws that Britain perceives to be against its interest.  Britain, on the other hand, has little impact on what happens in Continental countries.

4.  The EU deal claimed that it was worthwhile for its member nations each to sacrifice some individual sovereignty in order to achieve EU-wide rules that would enable all members to prosper.  This was the argument put to encourage the UK to join in 1973 and to reaffirm its membership in 1975.  Britain was then the "sick man of Europe" because of its basket-case economy.  Times have changed.  UK growth now easily outstrips the EU's.  It is creating more jobs than the other members combined.  Meanwhile countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal are searching for the prosperity that was supposed to follow their surrender of sovereignty.

5.  The loudest misconception is that British jobs would disappear if the UK left the EU.  As Lewis points out, the famous "3 million jobs will disappear" dates back to a 2000 study by the National Institute for Economic & Social Research that simply counted the jobs sustained by exports to the EU.  EU customers would not suddenly stop buying British goods if Britain were no longer an EU member.  They buy goods from many countries, including the US and China, and would continue to buy from the UK.  It is in their interest to do so.  Worldwide trade agreements from the WTO onwards would ensure that the UK and the EU had access to each other's markets.  If anything, jobs would be created if Britain were free to trade with the rest of the world on its own terms.

6.  We are told that foreign investment would cease to flow in if Britain were not part of the EU project.  The same claim was made if Britain did not join the euro. It remained outside, yet last year saw the highest level of inward investment in the UK in over a quarter of a century.  It makes the same mistake as the claim over lost jobs, the assumption that UK trade with the EU would splutter to a halt without full UK membership.  Since the UK has a huge trade deficit with the rest of the EU, it is scarcely credible that other EU members would wish to reduce trade with Britain.

7.  Various special interests which benefit from the EU budget have expressed alarm that their grants would disappear if Britain left the EU.  Universities are concerned about research grants, farmers about agricultural subsidies.  It is true that some UK interests count on EU grants that would disappear.  It is also true, however, that the UK contribution to the EU budget would also disappear, a sum that dwarfs the grants made to interest groups.  This would leave the UK government ample funds to replace such of those grants as it saw merit in sustaining.

It is quite possible that Mr Cameron will secure an advantageous deal from his EU colleagues that allows the UK to protect its sovereignty while enjoying a vigorous trading relationship with its partners.  If he does, the British people might well vote to accept that deal.  It will be better for the debate leading up to that vote, however, if the above misconceptions about the Europe and the EU are laid to rest.