I have long been a fan of the Westwing, and I was recently reminded of a particular scene where President Bartlett faces a difficult decision on whether to reprieve a man on death row or not. His local priest tells him a tale of a man who prays for help, but refuses all assistance when it is offered, claiming that God would save him. However, on his death he is told by St. Peter that God had sent a multitude of people to help him, but he had not accepted any of their help.
This seems to bear some resemblance to the current situation with Cameron floundering on what to do with the European Union. The problem is that recent polling has shown that the Conservative party is losing votes to UKIP and so his backbenchers believe the only way to regain those ‘lost votes’ is to be harder on the EU and call for a Brixit (British exit from the EU).
But, as with the man close to death in the story, there are a number of people now offering advice on what the prime minister should do. Advice is coming from businesses both large and small, from think tanks, from foreign governments both within the EU and external to it, even from the people in the UK who don’t want to leave and who think that they would personally be much worse off in life outside the EU.
The New Year started with a flurry of business leaders from Richard Branson to Martin Sorrell warning of the dangers of a British exit for trading, employment and the economy. This was confirmed by a letter in the Times signed by more business leaders including the head of the CBI which represents many British businesses, smaller firms among them. While the vast majority of our trade is with our EU neighbours, and 3.5m jobs are dependent on the EU, it is clear to many why a British exit would be bad for the economy. This is further backed up by the number of think tanks, some which are not the biggest fans of the EU, who think we should stay in the EU and reform from within.
Following this there were letters from political leaders around the world, from the US but also from within the EU. The EU is currently setting up a trade agreement with the US which will have a massive effect on EU-US trade. But if the UK were not in the EU we would be marginalised, and we would not have this same agreement. Also the EU is a huge trading block with the largest GDP in the world. This is a block that the US and the world must listen to. The UK would be more and more on the sidelines internationally if we were to leave. A letter from Radek Sikorski, the Foreign Minister of Poland highlights the benefits of EU membership to the UK before ending with a warning: ‘The EU is trying to get its house in order, now is not the time for one of its members, a valued member, to threaten the EU. Especially by saying they would leave in the anticipation that they could then sign bilateral agreements with individual countries, or set up a Norway/Swiss type relationship.’
Finally there is the view of the average person. In a recent poll by YouGov it was found that if there was a question about a future EU referendum 50% would want to stay in compared to only 25% who would want to leave. On every major issue (jobs, economy, international relations) people thought we would be much worse outside the EU than within it. Even within the Conservative party the majority of supporters want to remain in the EU if there was a referendum.
The reasons for this current question on a referendum seem political, for the Conservatives to win votes back from UKIP. However, it seems that when the people, businesses, politicians (including your own) and your main trading and political allies across the world say that leaving the EU is a bad thing and that the current uncertainty is damaging our economy, it is time to start listening. There is a lot of advice coming from multiple sources, please listen before it is too late.
* Richard Davis is a prospective Member of the European Parliament for London. His website is here.