Simon Haskel on the risks to both our economy and society from the UK leaving the EU
Last week, I read A Brief Stop by Swedish journalist Goren Rosenberg, in which he describes in detail a recent journey taken in his father’s footsteps. From the ghetto in Lodz, Poland to Auschwitz to a slave labour camp in Germany, ending up in 1946 in a small town in Sweden via a Red Cross resettlement camp.
While I was reading the book, events were taking place to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. At the same time, quite a lot of mean minded, nationalistic politics being aired in both the UK and Europe. It all served to remind me why I have been a committed supporter of the European Union since its birth. I consider it a means for ensuring a civilized decent life for my children and grandchildren, instead of the poisonous and divisive Europe that my parents and grandparents knew. Such a view may have gone out of fashion, but it will come back – just as extreme politics come back.
I make no apology for putting the strategic and political arguments for the EU first and the economic arguments second. Of course the single market is good for our economy, but as a means to an end not an end in itself. Economics for a purpose – to bring benefit to all.
Looked at from this perspective, the EU is a good deal. It costs us about 1% of our annual spend of taxpayers money. For this, we get access to a huge single market – and the multiple benefits of inward investment and trade that brings. It helps us to compete in today’s global economy, where you not only need allies but must also create larger markets with more level playing fields. This is the environment our country needs to bring about a portfolio of successful businesses active in the world’s growth sectors, creating goods and services that compete with the best.
Size benefits us in other ways too. It takes a European Union to get us into space. It takes a European Union to unbundle Google to give competition a chance. And it takes a European Union to stop roaming charges.
Alongside this, many studies show how diversity contributes to business success. This logic is so powerful that its detractor’s main weapon is to respond with mis-statements. Untruths, cheerfully peddled, again and again – often with a pint of beer in hand. So that they eventually develop a life of their own.
The supposed loss of sovereignty, with 75% of our laws made in Brussels? The House of Commons Library tell us the true figure is more like 25%.
That EU membership stands in the way of trade with the Commonwealth or Asia? It’s simply not true.
That the cost of being in the EU is high? 1% of our government spend is marginal.
That we are being overrun by immigrants coming to the UK from the newer members of the EU? Over the past 15 years, most have come to our shores from outside of the EU. Instead of blaming people in this way, we should be protecting the integrity of our social security, healthcare and education systems.
Playing political games with our EU membership could have dangerous consequences.
As multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organisation weaken, it becomes even more critical for us to align with the EU rather than going it alone. More importantly, we risk inflicting the terrible journeys and experiences that nationalism inflicted on many of our grandparents and parents generations.
Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer
Published 25th November 2014