Opinion: Businesses, politicians and voters speak against a Brixit

Map of the European UnionI 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.

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30 Comments

  • “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. ”

    What poll has he been reading? Every Yougov poll for the last 3 years says people would vote to leave the EU!

    http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/fojwglkalz/YG-Archives-Pol-Trackers-Europe-150113.pdf

  • I’m for out of EU that’s my position all the EU is a political gravy train and to tie all our eggs in one basket when it full of basket cases seems folly to me. The EU is undemocratic and those wishing us to stay in have vested interests or been hoodwinked by those with vested interests The Germans want us in as we are a net cash contributor which there are few of so they don’t want extra cost, the USA want us in for there political reasons not that it is good for us. So REFERRENDUM NOW you convince us it worth staying in not dictate to us.

  • Keith Browning 15th Jan '13 - 11:43am

    Perhaps a couple re-showings of ‘Passport to Pimlico’ on prime time TV would clarify the benefits or otherwise of going it alone. Sounds a nice idea until the realities set in.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passport_to_Pimlico

  • It’s easier to be negative than positive, far simpler to damn than to praise – the EU doesn’t help itself when it allows uncertainty about the fate of the Euro, among other things, to continue. However, there is no populist tubthumping message that is being broadcast in favour of membership: partially because the positive case is complex and nuanced. Farage has the luxury of abjuring all other messages except “the EU is rotten”; the tabloids and public respond, Cameron asks how high he has to jump.

    We need to make the case, day in, day out, that the EU provides many benefits. It represents about 60% of our trade. It provides opportunities for work and education that otherwise would not have existed. It represents the largest economic bloc in the world. Yes, there are problems, but does one be part of a solution or merely walk away?

  • @Lucas Amos, suggest you visit the Political Betting site, they have covered recent polls on this. There are 2 essential points, opinion has definitely shifted in favour of staying & the issue of The EU has fallen steadily in the regular polling of which issues are seen as most important. At the last poll only 4% put it in the top issues.
    Oddly, even UKIP voters dont rate Europe as the most important issue, for them it comes after the Economy & Immigration.

  • The question must be: what is necessary to pacify the majority of voters, so that whilst they may still grumble they are not motivated to actively do anything about it.

    Looking back we can see that for all of Margaret Thatchers hard line and touch negotiations, she secured a budget rebate on the UK’s contributions largely without threats of UK exit. This result seemed to quieten down the UK-exit lobby – which only really regained ground when New Labour decided against putting the new EU constitution to the vote, and is now basking in the media spotlight.

    Hence I suggest that David and Nick (and our EU colleagues) need to work to gain a similar ‘concession’. Thus David’s speech needs to be clear about the UK’s continuing desire to be involved and at the heart of Europe, yet firm on the need for reform and the need to look after our interests, and in so doing outline things that the EU could agree to and be delivered in the next 12~18 months. Nice and simple! :)

  • The problem with a referendum is that there are (at least!) four very different options to choose between:

    Eurozone option – Join the euro and be part of the core of Europe – Or else, if the euro collapses, take a massive hit which we could have largely avoided

    Status quo option – Stay in Europe but risk being marginalised – Or else, if the euro collapses, thank our lucky stars we weren’t part of it

    Norwegian option – Leave the EU but continue to be ruled by the EU – Could probably be negotiated quite easily, but would have no conceivable advantages for us except a symbolic and meaningless triumph for the Sceptics.

    Armageddon option – Insist on major changes all in our favour, and end up leaving, because these will not be granted. Or, just leave and then insist on major changes to trading etc relationships in our favour, which will end up in the same position of exclusion, ongoing conflict with Europe, and national decline.

    The Eurosceptics are not being honest if they don’t admit that they have to choose between options 3 and 4. The Europhiles are not being honest if they don’t admit that they have to choose between options 1 and 2.

    Let’s have a real debate, and not a meaningless referendum.

  • I think the EU needs reforms and the budget needs looking at, But the thing with the Tory Right is they hear what they want to hear. As proven in the Corby by-election it is mistake to believe that the UKIP vote represents the Conservative Right. A lot of its Votes came from Labour. It receivers a lot of protest and single issue votes at a local level that fall of in a general election. So they’ve already got ost of the vote they can pick up from UKIP.
    People might complain about Europe, some people think it needs addressing, but is not the big knock out policy commentators think it is. It’s a side show.

  • People who say ‘convince me, don’t dictate to me’ are people who won’t be convinced of anything different, because they’re already insulting opposite views.

  • >The Europhiles are not being honest if they don’t admit that they have to choose between options 1 and 2.
    Surely, the real long-term choice is between options 1 and 3? I see option 2 as an interim position (which may last several decades) until such time as the terms of option 1 (being a fully participating core member) become acceptable. Likewise option 4 is likely to be the precursor to an exit and drive our initial time outside before we realise that in order to trade with Europe etc. we need to adopt a similar stance to Norway; probably without the option of being allowed to rejoin the club …

    Basically, whether we like it or not, I suspect that we will soon (before 2015) have to make some really hard decisions and then shut up and get on with it…

    [Aside: @Richard Davis - good link - just need all the various points articulated in a series of spoonful 'advertorials' that raises the awareness of ordinary people...]

  • Mr Davis with all respect projected figures are just that not fact lol we can play all day the static’s game, hard to actually predict tomorrow less chance for years in future. Stop playing political stats games they mean NOTHING while we on about stats I notice no figures for how many will flood our country in the next wave from Europe lol

  • I’m sick of those harping on about our trade with the EU we got by without EU before and we still traded with EU you saying if we left our trade with EU would disappear? No it wont are you saying we cannot find other markets of course we can I’m for the EU if it was what we voted for in the 70s that was a free trading area but now its grown into some monster politically driven one like the Euro and in EU parliament vote for changing our laws and rights SO no to Europe and we will survive lol

  • All pro Euro commenter’s here, speak of the EU as it is now, (today). But they forget, that (as RC and jedibeeftrix have outlined on other threads), the EU is not going to stay, as it is today. The EU is on the move, designing, (under discrete wraps), a new level of governance, namely Political Union. The British public are already fed up with the EU, even as it stands today. They will absolutely NOT accept where Europe is heading, in terms of political union. Our politicians must stop this high-handed political procrastination, and wish our European friends well, in their inevitable journey to a United States of Europe, but tell them very firmly, that we will be good neighbours and trading partners, but their moves towards a Political Union, is definitely NOT for us.
    The British people want their say with an in/out referendum. And it’s time that a self serving, political elite, stopped being brazenly autocratic, in their denial of that referendum.

  • @Simon Shaw
    Isn’t it Lib Dem policy to allow an in/out referendum?

    http://europe.libdems.org.uk/full-manifesto/putting-europes-house-in-order

    “Liberal Democrats have argued for a referendum on whether Britain stays in or leaves the EU. We are the only party confident enough to put the pro-European case to the British people on the big issue facing us – and let the people decide”

  • Steve

    By the following year, the in/out referendum was only to happen in case of the British government agreeing to major change in the EU.

    Of course, the idea of the in/out referendum was just as cover for the party not supporting a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. And even at that time the Lib Dem peers voted against an in/out referendum, if I remember correctly.

  • Simon Shaw says :
    “If enough people vote for UKIP, then they will have the votes to get withdrawal through parliament. What’s wrong with doing it like that, the traditional (British) way?”
    I’ve explained this several times, but the ‘Votes equal Seats’, mentality isn’t quite getting it.
    UKIP don’t need ANY seats. UKIP don’t need ANY MPs
    All UKIP need to do, is to continue ‘eating’ the Tory vote, which they are doing extremely well. And like a UKIP vampire sucking the blood from the Tory vote, the 1922 committee will realise, sometime before 2015, that the only way to get the keys to Downing St., is to drive a stake through the heart of UKIP.
    Think it through. How will the Tories neutralise the UKIP threat to their vote, whilst simultaneously dumping the awkward Lib Dems [ Tory perception!], and improve Tory chances to get the keys of No. 10?

  • Chris : You are absolutely right.
    It appears that the original Lib Dem offer of a referendum did… ‘migrate’ somewhat. Even Nick struggled to explain it with any conviction on the Today programme this morning.
    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/eu-referendum-leaflet-embarrassed-clegg
    The worst thing about ‘the leaflet’, appears to be, that it was printed on shiny paper.

  • Matthew Green 16th Jan '13 - 8:16am

    Terry “we got by without EU before”. Actually no. In the 1970s the British econonmy was in a mess. One problem was that we were finding it ever harder to export to the old empire, and that Europe was taking a higher and higher share of our exports. We needed to be on the inside of the club to try and make sure its rules were not rigged against us. We did better than that: without Mrs Thatcher I’m not sure if the EU single market would have happened. Still now is different. EU share of trade is not growing and there are better opportunities than then for exporting to others. The problem is whose rules do we use? The EU is regulation capital of the world, dictating standards not just for EU trade but global trade. How does it help if we aren’t at the top table drafting those rules? Also why do Eurosceptics think the other EU countries are going to roll over and play dead when we try to use deregulated labour markets to undercut them?

  • Gut feeling – most UKIP thinkers and policy makers / gurus (? contradiction in terms?) are old fashioned French “poujadistes” – they think small, and reject outside control etc. The reason they formed up against the EU is because they were against regulation – in the same way as they reject it here. Their thinking has evolved to the point where they genuinely think that the EU is the source of any regulation, which they wouldn’t have to bear if we didn’t belong / it didn’t exist. Now I am not denying that all of us feel aggrieved about rules which stop us doing things we would like to do, and as liberals we automatically react against too many rules.

    Two points 1 Many of the rules (and myths) of the EU come precisely from the Single European Act, so this lie that we can have a “trading Europe” without oppressive rules (as seen by some) is believed far too easily. 2 In a complex and increasingly smaller world, it is basically impossible not to have international rules. The only question is “Within what political / democratic structure will we form those rules?”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jan '13 - 10:19am

    Much of the anti-EU feeling that is being built up comes from people who dislike things like co-operation on standards for working life, or co-operation to take back democratic control of our economies from international big business which (as we can see with various tax avoidance cases) can otherwise play one country off against another. They then feed this through to the masses with misleading accounts about what the EU does, playing on old-style patriotism, whereas what they are actually about is the OPPOSITE of that – they are about SELLING OUT our country to the global financiers.

    If one looks at the other countries in the EU, well are the Germans any less German, the Italians any less Italian, the French any less French, the Dutch any less Dutch, etc, because of the EU? It doesn’t seem to me to be the case, the other countries of the EU seem able to maintain their own cultures and ways of life quite adequately. Indeed, perhaps too adequately if one considers some of the economic issues in the countries experiencing problems right now …

    I am reminded when I read people like Terry writing about the “gravy train” of the EU how easy it is to mislead the simple by distracting their attention with other things. See how democracy itself has been derided, people have been led to think politics and hence democracy is a bad thing, because of the scandal of MPs expenses. The argument that democracy is a bad thing, so the state should be reduced and power placed in private hands instead has been strong in recent years. It has led to the rise of the bankers taking more and more control over us. The simple are misled into thinking that our politicians and bankers are much the same, both taking money from us.

    However, let us consider the worst case of MPs over-claiming expenses, Margaret Moran – the amount she over-claimed was £53,000. Bad, yes, but that’s a dinner bill for a banker and a few of his mates. When we read that thousands of these bankers are getting regular salaries of over a million, and millions in bonuses as well, it place that £53,000 in context. A million is £1,000,000. One has to put it that way because for most ordinary people their eyes glaze over and they don’t think straight when it comes to large numbers. So far as I am concerned, much of the work these bankers do is routine admin, just as much of what MPs do is routine admin. Just because they are passing large amounts of money around because that’s the admin they do should not entitle them to take big chunks out of it as their cut. Chunks in the millions are a lot more than chunks in the tens of thousands – and let’s recall it is only a few dozen MPs whose false expenses came to that level.

    But go talking to most ordinary people about politics, and they’ll bring up this idea that politicians are all corrupt making huge amounts of money from us, on a gravy train etc. They cannot see how they’ve been conned by the attention placed on people like Mrs Moran to support policies which are about hugely bigger gravy trains going to people who unlike Mrs Moran are NOT under any sort of democratic control.

    The opposition to the EU that has been whipped up in recent years in our country is much the same sort of thing.

  • Peter Chivall 16th Jan '13 - 10:57am

    As usual, Matthew Huntbach has got to the root of the issue. Tim13 likewise. The people inside and outside the Tory Party who want withdrawal from the EU basically object to every aspect of collective Government, whether from Westminster or from Brussels. The British electorate has been subject to a massive flood of propaganda over the last 40 years which starts in the tabloid press but is reflected by default in many radio and tv programmes. At the same time, our entertainment media present us with a world which is at least 90% American and mostly promotes rugged individualism of the ‘die Hard’ variety over evil collectives and incompetent bureaucracy. The numbers of popular Scandinavian police series and crime dramas (sweaters and all) have been a notable exception.
    Yes, the Tories are threatened by UKIP splitting their vote in marginals, but the Tories fundamentally split anyway, and it may yet be terminal under FPTP. There are possibly 1/3 of their MPs who would vote to leave the EU (often the same people who resent the coalition) and a smaller number who would even favour a formal association with the US.
    Certainly, it is interesting how in the over 65 sector there is an anti-EU majority and this is the sector who are the most loyal Tory voters. Perhaps they want it to be 1955 for ever, with New Zealand lamb every Sunday, but with colour tv and central heating!

  • David Allen 16th Jan '13 - 1:04pm

    Yes indeed, the UKIP / Eurosceptic appeal is to anti-government prejudice, a lazy belief in wishing away inconvenient truths like the need for any rules and regulations, the need to do anything about climate change, the need to do anything much at all except sit back with your pint and pontificate about foreigners.

    It’s the British way, I suppose. In 1930s Germany, austerity led to the rise of Hitler. Here, it’s the rise of Farage. Tragedy replayed as farce.

    Unfortunately none of the other parties can claim the moral high ground in terms of their campaigning appeal. In 2010, all the parties grossly over-promised what they could do, and grossly understated what cuts they would need to introduce.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/27/general-election-spending-cuts-ifs?intcmp=239

    I seem to remember Vince being accused that 82% of his promises were not properly costed according to (I think) the IFS, and replying to the effect that this figure showed him as the least dishonest of the three candidates for chancellor!

    Until we start adopting policies which can win back the moral high ground – and I don’t mean using “austerity” as an excuse for soaking the poor – we won’t have the authority to put UKIP in their place.

  • This morning I listened to a Tory spokesperson who claimed she spoke for 100+ Tory MPs….The thrust of their opposition to the EU seems to follow the government’s obsession with reducing employment rights still further.
    ‘Working hour restrictions’ and ‘equal pay’ were a special target…..

    The UK already has one of the lowest employee rights legislation and it seems that, in the minds of the Tory Right , it’s the EU that’s preventing them being further reduced…

  • Over there years I’ve grown slightly Euro-sceptic, not because I believe in small government or deregulation but because I believe it’s not that great. It certainly isn’t stopping the Right. Look what’s happening in Greece and Spain. Or look at the influence of the National Front in France over the years. or even the activities of the Right in Germany, and the former eastern block countries.. Also the EU isn’t counter acting the demands of financial sector either as again demonstrated by Greece and Spain as well as the unelected government in Italy. So a little Euro-scepticism is, I think fairly healthy.
    As for Farage and UKIP they do well in certain circumstances, but do not have a single MP and don’t look like getting one without inheriting one through a defection. They are a pressure group with less actual power than The Greens.

  • re: UKIP appeal
    doesn’t anyone think their recent surge in opinion polls has been stimulated by media outlets seeking to exert pressure from the right of the Conservative wing ahead of Cameron’s much-trailed speech on the subject?

    I’ll take UKIP more seriously when their opinion poll ratings translate into actual votes. Until then it’s a few loudmouths identifying scapegoats. Pure headline-grabbing populism, entirely pie in the sky.

    Anti-EU sentiment is entirely self-serving, directed by a xenophobic media elite who think they can bully British politicians. They simply resentful about the loss of empire and can’t accept equal relationships.

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