Stronger United-Stronger UK@United Europe: Remain & Transform!

The Free Agent Illusion

One of the key arguments of the ‘leave’ the EU campaign is that EU regulations and standards limit Britain’s trade opportunities with the rest of the world. Therefore, once unshackled from its restrictive European ties, the U.K. terms of trade will improve substantially as it will be able to expand its markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America - and in particular with past or present Commonwealth countries (Nigeria, India, Australia) and city-states (Hong Kong, Singapore) with which it is bound by commons ties of language, culture, history and law. These assumptions are wrong.

As Henning Meyer, of the Public Policy Group at the London School of Economics has clearly shown, the majority of UK exports go to EU countries - well over 50 per cent. Compare that with 14 per cent heading to North America, and a similar percentage to China, India and the Far East, and the rest - less than 20 per cent - with the rest of the world. Once Britain outside the EU, our terms of trade would worsen with all 27 EU member states, whilst each of them would suffer of worse terms of trade with Britain only, and not with all its EU partners.


Meyer makes the further point that Germany , the world’s leading export nation, with three times the U.K.’s trade volume figure, is in no way hampered to dominate the global trade field by its membership in the EU. The assertion that we could simply conquer significant new global market shares outside the EU -presumably at the expense of EU countries like France, Germany and Italy - is largely illusory. For example, the United States government announced that it would not be willing to negotiate a separate trade agreement with the UK separately from the US-EU negotiations now taking place.

The only other alternative, touted by Boris Johnson and a number of Eurosceptics, that the EU needs us more than we need its 27 members and will therefore accept to accord us similar advantages as we have now in future negotiations is unrealistic, because both its premise and its substance are wrong. As Germany's Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has recently stated, the U.K.s departure from the EU would cause chaos for Britain, for the EU and for the world, and the EU and its members would be in no mood to do the UK any favours after needlessly plunging them all in such an existential crisis:

“We would have years of the most difficult negotiations, which would be very difficult for the EU as well. And for years we would have such insecurity that would be a poison to the economy in the UK, the European continent and for the global economy as well.”

Schäuble underlined that it would be extremely difficult or even impossible for Britain to negotiate a "special deal" on trade with the European Union if it voted to leave the 28-member bloc:

"It would be extremely hard or even impossible to negotiate a special deal in a post-Brexit atmosphere… Imagine all the trade agreements the European Union has with about 60 other nation states. The UK would have to negotiate all these agreements again. Good luck!"

Therefore, the vision of Britain as a ‘free agent’ in the world capable of renegotiating and restructuring its trade and commerce relations at will and replacing EU with Commonwealth and Far Eastern or North American ties is neither feasible nor realistic.