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If it’s not bust, don’t Brexit

Destroying the Norway/Switzerland myth

The UK is tying itself up in knots over Europe. The pro and anti camps come up with ever more outrageous statements: “If we leave, the UK will float in a sea of isolation comparable to North Korea’s“ vs “The EU costs up to £10m per head of population and is responsible for the death of all puppies.”

In truth, the numbers can be added up in all sorts of honest and/or creative ways to make the case for staying in, or leaving. Even those of us who believe that it is key for the UK’s future to remain within the club are disgusted by the incompetence, waste and corruption within the EU. In the face of this, it is difficult to argue against the emotionally-appealing view of an island utopia, as propounded by Brexit supporters.

But let me, as an immigrant and an adopted Brit, who has lived for longer in London than anywhere else and holds this country dear, give it a try:

1. Stop this fantasising about the UK (population 63.5m) being able to access a “favourable deal” a la Norway (population 5m) or Switzerland (population 8m) if Brexit takes place. Both countries have similar agreements with the EU which give them access to the single market. Except they have no say over regulation, which they have to sign up to, nor a say on product standards. Plus the Swiss do not have unimpeded access to the financial and other services market in the EU, which would be a major blow for the City of London and our services sector as a whole. And, a fact that seems to have been ignored by Brexit proponents, both countries have to abide by free movement of labour rules, meaning they must remain open to EU immigrants.

2. Stop blaming the EU. It is excuse number three in the lexicon of all British governments, as a Minister recently told me. Perhaps it is time to admit publicly that much of the excessive regulation this country suffers from is due to the British civil service’s addiction to gold-plating EU Directives when they turn them into UK legislation.

3. Drop the outmoded argument that the EU is seeking ever closer union and we don’t want to be part of it. The reality on the ground is totally different. Schengen is dead. The migrant cum refugee crisis is seeing the re-emergence of barbed wire and border controls. Meanwhile, the former East bloc countries are not going to join the Euro. In fact, a number of them are becoming ever more hostile to the EU itself, including the largest of them, Poland, which is following in the steps of Hungary’s autocratic government.

4. Get over the inescapable loss of sovereignty. Welcome to a world where even giants like the US and China have to balance national interests, those of their allies and the world economy. Global integration is a fact. The world is coalescing into blocs and we want to be included in treaties like the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

5. Britain must become a leading protagonist in the EU, alongside Germany. That is its rightful role. There are a number of EU meetings at which no UK official bothers turning up because our direct interests are not affected, an unspoken policy that started with Gordon Brown’s government, according to top UK civil servants. All meetings are important, not necessarily because of their content, but as a way of cultivating colleagues for future coalitions. A proactive policy will yield results – not least, because the world view of the UK and Germany are much more alike than that of Germany and France, with whom Germany is forced to partner due to the UK’s disengagement.

6. On the security front, the more ties that bind us to our allies in a dangerous world, the better. Sir John Scarlett, former head of spy service MI6 recently wrote in The Times that “British agencies…collaborate intimately with their European partners and benefit greatly from their capabilities.” President Barack Obama has called for the UK to remain in Europe as it gives the US much more confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union, which has made the world a safer and more prosperous place.

Brexit is a siren call. Let us not crash on the rocks, but sail on. And turn up to those meetings, guns blazing and charm turned on.

This article is due to appear in the next issue of Dialogue.