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Oversights of the Brexit brigade

Oversights of the Brexit brigade

Former prime minister makes powerful case for Remain

by William Keegan in London

Wed 22 Jun 2016

Gordon Brown is widely credited with making a crucial last-minute intervention when it appeared as though the September 2014 Scottish referendum was going to produce a vote to leave the UK. With opinion polls pointing to a neck-and-neck finish, the former UK prime minister has been brought into the fray again – this time in an 11th-hour attempt to prevent Britain’s exit from the European Union.

This follows the publication of Britain: Leading, Not Leaving, a wide-ranging history of our relations with the rest of the EU in which Brown makes a powerful case for Remain. If the UK votes to leave, Brown's book ought still to be widely read – if only to ram home to the electors what a foolish choice they have made.

Brown makes clear that the migration issue, which seems to be the main factor that has strengthened opposition to Remain, is far more complex than a simple exit from the EU can resolve. Indeed, by unilaterally bowing out from the opportunity to co-operate with other EU countries, Britain, via Brexit, could further exacerbate the migration challenge.

Brown is the man who kept the pound out of the euro. But, as this book illustrates, there was nothing ‘anti-European’ about that decision. He comes across as a passionate European. He states that, by remaining in the EU, ‘Across a range of decisions that concern every family in our country Britain can argue for, and achieve, the best balance between national autonomy and international co-operation’.

He takes a neat swipe at Conservative eurosceptics who constantly cite Margaret Thatcher’s supposed European hostility. As he writes, in her famous Bruges speech, ‘Thatcher was at pains to demand a reappraisal of Britain’s relationship with Europe, not a severance.’

Brown is especially good on the connection between globalisation and our present discontents. He acknowledges that successive governments, including his own, were slow to alleviate the impact on individuals and communities of ‘losing out’. But globalisation 'is here to stay... the EU is not the cause of the insecurities people are facing but is part of the solution. In fact, the case for British co-operation in Europe is stronger than it has ever been.’

Two good examples he cites of Britain's role in EU economic policy-making during his own much criticised premiership are its influence on the euro area in the bank rescue operations of 2008-09 and its successful opposition to ‘federalist’ plans to harmonise taxation, including on savings. As he points out, extreme europhiles often forget that, while the US may be a currency union, it is a long way from harmonisation of state tax regimes.

One of the Brexit brigade’s many oversights has been its misunderstanding of how modern ‘British’ businesses have supply chains stretching throughout the EU, which would be severely disrupted by Brexit. Brown provides a detailed examination of our industrial links with the rest of the EU, not least in the automotive business. As he says, the foreign multinationals that dominate the ‘British’ car industry invest in Britain as their platform for investment in Europe.

William Keegan is Senior Economics Commentator at The Observer and a Member of the OMFIF Advisory Board.

This is No.99e in the series.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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