The Brexit debate
By Alberto Mingardi
The debate over “Brexit” is becoming more and more relevant in the media. British prime minister David Cameron, in a letter to the European Council, spelled out his demands to Brussels. Cameron is seeking “change” in European institutions in order to be able to lead the pro-European campaign in the British referendum. Cameron’s priorities seem to be a sort of guarantee that the movement towards “an ever-closer union” is not inevitable and a check on the freedom of movement of labour among EU-member states. Read Politico’s take-aways on Cameron’s recent speech at Chatham House.
On freedom of movement, the refugee crisis may win Cameron some allies. Though in August Merkel announced the suspension of refugee EU rules for Syrians, now she reversed her decision. There is also increasing pressure to revise Schengen – if that happens, though, one wonders what will be left of the original European project.
A few weeks ago OpenEurope published a series of questions for the “yes” and “no” campaigns in the British referendum over EU membership. The “no” campaign, by the way, has recently been joined by Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.
For OpenEurope, the “Remain camp” is giving numbers “without a clear explanation” of how they were calculated “or in fact any source at all.” For example, the “Remain camp” states that “EU membership makes every Briton £450 a year better off due to lower prices” – but, OpenEurope explains, “The idea that we get ‘ten times more out of the EU than we put in’ is not only undermined by the flaws in the £3k figure but also by the fact that it conflates the wider economic benefits with our direct financial contribution, and ignores things like regulatory costs.”
Indeed, it would be good if the campaign for the British permanence among EU countries could become a sort of cost and benefit analysis of EU membership. But I am afraid perhaps that is too much to ask of the democratic process. The good folks at OpenEurope do a very valuable job in pointing out the weaknesses of both the yes and no propaganda. But I am not surprised that one side overemphasizes the benefits and the other the costs. That’s politics.
All in all, OpenEurope seems to incline more towards the exit option. But they do a very good job in pointing out their weaknesses – as well as the fact that there are many different nuances in the pro Brexit campaign. For example, they point out that the claims of savings are dubious and that “the 28 trade treaties and preferential trading agreements covering 55 states which the UK has via the EU would not automatically apply – they may have to be renegotiated”. OpenEurope emphasizes that there are frictions between protectionists and free traders in the “No” campaign. The first are going for dreams of autarchy, the second criticize the EU as a cartel of states, insufficiently committed to a freer trade with different areas of the globe. Well, politics makes strange bedfellows.
A very sound point made by OpenEurope is that the “No” camp needs to be better prepared when it comes to a vision of the post-exit UK than the “Yes” camp. Challenging the status quo means the burden of proof is on you.
There is much wisdom, I think, in the following statement:
Leaving is by no means the end of the world, as our report also showed, but the Leave side needs to face up to the challenges and explain how it might overcome them. If it cannot do this then it might have to accept the uncertainty involved in a Leave vote. Furthermore, as we explained, to prosper after Brexit the UK will likely have to take a very liberal and open trade approach and this may well include remaining open to migration. It is not clear that all or even many in the Leave camp are open to such an approach, for example with Labour for Britain and Leave.EU pushing strong opposition to the proposed EU-US free trade agreement (TTIP).