Alphen, Netherlands. 9 October. In a speech yesterday entitled “Richer, Stronger, Secure and Greener” fellow Sheffielder, fellow former Eurocrat (sort of) and Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made an impassioned plea for Britain to remain within the EU. “The day I dread”, he thundered, “...the day I hope never comes – is a time when it is all too late: Britain has stumbled out of the EU, and we look back to these days and say we should have done more”. So let me debunk Nick Clegg.
“Let me be absolutely clear: leaving the EU would be economic suicide”. At its Eurozone heart the European Central Bank will shortly move to stabilise the Continent’s broken banks many of which were exposed to the Spanish property bubble. Fixing the Eurozone's banks some of which are German could cost up to €200bn ($270bn) of taxpayer’s money and by so doing kill economic growth for the rest of the decade. Moreover, Greece will require further bail outs whilst Italy, Spain and Portugal have not even begun to carry out the structural reforms vital if the EU economy is to become globally competitive. Staying in the EU looks more like economic suicide than leaving it.
“Three million British jobs are linked to the Single Market – three million. As a member we are part of the world’s biggest borderless market place, made up of 500 million people. It’s now the largest economy in the world - where we do around half of all our trade.” The annual cost of EU regulation to Britain is now €5bn ($7bn). This is a ‘tax’ on jobs which by extension makes an already uncompetitive European economy dangerously so.
Furthermore, a recent report by Britain’s Office for National Statistics highlighted Britain’s growing trade deficit with the rest of the EU and the burgeoning trade surplus with the rest of the world. The EU represents 45% of Britain’s trade of which 90% of that is with Germany. Indeed, Britain is Germany’s biggest world trading partner. The Germans are not noted for acting against their national interest and whatever Britain’s EU status Berlin would want to keep the relationship strong.
“What will happen to our influence in the world if we choose to go it alone”? Take European defence. Between 2008 and 2012 small European countries cut defence budgets by 30%. Medium-sized states by 10-15% and Britain and Germany by 8%. Of the €180bn ($243bn) or so EU members spend each year on defence Britain and France alone represent almost 50%. Moreover, Britain, France and Germany spend 88% of all the defence research and development in Europe. Worse, 19 of the 28 EU member states spend less than €4bn per annum and much of it horribly inefficiently.
Today, the EU average spent on defence is 1.36% of GDP and the NATO average (excluding the US) 1.52% which is well below the agreed NATO target of 2% GDP. Ironically, given proliferation elsewhere in the world it is Nick Clegg’s “Little Britain”, one of only 3 NATO members (including the US) that spends 2% GDP on defence that is leading Europe back to defence sanity with a €200bn ($270bn) defence equipment programme over the next ten years.
“What will happen to our citizens’ safety if we leave…Criminals cross borders – so must we”. These are the borders Nick Clegg and the EU want to scrap. Indeed, citizens’ safety would be better served if Nick Clegg simply got the UK Border Agency to work.
“Brussels isn’t perfect by any means. But it’s just not true that it’s some kind of sinister super-bureaucracy…” Strange that. The Economist (hardly an anti-EU trumpet) this week said, “…some Eurocrats admit many national politicians have little idea how much power they have conceded to Brussels”.
Nick Clegg and I agree on the need for a referendum on EU membership to be put before the British people. Given the deeper political integration that is coming if Nick Clegg was honest with the British people the question would be essentially the same as that which will be offered to the Scottish people next September; “Should Britain be an independent country”. Indeed, for that is the real choice now to be made and which is implicit in Clegg’s speech… and Nick Clegg knows it.
Unlike some I do not want Britain to leave the EU but the choice Britain faces now is either to leave the EU or surrender its distinctive political culture. There is no middle ground for Britain to occupy. Indeed, such are the forces at work in the Eurozone crisis the EU and the Euro are one and the same thing. The only option thus available is for the Union to integrate further or dismantle the single currency.
Clegg says he fears the day Britain leaves the EU. There is a much greater danger. Britain awakes one day to find itself part of a federalised Europe over which it has absolutely no influence.
The saddest thing about Nick Clegg’s speech is what it reveals about the man himself; a British politician who is blind to the EU’s many failings and who believes neither in Britain nor the British people.
He must be a Wendy – a Sheffield Wednesday fan.