The notion that EU membership gives Britain more “clout” in terms of trade policy may be one of the oddest ideas to have ever taken root in the minds of politicians. There is a basic logic as work. If “clout”—and it is always that word—correlates to market size and the EU is bigger than the UK then Britain must have more “clout” inside the EU than outside.
I can see what the europhiles are saying. Indeed, politicians for the “leave” side sometimes make a similar case, arguing that with an economy of 63 million people, Britain could certainly strike a “better deal” with the remaining EU Member States than either Norway or Switzerland.
Britain is the fifth biggest economy on the planet, so it is hardly a minnow in its own right. Many much, much smaller countries manage their own affairs without the imposition of EU diktats. However, if “clout” derives solely from market size then why would the UK not be better off being represented by the EU?
The answer lies in the fact that there is more to securing good trading arrangements than the size of your domestic market. Agility and autonomy count for a lot more. Bound by the EU’s “common position” and with only 12.6 percent of a Qualified Majority Vote in the Council of the EU, Britain has neither.
Moreover, it is complete non sequitur to assert that Britain is stronger in the EU. The EU is not a co-operative venture. EU membership means surrendering policy control to institutions which act not in the interests of the British electorate, as our government should, but in the interests of advancing political union, taking ever more power away from Member States.
Trade, for instance, is an exclusive EU competency. Trade negotiations are conducted by the European Commission, acting on behalf of the EU-28. Under the terms of Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, EU Member States are treaty-bound to adopt a “common position” at the WTO and on regional and global forums such as UNECE, Codex, the IPPC, the OIE, the IMO, etc. UK self-representation at the global level is in the process of being erased. Our voice in the world is increasingly via an EU interface.
That alphabet soup of acronyms are bust some of the global bodies where an increasing proportion of Single Market rules originate. Understanding that the EU is not the top table in terms of trade is the first step towards realising that, far from enhancing Britain’s “clout”, EU membership is a barrier to self-representation.
Leaving the EU will not leave Britain “isolated” or “without influence”. Far from it. The UK is plugged into the global system in ways that most people, let alone most politicians, have not even begun to comprehend.
If we want Britain to be a modern, global trading nation, we need our voices heard at those top tables and we need the democratic protections that can only come from being able to wield our own vote and veto. Outside of the EU, Britain would be ideally placed to act as an advocate and oarsman for the multilateral trading system, developing systems and frameworks that allow others to opt-in rather than forcing independent nations to surrender their sovereign power to a supranational bureaucracy.
Leave the EU, into the world.