EU Exit: Deception and Exaggeration

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Eurosceptics lose the in/out debate because they don’t deploy the correct arguments and Europhiles, meanwhile, don’t take them seriously. But a referendum will be fought on facts and those facts don’t support our continued EU membership, writes Alan Murad.

Alan Murad is acting campaign manager at Get Britain Out.

Despite the rise of UKIP and the potential electoral triumph for Eurosceptics in the coming EU elections, some commentators like Charles Grant (of the Centre for European Reform) believe an In/Out referendum is winnable. They point to what they perceive is a knowledge deficit; that the Great British Public are broadly against the EU because they’ve not been exposed to all the relevant facts. What is meant by ‘relevant facts’ are the economic arguments in favour of staying in the EU, which the defenders of Brussels accuse Eurosceptics of distorting with flawed analysis!    

There is some truth in what they say, because Eurosceptics can lose the debate if they don’t deploy the correct arguments. As Dan Hannan points out in his latest Telegraph blog, if one side is talking about trade and investment, and the other side is talking about Romanians and Bulgarians, the former may well win.

Nevertheless, the actual facts do not easily support our continued membership of the EU. If the public was better-informed – as they will be by the time the In/Out referendum comes round – opposition to Europe is more likely to be entrenched. Europhiles are likely to highlight how our economy is ‘linked’ closely to the EU, and to warn about the dangers of leaving. The dangers they hint at will not materialise because the benefits of trading with Europe are not exclusive to EU members. Every country in Europe barring Belarus freely trades in goods and services with the EU, so most of the economic arguments will only convince an audience already ignorant about how global trade works.

This view is reminiscent of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding’s position that Britain should only be entitled to a referendum when we become less ignorant about how it operates. The Europhiles have no intention of illuminating the Great British public about the fact our trade with Europe is not dependent on continued membership. They want the public deceived into a false view of the EU and they try to exaggerate its importance for our trade with both the EU as well as the rest of the world.

What really gives hope to the party of ‘In’ are the undecided who comprise at least 27% of the public at the moment. They suspect the undecided are fertile ground to hatch many more fledgling Europhiles to win the referendum, provided those economic arguments can be made to them. 

Naturally Eurosceptics need to be concerned about this because much of the rhetoric about leaving the EU is dominated by criticism of open-door immigration. It appeals to UKIP’s target audience, but it won’t sway many of the undecided who are unlikely to be bothered enough about immigration to vote against EU membership. Even this potential swing vote is not something for Europhiles to get optimistic about. Dan Hannan points out, “economic arguments in favour of the EU are being made most loudly just as the Europhiles rationale collapses.”

Hannan points to a Civitas report by Michael Burrage just released, which thoroughly demolishes the myth of the EU being essentially good for business. The report contradicts claims Britain’s exports benefits from ‘insider advantages’ by being in the EU. Burrage points out our fellow EU nations make up no more of Britain’s trade than before we joined the European Economic Community (the EEC) in 1973. He comprehensibly states: “There is no evidence to suggest that the ‘heft’ or ‘clout’ of the EU has helped secure more Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) than those that might have been secured by independent negotiations.” If anything, a better-informed public will be a blessing for the Eurosceptic cause when we finally get an In/Out referendum. The economic arguments for staying in Europe are increasingly implausible in our globalised world where national sovereignty counts for a lot.

Just like Nick Clegg in his recent debates with Nigel Farage, Europhiles re-iterate the myth Britain has little influence (or clout) on the global stage without the comfort blanket of the EU. They say without the clout given to us by our EU membership, we will not be able to negotiate global trade deals. This myth is easy to dispel by pointing to Iceland, an even tinier country than Britain, which can trade with countries Britain is currently prevented from doing because of our EU membership. Switzerland has trade deals with China and Singapore, while the EU has none.

Europhiles project a very condescending view of Eurosceptics. Of course any sensible Eurosceptic has an open mind on these issues, but as yet, not one convincing argument has been made which demonstrates the EU is good for the economy, jobs, migration, freedom or democracy. Get Britain Out feels the Great British Public need to be given a free choice about this issue in an In/Out referendum as soon as possible.

This commentary is a reaction to an earlier opinion piece by Charles Grant, Why a British exit is not inevitable, published on EURACTIV.

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