On Sunday morning, Andrew Marr played host to a discussion between Richard Tice, a representative of Leave.EU, and Richard Reed, a representative of Britain Stronger in Europe. Before the “debate” descended into a tedious back-and-forth arguing the toss over numbers that are of no real importance, Richard Reed said a few things that I think warrant further comment.
Reed himself, to take a brief detour, is an interesting figure. He co-founded Innocent Drinks with two university friends following a successful experiment at a rock festival during which the trio set up a stall selling fruit smoothies with two bins outside—one marked ‘yes’ and the other marked ‘no’—into which their patrons were invited to discard their paper cups. The gang agreed that whichever bin was more full would decide whether they would all return to work on Monday morning or quit their day jobs to go into business making smoothies. At the end of the festival, the ‘no’ bin contained just three cups while the ‘yes’ bin was fit to burst, so, true to their word, notices were served, and soon thereafter was born the well-known Innocent Smoothie brand.
That, I think that you will agree, is a pretty remarkable story. There is a genuine sense of adventure and entrepreneurship associated with building a business from a festival stall to a Coca-Cola acquisition. The enthusiasm and self-belief that must have taken is evident when Reed bangs the drum for Britain’s continued EU membership. The “remain” side must be delighted to have such a likeable spokesman, especially given that the discredited Tony Blair, the slippery Peter Mandelson and the grey-on-grey John Major also share his conviction.
Except, like so many of his ilk, Reed is desperately naive regarding the political aspects of the EU. In a recent tweet, Reed wrote: “I’m coming out that I am for staying IN the EU. Not about politics, it’s about Britain and our collective future.”
Not about politics. Need I say more? The EU is a supranational treaty body committed to “ever closer union”; it is 100% a political organisation.
During the Andrew Marr Show, Reed expounded “three simple arguments” in favour of Britain remaining EU members. Those were as follows:
1) “Britain, economically is stronger in Europe”. We have already seen too much of this. Europe is a continent and a civilisational perspective; neither are synonymous with the EU—I believe there are more than 50 countries in Europe, while there are only 28 EU Member States, and there was certainly no EU when the Greek city states were inventing democracy over 3000 years ago.
2) “We’re safer when we’re part of Europe”. I am not sure what is even meant by this and I am not convinved that Richard Reed knows what it means either. In common with many of our continental European allies, Britain is a part of NATO. Britain is also one of only five countries with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. I suspect that Reed was given this line by the spin doctors simply because it implies that the opposite is also true—Britain will be less safe when we’re not part of the EU—without the need to actively state anything so egregiously stupid.
3) “As consumers we are all better off being part of Europe”. This one is the most interesting of the three. Reed expanded upon this point at some length and with a real sense of enthusiam, so often absent from these encounters. If you watch either the video of Reed on The Andrew Marr Show or of his appearance on Sky News later on Sunday, you will see that Reed is a strong advocate for the Single Market. Nothing that he mentions in either appearance—literally nothing—is dependent upon Britain’s participation in the political integration process that is the only reason for our continued EU membership.
Equally as enthusiastic but far more credible was the case made by Owen Paterson, appearing on Sky News just after Reed. This comment was particularly apposite: “What I want to have is a complete[ly] new relationship with our European neighbours based on trade and friendly co-operation, but above all making our own laws in our own Parliament”. It is hard to say it any better than that!
Every vote is equally important
The reason for this post, in spite of Reed’s all too apparent ignorance, was this statement: “The one thing we will be absolutely unified on is that it is a big decision and every citizen gets one vote and every vote is equally important… it is a big macro-decision. We should all get as informed as we possibly can and everyone has got to vote”.
Here I find myself in total agreement with the smoothie-maker. This is a massive decision, and in the spirit of getting “as informed as possible”, one of the crucial factors that people like Mr Reed need to understand is that supranational subordination to EU institutions is not part and parcel of participation in the Single Market or Britain’s trade with the rest of the world. Trade and friendly co-operation with our European allies would be enhanced should Britain regain its full seat on the intergovernmental bodies—like the OIE, UNECE, the IPPC and Codex—and in so doing regain the ability to exhert real influence over regulation agreed at a global level. Indeed, in no small part due to the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (more detail here), the EU is largely a law-taker rather than a law-maker—or to phrase it another way, a redundant rubber-stamping mechanism Britain does not need.
Approaching the EU referendum with an open mind will allow us the opportunity for a real debate over Britain’s proper place in the world and the form that our future relationship with the EU should take. If we do not do this, then we all face a very tedious two years, listening to ill-informed pundits and politicians replaying the same old soundbites over and over. Let us instead demand something better by raising the level of debate. First of all by recognising the political realities of where we are—i.e. Britain’s relationship with the EU is unacceptable (the view expressed by the Prime Minister in his Bloomberg speech)—and then by competing to see which side can present the most imaginative, creative, optimistic and enterprising vision for Britain’s future.