[unable to retrieve full-text content]
On Europe, Britain would do better to drive reform from within than leave and risk losing all the benefits
Ten years ago there was an unholy alliance between Ukip and the evangelists of euro membership, who together argued that it was impossible to stay in the European Union but keep the pound. Both sides had a political interest in polarising the debate into a false choice that denied the public the option that they really wanted: namely to stay in the EU but remain outside the euro. Both were proved wrong.
Today, that same alliance has come together again to claim that it is impossible to renegotiate our membership of the EU, and that an in-or-out referendum is the only option. Those Eurosceptics who argue for a referendum on withdrawal should be careful what they wish for. The alternative-vote referendum last year vanquished the campaign for electoral reform for a generation and Peter Mandelson smirks knowingly at the prospect of the same thing happening to those arguing for a new settlement with the EU. While the time for a referendum may come, it must offer the public the option most want, which is to stay in the EU but under new terms.
Withdrawal from the EU would still require negotiation with other member states, even to establish the same level of access to the European market as Norway, Turkey or Switzerland. It would be better to negotiate a new settlement from within the EU than risk the uncertainty of trying to negotiate something unpredictable from the outside.
As a report published by Open Europe today shows, for British trade the single market in goods and services beats all other models. Norway adopts 75% of all EU legislation but has no say in its formulation. Turkey has access to the single market in goods, but it is not in the single market for services and that part is important for the UK. Norway is also not in the EU customs union, an element which is very important for British manufacturing and was the reason we joined the common market in the first place. We can do better than just leave the EU. With the right approach, we could change it.
If the EU is to survive, it needs to be able to adapt, and that means making it easy for powers to be taken away from it and for countries to pick and choose the areas in which they want to co-operate and where they want to retain control. I have visited numerous EU countries over the past year, and the depressing truth is that the apparent support for “more Europe” is not born out of any kind of rational analysis, but is simply driven by the momentum of past trends and geopolitical considerations. It is a bit like a bubble in the financial markets, and it is about to burst.
That is why Britain desperately needs to map out an alternative vision for the future of the EU. We are the only large country in Europe that is not preoccupied by the euro, so it falls to us to take a lead. We should argue for a new model for Europe where there is an inner core â€“ the single market in goods and services that all member states sign up to because they benefit from it. Then there should be a broader sphere of policy areas â€“ such as employment and social policy, the euro, the common agricultural policy, justice and home affairs â€“ that are far more optional. This would allow the EU to adapt and to give up powers where the rationale for taking decisions at the EU level had ended.
While George Osborne is right that those countries which want to stay in the euro and make it work need to integrate their economic policies more closely, that does not apply to those who are outside the euro or who might yet leave it. And even those countries in the euro will have other fields of policy over which they would like to regain national control.
Britain is often portrayed as aloof and uninterested, and is regarded as always trying to block things. Rather than holding back, we ought to be assertively arguing for the reversal of EU integration and an end to the old-fashioned dogma of “ever closer union” for all. It really doesn’t matter if we are in a minority or if we lack allies initially. The most important thing is to be right, just like we were on the euro.
â€¢ Follow Comment is free on Twitter @commentisfree