Today, the new Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, appeared on the BBC. Here is part of what he said:
Britain would be much poorer, much less relevant, much less important in the world, much less safe, if we left the European Union. There is loads wrong with the Commission, but there is everything right with us being part of the European Union. The risk to British jobs— if you think that 100 of the world’s top 250 companies have London as their headquarters, for one reason really, and that is because we are in the EU. The number of jobs that would be lost, the prosperity lost, our relevance and standing in the world would be massively diminished if we left the EU, which is why it is so frustrating that both David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn are sitting on the fence and toying with Britain leaving the European Union. We will be absolutely 100 percent clear, it is the most patriotic thing you can do in the next year, to support Britain being in the EU.
First of all, I am massively thankful to Tim Farron for using the correct terminology, referring to the supranational treaty organisation of which Britain is a member as the European Union and the EU, rather than the tedious, childish insistence of his fellows in the legacy media and the three main political parties of referring to the EU as “Europe”, regardless of the number of times that they are corrected. Farron deserves praise for that, if nothing else.
Addressing the content of his comments, Farron does not cite any evidence to support his assertions. The assumption that voters will simply accept what political leaders say betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of referendums. In our “representative democracy” Parliament decides, whereas in a referendum, the politicians, unable to settle the matter in parliament, abrogate responsibility to the voters and it is for the British electorate to decide and give direction to government.
In other words, bald assertions are not going to cut it. We are going to need to see some evidence.
To address each of Mr Farron’s assertions in order:
1) “Britain would be much poorer”—Britain is the sixth richest economy on the planet. Traditions of “freedom under law”, commerce and trade reach back centuries into our history. Trade and co-operation with our continental European allies, as well as with the rest of the world, would not end should Britain decide to leave the EU. Single Market participation would be negotiated as part of our Article 50 exit settlement, with an “off-the-shelf” agreement such as the EFTA/EEA or “Norway option” (for short), providing a short-term solution for effecting (relatively) rapid withdrawal within the two-year time frame laid out in the Treaty on European Union.
2) “much less relevant, much less important in the world”—I shall address these two points together, seeing as they are related. Contrary to the Nick Clegg line about “fax democracy”, Britain would enjoy more power and influence outside the EU, negotiating with our partners at a global level on the intergovernmental bodies where international trading standards are actually agreed. The WTO, UN and UNECE, to name but three, “hand down” standards to the EU, which then packages and implements them as regulations and directives. If Mr Farron would care to explain why 1/8th of a say in the Council of Ministers is preferable to full self-representation on these global bodies, and how this subordinate status makes Britain ‘more relevant’ and ‘more important’ in the world, I would like to hear his answer.
3) “much less safe”—I am unsure what Mr Farron is even referring to here. It cannot be a reference to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Rapid Reaction Force, because his parliamentary colleague, Mr Clegg, was good enough to inform us that plans for EU involvement in military affairs is a “dangerous fantasy”. Seriously though, Britain spends more money than most countries to maintain our military capabilities at a high level; Britain is also one of just five nation-states with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. It would be helpful if Mr Farron could clarify: in what sense would leaving the EU make Britain “much less safe”?
4) Then he invokes the ‘risk to British jobs’, asserting that “100 of the world’s top 250 companies have London as their headquarters, for one reason really, and that is because we are in the EU”. This is simply false. If, proximity to EU institutions was the sole determining factor in where these businesses are based, all of them would be headquartered in Brussels. There are lots of businesses—big and small—based in Britain because we are a law-governed democracy with functional institutions and a long history of respect for the rule of law. Get it straight, Tim, that would not change should we choose to leave the EU.
Mr Farron may also be referring to our participation in the Single Market, but as I expect to reherse many, many more times before the outcome of the referendum is decided, access to and even participation in the Single Market is not dependent upon EU-centric political integration. Indeed, we would play an even more influential role in setting Single Market rules and world trade standards outside of the EU, as already explained.
5) “We will be absolutely 100 percent clear, it is the most patriotic thing you can do in the next year, to support Britain being in the EU”… It is hard to know how to respond to this. I could quote Einstein talking about patriotism being the “last refuge of the scoundrel”, but I am a fairly patriotic person so that would probably be disingenuous. I will simply ask, what is patriotic about the desire for Britain’s national democracy, which, however flawed, represents the majority will of the British people, to be subordinated to supranational EU institutions and the majority will of foreign governments?