There are now 12 weeks to go before the EU Referendum, and the destiny of the nation hangs in the balance. This is not a time to be uninterested or apathetic about the big decision that faces us, but to be serious-minded, diligent in research, energetic in debate, and open to new ideas. The choice is between bondage to an alien, supranational entity over which we have little influence, and the freedom to make our own decisions again. Oh to be loosed from the chains of captivity, and to breathe the fresh air of liberty, of which we have been deprived for so long!
The enemy is fear, and the prize is freedom. How do we weigh these in the balance? There is no half way point between leaving and staying in that will give us liberty, but without change and a measure of risk. Some propose that we re-join EFTA and then also the European Economic Area, subject to the rules of the Single Market, but without any vote in the Council of Ministers and European Parliament, and subject still to virtually uncontrolled immigration from EU countries. Norway has survived under this arrangement, by complying with virtually everything that has been required of them. I do not believe that the British people would be willing to be subjected to a constant stream of new Regulations and Directives from Brussels without even being able to cast a vote for or against them.
What remains is to serve an Article 50 notification, and then to attempt to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the EU in the two year period that it affords. This will be difficult, no doubt, but I do not think that it is impossible, and it hardly seems plausible that the EU nations would allow a major disruption to their economies by refusing to come to reasonable terms. We would have to fight hard at the negotiation table, but we would be highly motivated to do so. Overly punitive terms would not be acceptable to European public opinion, I think. The German car-makers have an interest in allowing continued free trade, both in and out of the UK. I fear that the City of London would suffer a hit, but modest in scale, and in the long run it may be healthier for our national economy if there is a gradual diversification away from the financial sector, which seems especially vulnerable to sudden and potentially devastating crises.
Upon leaving the EU, there would be a useful windfall from the cessation of our financial contributions. No doubt we would continue to subsidise our farmers to some degree to allow them to compete with their subsidised competitors on the continent. I don’t think there is any reason to fear for our future as a nation. If the worst comes to the worst and there is substantial damage to our economy, then we will have to tighten our belts a little, and make a national effort. Any sacrifice we might have to make, or hardship endure, would surely be much less than we have made before in wartime to preserve our national freedom.
The current crisis of our steel industry shows that the risks are not all one way. To rescue it, we would have to reduce energy costs to industry, and probably introduce higher tariffs on imports from China. The USA imposes a tariff of 267% on imports of Chinese cold-rolled steel, while the EU rate is 13%. Outside the EU we would have much more flexibility to respond in an effective and timely way.
As things stand, we are unable to control migration from EU countries. Germany registered 1.1 million asylum applicants in 2015, according to a report, about five times the number for 2014. More than 400,000 of these were from Syria. Some of these will be Islamists, some will be experienced fighters, and some will choose to come to Britain if and when they acquire EU citizenship. This is not without risk.
We still have friends in the world, and outside the EU there will be opportunities to develop new trading relationships, with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with India and the United States, and with many other countries. We have nothing to fear except fear itself. NATO remains an effective mutual defence pact, and we continue to play a central role in it. Our armed forces, while hard hit by cuts, are extremely capable and reliable. There is no current major threat to internal security and order. The British people continue to be kind and gentle, resourceful and inventive, and maintain a sense of humour.
It is very debilitating for us to be partially subjugated to the dictates of the European Union, having to conform to a never ending stream of Regulation, Directives, and new and sometimes perverse judgements of the European Court of Justice. How can we fulfil our potential as a nation when we are hamstrung by rules made from outside? Let us break the shackles and walk free.