Russian roulette the British way…

Published:  03 March, 2016

Well, what with the Prime Minister’s admired 21st Century Churchillian statesmanship in full glorious display again, you could begin to fool yourself into believing that from the jaws of defeat David Cameron is in the throws of snatching a famous British ‘victory’ from the European Goliath – dare I say it….a David and Goliath moment! But is it time to start dusting off our Union flags in preparation of celebration? For the majority of manufacturers I’ve spoken to, ‘victory’ for Britain will only have been achieved if the UK votes to remain in the EU – removing the current uncertainty.

Of course I’m being flippant, however I do have some sympathy and appreciation with David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate our relationship with the EU in order to give him (and Britain) the best chance of arguing to remain – not an envious task by any stretch of the imagination. Any weapon that can help win the referendum in favour of Britain remaining in the EU is welcome by me.

But despite my appreciation of the Government’s renegotiation efforts, I am nevertheless critical of this whole EU referendum path, which David Cameron has dangerously put us on. I do not believe it was necessary and as a consequence we are staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. UK manufacturers are absolutely justified in being concerned that we are essentially playing Russian roulette with our country’s future.

To be clear, if many readers didn’t already know, I am unashamedly a supporter of continuing to be a part of the EU. Not because I love the bureaucratic monster, but because I am a realist of Britain’s place in the world. The voice of UK manufacturers is better heard collectively and loudly at the top table with real and respected influence rather than as a whimper with little ability to change policy direction outside of the bloc.

In an LSE policy briefing by Andrew Lang, it is highlighted that exit from the EU would exclude the UK from the benefit of any future agreements into which the EU enters. The EU, as we are aware, is currently engaged in negotiations for greater access to the US market under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. In addition the now concluded Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) agreement with Canada, which could be applied as early as next year if approved, as well as numerous other ongoing and concluded trading agreements such as with ASEAN, the Gulf Cooperation Council, India, Malaysia, Singapore and others, all have the potential, explains Lang, to incrementally open lucrative foreign markets for British producers.

Exclusion from these agreements – particularly the TTIP and CETA – as a result of exit from the EU, could hurt UK exporters, as trade and consequently investment is diverted to competitors based in Europe - something which British manufacturers are only too aware of.

It is true, as Lang comments, that exiting the EU would free Britain to pursue its own free trade agreements with key trading partners, which could be attractive, but as he also points out, would the promise of greater access to the UK market alone persuade countries such as the United States, Canada, or India to invest significant resources and political capital required to conclude a serious free trade agreement with the UK?

I agree with Lang wholeheartedly when he states: “As the world moves towards larger and bigger regional trading blocs, now appears to be precisely the wrong time to be disassociating from one of the biggest and most powerful of them.”

Supporters of Britain remaining can only hope that over the next few months, issues concerning the realities of being outside the EU, as highlighted above, are part of a more meaningful debate among the British electorate. The only question I have to ask is whether I would be better off outside than in? I already know the answer for myself, and I suspect David Cameron knows the answer for Britain!

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