There will be much scaremongering in the lead-up to the EU referendum but the most audacious is not the lie about 3 million jobs depending on EU membership – that has been repeatedly shown to be false – it is the nonsense that the UK is too wee and too poor to make its own way in the world.
The very fact that the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world and continues to grow when others such as France stagnate and Germany faces a demographic cliff should be enough for most rational thinkers to recognise they are being taken for mugs by advocates of this proposition. As is so often the case the reverse is true, the UK is doing well despite being a member of the EU, not because of it. Our bright future could become even brighter with more economic and cultural opportunities and greater influence – once we are outside the European Union. Here’s how.
By any measure of population against GDP per head there is no correlation between size and wealth, some small nations are wealthy, some large ones are poor and vice versa. Size does not matter, it is governance that matters, especially governance that cherishes and protects individual freedoms.
Nevertheless the UK has more than just economic muscle. English is now the lingua franca of the World; with 1.5-2bn English speakers it is the most widely understood language globally and the British Council expects a third of the world to be learning it by 2020. It is the most widely distributed (four times as many countries as the next nearest, France), it is the most widely used legally, dominates more than half of all websites while 80% of scientific journals are indexed in English. All of these leads are widening and appear unassailable. Being the only truly international language gives the UK a huge strategic advantage that should not be easily dismissed.
In education, the UK has seven universities in the European top ten, with the Eurozone having only one, while the UK has three in the World top ten Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial – with no others from Europe. Globally the UK comes second in the league of top 100 universities, with 29 listed. Germany is well behind in third. This is another strategic advantage to be cherished.
In heritage and the arts the UK’s museums, galleries and libraries are amongst the finest in the world, we have one of the top four opera houses and leading orchestras and arts festivals. The UK’s music market is the fourth largest globally by retail value. Our artists’ market share has increased from 11.8% to 13.7 % since 2010 and last year six of the World’s top ten selling albums were by British acts. For all our gripes the BBC has the strongest media brand name in the world and our highly competitive broadcasters and production companies have a range and quality of output that is well beyond their size and recognised regularly internationally.
With only 1% of the world’s population the UK’s cultural output is a truly awesome performance.
In sport the UK is arguably the capital of the World. Having first codified association football, rugby union and league, cricket, golf, badminton and tennis, to name but a few, it now hosts or co-hosts many of the most significant individual sporting events, including horse racing, athletics and motor sports, as well as international tournaments such as the Rugby World Cup, Ryder Cup and the European Nations’ Football Championships. No other country combines such a comprehensive range of prestigious sporting occasions.
The UK is recognised as the most generous nation on earth for private charitable giving and founded NGOs such as OXFAM, WWF and Amnesty International as well as many charities from the RNLI and RSPCA to the Scouts and Guides. In foreign aid and humanitarian relief the UK is the second largest donor in the world and the largest in the EU – but we could do more by doing it better outside the EU. The 17% of the UK’s EU membership that goes to EU aid programmes and the additional 4.5bn euros we give to the 11th European Development Fund cannot be directed or scrutinised by our government. Leaving the EU would allow us to use these funds to better effect and for our own priorities.
In foreign policy we have allowed ourselves to become dictated to and contradicted by the growing EU foreign policy goals. By choosing to be ourselves the UK will regain its seats on the World Trade Organisation and World Customs Organisation that are currently taken by the EU. We shall be able to represent our own interests rather than be part of a group where we often disagree with what is being advocated in our name. That can only mean we shall have more influence.
The UK will still be a full participating member of the G8, the G20, NATO, the UN Security Council, OECD and some 96 organisations in total. We shall speak up for our own national interests in trade, humanitarian relief, security and the like. No longer will we have to speak for the lowest common denominator of the EU’s 28 nations. That can only mean we have more influence.
China, India or other countries do not need the UK to be in the EU to gain access to its single market, nor do we need the single market to do deals with China or India. We and they only need to abide by the rules of the World Trade Organisation, as we already do, and we all shall prosper. It is the WTO that has brought down tariffs to an average of 1.04% but it is the EU that seeks to continually dump produce and export poverty through policies such as its sugar beet subsidies. After Brexit the UK could be a force for good in the world by rejecting subsidies, tariffs and price fixing that devastates the world’s poorest nations.
Believing we can reform the EU from within – when the EU is becoming more centralised in the interests of the Eurozone members, when the UK is often pinned down by majority voting but only has a 12% voting share, when it continually loses judgements it challenges and when it has failed to stop any of the 55 laws coming from the Council of Ministers since 1996 – is the great self-delusion of the UK’s complacent political establishment.
Believing that the UK being a member of the EU gives us ‘heft’ is like believing that putting your underpants on outside your trousers makes you a superhero. The EU is in reality a straightjacket, it subordinates our own interests to those of other countries by binding us up through regulations and costs that we would otherwise reject.
None of this is to say the UK is better than any other nation, it is simply to say that we excel at many things and of those listed above none would be put at risk by leaving the EU. The UK ranks as the world’s top ‘soft power’ and with many strategic advantages from our language, culture, sport, education, humanitarian support and world reach – not to say our free trade outlook and fifth largest world economy – we have nothing to fear from leaving the European Union but much to gain.
Indeed we can see that in many cases we excel despite the European Union, not because of it, and can conclude that our influence could only flourish if we were friends of it rather than being subsumed by it.
It is not small that is beautiful or big that is best – it is freedom that is foundation of prosperity – both for individuals and for our country.